Conquering the wild beast

DSCF8331What is it with tricks?  What is it about being entertained by a horse performing like a trained seal that we find so fascinating and so…well…..entertaining, that we as humans just love to watch it so much?

Personally I don’t understand it.  I don’t like to see any animal used for the sake of human entertainment.   Imagine if we did the same thing to people.  How demoralising it would be.  “Oh, look how well she comes when she is called and how she rolls over and begs for her food.  Clever girl.” There is nothing clever about it.  It’s humiliating and disrespectful to the animal.  Yet we as horse lovers, love nothing better than to see a horse ‘show’.  To see horses perform for our entertainment.

These days, circuses rarely have live animal acts.  There are some that do of course but they are getting less and less.  We don’t like to see animals kept in captivity. That certainly is the way modern thought is heading, but dogs, cats, horses etc have been ‘domesticated’ for many thousands of years.   Many of them are actually very well looked after and well kept so they don’t mind the captivity so much.   But being ‘lesser’ animals we expect them to not mind doing our bidding for a scrap of food if they’re lucky, or to escape punishment if they’re not.

It never ceases to amaze me just how willing we horse lovers are, to see these magnificent, proud and free creatures we love so much, performing what are essentially tricks for our amusement.  And how often we mistake tricks for real communication.

A trick is after all, the ultimate expression of obedience.  We command and the horse obeys.  And the harder the trick, the more difficult it is, the more obedience we have over the horse….hence more CONTROL.

Humans love to be in control.  Our history, our everyday patterns and responses to our environs prove it.  We love to be in control, especially over a powerful animal like a horse.  ‘Conquering the wild beast’ somehow makes us feel better about ourselves, more powerful, more clever.  So, we like to watch a show, to be entertained by a horse’s tricks because it shows the handler’s control of the horse and the horse’s obedience.

You know, it doesn’t even occur to Shane and I to teach our horses tricks.  We’re too busy having an interesting conversation with them.  People often ask us to show them our ‘tricks’ and it makes me flinch just at the suggestion.  I like my horse.  I respect him.  I would never expect him to do my bidding to satisfy a human’s whim.

How long can you work with a horse?  How long is an interesting conversation?

Tricks are demoralising, degrading and insulting to a beautiful, intelligent, magnificent creature like a horse.  We have too much respect for them to ever even consider it.

Oh and by the way, I don’t like performing seals either.

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Turning horse lovers into Horsemen.

DieselIt’s a thrill for me, to see the level of horsemanship being achieved by Quantum Savvy students everywhere. There is no denying, that right from the very beginnings back in 1997, our students were getting great results almost from the first moments they began studying with us. By the time Quantum Savvy was developed in its own right in 2001, we saw countless students discovering a whole new way of being with horses, of thinking about their horse’s true needs and desires and really starting to communicate in a way that was both meaningful and fair to both the human AND the horse. Students were embracing the idea that they needed to change their ways, to change the way they interpreted their horses actions and to take responsibility for their own development as horsemen. And stop blaming and labeling their horses.

Since then, more and more people have picked up the horsemanship banner. Horses are starting to get a better deal and to a degree people and horses are safer. There is still a long road to travel in this regard, but it is happening.

Many other horse trainers and instructors have joined the ranks, trying to provide a better education for horse owners. There are a multitude of books, DVDs, websites, online videos, blogs, magazines and so on, all purporting to help people with their horses. We see horse lovers playing games with their horses, having a lot of fun, feeling safer, having less accidents and generally enjoying themselves more with their four legged partners. Which is fabulous. It’s a great start.

But then there are QS Students. Wow!….what a fabulous group of horsemen they are. In Level 1 they learn to be safer, in Level 2 they develop true confidence, in Level 3 they learn how to connect with their horses in the most subtle of ways, to ride as good as they walk on their own two legs and to refine all that they do together so that that is looks seamless and effortless. And by Level 4 and beyond!…breath taking.

People often ask us what is the difference between Quantum Savvy and everyone else. There are many ways you can answer this. Our sense of community is extraordinary and something we are all very proud of. The support we have for all QS family is second to none. Our focus on release is our hallmark as is our development of the lateral movement in horse and rider to develop true self carriage. There are many other aspects of course, that all students experience as they go through the programme.

But I think the big difference is this. Other people, programmes and instructors teach horse lovers how to be safer, how to understand their horses so they can play and have fun together. Quantum Savvy does all this of course but it does much more as well. Our focus isn’t just on the fundamentals of horsemanship. Our focus is on developing horses and horse lovers to the highest levels of horsemanship possible. Watching our Level 3 and Level 4 students working with their horses is a magnificent experience. The way they move around horses, the way they ride, the way the horses carry themselves and how they look engaged in mind, body and spirit. The calmness, willingness and responsiveness from the horses and the empathy, feel and connection from the human all create a picture or expertise and accomplishment. Is it really something to witness.

Our instructors, horse trainers and high level students are really in a class of their own. The Quantum Savvy kids coming through the programme are nothing short of amazing. The future, with all these incredible horsemen, is in good hands. I feel so much pride and joy for each and every one of them.

