One minute you're sitting pretty at the top of your game and the next, it's all turned ugly! That about sums up the last week of Oliver Townend's eventing career, from Kentucky to Badders. It's tough to get to the top and it can be even tougher to stay there. As the Billy Ocean song goes, " When the Going Get's Tough, the Tough Get Going.' We know that it takes grit and determination to rise to the top of any sport but when animals are involved the less attractive side of ambition can be amplified. 

The reactions of most spectators to Oliver Townend's use of the whip on Badminton's Cross Country day ranged from 'uncomfortable' to 'appalled'. The sudden onset of hot weather married with 'holding' ground meant that a lot of horses were really tiring near the end of the course and had to be coaxed home. A lot of riders did this sympathetically but Townend was seen giving Ballaghmor Class in particular, quite a few smacks plus waving of his whip to drive him home. When we watched the cross country action live on the BBC it certainly wasn't a pretty picture. In his interview with Clare Balding afterwards Townend said that he'd had to work hard on his young horse who was prone to being nappy and was playing up a bit on the way home. Re-watching the footage, Ballaghmor Class actually didn't look as fatigued as many of the other horses and so maybe he did just have his mind on other things.  Cooley SRS who he rode at the beginning of the day, didn't look too tired as he finished and both horses certainly looked good in the jumping phase so certain claims that he was beating unfit exhausted horses home is probably an overwrought response.

Event rider Oliver Townend wearing black top and riding protector with black riding helmet on a bay horse jumping a stone wall at Badminton Horse TrialsOliver Townend on the XC course riding Cooley SRS at Badminton Horse Trials, 2018

You know your horse is talented, you've got your eye on the grand slam and a huge cash prize, new scoring changes have meant that your cross country time is even more crucial than before so it's easy to see that if your steed then decides he'd rather be back in his box munching hay, you might feel impelled to dissuade him! …..and under pressure, in full view of the equestrian world, Oliver Townend did just that with rather too many thwacks and waves of his whip. 

Now, we're not condoning what he's done but let's face it, many of us riders have made errors of judgement especially in the heat of the moment that we regret. There are probably plenty of his critics who definitely shouldn't be throwing stones! On the other hand it's quite right that we demand better of our equestrian heroes; they are supposed to inspire us and when they are flawed, we are disappointed. This has meant that Oliver Townend has received on top of the official warning from the Badminton ground jury, a social media whipping which can create it's own version of ugly. 

Becoming an online critic, doesn't necessarily make you a better horseman than Townend because it doesn't. As he himself has said in his apology. 

"I fully accept the warning I received. My competitive instincts got the better of me and I will work hard to improve in this area.


"I try hard to give my horse the best ride possible. I try to be as fit as possible, to be as light as I can be, to sit as still as I can, to get them on the best strides and take-off points to minimise the energy they have to waste."

These are a list of the positive factors that have got him to be the eventing world's number one rider. This is why horses will do what they do for him. Remember, 'To err is human….' and very few of us are without fault. Hopefully Townend has learnt from this, now let's leave him to get on with becoming the best rider we want him to be.

Published in Trot On Blogs

hartshorsemanship 150Ben Hart hates injustice and wasted potential, and he has a mission to help people understand the true nature of equines by using the honesty of the science of behaviour to help both animals and their people unlock their true potential. He firmly believes working with equines doesn't have to be complicated, dangerous or stressful and by helping people to understand the true and amazing behaviour of equines, he wants them to better understand each other to make life better for horses, donkeys and Mules. Ben removes the myths and dependence on dominance and forceful training methods and focuses on positive, safe effective solutions that centre on both the animal and the human. Ben's delivery of training is unique, ensuring an outstanding experience that is enjoyable and life changing.


Learn more about how Ben works.

Ben Hart's Online Learning Opportunities - Hart's Horsemanship Courses

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Monday, 09 October 2017 13:32

Trusting the little voice | Ben Hart

The body has its own wisdom and responds to the world in a very sensitive way, learning to listen to the wisdom of the body is very important in the development of training skills. The body sends sensations to our brain. We usually experience them as a vague sense of knowing, a gut feeling, a tension, a nervousness or a feeling of peace and happiness.

Listening to the body is very important as the spend and subconscious level it works on can be very accurate compared to the over analytical brain. The little voice is your body's wisdom, it will speak to you just before you eat another cake for instance, saying you are full but we have become so used to overriding the brain that we stop listening and allow the thoughts in our head drive us, I want cake, I deserve cake, just one more won’t hurt. But they are so good, I have eaten two and blown it any way so what difference does a third make, I’ll start healthy eating tomorrow.

