The Magic Bullet – A Fairy Tale

The Magic Bullet is something Tom and Sarah told me about, and it holds the key to excellent horsemanship. I was very excited when I first heard about it and could breathe a sigh of relief that I had found the thing which was going to solve all of my horsemanship woes and concerns. So, I asked them, ‘What is it and where can I buy it?’ It turns out they were just teasing me. Bastards.

This has continued to be an ongoing joke between Sarah and I (we are hilarious), as it is all too easy to think that someone or something has the magic bullet which will unlock the secret to harmony for you and your horse. We tend to attribute it to particular techniques or trainers, and believe me I have done it, and if I am not careful, will continue to do it…

I have most certainly been guilty of thinking that particular people have it and can pass it on to me (they may well have it, but it’s not for sale, oh no, it’s not for sale). Maybe when Mark Rashid showed me how to offer softness back down the reins when a horse is bracing that would be the complete and true answer? Maybe Philippe Karl ‘s demonstrations of how to relax a horse’s jaw and change its balance would be the key? Possibly Marijke’s straightness training and Manolo’s lunging would unlock these mysteries for me and ‘Lo, me and my horses would be happy forever more?

It is even easy to believe that the magic bullet can be found in equipment. How do you think the Parelli’s have done so well? I try my best not to be taken too far down this road, but I do have a LOT of supplements in my supplement cabinet (who on earth has a supplement cabinet?) and I have a fine selection of different thickness reins and have made my way dutifully through Rockin S bits to Fulmer snaffles. Good girl, here ye shall find the solution. I once heard someone ask Mark Rashid exactly what length and thickness of ropes he used? He looked bemused, while I wondered what colour they were?

Sometimes Sarah is mean to me, particularly when I am at my most smug. On returning from a hack where a special flexion called action reaction had kept me and my horse relaxed and happy all the way round, (it teaches the horse to ‘telescope’ his neck and reach forward to the bit) I was convinced that was it, I knew how to do it, and it worked. As I gushed about my experiences Sarah asked me whether this might actually be the magic bullet? Yes, I thought in my head, I think it might be.

Then Des arrived and it turned out he was not interested in action reaction thanks, and extending his neck was not on his agenda. And the other thing I have learned over the time I have been experimenting with this (and continue to learn about it), is that without balance it doesn’t always work, and without feel it doesn’t always work, and without good timing it’s probably going to be at half cock. How annoying.

What I think all of those people and other great trainers have (I am not talking about the sellers of equipment, but those who are sharing knowledge) is plenty of techniques and approaches which work, but critically – THEY are in the mix. They bring their knowledge and experience and many, many years of making mistakes and learning that comes from that. They bring their way of ‘being’ with a horse, their now innate understanding of what to do, and when. They spend a lot less time down blind alleys than the rest of us. And the reason I have become so interested in working with Mike Beard is because he can help people understand this bit – the bit that is you.

Yesterday Des and I went out for an early morning hack – he is usually an excellent companion around the lanes of Devon, but yesterday came out of the field like a snorting dragon and continued thus throughout the hack. I tried all of my fail safe techniques (we have had some very good experiences of neck extension in the school this week) but it seems it is still possible to snort and spook at things in this posture. I stopped and waited for him to relax his jaw and breathe, ok good, next step, passage again. I tried turning circles, only going straight when he relaxed. There are only so many circles you can turn in a country lane…Then, I used my weight and balance to suggest to him slower steps might be more helpful, and is if by MAGIC my horse gave a huge sigh of relief, and walked calmly the rest of the way. ‘Don’t let me rush and run human, it does my Portuguese brain in’, Des tells me.’ Ahhhhhh – NOW I have found the key!’ says my ego. While the voice of experience quietly says in reply, ’We’ll see…’

What I know I do have is more miles in the saddle. Many, many hours trying to work out what works and what doesn’t. Making a trillion, billion mistakes and lying awake staring at the ceiling trying to work them out. I know things with my horses are O.K. Not perfect, but getting better (well, they are perfect by their own standards, I mean my human-imposed standards). I know that each mistake has helped me to learn something new (even if that is that I am NEVER doing that again), the hours of working with lots of different horses begins to give you some responses which come automatically. And I do now have different approaches I can try depending on the horse and situation.

I have finally given up the dream of the golden bullet. I don’t think anyone one person or training system can give it to you. However, I think you might find it in you, but you can’t buy it and you can’t learn it without breaking a whole lot of eggs (and possibly, some horses, which is the part we find hardest to bear) along the way.