Other people teach horse lovers how to be safe and have fun with their horses.
Quantum Savvy teaches horse lovers to become horsemen.

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No bit no brakes

Meri and Geoff_EquitanaIt took me by surprise when recently a student I was talking with told me that, on a recent trail ride, a fellow rider had trotted past her uttering these words. “No bit, no brakes!” It surprised me for two reasons…one being that someone she didn’t know would say something like this to her, simply because she was riding in a rope hackamore, but mostly because of what was actually said in itself. Having spent the last 18 years traveling the world teaching horsemanship to people from all disciplines and all walks of life, it struck me as just how ineffective I was being! At how many people still don’t truly understand horses and what makes them tick, and how many people still believe this fallacy and a whole bunch of others.

Normally I’m a pretty easy going person who doesn’t like to rock the boat too much or offer opinions on what other people think and believe when it comes to horses, unless I’m asked. I do try hard to help and to educate them, but I am also mindful of their feelings and prior experiences. I try to guide them to becoming good horsemen rather than just dealing out home truths, as I realise that the process of change is just that….a process that takes the time it takes in order for people to make changes. But this comment from an unknown person came just at the right time for me. It came on top of two other incidents and was simply the tipping point that pushed me into stepping up onto my soap box and speaking up.

You see, I’m someone who cares very deeply about people…all people and all other living creatures as well. I take my role as a teacher and educator very seriously. I know that over all the years and miles I’ve invested into my students, I have helped many, many people and horses and even saved a few lives, so it breaks my heart when I find out that I have missed someone, or let them down. Too many times over all these years, I’ve got a phone call or an email or had a conversation with someone that began, “Do you remember……?” and I know exactly what is coming next. Either the person or the horse mentioned has been terribly injured or even killed. I also know without a doubt that in the huge majority of cases, this could have been prevented. That with a bit of skill and true horsemanship knowledge, the accident would never have happened and the person or horse would be alive today. This has been my life quest for the last 18 years and will be for the rest of my life. To teach people the truth about horsemanship, to truly understand their horses and what they need, to become safe and skilful and reaching all their dreams and goals whatever they be.

In the week prior to the conversation with my student, I’d had two other conversations with separate people that both began with “Do you remember…?” I’ve lost count now after all these years, of just how many times I’ve heard these words and each time my heart just sinks as I wait to hear who it was this time. Often it is a friend of a student, or someone a friend or colleague knows, that they’ve been trying to encourage to come along to an event with us, or to get some help with their horse. They’ve seen the imminent danger and have tried to persuade the person to come along and meet us or get started on our programme, but to no avail. Either they wouldn’t listen or just acted too late.
In these recent incidents, one lady was a friend of a friend and the other was a young girl doing a ‘Horse Husbandry’ course of some description with a leading education programme here in Australia. Both times the girls were on Thoroughbreds fresh off the track and in both cases the horses wore bridles. They were both experienced riders who never the less found themselves on out of control horses, that no bit on earth was going to stop and both of them paid for their lack of horsemanship knowledge with their lives. It upsets me greatly to write this. As a Mum I feel very deeply about these girls I never met. One was a Mum whose children now have to live without her, the other was an 18 year old girl, whose Mother is now living with the heartache that only those who have lost a child can possibly know. I know, you’ll think that riding an ex-racehorse makes the chances of riding a runaway much higher but let’s face it. In Australia we do it all the time. A huge proportion of horses that students bring to lessons with us are exactly that. Horses off the track that someone (usually inexperienced) has picked up cheap. And it’s not the fact that it’s a racehorse as such that is the problem….I’m sure we’ve all seen someone riding a runaway of some description. Horses of all breeds can get a fright and become an out-of-control missile, even little ponies. And I’m equally sure we’ve all seen that self same person pulling on two reins for all they’re worth, trying to no avail to get the horse to stop. Let’s face it, in most cases, the horse only stops when it’s good and ready. If it is scared enough it’ll just keep running until something else stops it, or its flight response runs out. Having a bit in its mouth makes absolutely no difference what so ever.

I’ve done thousands of presentations and demonstrations over the years to audiences all over the world. I’ve written over a hundred articles as well, all trying to encourage people to seek true horsemanship knowledge. To invest in their own skills and become a horseman, not just a rider. We’ve got to stop thinking that all we need to do for success with horses, is to learn to ride and learn the rules of our sport. We’ve got to become horsemen, to learn to truly understand our horses and to communicate with them.
The simple truth is that a bit does not make us safe. Not even close and this kind of thinking will only end up with, at the very least an unhappy horse, or in the worse case, another death. There are so many fallacies around horses still today, that we just can’t afford to be guided by anymore. We can get bigger bits, more body armour, more tie downs and control devices, calmer horse feed and so on, but all these do is show the lack of understanding of good horsemanship. A lack of knowledge about what the horse really needs and what motivates him.

