I am a secret Scouser who grew up travelling between Liverpool and North Wales in the 70’s. In two periods in my life I lived in a big old white farmhouse called Ty Gwyn, hunkered down on the shoulder of a hill. It was built in 1627 and had huge stone chimneys about thirteen feet square, which tells you something about how cold people expected it to be in that part of the world. As a kid, my folks couldn’t afford a pony, but I was horse mad from birth so my brother and I used to be scooted off to riding schools and trekking centres during the holidays.
Like lots of kids in the seventies, our parents and instructors didn’t see it as a problem to leave us to our own devices for most of the day, and encouraged us to go off on long bike trips and swim in rivers and climb trees. We spent a lot of time immersed in nature and animals. No change there then…
In those days kids weren’t expected to always be ‘doing’ riding when they are with horses. We had lots of lessons but also long stretches of time when we weren’t busy. I learned to be quiet and hang out with any horse I could find within biking distance, because I wasn’t allowed to do anything else and I was probably scared to try for fear of getting into trouble. Sometimes I used to feed them, I remember feeding currants to a bunch of Clydesdales. They were so gentle with their lips.
I would sit on the top of a field gate gazing at a herd and imagining what it would be like to ride them. I would get excited and have a little bit of a nervous feeling inside, and the minutes would become hours until the sun was going down and I knew I should go home.
In the Liverpool suburbs I had my bike and did endless laps round the block with my brother and other kids from our street. I was an aspirational fibber (equestrian topics only), and used to construct massive tales about my imaginary horse life and had eleventy billion pony books to keep my ideas flowing during the week.
In 1983 my folks followed their dream of moving to the country and bought a ruined farm in the valley where my grandparents lived. We moved into caravans and when sharing a caravan with my brother got a bit old, my dad suggested I build my own bedroom and I started to learn more about self-sufficiency.
Still no full time horses though! When I was about fifteen I got a chance to rectify this appalling situation. A boyfriend’s Mum and her neighbour owned a herd of Arabs and part breds. The BF thing didn’t last, but I’d hit paydirt in equines. The ladies, a formidable pair in different ways, were hugely enthusiastic about breeding and showing, and needed all the help they could get. They were definitely a couple of characters but I was young and up to my eyebrows in fabulous Arabs. Long summer days riding miles around the Welsh hills to shows and pony club rallies, lots of different horses to make friends with and learn from. Fun, hard graft and horse time exploring new trails, finding out how to and how not to get things done, riding at all times of day and night, with tack and without, in all weathers the Welsh hills could provide.
Back then it was assumed that there definitely was a ‘right way’ to learn, the BHS way, and I had lessons from a terrifying and eccentric BHSI. She would kidnap yard kids out of school when she needed an extra pair of hands with the sheep, and she used to think nothing of setting off on a forty mile ride across Wales at four in the afternoon. Looking back I can see how effective she was at establishing discipline in young people. She kept a hunt yard, was a classical rider at heart and had a well defined attitude to personal discipline and consistency with horses which worked well for a Pony Club Equi-dragon. Even dead on your feet the horses came first. Letting a young horse run out of a fence would teach it running out was a possibility, and the ignorant young rider was punishable by verbal decapitation.
After school I took a year off working in hospital kitchens, then spent nine years trying to decide what I wanted to study. Starting with visual arts, going through English, then finally landing on Psychology, I graduated from University of Wales Bangor in 2000 now with my husband Duncan and small son Dougal. In the middle I added an NVQ in saddlery in Walsall and trained as a saddle fitting consultant with Balance International, I worked for Free ‘n’ Easy Saddles for several years as a fitter, and now I am an approved fitter for Lavinia Mitchell Saddles. My main career for ten years after university was in psychology, I worked as an addiction researcher and performance manager.
After school I explored the emerging new directions in horsemanship that were becoming available in the UK. I trained with Kelly Marks, lots of PNH and other horsemanship trainers including Steve Halfpenny and Lisa Bruin. Working with Lisa started my love of classical riding and horse training by introducing me to the work of Anya Beran and Philippe Karl, then meeting Dorothy Marks at a saddle fitting CPD event introduced me to much more in depth rider biomechanics, Ride With Your Mind, Mary Wanless and further work in the School of Légèreté (Philippe Karl). My current approach is informed by in depth study and practise of all the directions above, underpinned by my psychology background and interest in human and equine learning and performance.
My own first horse Sollas (Celyn Star), an Egyptian Arab, arrived in 1995. In hindsight he probably arrived with developing physical challenges. As a weanling he had a bad wire accident and was kept stabled alone for several weeks. In his later life he was a panicky horse and would bolt, behaviours if I had known then, were very likely rooted in ulcer pain. His complex physical and behavioural needs required me to learn a huge amount to keep him and myself safe. Poor farriery gave Sol a lot of trouble with his feet, eventually leading to serious contraction and bi-lateral abscessing. His ‘keep me awake at night’ level needs and the lack of answers from my vet and farrier prompted a new direction, barefoot hoof care. There were very few barefoot trimmers in the UK then, luckily one of them, Jane Berresford, was close enough to help. Most people who were involved early on were owner trimmers, and I took up tools quickly under her guidance and started studying. All the early practitioners teaching now had to travel around the world studying with a small group of farriers, vets and trimmers. This was certainly my path, going to see we many people as possible and practise learning on the job. I eventually took certification with the UKNHCP and started Barefootworks Hoofcare Co-operative. Around 2006 after redundancy I went full time as a trimmer. Big demand and no competition meant I could fill my books within two weeks. In 2016 my friend Jane Cumberlidge and I co-authored the book Barefoot Horse Keeping – The integrated horse, published by Crowood Press.
Hoofcare is particularly hard on the body, and after ten or twelve years I started having problems with my back. I started exploring ways to develop strength and resilience through working out, postural training and nutrition with my friend and trainer Lisa Bailey. But during a trim appointment in 2017 a horse fell forward on top of me when I was in extension and I felt a horrible internal ripping sound. After driving home I was pretty much stuck there for two months apart from doctor and chiropractic visits. After undertaking rehab for a year afterwards I decided it was time to cease my career as a full time trimmer. I loved trimming, spending time with horses and their people, and making as much of a difference as I could through study and practice evaluation. But the accident has made me reconsider and take other paths into coaching and product innovation, learn a lot about bodies and functional symmetry, and my body is working much better for riding than it was before!
More news as events warrant….!