I have been riding/around horses all my life. As a child I had riding lessons (very traditional!) and in order to earn lessons used to cycle 10 miles to a riding school in the very early morning, work there all day, including going to collect/return the ponies from their grazing which was about two miles from the riding school, and we had to ride them along public roads bareback, usually leading at least one and, quite possibly, two. To add to our enjoyment of fetching and returning the ponies, we would build jumps along a little track we used and jump these - bareback, leading two, quite chaotic really, but I guess we learned something, if only good balance! We learned at the same time to keep the riding school proprietor in ignorance of this aspect.
We had donkeys and a pony at home when I was a teenager (donkeys are incredibly hard to stay on and we fell off most rides. One of the donkeys bucked me off three times in five minutes on one occasion right in the middle of the village green). The pony we (my sisters and I) acquired was actually by default because none of the other 'horsey' kids in the village could either catch or ride him. We called him Johnny. We never even owned a saddle, so rode him bareback all over the place - he was pretty lively in the early days, but later became quite placid. I think we were probably being quite natural with him without even realising it, and certainly the concept would have been very foreign to us, and everyone, then (1960s) - we knew nothing different.
When I was 19, I left home and lived at another riding school, working full time through the week and teaching/escorting rides evenings and weekends, also grooming for a show jumper - Hickstead, Olympia, that sort of stuff. I bought my own first horse on installments - rather flighty and hot Anglo-Arab mare with a real terror of traffic - I ended up in people's gardens on more than one occasion, but also had a lot of fun on her - she was brilliant at gymkhana games! While I was at the riding school my personal knight on a white charger came along (well, a guy came to keep his grey hunter mare at livery there, and I ended up marrying him). We decided to breed from his mare (ID by the way), which gave me my next two horses (plus another four foals which went their separate ways, including one going to the Whitaker brothers for a spell).
The first foal from that mare gave me huge pleasure - I backed him myself unaided, hunted him, competed in dressage, hunter trials, show jumping, combined training, working hunter and hunter show classes, all with a degree of success. I kept him his entire life but had to sell my own little Anglo-Arab to someone in Epping Forest where she would never again have to go near a road.
I still have foal No. 6, who is now 23, and I also have Hal (officially Galahad) who I bought as a yearling. He has proved to be more accident prone than most horses and has had more time off work than in it in the last three years since he was started! He was in any case started very late as my husband developed cancer and I was unable to cope with a young, or any other kind, of horse while my husband became progressively sicker and eventually died, so the horses were just turned out for the duration. I decided to learn about the natural way of things after seeing a few demos and being very impressed by the communication thing. I wanted that sort of communication with my horses, although I did not see it as an end in itself, and (to date) still don't. I wanted (still do want) the subtlety of communication and refinement to aid/improve my dressage, which is supposed to be Hal's job when he is in working order, but am finding that the more I begin to learn, the more I need to learn!, so I may yet branch off in a different direction.
I have for many years also realised that there is much that good Western riders could teach conventional English riders in the way of subtlety and sitting still and self carriage of the horses (pretty controversial in conventional English circles), and PNH also seems to me be a good bridge there - I may of course be much mistaken, so please do educate me if anyone thinks I have misapprehended (and I probably have!).
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