As long as we keep thinking that bits and helmets make us safe (and yes I do think wearing a helmet is important, but there is so much more to being safe than putting one on our head), that we need to kick our horses to go and pull on the reins to stop, that horses have ‘vices’ and need to be trained into submission, then we’ll keep on hearing those words “Do you remember…?” It doesn’t work and it’s simply an antiquated way of thinking. It is an old belief system from a former life and the time has come to embrace this ‘new’ way of thinking and truly develop good horsemanship for our sakes and that of our horses. This ‘new’ way of thinking, that has existed since the time of Zenophon, but that has had a major resurgence in the last 20 years.

There are plenty of great horsemen and women around nowadays proving the merits of good horsemanship (many under the banner of natural horsemanship, but call it what you like) and achieving extraordinary things. And they come from all walks of life. Some are weekend end riders and some are elite equestrians at the top of their sport. But all of them know that developing a horse is not about controlling it, it’s about building a relationship based on trust, understanding and communication. On having a partnership where they take care of each other not one dominating the other. They know that an emotional or fearful horse needs help to become more confident and then impulsive issues or negative reactions will disappear. And that only through willingness and lightness will true unity and grace exist in performance horses.

So that is my soap box. The time has come to admit that things need to change. To admit that the old way of thinking isn’t helping us to stay safe with our horses let alone make progress. I encourage all of you to seek good horsemanship and make that your goal. For your horses sake, for your sake and for that of your family. I know you’ll be glad you did.

Meredith Ransley – Oct 2012

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Time, promises and the Southern Cross.

Rhiannon and Mummy

Rhiannon and Mummy

It’s all about time isn’t it.  How long things take, how much we can fit into our days, how quickly time goes by especially when you have a goal you’re working toward or you’re against the clock.  Or how slowly it goes when you are waiting for something important to happen or perhaps arrive!  When you have a deadline to meet, weeks fly by in seconds but if you’re waiting for a baby to arrive, time stretches on forever in front of you.  Mostly when you have morning sickness!

I’ve noticed and appreciated time even more so as my own years progress and especially since having children.  My kids now seem to be my bench mark of time.  We talk about things that happened years ago as pre-children and work out when things happened since they arrived by how old the kids were at the time.

Maybe it’s just me.  I always seem to be trying to fit everything I possibly can into my days because I do know one thing….time is the one commodity we all get but which non of us can replace.  So I am always trying to make the most of my time.  All the time.

Take this morning for instance.  I have been promising Rhiannon for a while that we will film her Level 1 (she wants her own red string!).  She gets out there and plays with her pony and ‘works’ with her and practices her little shows.  She is turning out to be an amazing horseman already at only 6 years old, but as I watch her, I realise how big she is getting.  Well actually, I think her pony is getting smaller but of course it is the other way around.  Before long, she will need a bigger pony, so she really does need to do her Level 1 as soon as possible.  Time is running out.

Yesterday, Rhiannon said to me at bath time that she was so happy she couldn’t stop smiling.  After telling her that she didn’t have to stop, I asked her why.  She said because she was thinking of Tilly (her pony) and how she is really listening to her now and how much fun they were having.  Which is really lovely because Tilly does tend to have quite a mind and will of her own.  You know what small ponies can be like.  Quite willful and very strong… unfair match for little children.  And honestly who can blame them.  People mostly either treat ponies like dogs so they get very disrespectful of personal space and so on, or they just drag them around by the head so that they get so heavy a child can’t possibly manage them.

Anyhow, anyhow……I’ve realised more and more lately that time for Rhiannon and her pony is slipping by at a very fast rate.  Alarming really, so I’ve promised we’ll crack on with her Level 1.  We’ve been very lucky in recent weeks in that where we are literally right now, at Melrose in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, is a really beautiful spot that is fabulous for horses and horse riding.  You should see the gorgeous spot we have to practise, with it’s gum-lined, mountain backdrop.  I’ll take some more piccies to share soon.

Anyhow…..the trail riding is gorgeous.  Not something I do a lot of really however with the tracks winding up in the mountains, the creeks (dry), fallen logs, boulders, hills, valleys and wide open spaces, you really just can’t help yourself.  So I must admit, that we have all been out as a family (2 big people on 2 big horses, 3 small people on 3 ponies and 1 spare big horse being ponied) trekking around the trails a couple of times a week.  It’s great for all of us of course but especially the kids.  Rhiannon in particular has become quite independent and can now catch, halter, saddle (except that last girth hole), mount, check her rein positions and ride out, all by herself.  And with only one rein.  So watching her, and how big she is getting and how independent she is, I realise that I need to let her be a big girl and do things for herself and move on with her horsemanship.  She is even playing with her horse at liberty now.

So….this morning.  And time.  We get up and Shane and I have decided that we need to get supplies today.  We are a long way from anywhere so we need to all pack up and make the big trek to Pt Augusta (65kms each way) to do the shopping etc.  As we busy ourselves, Rhiannon reminds me that we were going to film her first assignment today.  Caitlin then pipes up that she wants to ride also and then Liam also wants to have a go at his assignment!!!!  Great!  A promise is a promise so I head out with the camera (after Daddy gets it all organised for me during breakfast) to film 3 small children and 3 small ponies in 35 degree heat and gale force winds.  You know what it is like trying to get your own assignments done?  Big people with big horses.  Imagine me this morning then if you will.

