Meet the Wild brumby.. The Master of Horsemanship
In 2016 I had the absolute pleasure to participate in and experience the Australian Brumby Challenge. In December I was able to share some of that experience with 5 other like-minded horsemen and women, along with the tuition of 2 of Australia's best Horsemen Shane and Meredith Ransley, founders of the Quantum Savvy Horsemanship Program.
It was a familiar road travelled for me, one that I'd done countless times over the past 11 or so years, arriving at Brumby Junction to bounding greyhounds, the clang of cattle yards and the nervous whinnies of newly yarded Brumbies. I'm so thankful to Colleen O'Brien and the Victorian Brumby Association for allowing us the privilege to spend time at the Sanctuary, entrusting the wild ones to us for training.
For my friends and colleagues, however, this was all new and exciting as they anticipated the beginning of a whole new journey. We had trainers from as far as Surrey in the UK, and as close as Natte Yallock just 1 hour down the road.
For the next 10 days, we would be camping here together at the Junction, sharing horsemanship and friendship, learning from the expects - our wild and unhandled Brumbies.
Shane, our Master Horseman and teacher for the 10 days paired each of us with a Brumby, one that we felt would teach us the most. As he always is, Shane was a wealth of knowledge and his willingness to share is something I am very grateful for. We spent the next 10 days learning as much about ourselves as we did teaching these Brumbies about people, about domestic life and hopefully cutting some slack to humans who come into their lives. All these Brumbies will soon be available from the VBA to go to their forever homes, so it was our job to make this transition as seamless as possible.
The wild horse is a wealth of knowledge for us to draw from, they have a great gift to instil upon us both in our horsemanship journeys and our own humanity. While we are preparing them to be engaged and think in our domesticated world they have so much to share with us about how to be better horsemen. The lessons I've learned from my wild friends are exponential to those of our domestic companions. Because they don't have the ‘human filter' the feedback from the Brumby is pure and instant, and if we can step aside from our wants and expectations and dare I say it egos…. we have the potential to build an amazing partnership. They truly are a reflection of our principles, how we apply them and what we've rewarded.
Our goal was to achieve as much as we could without any tools. As Shane pointed out to us "The fewer tools we had, the better horsemen we had to be!" Never has how we approach our horses been so important! For 10 days we focused on our approach and connecting with our horses. We were only given tools once we didn't need them. While those that achieved this goal just added the halter on the last day, I can comfortably say I could at that point, lead my Brumby anywhere with softness and willingness and most importantly no brace. I see so much resistance and brace built-up in Brumbies because of their willingness to have a connection with people, and their trainers missing the contributing factors towards that brace. Which down the road to being ridden causes that Brumby to never reach its full potential, lack forward when being ridden and possibly have physical issues. And this is not only important for Brumbies but for all horses.
In this time we were able to achieve rubbing our horses all over, picking up their feet, following feel and not freaking out to pressure but that wasn't the goal of what we were doing, they were just amazingly pleasant by-products. So as Brumby advocates I know everyone reading this is now thinking yes, but how? During our time at the Junction, we all spent time ‘in class' discussing what we had tried and discovered, so I'll share the nuts and bolts of that with you here.
Firstly the big one for us Humans: Position is far more important than pressure. We can be a little single track focussed (we are predators after all..), and in our task focus, we can put too much emphasis on getting the job done and start making our horses do what we want. And yes this begins from the moment you open the gate. How about trying with your position and an offer first before you go to pressure.
This leads nicely to the next one: Offer, and wait….longer, and find more release moments. I know, you want it to happen now and don't think you have time for the long road but believe me if you get this right, it might seem longer now, but down the track, the results will be amazing and quick. It doesn't have to take a long time unless that is what your expectation is. Your horse will look at you differently and start to offer more sooner.
Remember, Consistency and appreciation are a big deal to these guys! You know that offer and release I just mentioned? This will cement that and will build your connection with your horse. And they will try harder for you, doesn't everyone want that?
While on the subject of connection: Every little yes builds rapport. Again wouldn't you like a confident, willing partner. Isn't the ultimate goal to have your horse and friend looking to you for what's next, what are we doing today?
Find curiosity, especially so with the Brumbies, they have such natural curiosity, we should encourage that. It's so much easier to have a conversation with someone when they are interested in what you have to say, and it's no different with Brumbies or any horse.
Have emotional development strategies and boundaries. I've talked a lot about connection and rapport with Brumbies, but that doesn't forgo good leadership. It is a balance everyone needs to learn. These horses still need boundaries, they need to know you are a good leader or they will step up. Part of leadership is to expand your horses comfort zone. Remember it's ok to stretch that, to take them into the unknown, show them its ok and then bring them back. It doesn't mean taking them to chaos… neither of you will learn anything there, but you will need to stretch them mentally.
And one which is possibly the one you can help Brumbies with the most. Be aware of our subconscious thoughts and have stillness in our mind. Calmness is a gift we can give to our horses. This is about us, and our thoughts and intentions. Remember horses have adapted to read predators very well over millions of years of survival, so they know what you're thinking by how you act, and in turn how your body moves, is determined by your thoughts.
I'm very proud of everything I have achieved with my own Brumbies over the past 11 years, and I'm now so happy to be able to share that with like-minded people. Looking back at this list I realise so much of it is why Aurora and I have such a special relationship. Without these things, we could never have achieved what we have. This is an ever-evolving journey, and I have certainly not perfected any of this, and I look forward to spending time growing and evolving further as a Horseman and Brumby Advocate.
While my focus for the article has been Brumbies, all horse handlers, riders, owners and trainers should keep in mind that we are all horsemen and women and be continually refining the craft and learning and expanding our knowledge. The horses are the experts here, I think its time we started listening more and telling less.