Lucinda McAlpine is an expert in Natural Horse Management. As a Grand Prix dressage rider she became disillusioned with conventional methods of training and keeping horses. Despite her horses living what many would regard as the perfect life she came to the conclusion that it was unhealthy both physically and emotionally. From then on she decided to keep her horses as naturally as possible, in herds, unshod, unclipped and without rugs, using training methods that encouraged the horse to play and learn without tension, allowing their intelligence and natural athletic expression to develop as harmoniously as possible.
And now she is taking her beautiful, naturally conceived, birthed and reared home-bred horses out into the big wide world of competition. Like any journey it will have it's ups and downs but the goal for Lucinda will always be the good of the horse.
I think it's probably fair to say that if you keep your dominant mare in a herd of ten and then expect her to come out and perform in a strange dressage arena that you must expect a long and steep learning curve!!
As you can see from the photo (above) we struggled to get round the arena at all, which makes riding a Medium test pretty hard.
Photo: BML Photography
The first test had some spectacular moments, some airs above the ground and a lot of peering at the boards, with barely an entire movement executed correctly. You can't help but laugh with this mare, I have bred and brought her up to have opinions and boy is she delivering!
Photo: BML Photography
The second test was a HUGE improvement. It felt like I was barely riding the same horse. Oddly it only earnt 0.3% better but judging this mare is never going to be easy. I think I'll stick to riding because with Biba it's really a lot of fun!
Photo: BML Photography
It was a long way off from being perfect, but look at the grins on our faces. In years gone by my "shut down" horses could do a better test than that and I would leave the arena close to tears. With these natural horses I understand that it is quite traumatic for them in comparison to their field at home, but I am committed to finding a way to make it okay for us to perfect our dancing partnership at a show. On Sunday we laughed and grinned and had a ball! Imagine how it will feel when we actually do the test properly!!
Find out more about Lucinda McAlpine HERE
There is a problem with naturally managed horses: they have become used to having opinions. In fact, they are smarter than the average horse.
This isn't just a matter of speculation: scientific research has shown that rats in enriched environments with the opportunity for complex social interactions and voluntary exercise show improved memory function and perform better in learning tasks. Their brains develop more neurons and neural pathways.
Learning better is a good thing, for sure, but there is more to the effect of natural management than the purely intellectual. The horses have become used to making decisions and thinking for themselves. Indeed, it is that freedom which is part of what enables this mental development. So far from robots, these thinking equines grow in personality and individuality.
Lucinda McAlpine deals with this on a daily basis. Ten times or more.
"I have given them freedom to choose," she says, "and I can't take it away entirely just because I want to ride, or they will lose some of their trust in me. And that is a difficulty for people who have been conventionally trained in dressage. So we have had to adapt."
"And this I believe: that the free exploring mind of the individual [....] is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for:the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea [.....] which limits or destroys the individual. That is what I am and what I am all about." John Steinbeck, East of Eden.
Come on Mum, pick me!
"If I get it wrong, I will know at once," Lucinda explains. "They will be unwilling to come out of the herd. They'll put their heads up when the head collar is presented, or be unwilling to have the saddle on. I don't want that so I have to get it right.”
I watch as she rides Richie in the outdoor school. His dam, brothers and sisters are now either back out in the field or up in the yard awaiting their turn. Rich has immense power. He is a sensitive horse who is inclined to get anxious if he feels he is not achieving.
"These naturally managed horses," Lucinda says, as I watch, my camera dangling round my neck, and Rich, the eldest of her home bred horses, stretches into the snaffle, "they are keen from the get-go. It's so different from when I was doing dressage the conventional way - and it was all leg,leg, leg, then spurs and a schooling whip. With these, their muscles are already warm and loose - because they haven't been standing in a small space, they have been moving around the field. And because they are so free, they are so much more generous and expressive, they haven't been stressed by anything, and so they try incredibly hard. The biggest problem is making sure they don't do too much!
"I have to make every moment fun for them," she says. "I can't afford for them to work too hard and feel stiff and sore the next day. I want that eagerness, so that we get all that wonderful expression. And that means that I have to adapt to what they can do on a given day. I am not saying that I don't push them beyond their comfort zone, but I am incredibly careful not to push them into the tension zone."
This makes sense to me, as I have experienced the apathy and sourness of my horse after intense training that took him well into tension. Nowadays, we have a mutually agreeable attitude to dressage... We 'play' with bits and pieces of lateral work in between a canter up the field or a big trot through long grass. It is easy for us of course as I am not expecting Jet or myself to attain any heights of excellence!
"Do you think it is possible to 'do' dressage to a high level while giving the horse freedom to express opinions?" Lucinda asks me as she canters past on Richie. I tell her that I don't know, but if anyone can, she can. "It certainly isn't possible if you allow your ego to take control," she says. "it takes humility to listen to the horse."
Rich is moving with freedom, his athletic body loose, back swinging.
A swinging tail indicates a horse without tension.
Lucinda explains that sometimes they will feel stiff or tight, and might feel anxious about doing a certain manoeuvre, but she might feel confident that it will ease the tension. That is what she calls 'ridden physiotherapy', and the horses end the session moving better than before it. But on other occasions, their tension might prohibit useful work.