“We’ll only be half an hour.” I yell to Shane through the wind.  Time again you see,  I can surely do this in 30 mins and then still go shopping.  Easy.

So off we go to film the assignment, which goes well for the most part accept that Liam decides he doesn’t want to let his pony eat quietly in the corner.  He’d rather hop on bareback and bridle less and have a little passenger lesson and go between Rhiannon and the camera a few times.  Caitlin decides that her pony is hungry, but instead of just giving him the hay I’ve put out, she wants to pick it up handful by handful and carry it past Rhiannon and Tilly who is of course loose because it’s the catching assignment.  Poor Rhiannon.  I must say though that she did an amazing job staying focused through all this and the wind and did manage to get her assignment done really nicely.  Blue tick number one.

Liam then had a go at his but the wind kept blowing Tarny’s plentiful locks in the way, making it impossible to untangle the halter from her mane.  Never mind, next time.  Caitlin also wanted to be filmed so we spent a couple of minutes filming them all doing various daring feats on their very safe, quiet ponies.  Thank goodness for Quantum Savvy and kids picking up amazing skills even when you don’t think they are really paying attention.

And just on safe ponies.  I’m really loving the Southern Cross pattern for the ponies.  When you think about it, small ponies (and I mean tiny ones like our Shetlands) never really get a lot of education.  Not past a certain point because their riders are so small and so young for most of the time they have them, and they don’t really have the skills to educate a pony.  By the time they get some skills they’ve outgrown them, so unless you can find a small adult to do the work for you, the ponies only ever get so far.  I know you’ll think that the parents can do a lot of ground work with the ponies and believe me I do.  But I’m 185cm tall (that’s 6’2″ for us oldies!).  I can’t ride the ponies and even if I’m on my knees working with the ponies, it’s not the same as a tiny person with basically no strength, focus or follow through to speak of.  And by strength, I just mean enough to hang on to the rope really.  So an adult working with the pony is not the same as a child.  The pony needs to listen to the child themselves.  Which brings me to the Southern Cross.  We do this with the ponies all the time.  On a lead line at first.  Rhiannon now is off line but her pony now knows the pattern and knows through release, to stay along side my stirrup as we go around together.  So if she wanders off track a bit, it’s an easy, light direct rein for Rhiannon and Tilly follows her direction back to my stirrup (comfort spot) again.  Tilly has gotten to know the pattern, so her rein positions and corrections have become much lighter….hence happy pony.  Lighter reins make it easier for Rhiannon….hence happy child.  Small wins on both sides, the pony now looks at Rhiannon with something approaching respect and Rhiannon becomes a bit more of a leader.  And it is now affecting everything they do together.  So the pony is getting an education beyond the level of a lot of ponies.  Awesome.  Another great reason to do the Southern Cross!

So, this morning we did make the most of our time and got our assignment done.  We did get it done on time….well sort of.  And we had a great time in the bargain.  Plus we got the shopping done!

Meredith Ransley
CEO & Co-founder
Quantum Savvy Horsemanship
Meredith’s Blog

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Ah!… last. Welcome to my blog.

Meredith at QSports Championships 2014I’m one of those people who never has a blank space in their head.  Ever.  Never ever!  In fact, I never have a single thought in my head.  Not even just a couple of thoughts.  In fact, it is usually so full of ‘stuff’, images, ideas, thoughts, feelings, impressions, that is feels a bit like a runaway train.  Have you ever seen one of those movies where a person is sitting in front of a wall that is covered by a bank of TV screens, all going at once with different images, all changing channels, flashing images?  It’s a little bit like that but not as organised.  And you should see me after I’ve had a cup of coffee!

I have a theory as to why I can’t seem to draw to save myself…..I think it’s because, try as I might, I have yet to be able to imagine a single image in my head at one time.

I used to be afraid of it….afraid to let it go, to let it do as it will and was always trying to slow it down and manage it.  About a dozen or so years ago, I decided to just let it be.  At first it was daunting, then chilling, then thrilling!  Now it amazes me with all the stuff it comes up with and the biggest challenge has been to keep any kind of order!  Thank god for Evernote I say.  My external ‘brain’!

Anyhow…this is all leading to something.  One of the things I am constantly doing, is having conversations with myself.  Yes I know….I’ve pretty much lost the plot!  But they are really interesting.  It’s usually with family, friends, all of you QS family or even people who I’ve never met but feel the need to talk to.

QS of course, consumes me nearly 24hrs a day.  Everyone I meet, come across, hear of and so on, has some kind of need or message, or desire, dream and so on, that they are seeking answers or confirmation for.  The QS Forum is AMAZING as it gives me a chance to talk with everyone, help out where I can, offer support or advice or just to listen.  And I LOVE the forum.

Facebook also gives me the chance to share somewhat, all that I and my beloved family and QS friends are up to but it is still limited.  I don’t really get the chance to have ‘Those Conversations’.

