I grew up in Derbyshire, at a fairly conventional stable yard which operated as a Riding School & Livery business. We brought in horses and ponies from Ireland and would produce and compete them before finding them good homes. It was here that I learned all of the old school ways: How to use my seat, how to calm a hot horse, how to have soft hands. I developed a hard working attitude, grit and determination, stick-ability, I also learnt how to fall off! Most importantly, though, I learned that every single horse was equal: they were worthy of the same high standard of care and the same respect, irrespective of what they could or couldn't do for us. These values have been carried with me through to adulthood, where, the more that I learn, the more that I realise how important it is to uphold them.
Upon leaving home at 16, I worked for a number of different dealers, producers and competition riders up and down the country. I gained valuable mileage in the Showjumping ring and was privileged enough to ride some extremely talented horses to a good level. I spent countless hours in the saddle, rode hundreds and hundreds of different horses, but by the age of 21, I felt ready to run my own yard. Although I operate rather differently to those yards I trained at, I am grateful for the experience and insight they gave me. It is incredible how much things have changed since those days, but I have nothing but fond memories...
In 2012 I moved to my current base in Compton Verney, Warwickshire. It was then that my brother, a talented farrier, gave me a book, "Correct Movement In Horses" by Klaus Schoneich. I read it and re-read it, again and again. At first I couldn't understand it but it inspired me to learn more! I became fascinated by the concept of 'Natural Crookedness', since it was a logical explanation for many of the problems we face every day with horses. Around that same time, during a visit to our yard a Saddle fitter remarked that the way that I worked around horses reminded her of a horseman, Manolo Mendez. Little did I know at that time just what a huge compliment that was! I looked up Manolo online - I had never come across someone who could ride and handle a horse in such an exemplary manner. Not only that, though - he could do so in the most effortless, playful, and compassionate way.
I spent the next few years working quietly at home. I hadn't done much competing. Instead I spent my time getting to grips with this different way of working with horses. I had become more motivated by what I could do for the horse, more so than what the horse could do for me. My focus became clearer.
I attended clinics with the likes of the late Dr Kerry Ridgway, Gerd Heuschmann, Charles De Kunffy, Klaus Schoneich and of course, Manolo Mendez. It was during a lesson with Manolo that I was invited to train with him at his home in Melbourne, Australia! At the time, my business was busy but there was a misalignment between what I wanted for the horses in training with me, and what the clients wanted. I had started to realise that it was very difficult to work in an ethical, horse-centred way whilst still giving the client the results they desired in the timescales they expected. I decided that a change would be good, so it was off to Australia for what I now realise was a life changing experience.
Riding with Manolo was a daily masterclass in how to work with a horse. Appropriate, individual, horse-centred work. No gimmicks. No gadgets. I took on board how he used his body in the saddle, his application of the aids, the shapes and patterns he rode and his overall use of the arena. Sure, he did what other people do, but I had never seen it done to such a standard, with such ease and finesse! Dull horses were brought back to life. Sensitive horses were put at ease. Stiff horses became more supple. All without Manolo ever breaking a sweat! He used to say, "It's so simple, why do people have to make it so complicated?!" Simple it was, but easy? Most definitely not!
Upon my return from Manolo's, I quietly trained my eye and further developed my skills both on the ground and in the saddle. I continued my education through the attendance of CPD days focusing on body work, anatomy and physiology and horse biomechanics. I divided my time between teaching lessons and clinics both at home and all over the UK. This meant that I could afford to choose which horses I took in on a residential basis. I focussed more on the long term development of the horses in residence with us, and to this day I have continued to attract clients who do the same.
Today, rather than looking at how many movements a horse can do, or how high it can jump, I measure progress by how well a horse does something. Independent balance and self-carriage are non-negotiable components of my training. The rider must learn how to put the horse in balance, and stay out of its way! These basic yet fundamental principles will enhance the long term physical and mental development of the horse, irrespective of breed or discipline. No corners are cut. The horse is always the priority.