"Work only benefits these horses when they are relaxed. Sometimes, they just can't do what you want. The next day, it might be totally different, but it is never worth trying to force them. So if they can't do it, we don't do it."
We walk back up to the yard. Lucinda jumps off her horse and turns to me,
"It's all about feel. But not just the feel in your hands. You have to develop the feel in your heart."
First published by Trot On in 2013.
To find out more about Lucinda McAlpine visit her WEBSITE.
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
Congratulations to Liberty Horse Trainer, Emma Massingale as she scoops two awards at the 2016 Equus Film Festival in NYC.
Emma won the Best International Documentary award for her film, 'The Island Project'. It tells the story of her survival on an island off the coast of Connemara, backing two Connemara ponies without equipment, using her Natural horsemanship skills only. Alone on the island with her horses, she filmed the documentary herself.
"You don't normally win prizes for working with horses in this way, so to win two awards for ideas I dreamt up is just awesome," said Emma.
"The Island Project was a way of challenging myself without challenging my horses and I loved every second of living, filming and surviving whilst being completely alone."
The Best Equestrian Commercial category for a short film was the second award won by Emma for 'The Midnight Race' - a promotional film made for QIPCO British Champions Series by Emma and Equine Productions. She trained the horses (former racehorses from the British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre) to let themselves out of their stables, walk up to the gallops and race by themselves - all under the light of the moon!
"The Midnight Race was equally challenging as we had to turn it around in six weeks."
She added: "Racehorses by nature are not as intelligent as other breeds but I was thrilled with how well they did in such a short space of time, and with the final film!"
The managing director of Equine Productions Sam Fleet said: "We're made up to win these awards.
"Every film we produce we're proud of and to get recognition like this is so special."
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I'm sure I'm not the only person who come February gets a dose of the winter blues - stuck in the mud, weighed down by rugs and desperate for more daylight! However, I find one way guaranteed to lift my mood is to make plans for the Summer with goals that I start working on straight away.
Try to spend at least five minutes a day of quality time with your horse: Although five minutes may not sound like long, it is worth taking time to consider how much quality time you really do spend with your horse each day. Especially in the winter, we find ourselves rushing around to fit everything in- mucking out, turning out/bringing in, feeding, grooming and exercising. It can be easy to forget to just STOP and remind your horse how much you love them! Start experiencing five mins a day of quiet time with your horse, simply standing or sitting with them. Stop worrying about the past and the future and be in the moment. Take a look here for more info on the benefits of being in the present with your horse or in fact anyone https://troton.com/item/195-connect-with-your-horse-be-herd.html
Or if you prefer, just stand there, focus on them and chat, in your mind or out loud. Whatever method suits you it's something that’s bound to bring the two of you closer and will cheer you up no matter what! Then on lovely sunny summer days just sit with them in the field for longer stretches of time. No pressures, just being in the moment, the two of you.
Improve personal fitness: Over the cold winter months a lot of us are prone to a bit of comfort eating on top of all those mince pies and chocolates we ate at Christmas. So start getting riding fit for summer by improving your strength and stamina.Try going for a brisk 20 minute walk every day or for a short run a couple of times a week. And if you just do the plank every morning you'll soon see an improvement to your riding and the way you feel in general. This exercise looks easy but has so many benefits; improving core strength, toning legs, arms, improving posture and balance. It also doesn't cost anything, just a few minutes of your time-so it's a WIN WIN! Here's a good article telling you how to do it and all the benefits. http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2014/12/05/5-plank-benefits.aspx
Move it up a level: Make this summer the season you challenge yourself and move your riding up a level, whether going up a jumping class, trying a harder dressage test or a higher level of eventing. So, set your goal now and start working towards it in small steps such as improving your horse's canter for jumping or trying a new dressage movement in the school. This can do a world of good for your confidence as a rider, and will make your summer one to remember rather than one that finishes with, what if?
Try a different discipline: For instance, natural horsemanship is something that fascinates me. The work of people such as Kelly Marks, and her lovely coloured horse, Pi, has always struck me as amazing, and through watching them work together it is obvious that they have an incredible bond as a partnership. There is endless help and advice online about how to get involved with the world of natural horsemanship;
this video is well worth a watch. But that's just what I fancy, maybe you've always wanted to try classical or straightness training, or a new sport such as horse-ball. Well now's the time to start searching for clinics and clubs. A change could be just be the thing that you and your horse need and you may find you both have hidden talents!
Go on a Beach Ride: Now this is my personal favourite! To me, there is nothing I'd like to do more than gallop down a long beach. Everyone who has done it says it's an incredibly exhilarating experience, and what could be better than a view of the sea and the beach between a horse’s ears?! There are many riding centres that offer beach rides for all abilities. Alternatively get together with some friends and search for a B&B close to a good riding beach that will accommodate both you and your horses. And if you've done the beach thing, what about planning a holiday with your horse in another beauty spot that's great for riding such as Exmoor.
Making your own list of goals can be the way to help you get through the remainder of these long winter days, giving you something to aim for. And there's no better time to take some steps towards achieving them, then now. I would love to hear what all of you have planned for this summer, and please do make sure you let us all know how you get on!
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