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I was born and grew up in a small town in Yorkshire.  My Granddad, a farmer and sheepdog trainer, always kept horses.  My first horseback ride was on my cousin's pony Blackie.  I loved to spend time at Granddad's with the horses, and got out on hacks at the riding school when my parents had time to take me.  I pestered my parents incessantly for a pony.  Eventually they relented and we bought Emily - a 4 year old 15hh TB x Cleveland Bay x New Forest which, with hindsight, wasn't the ideal choice for a first equine for a horse-mad 10 year old.

Emily wasn't a difficult horse but she had her moments.  She pulled back when tied up so Granddad, wanting to make Emily safe for me to handle, tied her up to a sawn-off telegraph pole with a length of chain.

Debs with Emily

Debs with Rosie

I watched from a distance as Emily pulled and scrabbled around battling with the innate claustrophobia and the pain in the back of her head.  It didn't feel right to me, but of course I didn't have much choice in the matter.  Eventually, she calmed and after that she always tied up beautifully, though I regret now that I didn't speak up about the method employed by my well-meaning Granddad.  After a year, Emily was sold; my parents felt she wasn't suitable.  From then on I begged rides from whomever I could and rode at a stables when we could afford it.

When I was 13, I got to spend the summer working with my older cousin who was a groom at the stables of a successful show-jumping family.

I did the usual stable duties and got to travel with them as a groom to competitions, which was hard work but good fun and I learned a lot, and I even got to ride a bit.  I continued to ride on and off, through university and my early twenties, though it was more off than on.

Debs and Poppy

I moved to Cambridge in 1996 and met some friends who rode weekly at a riding stable some miles away.  I got back into horses and riding again and eventually realised I could afford to keep my own horse and, after quite a search, in 1999 I found Poppy - a 15.3hh, 6 year old, coloured Welsh Dx mare and here is where my NH journey sort of started.

Poppy had issues, first of all she wouldn't lead properly and sometimes pulled back, on one occasion burning my hands with the rope.  Some of the people at the livery yard didn't want to handle her and I realised this had to be the first thing I worked on.

I had been to some Richard Maxwell demonstrations and decided she needed some leading lessons.  I bought the Richard Maxwell constrictor halter and a 12ft line and video and started working with her.  From where I am now, the idea that I used a constrictor sits a bit uneasily with me.  However it did work, and very quickly Poppy understood about pressure and release and she became a nice horse to lead, tie up and be with on the ground.  After only a few weeks working like this, she was one of the easiest horses in the yard on the ground to work with.

Happy with the results from this in 2000, I moved on to Parelli method but with little support locally and no-one around me doing the same stuff it wasn't easy.  By chance, I heard about Jayne Lavender, who at that time was doing home visits, at last - some help and support.  Jayne really got us moving and told me about Ken Faulkner who was coming in the summer to do a 5 day clinic in Yorkshire at Charlie Wilson's home in Yorkshire - Sinnington Manor.  I knew we had to make the 400 mile round trip.  It was a hard and emotional week but it was worth it and I met some truly lovely people - Martha and Mick, Judith and Charlie, Paula with Cody and not least Ken.  Ken is a good teacher and a fabulous horseman but he expects students and horses to get on with the job of learning no matter if it is challenging or difficult.  Jayne was also teaching at the clinic and helped us enormously that week.

Once I got home, I continued working one the stuff we learned from Ken and managed to get in contact with others in the area who were using natural or Parelli style methods.  I hosted a clinic taught by Jayne Lavender and met Hev, Row, Sam, Judith and Julie.  I set up EANaturel for people doing natural horsemanship in East Anglia.  Others in the area started organising clinics and from then everything snowballed as there was support, friendship, enthusiasm and momentum.  I heard from Row about the Naturally Horses group, run by Liz and David, and joined up.  Must say what a great job Liz and David do at this point as, although they claim no ownership for the group itself, they do a lot of hard work organising and publishing and without them I very much doubt we'd have anything like the support and activities that we do.

Chiefly due to financial reasons, but also growing artistic differences, Poppy and I sadly parted company in 2004.  After a break of two years I have recently found myself in a position to support another horse and have very recently (March 2006) found Eric, who is 16hh Irish Cob.  He's nearly five and we are starting from scratch.  He's a sweet boy though he's a bit bargey and sometimes forgets that he's wearing a halter.  He's a lovely chap, though, and quite brave and calm and I'm really enjoying every minute with him :) I'm excited about attending a few clinics and camps with him this year.  I'll keep you posted.

Debs and Eric


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