My goodness – the final month of the year. And what a year it has been. Seeing the changes in students and their horses is such pleasure and thrill to me. I have really enjoyed this Calendar Girl series and I hope it has inspired students that they too can follow in these Calendar Girl footsteps.
To finish the year I would like to introduce you to Kath and her two lovely PRE mares, Carisma and Mischief.
First of all would you please tell me a little about your horses- breed, age, size?
I’m lucky to be partnered with two 15.2hh PRE mares aged 11 and 14. They are full sisters and seem to have a very special relationship. Both girls have spent all of their career so far with me and I’m lucky that they live in the field behind my house.
And a bit about your own experience with horses?
I started to chase my childhood dream of dancing with horses aged 30. It all looked so simple – how naive was that?
After a few years of lessons I was the green rider who bought a green horse – a 4yo just backed Danish Warmblood. It took the best part of 15 years to become the person that my horse needed. It was a long and challenging journey and on the way I met some excellent mentors, wonderful people and found so many different things to explore including Ride With Your Mind, Parelli, Enlightened Equitation. I threw myself into each of these journeys with energy and learnt a lot about myself, my horse and possibly most importantly, how to learn. We reached the long term goal of getting to BD Regional Championships before we stopped chasing shadows and relaxed into enjoying learning together. Fagos left me after an accident in the field; we had completed a rollercoaster ride together.
Carisma joined me as a just backed 4yo – what did I say about learning to learn? We enjoyed some Parelli clinics and started to have some fun although I did notice that whenever something happened she seemed to hold her breath and rush … how could I have ignored that? She had a serious accident that left her with a pelvic injury and the vets said she would probably not be a riding horse again.
I so adored Carisma’s kind nature that I bought her full sister Mischief and together we chased the Natural Horsemanship dream. We learnt a lot and met some great people and inspirational horsemen/women. I started to peel the layers of the onion one at a time with quite a few tears of joy as well as some of frustration. I was lucky that after a long rest Carisma recovered enough to join in a bit and I threw renewed energy into following my dream of dancing with horses. We all developed our foundation and really enjoyed studying with excellent coaches.
Why did you start Straightness Training with them?
I started ST at the beginning of 2017 looking for a way to help Carisma get more comfortable in her body. Despite the best of vet and bodywork and help from excellent coaches she was often ‘not quite right behind’. All my attempts to find help for her had yielded short term results and we were running out of options. I’d read the Natural Asymmetry information and held out a small hope that addressing her natural asymmetry might just lead to a little more comfort for this beautiful, kind and generous horse. So Carisma and I started ST looking for comfort for her.
My plan was to focus my ST learning on Carisma and leave Mischief on another track until I had developed the basics. In 2016/7 Mischief had surgery and was doing very light work. At the beginning of 2018 I was booked to go to Elaine’s for an experience week with both girls, thinking that I would focus on Carisma and we’d see if there was any help available for Mischief. On the day my normally self-loading Carisma decided that she couldn’t possibly load onto the lorry so Mischief and I went on our own. Not quite ideal as Mischief’s knowledge of ST was very limited. So Mischief progressed in ST because Carisma insisted.
What changes have you seen in them – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual?
In 2017 Carisma learnt the patterns of ST and we did half-decent lookalikes of ST exercises yet her body didn’t improve. I knew that I’d missed something big and the search for the needle in the haystack continued. I booked some experience weeks with Elaine hoping she knew where to find the needle.
Mischief arrived at her first ST experience week as a physically challenged horse with a tight back. She left with a different understanding of her body, a new idea of humans as potentially helpful and a brighter future. Now she has more confidence in her body she is much softer physically, mentally calmer and emotionally she seems to be at one with herself for the first time. Mischief knows she is a great horse and is starting to be able to express it. And, by the way, she is comfortable in her body and starting to build some strength.
I was lucky to visit Elaine for three weeks in 2018. Carisma didn’t attend the first week, was present for the second week and by the third week she was physically more balanced, mentally willing and emotionally ready to make changes. Carisma would like nothing more than to please and for years it was physically difficult for her to do that. Now I have found a way to be gently progressive with her she is able to build strength, to be successful every day and she seems to have found a new self confidence.
The most startling change in both of my horses is that they seem to understand that I am trying to help them be the best that they can be – we are on a journey together. Sounds mad?
What changes have you made in yourself?
To start with I joked that ST was the horsemanship equivalent of watching paint dry. It really felt like it as, to me, horsemanship didn’t include doing such small things so slowly with such precision! So possibly the biggest change in me is starting to tune in to the horse’s movement and learning to slow down to give us all time to figure things out. Looking back I have changed from being a fast, unpredictable firework and learnt to think, feel and move in the rhythm of the horse.
A long time ago a great horseman said to me that we should always know why we are doing things with a horse – such a powerful idea and at the time I thought I understood. The reality of ST is that I have learnt how movement links to the development and long term health of the horse – how to get focussed on the essence of things. Although our journey has only just begun I do think starting to focus on essence has caused a quantum shift in how I interact with horses and how they perceive me.
Anything else you would like to say?
I decided that immersion was the best approach to learning a new skill – time to absorb information and find a different way of thinking. I think my horses feel that commitment and that we have all benefited from a single focus.
Some of the biggest lightbulb moments this year have come from lessons with Elaine’s schoolmaster horses. They seem to know how to be the horse that their student needs and which lesson will make most difference! So if you have opportunity for a schoolmaster lesson then take it!
Many thanks to Kath for sharing her journey with her lovely mares Carisma and Mischief. Kath is systematically making her way through the Straightness Training Touchstones with both mares – forever searching for the essence of the movements -and the relationship between the three of them is truly blossoming. I very much look forward to seeing them all again next year when they return for more immersion weeks of learning. What fun we will have!