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An instructor's view

Jo Thompson

If it were not for Katherine I don’t think I’d have Soldier today. She has been our trainer and friend for many years and she’s been with us through all the highs and lows. This is what she had to say;
“I first met Jo when I was teaching her at Pony Club camp. My lasting memory of her at that stage in her life was as a slightly uncoordinated but enthusiastically determined child riding a bay pony who often haired off in the opposite direction to that which was required. Even then she made an impression on me with her dogged determination and sheer grit.
Following that year I had an anxious phone call from Sheila (Jo’s mum) to say that they had bought a new horse for Jo and it was not working out. Did I know of anyone looking for a horse?... I said I would come and have a look at him…and the rest is history. I could not ride Soldier in the school as he had had a bad experience and just would not enter the arena so I tried him out in their field. Even then as a gangly, uncoordinated but handsome horse he had something about him. My recommendation was to keep him, hack him out and if he had a strop to give him a pat to disperse the tension and to laugh at him…then I disappeared off and left them to it.
I did not hear from Jo again until she was in university.  By that time she had worked her way through most of the local instructors with varying results resulting in a frustrated horse and rider. It was very clear that there was no partnership beyond Jo caring and loving him and Soldier taking all that was on offer with nothing returned. Life was about what he wanted to do and was done under his rules with no thought for the consequences of his actions.
The balance needed to be redressed and a ‘back to basics’ scheme was called for. With so many issues it was always going to be difficult to know where to start. I firmly believe that unless the rider is sitting and asking the horse to perform in the correct way it is totally unfair to expect the horse to give of this best. This divides into 2 categories – mental and physical. Jo had been thrown off Soldier on several occasions and also had been pulled around by him when handling him from the ground.This had resulted in not only physical problems but mental scars as well. Added to this Jo was just starting off on her career path and could not afford financially to fall off and injure herself. These anxieties are still present today although Jo is now in control of them.
With Soldier then, the bottom line was that he wanted to be in control – but when allowed to be so he did not know what to do with that power. We had to teach him to make some decisions that he was happy but that allowed Jo to achieve what she wanted to. One such example of this was perhaps the biggest turning point in the Jo and Soldier story and the start of their journey onto a different path which has led to this website and Jo’s quest to help other horse owners.
Due to a previous instructors attitude of ‘you will do whatever you are told to do – whatever force and bullying is required’ Soldier had a major problem with poles, jumps or indeed anything or anyone in the arena with him. My evaluation of this was that he had a spatial awareness problem i.e. he did not realise how big/small he is, how much space he takes up and how much area he needed. I taught several lessons in the early days from outside the school because Soldier just did not believe that he had room to get past me if I stood in the middle of a 20m x 40m ménage and he was on the outside track…and I am not that fat! This had also inhibited boxing and stabling Soldier but that is a tale for Jo to tell. At the end of a particularly frustrating lesson for all concerned I placed Jo and Soldier up the opposite end of the ménage from the gate and placed a row of poles running from B to E across the surface with a poles width gap in the middle. A simple exercise for Soldier to walk through the middle down to the gate across to his field and back to grazing for the night. No bullying was allowed – instead vocal encouragement for Soldier to make a decision that he could fit through the poles and return home. What seemed like several hours later he shut his eyes, took a deep breath and ran…but he achieved it…he made it through the poles –and lived to fight another day!! Sounds ridiculous you may say…’all he had to do was walk through the poles - any horse can do that’, but this fear of his size and in the past when he did not understand something, not being given the time to assimilate the instructions and then being beaten and bullied (whip and spur) by often very highly thought of instructors had increased this fear to such an extent that asking Soldier to do anything from having fly spray put on to riding out safely was fraught with danger.
Jo has used her natural tenacity to explore alternative options. She is an intelligent individual who will not give up on her horse. The arrival of Monty Roberts in this country and the subsequent flourishing of alternative thinking problem solving methods has given free rein for people to jump on the bandwagon of ‘natural’ type training schemes, not all of which have firm foundations and thus may not yield the results required. Jo does not adhere to one particular disciple – she values the method by the remedy and its relevance to the particular individual partnership of horse and rider. She is not afraid to adapt and improve. An example of this is that is that Sheila trains and teaches dog agility and obedience, Jo has used this experience particularly ‘clicker trains’ to desensitise Soldier to situations. Training horses is a game. The trick is not to let the horse play the game under his rules but for the rider/trainer to tailor the rules to suit the situation.  Jo’s exploration and experience of training techniques will enable you to achieve this.”


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