So…I’ve decided to start a blog.  Well Shane told me I should have a blog.  I feel like I have a lot to say, you all seem to want me to say what I have to say and to hear what I have to say.  So I’m going to….or rather I am now a blogger.  From now.

Shane is going to make me a nice new shiny blog but I’m too keen to get started to wait so I’ve started here and will shift to the new one once it’s done.

So at long last, I’ll be able to share a lot more with those of you interested, my thoughts, opinions (lots of those!!!) and advice re horses and so on.  A bit like my ‘Thought of the Day’ posts but with more meat!  I’ll also be popping a bit on here about the books I am working on.

I hope what I have to say is of interest to you.  If so, that’s fantastic.  If not, thanks for visiting…so glad you read to this point.

See you all on the next entry….I wonder what it’ll be about.


Meredith Ransley
CEO & Co-founder
Quantum Savvy Horsemanship
Meredith’s Blog

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Tricks, training and the meaning of life.

Where will today take us?

Where will today take us?

It’s become a habit of late, to sit with a cuppa in the evening, after a couple of splendid hours riding or playing with my horses, watching our horses chew on a bit of hay and chewing the fat with my best friend, who also happens to be my husband.  I look forward to it every evening.  The combination of relaxing after a busy albeit fulfilling day, absorbing the peaceful rhythm of the horses eating, chuckling at the herd antics as my horse inevitably decides he wants ALL the hay (and lets the others know it), plus the opportunity to catch up with Shane and what I know will be some interesting and thought provoking conversation, makes this a very special time indeed.

Shane you see, is one of the most interesting and hilarious people I know.  For all the many years we’ve been together, and it has been a lot of years now, we never get tired of spending time together and discussing anything and everything that effects the world as we know it.  Many a time, we’ve found ourselves chatting into the wee small hours and joking about the fact that you’d think, after all these years, we would have run out of things to say.  But we haven’t and the conversations have always been interesting, intriguing, challenging at times and invariably funny.  Right from the first time we met, we’ve discussed everything from what it would be like to fly in a MiG on the verge of the stratosphere,  to wondering if pirates would be a problem if we should decide to sail around the world, or just how long it’ll be before we bypass mobile phones and credit cards all together and instead just put chips straight into our heads.  We’ve also talked about the difficulties of taking photos from the passenger seat of a stunt plane while the G Forces made it hard to get your face off the window long enough to not vomit all over yourself, and contemplated just how strong your neck muscles need to be to drive a Touring Car in a race, if just a few laps as a passenger left your head wobbling like one of those toy dogs you find in the back window of a car.

My point being in all this, is that the despite the wide range of topics discussed, in fact many of these chats together have been about horses.  And more specifically, how conventional riding or handling, or call it what you will, revolves around either training the horse or teaching it tricks.

As a general rule, horse owners and trainers, generally tend to fall into one or both of these categories of people; who either try to train the horse or teach it tricks.  Training is usually the most common and involves endless and mindless repetition of a pattern or a manoeuvre until the horse either gets it right or gives up.  And usually when they do get it right, they then have to do it some more to get it more right.  You see this in all horse sports; English, Western and everything in between, so it is non discriminatory however it is mind numbing and mental torture for the horse.  The other thing you see is the teaching of tricks.  Here again, the horse is taught that on a certain cue, it must give a particular response.  This trick can then be incorporated into a routine for a sport, or used by the rider to entertain other humans.  A lot of people like tricks.  The world is full of people who pay money and go along to watch a person make an animal do all sorts of things it wouldn’t normally do.  To display behaviors that show it’s obedience and subservience to the handler.  Personally I find it degrading and disrespectful to have an animal act as a slave for human entertainment.  Especially so when the animal is a magnificent and amenable creature like a horse.  It always makes me wonder just what means were used to convince the horse to perform on cue?

One of Shane’s deep dislikes, is the human tendency to confuse tricks and training of horses with real education or communication.  There is such a huge difference between the two and he (and I) have written many articles on this topics and delivered a great many presentations on it also.  In a nutshell, true communication, safety and performance can only come if the horse is actively involved mentally, emotionally and physically.  If his mind is switched off, if he is bored, or afraid, all the horse can do is repeat the behavior it believes the human desires.  He certainly won’t put in his best effort in this case, nor does it make him any smarter or any safer to be around.  And as a horseman it is easy to see by the way a horse moves and reacts to the prompts, just how he is feeling during his performance.

Sitting and enjoying my cuppa the other night, I got to thinking about what I do with horses.  Why I know what I’m doing is not just training their bodies and dulling their minds, or repeating a behavior until my horse can repeat it at will.  I know its not tricks or training but what exactly is it that makes the difference?  I ride or work with my horses most days of the week, always striving to get things better.  So to onlookers, what is it that distinguishes my desire to improve and to get out there and practise day after day, from just training my horse or teaching him tricks?  Why can I do this year in, year out and yet my horses still enjoy our time together and actually seem to look for it?  I’ve heard some people saying that working toward a goal with their horse or preparing for an event, just becomes a chore.  That their horses get sick of the sight of them and both of them just end up going through the motions.  And some of these people might even be doing similar tasks to those I’m doing with my horses.