This sense we get from the animal and situation relies on our resonance circuitry, our mirror neurons fire when we see behaviour in others causing us to have a sense of another’s experience this is the beginnings of empathy. The more we experience another’s behaviour the better our resonance circuitry is at reproducing what they feel.

Often handlers “know” if their animal is having a bad day, how do they know, do they think it, no they feel it first, a combination of body language, movement, posture, action and reaction, previous experience and behaviour give us a sense of knowing the emotional states of others. Then these feelings connect to the brain and we know and rationalise the feeling to a state of knowing the animal is having a bad day.

Many handlers have a feeling about what they should or should not do, especially when it comes to getting on to go for a ride on a nervous horse, they may experience a sense of fear, nervousness apprehension, it is natural we say, but it is the little voice that is representing our feeling in the body that we actually haven’t done enough work to be sure of the animal’s behaviour, we can trust their behaviour, we are not sure we have the skills to cope. But our analytical brain over rides this again much like when we get to the third piece of cake, don’t be silly you will be fine, don’t be such a whimp, I have to do more otherwise he is going to waste, everyone else will think I am a chicken, I would get on and ride if I was any good. And so we ride. Unfortunately far too often our little voice was right and we shouldn’t be riding and accidents or fearful incidences that make the situation worse do occur.

It is possible that through our life experiences and self protection we have shut off our feeling and our little voice to a level that it is almost imperceptible.  The good news is we can with some work and attention to our bodies open up the channels of communication an reengage with our bodies again learning to listen to the small sense of feeling that is so important if we are to develop our listening skills. Trust the feeling.
hartshorsemanship 150Ben Hart hates injustice and wasted potential, and he has a mission to help people understand the true nature of equines by using the honesty of the science of behaviour to help both animals and their people unlock their true potential. He firmly believes working with equines doesn't have to be complicated, dangerous or stressful and by helping people to understand the true and amazing behaviour of equines, he wants them to better understand each other to make life better for horses, donkeys and Mules. Ben removes the myths and dependence on dominance and forceful training methods and focuses on positive, safe effective solutions that centre on both the animal and the human. Ben's delivery of training is unique, ensuring an outstanding experience that is enjoyable and life changing.
Ben Hart's Online Learning Opportunities - Hart's Horsemanship Courses
Published in Trot On Blogs
Thursday, 05 October 2017 12:00

Just Because We Can! | Ben Hart

Just Because We Can! - The first of 5 articles in which Ben Hart questions what we do to horses and why

I suspect there has never been a time in the human relationship with equines that we have pushed so far or learnt so much about what we can do to equines as a species. Over the last twenty years trainers have pushed the boundaries of what was perceived possible. I almost wonder is there anything left to invent that we can physically make do to horses, donkeys and mules.

I mean, can we start horses at 18 months of age and have them racing at 2? We can. Can we get a young horse to tolerate their first set of tack and rider in under 27 minutes? We can. Can we take a horse that hasn’t loaded willingly into a trailer for years due to fear and in a strange environment, with a unfamiliar trainer and in less than 30 minutes have them run up and down the ramp into the box? We can. Can we use gadgets and force enough to pull a horse’s head into such unnatural positions that their tongues turn blue? We can. Can we make a horse so compliant that it will run endless circles around the trainer with minimal reinforcement and no benefits to the animal themselves? We can. Can we train a donkey we don’t know in front of a crowd of people to have tack on for the first time and the get on for the first time and not have a train wreck? We can. Can we train frustrated, angry even aggressive animal to put their ears forward when every natural instinct of the animal is to pin them back, and do so using just food rewards? We can. Can we teach them to sit on balls, allow us to stand on their backs, make them lie down with them on us, roll them over on to their backs while we stand astride them and all manner of other tricks? We can. Can we ask more and more of animal regardless of whether they have already given their best? We can.

I could go on and on and on but I am sure you get the picture. If we can imagine it then someone will create a way to get it done. We have truly mastered the species. As far as I can see there is nothing that the horse is not physically capable of doing that we have not found a way to make them do. In 6000 years we have learnt to control, manipulate, dominate, and train so many different ways, to get faster, more predictable results, be more positive and understand their behaviour more. We have learn to market and sell solutions to ever manner of horse human problems and human aspiration. At this stage of our species relationship with horses, donkeys and mules, are we not the most benevolent, smart, productive, clever and imaginative we have ever been?