My background in Showjumping, combined with my horse-centred dressage training, make me perfectly positioned to be able to enhance the athletic ability of Showjumpers and Event horses in a bio-mechanically correct and compassionate way. I am aware of the demands of the sport and can bring a fresh perspective to the training and management of these horses, helping to keep them sound and thriving within their discipline for as long as possible. I have been lucky to have experienced a breadth of education from different equine professionals which aids me well in the assessment of conformation, posture and its relationship with movement, behaviour and consequently, performance.
Balance is a priority to me. Of course, there is significant importance placed on the physical balance of the horse in movement. However, I refer here to the balance between types and ratios of work. The balance between guiding and following, listening or advising. The balance between two ends of a spectrum where neither extreme is good. Too hard or too soft. Too much or too little. Too kind or too firm. I believe that my old school upbringing, combined with my training, gives me a practical and pragmatic approach to the application of horse-centred training.
This leads me to my role within the journey of rehabilitation. Not necessarily the rehabilitation from injury, but more the rehabilitation of a partnership. The horse and human learning to work together in such a way so as not to lead to injury in the first place, neither mental nor physical. I teach riders and handlers how to listen to their horses. The more that they improve their ability to listen, the more that they get permission to tell. Ironically, the better they listen, the less they need to tell...
Barn & Grazing
Our huge American Barn has 16 light and airy Loddon stables, all with external windows, rubber matting and automatic water drinkers. We have a hot wash area and two sets of heat lamps. We have 20 acres of paddocks available, which we subdivide and rotate the horses around frequently, to avoid overgrazing. Natural shelter is only found around the perimeter of the field, so when the weather is particularly bad we tend to bring the horses into the barn at night. For most of the year, the horses live in the paddocks at night and come into the barn during the day. The size of the paddocks varies from large spaces suitable for groups, right down to 5m x 5m corrals. All paddocks are fenced with electric rope at 4ft high with one paddock fenced at 6ft high.
...to keeping horses is perhaps nothing new. We simply try to balance the needs of each horse with the requirements and limitations of modern day horsekeeping. Unfortunately in most areas it is no longer possible to keep horses in a natural way due to a lack of acreage and plant diversity. So, in order to manage our land to keep it healthy we must adapt the way we keep our horses to provide the stimulus they require to keep them healthy and happy, without degrading the land to the point where it becomes unhealthy and of poor quality as over time this will affect the health of the horses in residence here.
Our horses need to move. Lack of movement can lead to a whole range of issues and therefore our horses are kept out in the paddocks overnight as much as the weather allows us to. Small herd turnout is preferred, but we keep new or visiting horses separate from the groups. We believe that for most horses, a short time in the stable does them no harm, and may in fact enable them to rest properly. Some horses will not sleep deeply enough when living in the paddock with other horses.
Arenas & Outriding
The outdoor arena measures 60m x 30m and has almost 20m of full length mirrors on one short side. The surface is of the highest quality sand with a carpet fibre mix. We are aware of the dangers of riding on surfaces which move too much, as well as surfaces which grip and are consequently more 'jarring' on the horse. We believe our surface is the perfect balance. It is firm, without slip or movement, but contains no wax. We have a full set of show jumps and lots of poles for both ridden and ground pole work.
The indoor arena measures 25m x 25m and provides a safe space for groundwork and where needed, turnout. It is well lit, in direct view of the stable barn. Access is via a level concrete walkway, which is also perfect for trot-ups and gait analysis. The surface of the arena is sand and fibre, kept damp and firm, with minimal movement.
The hacking on the farm is a mixture of both stone and tarmac tracks, and grass set-asides around hundreds of acres. When the ground is wet we are limited to the stone tracks and country lanes, which are easily accessible and usually very quiet. Compton Verney house provides a beautiful backdrop. There are good hills easily accessible.