Contemplating this with Shane the other night, it came to me.  To me, my time with my horses is something I, and I believe they, look forward to just like my conversations with Shane.  Or any of the fascinating people I am lucky enough to know.  You can talk with them for hours and never get tired of it and even look forward to catching up again….and again.  For me, this is what my time with my horses is like.  It is never a chore.  It’s never just about me and what I want.  It genuinely is a two way conversation where we both get to express what we want to, we both listen to each other, we both take each others opinions on board and then we see just where the conversation will lead us.  And next time we get together we continue on and see how far that takes us.

It really is like learning a new language.  You try out a few words.  If that gets understood, you try a few more, and then more, and more and so on.  And just enjoy seeing where the conversation can take you.  It is fascinating, provocative and enthralling.

I really think that if more people could see that spending time with their horse should be more about having interesting, two-way conversations, discussing the meaning of life and other important matters, we’d see a real increase in just what humans and horses could achieve together.  Now that would be a conversation worth having.

Meredith Ransley
CEO & Co-founder
Quantum Savvy Horsemanship
Meredith’s Blog

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Time to Change

Time to change – by Meredith Ransley

“The danger from horse riding is compounded by the interaction of two species, human and horse, which may result in unpredictable events.”
Dr Raymond A. Cripps, AIHW National Injury Surveillance Unit

“We need to be a Horseman  not  Human when it comes to interacting with horses.”
– Shane Ransley, Founder of Quantum Savvy Horsemanship

Big Geoff barrel jumpDo you, as a horse lover, personally know of someone who has been killed or seriously hurt by a horse?  With the statistics alarmingly and unforgivably high, chances are that you do.  Each year in Australia alone, 20 people on average are killed in horse related activities*.  That is, riding or handling horses in some way.  And while the stats are often hard to track down, they state that more than 3000 people each year in our country alone are seriously hurt by a horse*.  Just this week a lady in South Australia fell off her horse and broke her neck, and another in Victoria came off her horse and fractured her skull.  Plus there have been at least two deaths this summer already, and this is just incidents that I’ve heard of without even looking.

The trouble is that statistics are just that.  Numbers, that give a benchmark of occurrences and their frequency.  Something to measure.  They aren’t real to most of us who would just write them off as ‘acceptable’ in this ‘risky’ sport we all partake in, that is horse riding.  It’s annoying and frustrating that those researching the statistics of horse related accidents say, in nearly every paper I’ve read, that the number of injuries and deaths is “comparatively low as a percentage of people actually involved in the dangerous sport of horse riding”.   In other words, lots of people ride horses so what is a couple of thousands injuries and only twenty or so deaths a year?  I’ll tell you what it is.   It’s not low enough for the families of those who died.  It means in the 20+ years I’ve been teaching horsemanship, more than 400 people in Australia have died.  In the UK, the numbers are only slightly lower than in Australia, but some stats claim that in the USA the figure is over 200 a year!

If we just look at things purely as statistics, as percentages if you will, the odds of being killed in a plane crash or by a shark are only 1 in many millions.  But we are all horrified by these facts.  And yet when someone is killed by a horse we say “how terrible” then shrug it off as acceptable in such a risky pursuit.  We’ve conditioned ourselves to the point that it’s no longer shocking.  It’s normal even.

“The way we’ve learned to live with the shock of loss of life, is by telling ourselves it’s a dangerous sport, therefore it’s acceptable.”  Shane Ransley

But it isn’t acceptable.  These aren’t just numbers.  They are real people….Mums of small children, grandmothers, fathers, daughters of distraught mothers who have to live the rest of their lives overwhelmed with questions why and with no answers.

One such Mum, whose 18 year old daughter was killed a number of years ago while attending a horse related course with an accredited establishment, has been doggedly pursuing answers and demanding change ever since.  She has been relentless in chasing down why this happened.  How her beautiful girl could leave home happily one morning, to attend a course she was looking forward to and not ever come home again.  Ever.

Frustratingly, to many people (and I of course include most horse riders in this) this rate of injury and death is acceptable.  Even normal and to be expected.  Recently an acquaintance’s young daughter came off her horse and hurt herself and everyone’s response was, “Never mind, get back on.  These things happen.  When you ride horses you can expect to get hurt from time to time.”  But it isn’t acceptable.  Not to me, not to the families of the people killed and injured and nor should it be to any of you who own or are around horses.

I have been very fortunate to have been consulted by the Mum of the 18 year old, as she pursues her goal of having an industry standard code of practise put in place for all establishments who teach horse related activities.  I have been asked to participate as one of many consultants, to put forward my opinion and to provide input and feedback to the ongoing cause.  To date there has been quite some success with this pursuit, and it does look like some kind of industry code will commence at some point.  However, I am very afraid that it will have little or no effect on the statistics as they are.  I fear that all we will end up with are more useless rules made by people who really have no idea about horses and safety and saving people’s lives.  Why do I fear this?  Why won’t it have an effect?

