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Boring, Boring, BORING!
Bored Riders, Bored Guides, BORED HORSES!
What To Do?
There are many looks of surprise amongst riders at River Valley Stables when they are first introduced to their horses.
Much of this surprise factor is around the fact that the horses do not have bridles with a bit in their mouths, rather what is over the horses head is a simple rope halter with a set of rope reins.
Rope reins, halters, no bridles, and even no steel shoes on the horses feet, what is the story with all this?
It was a deep sense of frustration that lead to this situation.
To get to the bottom of this frustration and to find out what is happening at River Valley Stables we interviewed Nicola Megaw, co owner of the business, and someone who is deeply passionate about using what are called Natural Horse Training techniques in the Stables day to day operations.
What Triggered Your Decision to Introduce Natural Horse Training Techniques to River Valley Stables?
A deep sense of frustration with being a day to day horse trekking outfit led Nicola to make the decision to take the path of Natural Horse Training. She observed that in situations such as in a standard trekking business, and at that time the Stables was one, the horses seemed to lose so much of their life, personality and willingness to do things for us.
She felt that there was little point with doing the same thing over and over where there was no real long term gain for either customers or horses. It was just plain Boring!
There had to be a better way, or else get out of the business.
There Was a Better Way
In 2008 during a charity multi day horse trek that Nicola was on, she happened to watch a demonstration by leading horseman, Russell Higgins. It was an eye opener and a promise of a different way of doing things.
At first Nicola dabbled with these new techniques, slowly mastering the more basic patterns. These were shared with the other Stables staff, with a full commitment to go fully over to a Natural Horse Training style of operation taken only in 2011.
This was quite a decision as while Natural Horse Training was being used by many individuals, to run a trekking operation using this style of interaction with a horse was very new. In fact River Valley Stables was one of the first, and still one of only a handful, of trekking outfits to do this on any scale.
What Specific Elements of Natural Horse Training (which is a big subject) Have You concentrated On to Get to This Stage in the Stables Operation?
Nicola commented that their focus has been on delivering a fun, safe and enjoyable ride to the Stables customers. To achieve this, the elements they have concentrated on are getting the horses, calm, smart, brave, confident and soft so their riders can easily direct them.
What this direction means when riding is that the horse will respond correctly when it is asked to go, stop, change pace, go faster, slower and in general make for more of a pleasurable ride for both horse and rider.
How Do Natural Horse Trained Horses Enhance the Riders Experience?
Nicola has observed that introducing customers to these techniques gives them an understanding of how a horse thinks and an opportunity to work with that horse and communicate with that horse in a way that they never would have thought to be possible.
Nicola has this to say "I think people are more genuinely interested, it is not just hop on a horse, push a button and go for a ride, there is a lot more to it and people enjoy that."
She also commented that they regularly receive feedback from customers about how much more they love the relationship they are able to build with their horse and how they love the rides.
This relationship is developed by time spent at the beginning of each trek teaching people how to understand how a horse thinks. This gives the rider an insight into how to handle their horse as seen through a horses eyes.
The Stables staff find that the horses are better behaved now that these techniques are employed, and it is also a more rewarding experience for them as well as customers.
What Has Been the Biggest Challenge You Have Had to Overcome in Your Quest to Have a Horse Trekking Operation that Really Does Use Natural Horse Training Techniques?
Nicola and the Stables staff really live Natural Horse Training - it is obviously not just lip service. Nicola commented that training herself and the other staff to understand horses in this way and then being able to communicate this through to customers on a ride was the single biggest challenge.
She added, "The horse already knows what it should do, it is about us learning how to put ourselves into a position where it can easily do it."
Seeing the Relationship in a Different Light
Nicola says that changing to Natural Horse Training Techniques has let her see the relationship between horse and rider in a totally different light. It is a commitment to a journey that involves not just riding, but also the physique, emotions, health and nutrition of the horse, and there is so much more to learn.
A journey to make River Valley Stables a better place for both customers and horses. The only frustration now is in having enough time as there is so much to learn.
To understand where the practices of Natural Horseman Training originated, please read this article.
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