Horse School

Animal and Equine Body-worker and Communicator. Horse Development Specialist.

Horseman’s Log

I’m not usually a big fan of introductions. I’d rather skip straight to the part where my blogs are already well established and maybe even with a readership…(!), where the only greeting needed is like one you’d give an old friend.

My name is Lucy Churches. I have been riding since I was 10 years old, and I started in the riding school. I was an average student. Solid enough that the instructors could put me on most of the working ponies without having to worry about who they’d paired me with, but I was never deemed good enough to ride the “special” horses that some of my friends could; the ex eventers, hunters and the few snazzy working liveries that were occasionally used in lessons.

In fairness, the instructors probably had it right. I was a good rider, but a fall early on had knocked my confidence, my stability in the saddle had suffered and I never really had the drive to compete in any of the available English disciplines at a young age anyway. But I was passionate, I turned up every week for my pony club lessons, and later on, you could find me at the yard every evening of the week and almost all weekend.

When I was 13, I met my first horse. He had been brought to the yard by a livery client who already had a horse stabled there; a gorgeous hunter/eventer type big chestnut boy called Claude. She was loaning this second horse from a lady who no longer had time for him. He was 16hh, a bay Thoroughbred with a white star, called Tayo. With a history on the racetrack and in stunt work, he was 16 years old, underweight and blind in one eye. Hardly the “snazziest” looking horse on the yard. I couldn’t have cared tuppence. That one eye had the depth of a hundred. I was in love.

I came to see him every day. Feeding him carrots over the stable door and stroking his nose like every besotted horse girl from every book. The lady who owned him must have noticed my affection for him and asked if I would like to help bring him back into work. I jumped at the opportunity, and started walking him out in hand in the woods behind the yard, and free schooling him in the round pen. Without a clue what I was doing of course. But bless his old soul, he ran round in circles for me and patiently waited for someone to come along and point me in a better direction.

That someone was a young Sean Coleman (now a 3* Parelli Professional), who had already introduced some of the other riders to Parelli Natural Horsemanship. I had heard whispers on the yard about this newfangled program, and I was eager to learn.

Pretty soon, I was hooked. Parelli opened the door for me to start the journey towards what I’d always wanted; to be able to communicate with a horse on their level. That moment of partnership and harmony when you feel that you and this furry four legged animal understand each other, and can be whatever you are together. To be able to build a relationship like that felt like living in a real life fantasy. I loved it.

Tayo was an incredible partner. Kind, forgiving, and patient as I fumbled and struggled and dealt with the frustrations of being a beginner. He is, I think, the oldest soul I have ever met, and when he died 2 years later – the result of a lifetime of physical stress and chronic stomach ulcers – I was utterly heartbroken.

I’d experienced my fair share of loss in life, but even so, there was something very profound for me in losing that first love, and my first equine best friend. There are so many amazing stories that can be told about him and our time together; now that this blog exists I am sure that they will be written, but for now I must stay on track.

My light at the end of the tunnel came from the lovely Jo Bates, who very generously asked if I would like to play with her rather brilliant Tillie, and to help keep her fit; she had a penchant for good grass and was a little eensy weensy smidgen overweight…!

Well, this was a very different kind of horse! Smart as a button, quick-witted, and clocked me from right across the yard. She knew more than me and boy did she know it too! When I got it right it was like magic. She had lightness, skill and style, and we could pull off moves that made me feel like a pro! But when I got it wrong she made no allowances. She had a look she would give me, the kind of look I didn’t know horses could give. Some of you have horses like this I bet. You know this look. From pro to no in less than 10 seconds, and my magic would grind to a halt.

She was an excellent teacher. Firm but fair, she never let me get away with anything but my best, and only when my best was good enough did I get my reward.

I have been very blessed with opportunities in my life with horses, but in the midst of my school career I was too busy, and I had to take a break for a few months to keep my head from exploding!

I re emerged from these months with a voice ringing in my ear. It was my mother’s. For as long as I could remember, my parents had told me I could get a horse when I had the money to buy one myself.

At 16, you can legally own your own horse. And I had a bit of money in the bank, enough to pay for the horse and the essentials with a Saturday job and a bit of careful saving. Being young and foolish, I decided I was ready. Of course I smile fondly looking back on my naivety. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for. But I wouldn’t change it for the world, for at 16 years old, I bought the horse that would bring me here, to this life, and to this blog. For £425 from a preloved.com listing, I found Valentia Island, better known as Lawrence. Back then he was as damaged as I was under qualified for the task ahead, but the story of our first years together is for another day

At 17, some excellent fortune and good friends brought me into the path of Larisa Tasker, and the rest, as they say, is history…!