All of the things we can do and yet there are still so many equines with behaviour problems, so many owners who feel bullied, horses that are shut down and suffer environmental stress, horses developing learned helplessness and becoming aggressive, frustrated and confused by the countless methods they endure. Horsemanship must still in evolution, or surely we would have solved these problems and we are prevented from evolving further by the lack of one simple question. 

Should we?

It seems to me that if we spent more time asking should we, instead of can we, then we might behave differently towards our equine partners. I am not claiming to be the only upholder of ethical values, there are many good people out there, guided by this simple question “Just because we can does it mean we should?” and I salute them all because it is harder to put aside what we can do and replace it with what we should do. After all, what we should do, most often doesn’t make for great showmanship, or lightning fast results, programmed packages that fit all horses and all handlers regardless of age, ability or experience and it does not make lots of money selling gadgets and equipment to the owners desperate to help their equine.

As trainers, “should we?” Causes us to question not only what we do to equines but asks us to look at what we tell others to do. “Should we?” means we might not demonstrate our amazing powers of horsemanship on every occasion, instead settling for showing only what the audience needs to see in order to increase their own skills and abilities while building their confidence. 

This one question is what is needed to guide us in our relationship with horses, donkeys and mules after all we use it in other areas of life’s challenging dilemmas. Should we have factory farming? Should we experiment on animals? Should we cut down the rainforest? 

The direction of our relationship with equines will be determined by the use of this simple question and those brave souls who are prepared currently to be ridiculed, side-lined, laughed at, written off as weird because they refuse just do what can be done, but instead are guided by what should be done in favour of the animal. 

As we choose a trainer, attend a demonstration, by a book, read the article, are tempted to buy the equipment, decide on a behaviour to train or choose the management, environment, or method for our interaction with equines a simple question should be ringing in our ears “I know we can, but should we?

hartshorsemanship 150Ben Hart hates injustice and wasted potential, and he has a mission to help people understand the true nature of equines by using the honesty of the science of behaviour to help both animals and their people unlock their true potential. He firmly believes working with equines doesn't have to be complicated, dangerous or stressful and by helping people to understand the true and amazing behaviour of equines, he wants them to better understand each other to make life better for horses, donkeys and Mules. Ben removes the myths and dependence on dominance and forceful training methods and focuses on positive, safe effective solutions that centre on both the animal and the human. Ben's delivery of training is unique, ensuring an outstanding experience that is enjoyable and life changing.

Ben Hart's Online Learning Opportunities - Hart's Horsemanship Courses
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The smallest changes can sometimes reap the biggest rewards. Getting stuck in a rut is frustrating, and when you are happy to put in the work and are just desperate for an improvement it can just get infuriating when it doesn’t happen.  All I can say is perseverance is worth it…

A recent breakthrough for me was a very slight adjustment in my position which was made by an instructor. I hadn’t appreciated that my weight was every so slightly heavier at the back of my seat, and as a result I wasn’t following Archie’s movements, I was blocking him. By altering this I was able to allow him to move freely behind and not give him confusing mixed messages of forward with the leg but back with the seat and hand. This was the epiphany I needed! And wow did it make a difference. I suddenly found my leg position was more effective, I was more secure, and more importantly Archie was more settled.

What I felt in the moments at home when I put everything together on my own and managed to re-create the feelings I had in the lesson was such a moment of relief. It can be hard work when you want to improve and get better but you feel that things have stagnated, both for you and the horse. Getting a new opinion, a different perspective and some alternative advice (from someone you trust), might just open that door which is being so stubborn. I won’t go through all the details of our lesson, as every rider is different and what worked for me won’t necessarily work for those reading this, but I urge you all to think outside the box and if things are feeling stale don’t stop searching for you own epiphany.

joae150As it says on the tin, this is a personal blog about the journey Archie and I are taking in discovering the world of eventing. Archie is a 6 year old Irish gelding, and I am a 26 year old horse addict. I didn’t grow up in a family with horses, and Archie was the first horse I ever owned, having loaned for over 20 years. I hope that we can show other riders who perhaps don’t feel that they can achieve their dreams, that anything is possible!
Re-published by kind permission of Journey of an Amateur Eventer|Blog
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Learning to work with a horse is one of the most intricate and challenging things anyone can do. 

