Feeling like I had reached a developmental plateau with my horses, I finally decided to do something proactive about it. That 'something' was signing up for the six month Genuine Horse Development Course with Student of the Horse in Bridgnorth. It is proving to be one of the wisest decisions I've made. The course consists of six modules and teaching is held over a weekend on a monthly basis. The core modules consists of basic horsemanship skills, groundwork, in hand, lunging, riding and liberty.
Having attended a fair number of courses in my time, ranging from month long residential's to weekend workshops, I am pretty au fait with the whole horse clinic deal. Arran Parker and Mark Walters however, have created something wonderfully unique at Student of the Horse and here's why.
A Pressure Free Learning Environment
For many of us, putting ourselves in a public learning situation can be very exposing. I am a relatively confident learner these days but even so, chuck me, my horse and an audience in the mix and it is really easy to feel a touch of performance anxiety creeping in. I can honestly say that right from the first weekend, I have not felt the slightest glimmer of anything even vaguely resembling nervousness or tension. It is testament to the training philosophy at SoH that humans and horses are supported in such a way that ensures that we all stay in a 100% learning frame of mind. Everything flows and feels natural and supportive. I so appreciate this and as a result, I feel the learning is somehow super-charged. It sticks like glue because I remain present and can hear, see, feel and experience all of it without getting lost in feelings of insecurity.
A Method-less Method
Now this one is a little hard to explain! Yes, there is theory, yes there is a pattern to support learning but it never feels like you are getting drilled with a method. The emphasis is always placed on what you and your horse embody. There is a real palpable sense of enjoyment in the infinite variety and uniqueness that each horse and human combination brings forth. The learning isn't by rote. It is about freshness, lightness and individuality all with the aim of horse and human moving forward in harmony and balance. Having gone down the road of 'systems' and very top down equestrian ideologies, there is something about this approach that I deeply appreciate.
An Ocean of Knowledge Across a Range of Disciplines
The breadth, depth and quality of knowledge at SoH is amazing. There are not many places where you can go to develop your academic skills as well as liberty and bridle-less riding.Perhaps the most amazing aspect is the care in which knowledge and awareness is conveyed. Always with the will to make it as accessible as possible and let's face it, sometimes this academic horse malarkey can be a tad on the indigestible side. From the beautifully presented folder of course materials, to the time that is spent on ensuring that everyone is crystal clear in their understanding, positive solutions, ideas and perspectives abound here.
A Beautiful Learning Environment
There is a lovely attention to detail at SoH. From the set out of the log cabin classroom with books to browse, and a log stove on colder days, amazing food always beautifully presented, and fresh flowers dotted around, investment in the environment is obvious each time you visit. There is always an improvement here and there. Sometimes small, sometimes large but always indicative of forward going energy.
That's Great... But What About the Horsey Stuff?!
So... what have I learnt and what difference has the course made to me and the horses in my life now I am half way through? Well... there has been masses of change but here are a few of my personal 'light bulb' moments:
Channeled energy versus leaking energy
I always knew that one of my horses in particular was a little 'leaky'. Energy dribbles out of his shoulders and hind quarters, falling in or out dependent on what we are doing. Increasingly, I am getting to experience a horse that can sustain a 'stacked' and strong frame with energy flowing powerfully through his body with no loss of energy. It feels distinctive, totally remarkable and I am bowled over by it. It's a pretty addictive sensation. Light, precise and powerful and devoid of feeling like I have to continuously produce the movement. Which leads us neatly on to...
Quitting Those Secondary Aids!
It has been really enlightening to observe how often most of us keep secondary aids permanently applied. Even if it is a really subtle but continuously applied secondary aid, we rob the horse of fully experiencing his or her own true balance. This is such a pesky habit to break but break it I must. Awareness is all though and I am getting far more adept at releasing the aid as soon as it is no longer required. Knowing when to support and channel and when to leave the horse alone in a state of 'effortless effort' is dependent on my own full body awareness. Again this is a work in progress. A life times process with ever increasing degrees of refinement and depth.
Expanding Awareness Through Changing Positions
It is really easy for me to find myself perpetually living in my comfort zone from a groundwork perspective. That has been well and truly shaken up with things like double reined, one handed, in-hand shoulder in from the outside walking backwards. It becomes so easy to do everything from the same spot, in exactly the same way. Move about... switch positions! Put yourself in a spot you don't usually work your horse from. Doing so definitely ups the anti in terms of feel and trust on both sides of the partnership, plus you get to see parts of your horse in motion you never generally get to look at. It expands our own and our horses body awareness greatly.
Challenge and Believe in Yourself and your Horse
I have realised that in my bid to be kind and ethical with my horses, I had lost some ambition and willingness to reach and ask for something more. A couple of days after coming home from the last weekend at SoH, things felt so good I thought I'd have a go at asking Axel to try canter travers and shoulder-in. Axel did a few strides, offered with a real joie de vivre and obvious enjoyment. Our horses can benefit from our ambition if it is offered in a palatable and sensitive way. They can enjoy the fruits of trying something new and challenging as much as we can.
I feel that my personal development plateau has been left behind as I climb upwards to new and fascinating territories. I am really looking forward to the last three weekends of the course and know that new insights and learning are guaranteed. Knowing that I am never far away from the support I need feels great and I am already looking at which course I take next with Arran and Mark.
I am also really happy to be joining the Student of the Horse teaching team in the near future. It is a truly special and unique place and I feel hugely privileged to be part of the SoH journey.
For more information about Student of the Horse courses, please go to www.studentofthehorse.co.uk