“In my early 20’s I worked through my British Horse Society exams in my spare time, attaining Stage III. I then switched completely to Western riding for the next 15 years, buying my first Quarter Horse, and competing seriously in Scotland and England. I also organised shows, clinics, demonstrations and trail rides and social events, generally promoting Western Riding, as well as teaching Western riding and starting Western horses.
“When I started having problems with a QH mare that I had bred myself, my search for help (somehow the ‘take her round the back and beat the @*}# out of her’ advice I got from both English and Western ‘trainers’ didn’t appeal…) finally took me to an American clinician called Mark Rashid. We would call Mark ‘natural’; he just calls himself a horse trainer. I whisked my mare off to one of his clinics, and after 2 days of asking every question I could think of left with a whole new perspective on horses generally, my mare, and myself. In a nutshell, because I had bred the horse myself, my attitude had been one of ‘She knows better’, ‘She’s just doing that to annoy me’, and ‘How do I make her do x’. I finally realised that most of the problems stemmed from me; that I hadn’t given her enough reasons to trust, never mind like me, and that I had inadvertently taught her some less than desirable habits!
“I realised that I had a lot to learn, and started organising clinics in Scotland with American clinicians; Mark, Dr Deb Bennett, Leslie Desmond, and Peggy Cummings. Mark must have been impressed with my new improved attitude, as he offered me a job as his assistant in the US, in 2001 and 2002. That was an invaluable experience; I know that as a result I am much softer, slower, and see things much more from the horse’s point of view.
“In between stints with Mark I began working full-time with horses, helping people with problems and generally focussing on the relationship and communication between them and their horse. My training with Peggy Cummings led me to expand that, looking more in depth at the connection between us and our horses, helping people to understand better how to teach their horses softness – inside as well as out – by being more aware of both their and their horses’ posture and carriage.
“And now, here I am in NZ! I’m loving it here, and it seems like the perfect place for me to continue my horsemanship journey. People here have been very receptive to Connected Riding, and I look forward to taking them further and introducing more people to better connection with their horses.
Basically I try to see everything from the horse’s point of view. They can’t talk to us, they can only show us by their actions how they feel about something. I believe that the horse has a right to his opinion, and we should take notice of it. Obviously there are times where his opinion will be over-ruled, but personally I would hate to be over-ruled all the time – that just leads to either a resentful or shut down horse, not the mutual respect and consideration I am looking for.
Be consistent. Horses rarely do things specifically to get the better of us; more usually they are doing what we (or maybe a previous owner) have taught them or let them do. Take a step back; if most of the time you don’t mind your horse putting its head down to eat some grass, how is he supposed to understand why it’s not ok this time?
One thing I try very hard never to do (unless I’m literally being run over) is pull on a horse, whether reins or lead rope. My goal is to offer softness at all times, leading by example to create a trusting and safe environment.
Break things down into tiny chunks. Never assume that the horse knows something; if you are having a problem, no matter what age they are or whatever their prior experience, break it down and re-teach them the way you want them to do whatever it is.
This is a biggie. Don’t assume that just because someone is a ‘professional’, or has had horses for years, the advice they are giving you is correct or the way things should be done. Time and again I see people doing things ‘because so and so told me I should do it this way’. Go with your gut instinct, and do what feels right for you and your horse. Above all, don’t let someone else do something to your horse that doesn’t feel right to you; stand up for your horse.
Less is more; don’t drill your horse. You’ll achieve more by stopping sooner and giving them time to process what you are teaching them. Even when it doesn’t seem like they are getting it, you’ll be surprised how they will pick things up better if given more time to think things through.
Trisha Wren can teach you how to really connect with your horse, on the ground and in the saddle, taking your horsemanship and performance to new levels. For information on clinics and lessons click here
©Trisha Wren ~ June 2007