In November 2008 former Royal Marine, Jock Hutchison and his family moved to Ferrar just outside Aboyne in Aberdeenshire with plans to set up an equestrian business.

Originally the plan was for Jock and his wife, Emma to set up a commercial enterprise providing clients with access to the beautiful surroundings of Royal Deeside on well trained quality American Quarter Horses using the western style of riding.

However, an inspired comment made at a festive gathering of friends, many of whom were ex military, sowed the seed for what became HorseBack.  

Having played around with the horses during the day and whilst sitting around the bonfire a comment was made .

“This is what the guys should do when they come back from War”.

It was recognised that there was a definite need to help soldiers on return from active service or those who had already left. 

In 2009 HorseBack UK as it was now known gained charitable status with the aim of taking wounded servicemen and women and introducing them to horses. Through working with the horses amongst a like minded group, service personnel who had been mentally and physically scarred could regain their confidence, dignity and especially in the case of amputees, mobility.

The horses lie at the heart of everything at HorseBack. They are trained using a variation on techniques known as natural horsemanship, and are particularly suited to working with beginners.

As the idea grew and developed, another crucial layer was added to the initial notion: using those who had themselves been injured as a result of service to their country to assist in the delivery of the courses. This has the beneficial effect of reproducing some of the familiar camaraderie that service personnel have experienced. Most crucially, they do not have to explain themselves. There is the link of shared experience, and the understanding of the military ethos. For the instructors themselves, the ability to give something back, to help their wounded comrades, brings a sense of confidence and achievement.

Although the original idea came in response to the shocking number of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, now the courses include personnel who may have seen service in The Falklands, Northern Ireland and the Balkans. Many of them may have been struggling with physical challenges and the effects of post-traumatic stress for years. Through the courses at HorseBack UK and the voluntary programme, which means that our participants may return to work at HorseBack year round, they find a place where they may rebuild, retrench, and move forward into a brighter future.

HorseBack UK have now been nominated as part of the Soldiering On Awards 2017 which salutes the special relationship between animals and serving military personnel and veterans.

See a full list of nominees and  VOTE HERE


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As equestrians, we must occassionally ask ourselves difficult questions, even if it means question methods of horse care and training used by top riders. 

The bridle, first used over 600 years ago is still the predominant tool we use to direct and control our horses. So is it about time that we questioned this outdated and rather primitive method of control which applies pressure on the most sensitive parts of the horses’ head, lips, tongue, chin and poll? The Crank noseband in particular came under fire last year at the 2016 Olympics, as the horses competing in Dressage seemed severely constrained by the crushing tension of the bridle and there was a startling lack of the well regarded two finger gap beneath the noseband. Competitors in Olympic Dressage are penalised for any mouth-opening, and the extremely tight fit of the noseband prevents this. Essentially, equine discomfort at this level can be put down to a need for aesthetic perfection. And so high level Dressage becomes all about forced submission rather than a demonstration of harmony.

The Federation of Equestre internationale (FEI) asserts that “Any practices which could cause physical or mental suffering, in or out of competition, will not be tolerated”, but despite this sympathetic code of conduct, sadly, many competitors seem devoid of this consideration. It's all about looks rather than feel. An international study on the use of nosebands in equestrian sport was published in January this year, suggesting there is evidence that over half of the equine participants in the study were strapped into bridles with a 0% gap between the noseband and chin, and only 7% were given the desired two finger gap.

In Eventing, some might argue that when it comes to the most risky element, the cross country phase, that riders need to have the optimum level of control. It has been discovered that increased noseband tightness is directly related to an increase in bit pressure, so the tighter the noseband, the more likely it is that your horse will effectively respond to your hands.  Because the horse is enduring so much pressure they have no choice but to submit to the riders will, and for some this is thought to be the safest option all round.

Yes, when the horse opens his mouth, gets his tongue over the bit and shifts the bit around his mouth it can reduce the rider’s level of control. By closing the mouth, you're shutting off his means of communication. What these so called 'evasions' are telling you is that the horse isn't balanced or the your hands and other aids aren't good enough.

