"Having had my horse Cinders from a foal, by the time she was 5, I was beginning to recognise that I was out horsed and by 7 we had reached crisis point. Like many people, I had to make a decision whether to carry on or to give up. To be honest I really wasn’t convinced that any turn around was possible - but one thing I was sure about was that I wanted to give us every chance I could at becoming a partnership. I hope that at least some people who read our story will get a feel for what can be possible if you’re prepared to make a commitment to your horse.
Cinders has never been straightforward. She is built as a sports horse, is quick, very sharp and intelligent. Nor has life with her been easy physically. As a foal she had bilateral OCD and she has been prone to colic - one vets bill was over £10,000. She was the kind of horse who would put her foot through a fence on Christmas morning! However, with help, I got through all these things and by the time she was 4 Cinders was in work and turning into a really nice ride. But, in retrospect, the breakdown in trust between us was inevitable. Although relatively experienced - 18 years riding a variety of horses on a regular basis, I had never ridden anything as sharp as Cinders and frankly I was scared. To exacerbate the situation, Cinders was very upright in her head carriage and found it difficult to go forwards so sitting on her made me (and others more experienced) feel insecure. As a result she was largely ridden in draw reins - something which seemed a good idea at the time but only served to make matters worse.
Things deteriorated even further after the birth of my second child. My confidence was almost non-existent - to the extent that I would cry from fear if I sat on her and finally was even afraid of putting her rugs on. Over a matter of months Cinder’s behaviour deteriorated to such an extent that only Louise, the livery yard manager, would handle her. None of the other grooms wanted to be near her. She was led in a bridle, often rearing, refusing to go in her box and eventually surrounded by people frightened of her. We investigated everything we could think of - back problems, neck problems, teeth, eyesight, brain tumours - but we could not find an answer. I have to say that without Lou’s support I would have given up. But, even with this, by the spring of this year, Cinders and I had reached crisis point. Then one day I jokingly said “Maybe Monty Roberts could do something with this horse” - enter stage left my now dear friend Lynn Chapman.
I found Lynn’s name on the IH website and I called her. She agreed to come out and to be honest I was a bit sceptical about what she was saying. That said, I was desperate and I wanted to change the dreadful situation we were in. I loved my horse and I couldn’t bear the fact that we weren’t communicating and we weren’t enjoying life together. I was also extremely lucky in that Louise, now the primary carer of my horse, was also prepared to change the way we did things, despite being a competent and experienced horsewoman.
Lynn spent a lot of time with us. She took time to understand the history (and we told her everything), she took time with me, she understood what I wanted and she gave us a plan - groundwork exercises and if possible lead in a head collar, not a bridle. We followed Lynn’s plan to the letter, every day – and when she returned 3 weeks later she saw a marked improvement in Cinders and us. Cinders hadn’t reared since Lynn’s visit and I had even managed to turn her out. The next challenge I faced was that Lou was getting married and was going to be away from the yard for a few weeks - which left me to deal with Cinders alone. It was then I decided to ask Lynn if she could take Cinders on for a few weeks to continue the work we were doing - and by some marvellous serendipity, Lynn is located only a short drive from my office. So that’s what we did.
When Cinders arrived at Lynn’s farm (known now to me as ‘The Academy’), she was withdrawn, nervous and unpredictable. She wouldn’t even put her head over the door! But before we started any retraining, Lynn checked the physical side of things. Years of being ridden in draw reins had caused a variety of tightnesses in Cinders which were treated by a rather unconventional chap but with amazing results. Within only a few days of being treated her body had changed shape enormously.
Lynn worked consistently, quietly and methodically to try to get to the heart of Cinders. She did groundwork exercises, worked in the round pen, long lined and hacked, no draw reins and with the gentlest of approaches. And each day Cinders improved.
But then came the bigger challenge - Lynn, having got Cinders on an even keel, needed to sort me out. What I hadn’t realised was that my confidence was so low that there was absolutely no question of me getting on Cinders. But here’s a real lesson for anyone who is frightened of their horse - not only have you got to be prepared to change what you do, you’ve got to be prepared to change how you do it.
My biggest realisation came one morning when I arrived at the farm when Carina was riding her horse David (yes I know its an odd name for a horse) out of the yard. I had arrived feeling very calm, but as soon as I saw David and Carina, I began to feel nervous, and I told Lynn. Lynn’s response was simply – ‘Yes, that’ll be David, he feeds adrenalin’ . At first I thought she was having a bit of a mad moment but I began to think about it. What was happening with Cinders and I was that we are both hypersensitive - and we were feeding each other adrenalin. The combination was, as you will realise, explosive! Lynn taught me to recognise the signs and develop strategies to get rid of the adrenalin and stop the situation escalating.
Over the next few weeks Lynn, unbeknown to me, worked a programme to get me riding and reading my horse again. We started with her 10 year old daughter’s pony - that’s how bad I was. Lynn showed me how to hear the questions the horses asked, she taught me ways to answer, she helped me to develop responses to scenarios, she helped me to feel what the horse was telling me, she taught me it is OK to be scared, but above all she had faith in me. She took the time to retrain me.
What was fantastic about ‘The Academy’ is that these people I was working with, although experienced in the IH techniques, had all had first hand experience of where I had been. Carina openly shared her experiences of David with me - she had also been in a similar situation with him but had made a commitment to change and has now come through it.
Four months ago, I was afraid to put rugs on my horse, let alone lead or ride it. After 4 months with Lynn, I now groom, lead, turn out, bring in, tack up and ride my beautiful horse.
What advice would I give to anyone in my situation. Firstly, as soon as you’ve got a problem, seek help. Don’t prolong the agony. Second, be honest, define the issues and take responsibility. Third, and most important, you need to commit to change, you need to make the effort and meet your horse half way. The IH mentality is fantastic but they can’t wave a magic wand - you have to participate and commit. "
Cinders and Jo rediscovered their partnership and began hacking out for the first time during the summer of 2005. Jo built up some good memories and experiences, which enabled her to take the painful step of deciding to put Cinders out on loan whilst her children are small and her time limited. Cinders taught me to ride with much more subtly, someone recently described their Warmblood as a “tactful ride” I think this, prefixed with ‘extremely’, ably describes this lovely mare.
Cinders has found a permanent home where she is ridden regularly, competes in riding club events and generally enjoys life with her IH trained new owner. I am so glad Cinders has her happy ending.