Most of the professionals consulted agreed that horses and horse riding are dangerous.  They also didn’t want any kind of industry standard being put into place and were happy to do their own risk assessment in their own businesses.  And here in lies the first issue.  Belief number 1; That horses are dangerous.  Horses are not dangerous.  Horse riding is not dangerous.  We have this belief that it is, so when someone falls and gets hurt, we accept it as ‘normal’.  Which is just wrong.  Horse riding should not be dangerous.  Beginner riders on green horses however is unbelievably dangerous and terrifying to watch.  What we need, and in Australia we are terrible for this, is to not let green, beginner riders get on horse’s that are not fully educated.  And I don’t mean educated in the conventional sense of the term, I mean a proper education.  Horse’s that are mentally, emotionally and spiritually educated to take care of a beginner rider.  Here in Australia, we just jump on anything and hope it will be okay.  To protect ourselves we wear helmets, body armour, and put all kinds of gadgets on the horse and then go. We may as well cross our fingers as well for all the good it does us.  And that brings us to Belief number two:  That it’s okay to ride dangerous horses as long as we wear a helmet and use the right gear on the horse.

It’s not okay.  And this is something I see all the time and that both frightens and frustrates me at the same time.  This is a really important point and when I raise it, it’ll seem obvious.  Riding horses shouldn’t buck, bolt, rear or shy. If a horse does any of these things, or has a tendency to do any of these things, it shouldn’t be ridden.  Don’t get on it.  Plain and simple.  A Riding Horse should be emotionally calm, sensible, quiet and using it’s left brain.  It should be thinking. I see so many people on or around right brained, scared horses it amazes me….actually it astounds me that more people aren’t hurt by them.  And when I say a quiet horse, I don’t mean one that is dull, or has no play, or is boring.  I just mean one that is educated, can think it’s way through what would normally be an emotional trigger for a horse and stay calm.  And this, believe me is really easy to achieve with a horse.

To most people, and this may be many people reading this missive, this may seem like a huge and complicated thing to do.  Indeed it must do because even after so many years of having this kind of knowledge and help available, the majority of horse owners and riders still just don’t get it.  And that is because of Belief No 3: We think in order to work with horses, we need to control the right brain instead of educating the left brain.  Think about that one a bit because it is really important.

Traditionally, everything we do involves controlling the horse and his instincts (his right brain).  We want to use bigger bits, more tie downs, nose bands, side reins and on and on.  And just in case that doesn’t work, we need to wear helmets and body protection.  Everything we do, every decision we make is based on the need or the belief that we need to control the right brain.  And that is complicated and hard and something we still haven’t been successful with because of one thing.  It can’t be done.  You are never going to control the right brain of anything let alone a flight response prey animal like a horse.  At best all you will do is contain them, but certainly not control.  I bet you have all experienced, or else seen someone who has, a horse that has been right brained and emotional and felt the need to flee or be free.  It is terrifying.  The moment that containment is no longer enough and they really try to break free.  They would rather risk hurting themselves…..or worse, in an effort to be free.  And if you are around them or on board in that instant, you soon become aware of just how vulnerable and insignificant you are in that moment.

In all honesty, if I felt that I had to put a helmet on, or wear body armour, then I would not get on the horse.  And I mean a riding horse.  I am not saying that people should not wear helmets.  Far from it.  But I do think we should consider more fully the times they are actually needed and make sure our horses are better prepared before we get on.  This is the problem; trying to ride horses that shouldn’t be ridden.  The problem isn’t that horses are dangerous.  I want to be really clear on this because I know there are some people who may get confused by what I am saying or try to twist my meaning.  A ‘Riding Horse’ should not bolt, rear, buck or shy.  If a horse does any of these things, it needs more help, more education by a true horseman to overcome it fears.  Or else the person causing the horse to do these things should step away from the horse!  A beginner rider who is still learning about balance and developing their seat, should certainly wear a helmet and should only ride a fully educated horse.  Period!

Any horse of course can put a foot wrong at times, so we need to be prepared for that.  But even a beginner rider can stay on a horse that stumbles a little at walk.  Even trot.  Usually they end up in a fit of the giggles when it happens.  If a horse stumbles at canter or gallop it can be difficult to stay on but this shouldn’t be beginner riders in an arena.  For people doing eventing, racing, jumping, colt starting or horse training and so on, it only makes sense to wear a helmet.  The risks in this case are higher from a practical view point.

What about trail riding or hacking?  Trail riding is one of the riskiest and most dangerous sports to under-take and one of the most commonly pursued by horse lovers.  As a horseman it is very easy to understand why it is risky.  Horses are flight response prey animals.  Their default system tells them to run (in a straight line) if they get scared. Out on the trail there are any number of things to trigger a horse’s flight response so it is really easy for a horse to trigger right-brain and flee.  It is usually not beginner riders who get hurt on trails, but people who lack horsemanship on emotionally uneducated horses, trying to ride in straight lines! (Horses being prey animals are very vulnerable in open spaces and presented with straight lines will often trigger a right-brain flight response.)

