Versión española en preparación...disculpa la molestía

 

In a nutshell

Gevevieve with the gang By the time we moved to Spain, we had fallen for horses. In Ireland, we had got to know the Connermara ponies living fairly freely around us. Then, when Geneviève was preparing to go to a ranch in Argentina, through the WWOOF organisation, she took lessons in conventional riding schools, on stabled horses. Once in Argentina she did lots of trail riding, on horses who spend most of their time running free. Soon, we went back to the ranch together, and Brian got started with ranch horses, and hooked! What a difference, between horses who live in little better than solitary confinement, and horses who live in a herd, with freedom of movement over large tracts of land, never stabled, worked no more than a few hours a day, for a few days at a time. Still, we weren´t happy with the amount of hardware used to control the horses when riding: bits, spurs and whips, just like in the riding schools. There must be something better than that.

Okapi and BrianThere is. We knew it in our hearts. We found some books that confirmed we were on the right trail. As soon as we had a roof over our heads here in Requijada, we bought horses, gave them as much space as possible, on rough grazing, and got to know them. We searched for more books, and videos. We tried out things we imagined ourselves and things we read in books and saw in videos. We searched for people experienced in horse training without hardware. We did (and still do) courses for trainers, and we got to where we wanted to be from the moment of discovery in Argentina: riding a horse with no bit, no spurs, no whips and (for training and short rides) no saddle. This applies as much to young horses, with no previous training, as to older horses "broken" in the conventional manner.

 

Early study and investigation

Our first book on what is now generally called natural horsemanship was Monty Roberts' "The Man who Listens to Horses", Geneviève's Christmas gift to Brian. In Requijada we got to know Goyo, a self-taught natural horseman. He is one of many men in the area who enjoy keeping a small breeding herd of horses on rough grazing on the commonages and mountainsides. Twenty years ago there was an export market for horsemeat, and though there is practically no demand now, people still have their horses: they like to see them free in the countryside. Goyo handles his horses gently, and is very attentive to the quality of their lives.

The first horse we bought, Okapi, was bred by Goyo. For her first year we left her with her herd on the land around the village, visiting them often, doing only basic care (feet, worming) and playing with them. As our foal grew up, we studied Monty Roberts' book and the corresponding videos, and the book of Klaus Hempfling. We also met Deana, an English horsewoman then living locally. She was a former Olympic team member, with lots of experience in conventional horse training, and we listened to her advice, and followed some of it!

 

First Practice in Natural Horsemanship

When Okapi was nearly two years old, we took her away from her herd to our own paddock, for three weeks. She had the company of the goats, the hens, the dogs and us. She took to the new regime with style, getting a bit jumpy only when we took her out to good grass once or twice a day. Then she wanted to join the herd again, naturally. After two weeks of getting her used to a head collar and lead rope, we took her to a round pen we built with Kori, an American wwoofer, and worked through Monty Roberts' method for "starting" a horse, that is, introducing a horse to saddle, bridle and rider. We were extremely attentive to the horse and to following Monty's advice, as well as keeping Deana's and Goyo's warnings in mind, and within forty minutes Okapi had accepted the whole lot: saddle, bridle with snaffle bit, with Geneviève in the saddle. We repeated the lesson over a few days, on the last days coming out of the pen to walk around the fields and lanes, Geneviève in the saddle using very loose reins, Brian following alongside with a loose, long lead rope, letting the horse choose her course, within limits of safety for all.

Then we brought Okapi back to the herd, and only after another six months did we do any more training, ground work with long reins. When she was three and a half years old, we began riding again, and quickly realised that the bit was a nuisance for both horse and handler, and that the really important part of contact was in the relationship, aided by a good seat (bareback or saddle), a rope halter, and reins more often loose than anything else.

 

More breaks

Meanwhile Deana discovered Monty Roberts' book - we had said nothing! She borrowed our videos and she lent us her books, including Lucy Rees' "The Horse's Mind". This book was written before Monty Roberts'. It is based on the author's and many other animal behaviourists' (ethologists') studies of horses living naturally in herds in open spaces. It also covers the kind of training used by some American oldtimers, who are the forerunners of Monty Roberts and several other now famous trainers. It struck more than a chord with us, and it described clearly the language that horses use to communicate with each other, language mostly of body but also of voice.

After we had "started" Okapi, who is a jumpy Thoroughbred cross, we found Esquel, then ten years old, a riding school veteran, a cob with an easy going temperament, but clearly a victim of abuse, including severe bits, ill-fitting saddles and beatings, particularly around the head. Between her riding school days and coming to Requijada she had a few years' break, living out, with no ill treatment, in a neighbouring village. Soon after settling her in with Okapi and the other horses in Requijada, we began to ride her without a bit, or a saddle.

Just having Deana's copy of "The Horse's Mind" was a great break. Another break came when we learned from WWOOF members Niek and Evelien than the author Lucy, who is Welsh, was now living in Spain, and giving courses! Brian went on one of Lucy's courses, in a riding school near Madrid, taking Okapi and Esquel with him. The horses were a great hit on the course! And we had found a horsy place which is three things in one: conventional riding school, national farriery school and "university" of alternative horse training and horse care methods.

 

The Project

That was the beginning. The years come and go, each packed with discovery and experience. We have been teaching people to ride, and horses to be ridden, and helping both to understand each other, and we never stop learning. Apart from riding, we have been training horses to draw (plough, sledge and cart) as well as carry loads on a pack saddle.

Our inquiry into the nature of horses is constant. We observe, experiment, study the professional and scientific literature, go on courses as well as give them, have experts in horse care come to Requijada to teach us more...

All our efforts are focused on improving the relationship between horse and human, so there is a good deal and good fun for both.