It seems that riders are looking past issues of equine comfort and the need for better training. Instead horses are being forced into a choice-less submission because no-one can be bothered to put more years into training a horse well. When nosebands are used correctly, and the two finger rule is implemented, I don't personally think there is anything cruel in this equipment- although some people would argue for no nosebands at all.  The limiting effects of the excessively tight noseband are only to the advantage of the lazy rider. There is little or no proof about whether or not there is any lasting physical or emotional damage caused by this apathy, but it is still unnecessary in my book. To all the high level competition riders out there that decide to cut corners with blatant disregard for their horse’s well-being, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

I would love to know what you guys think of this topic, it’s a sensitive one and I welcome some debate!

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There's a common training myth that we need to act like the Alpha Mare and dominate our horses.

In this one minute video Ben Hart argues against this approach and promotes a better form of leadership that means training with clarity, consistency and direction.

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When everyone else seems to be in raptures about the wonderful bond they have with their horse it can be upsetting to realise that perhaps your horse is a little disinterested, or doesn’t respond to you as positively as you’d like. Well, never fear, here are my 5 fail-safe tips to help you and your horse build trust, respect and a life-long bond.

• Spend quality time with your horse. As horse owner’s with jobs and busy lives away from the yard, its sometimes easy to spend time with your horse only when you want him to work. Instead of turning up to the yard for a quick ride, lunge or groom,  spend some quality time with your equine friend. Go and visit your horse with no agenda, or expectations. Ideally just relax, and be in the moment, using it as a meditative experience but you can also sit there reading a book or listen to some music. Simply sit with them in the field, or in the stable, talk to them or be quiet and allow your horse to do their own thing while you do yours.

• Take them for in-hand walks. Take your horse for a little stroll, with no riding. Explore some countryside together, allow him to plod along without any expectation of working. You could pass through streams or small ditches, even jump a little log. Also, take a little break together and let him splash,  roll or graze the hedgerows, allowing him to pick at herbs and plants he doesn't get access to in his field. Don't underestimate a horses ability to self-medicate. This will strengthen a sense of partnership between you and your horse, as you will demonstrate a sense of equality and respect as opposed to simple leadership alone.

• Give them time. Don't always bulldoze into your horse's space. When you go to fetch him from the field or stable, allow him to approach you in his own time, stand still with your open hand stretched out, and let him sniff you, registering your scent. Gently put the head collar on as you usually would, and ask him to walk with you by taking hold of the cheek-piece and encouraging him forward.  Always walk next to rather than in front of you horse. The consistent contact whilst leading will help establish a sense of unison and togetherness. A little bit like holding hands with a loved one, you will walk together, instead of pulling him and storming ahead, which creates more of a disconnection.

• Use your hands.  Instead of a quick brush before you jump on, set aside some time to give your horse some hands on attention. Stroke your hands slowly but firmly over his body noting any hot and cold areas that may need a gentle massage, whilst checking for any bumps or cuts that could easily go unnoticed. Find out where he likes to be scratched and note where his more sensitive areas are. Taking the time to get to know your horse in this way can help you understand certain behaviours and will further build a connection as your horse will associate your touch with relaxation and relief.

• Give lots of praise.  Whenever your horse has done something well, or at least tried really hard, make sure you give them lots of vocal praise and a good scritch on the withers and allow them to relax for a moment.  Positive reinforcement will encourage willingness, and your horse will be more inclined to listen effectively once he knows he’s pleased you. A little treat such as a peppermint or a carrot baton will always go down well too.  After all, everyone, both human and animal needs to know when they’ve done something right and their efforts have been appreciated!

Let’s face it, mutual trust and respect are key elements in any relationship, so if you want to achieve a bond with your horse you've always dreamt of then committing to these 5 steps is a good way to start.


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Prince Harry will be taught the remarkable skills of the man dubbed 'the original horse whisperer', who has been helping psychologically damaged military veterans.

Harry, 33, has asked Monty Roberts to perform his technique of communicating with horses through body language, a method he has taught to ex-servicemen and women in a bid to help with conditions like post traumatic stress disorder.

California-born Mr Roberts told the Evening Standard: 'The prince has learned of this work and wanted to get a greater understanding. It will be an honour to show him.'

Harry has been supporting the nation's injured, sick and wounded servicemen and women and veterans through a number of projects including his Invictus Games, a Paralympics-style competition where many of those competing have lost limbs fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Roberts has become a worldwide star thanks to his innovative techniques with horses and has been working with the Queen's horses for more than 25 years, after she first asked him to Windsor Castle in 1989.

The 81-year-old, who modestly describes himself as a Californian cowboy, regular stays at the Queen's private Sandringham home when training the monarch's animals... READ MORE


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