Educating the left brain, to teach the horse to think through moments that may trigger survival behaviour, is actually really easy to do.  But it has nothing to do with controlling the right brain, or training the horse, or wearing him out, or beating it out of him.  It is just a matter of learning to become a horseman.  And I don’t mean someone who just calls themselves that.  Someone who thinks that being able to stay on a horse makes you a horseman, or working with horses, or having been around them forever and a day.  I mean a real horseman.  Someone who understands horses, what makes them tick and can communicate with them in a very real and repeatable way and who horses trust and respect.

One of the points of interest that was brought up in regard to the new standard code of practise, was that people who teach horse activities should have riding accreditations and teaching accreditations.  All very well but what about horsemanship accreditations?  Most people who fall from horses and get seriously hurt are not beginner riders.  Probably the most at risk are those who have been riding for some time, even years and who think they are good riders.  And maybe they have even have had lots of riding lessons.  But what they still lack is horsemanship skill.  Having a good seat will not necessarily save you on a bucking or bolting horse.  Having the horsemanship to know when to step off, or better, not get on at all, will save you every time.

The other day a man was killed when he walked up behind his horse and patted it on the rump.  It responded by kicking him in the throat and killing him.  A tragic accident many said.  A freak thing to happen.  I am sorry but it was not.  It was a head shot….a kill shot.  Horses know exactly where their feet are going.  They are very good at warning shots.  Just watch them with each other for a while and you’ll see it.  They know just how hard to kick or bite to let each other know and get their message across, without inflicting damage.  I am very, very sorry for this man and his family.  It was a truly terrible thing to happen.  But you should be able to walk up behind your own horse and give it a pat without risk of injury.  I know some of you won’t agree and you’ll probably even be quite cross with me in regard to this, but that is because you still think horses are dangerous.  A horse shouldn’t be so wound up and so scared that it feels the need to defend itself to this degree.  And if it is, we should have the horsemanship to be able to tell and to steer clear.

There are examples of lack of horsemanship everywhere.  Recently a British elite equestrian was under attack for her let’s say ‘forceful’ dealings with a horse at a demonstration.  She had the chance to work with a famous race horse and try to turn it into a dressage horse.  I don’t know the time frame she was given but the outcome was not very successful.  She had to resort to a lot of force and strength to get it to do anything and people were upset by it.   But let’s look at this scenario because it is one we see all the time in Australia.  A race horse is bred and trained to run as fast as it can in a straight line.  It is what we call a long horse.  Flat out, fast, straight, length of stride.  A dressage horse is bred and trained for elevation of stride.  To collect, round up, engage and power up in an elevated or lateral frame of movement.  A good race horse then, should not be a good dressage horse and vice versa.  It was ridiculous to try to turn one into the other.  A horseman should know this without thinking.  Of course it can be done, with enough time and education you may be able to take all the forward out and redirect it to up but it’d be like trying to turn a Ferrari into a 4WD.  Even if it can be done, what is the point?

The trouble is that we don’t even understand which end of the horse is the bit that needs to be communicated with.  Because we believe that we have to control the right-brain, we try to put things on the horse’s head to achieve this control.  A horseman knows that it has nothing to do with the head physically.  You can take control of the head but that doesn’t mean you’ll have control of the rest of the horse.  We’ve all seen horses bucking or bolting with someone hanging on to the reins (and therefore their heads) for dear life and it making no difference whatsoever.  Control of the horse comes from the back end, from the hind feet if you really need control.  From being able to communicate with the hind quarter and the horse having the trust and confidence in you to offer disengagement of it.  Communication with the horse when riding, comes through your seat and the lateral softness of the horse.  Even a horse that is collected and truly engaged can only be so if his back and ribs are soft laterally and his hind coming underneath him.  Getting a hold of his head will only make him feel more contained and claustrophobic.  If you cause him enough pain he may do your bidding but how will he feel about that?  Do you think you’d really be getting the best from your partner if you are hurting him?  Most horses who have assumed the ‘correct’ head set, are also hollow in the back or over flexed at the poll, to try to give themselves some relief.  Even people who think they are being kind by riding in bitless bridles still don’t get it.  It is not about the head.   And there are plenty of bitless bridles around that still work by causing pain or depriving the horse of air.  Cruel.

True self carriage comes from soft lateral ribs and back, calm emotions and an engaged hind quarter.  You shouldn’t need anything on their heads at all for that.

While it is wonderful that at last there seems to be some, who are at least listening to the need for things to change within the horse industry, the new code of practise for beginner riders won’t save lives.  I doubt it will make any difference to our statistics at all.  It is time to change.  Time to change our antiquated beliefs about horses and to stop thinking that horsemanship is just owing a horse.  All riders, beginners and experienced riders alike, are at risk until we understand that it is Horsemanship that needs to be encouraged and mandated.  A true understanding of the way horses think and respond and a knowledge of true communication.
* Related statistics taken from;
J R Silver, High Street, Wendover, Bucks HP22 6EA, UK…l/3101280a.html
*Flinders University Study
Australian Institute for Health and welfare…./?id=6442464348
National Injury Surveillance Unit – Raymond A Cripps

Meredith Ransley
CEO & Co-founder
Quantum Savvy Horsemanship
Meredith’s Blog

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