I have been so fortunate to have ridden with or studied the work of horsemen including Mikey Wanzenried, Wally Gegenshatz, Frederic Pignon, Magali Delgado, Matthias Geysen, Ben Atkinson, Pat and Linda Parelli, Jean Luc Cornille, Elsa Sinclair, Tik Maynard and more, so many through the incredible work of Organised Equestrian. In September 2018 I began work on my BSc Equine Science, which will be completed in 2024, and my interest in horse health deepened, along with my desire to share my journey, and talk through the struggles of the student of the horse!

I am incredibly privileged to have studied up close the work of horsemen (and women) who are masters in their fields; my life has led me to this pathway in horsemanship and I wouldn’t change a thing.

These blogs is designed both for me and for you. I’m very excited to document my journey, to be able to write down my reflections, look back at them and see my own journey from a different perspective as a result. I am also learning so many things that I never knew and was too scared to ask, and I’m also so pleased to be able to share it all with you, the reader. To be able to display my thoughts, learning curves, breakthroughs and struggles as a student is a privilege, and I will dare to hope to motivate, inspire or maybe even be some easy reading for us horse lovers out there. My blogs are a mix of horse health, horsemanship and personal reflection, and I hope that there is something in there for everyone!

So on that note, peace out and pony love!

Lucy
Horseman’s Log

Follow me at: horsemanslog.wordpress.com

Like for all the updates at: facebook.com/horsemanslogs

Horse School

Animal and Equine Body-worker and Communicator. Horse Development Specialist.

I can’t have been the only one who sat in the classroom at school, daydreaming out the window thinking about how cool it would be if all my lessons were about horses. Learning about feet, and feed, and forging connections… I could have filled every lesson with my questions! 

I loved riding, but I was often a little intimidated to ask about everything I didn’t know – everyone else seemed to know so much, and I didn’t want to look silly at that age! Luckily, I grew up a bit, and five years on, I started my BSc Equine Science, and finally made it to horse school! I’m nowhere near finished yet, but I’ve learnt so much cool stuff along the way I’d like to start sharing it.

I want to get deep into topics like nutrition, disease and management styles, and hopefully bring some of the latest research in, because there are fascinating studies being carried out every day, that are super useful if applied right!

But I’m going to start with the basics. What better place to start?

Horses are quadriped (four legged) mammals (live young bearing milk feeders), who were first domesticated over 6000 years ago, as far as we can tell!

Throughout time, they have served purposes including pulling carts and carriages, transportation over long distances and war.

As the world has evolved, they have increasingly become used for sporting, and now there are over 20 different types of sports on horseback, with even more variations of each!

I believe we are drawn to the horse for reasons that mirror in many ways the connection famously between “a man and his dog”. Horses are creatures of complex intelligence, who have many valuable skills to offer us, and we in turn can offer them safety, comfort and food. This is a partnership that is millennia old, and will continue for millennia to come.

But what is a horse actually made of?

Horses are prey animals, and their bodies are built to help defend themselves against predators. They are fast-moving, agile and have excellent stamina for their size. Their lungs take up a far larger volume of their chest cavity than I realised, and when fully inflated, can fill the length and breadth of their entire ribcage and take in almost 50 litres of air every single minute! Next time you groom your horse, have a feel of how far back their ribs go. Pretty huge right!

Humans usually have a resting heart rate of around 60-90 bpm (beats per minute), which is around 1 per second. Horses are slightly larger than humans (!), so it’s unsurprising that their resting heart rate is around 36-42 bpm.

The maximum heart rate for a middle-aged human is just under 200 bpm. But a horse? The horse can max out at up to 240 bpm if necessary. For an animal so large this is a huge range, and goes some way to explaining why anxiety attacks can be so difficult for horses to manage. Can you imagine your heart rate increasing by 600%? How difficult would it be to come down from that kind of physical high? Even if it’s over something as small as a plastic bag? Now imagine someone is shouting at you in a different language whilst you’re freaking out…..triiiiiickyyyyy!

Horses have a forebrain, midbrain and hindbrain, have been shown to have excellent memory, and an ability to learn complex patterns and communication pathways.

Their digestive system, although monogastric (one stomach), requires hind gut fermentation to break down much of the plant matter that they feed on.

There is much we don’t know yet about horses, but there is also much being discovered, and I’m excited to be able to explore the new horizons. Hopefully some of you will want to come on this journey too, and if you have any requests for topics, please do let me know, I’d love to know what people want to read about!

I’m going to include an informal reference list at the bottom of each of these posts, places where you can go to get stuck in and learn a bit more. I will endeavour to favour sources that can be accessed by everyone, if anyone would ever like any more information, just let me know and I can find some!

For now,
Peace out and pony love!

Lucy
Horseman’s Log

Follow me at: horsemanslog.wordpress.com

Like for all the updates at: facebook.com/horsemanslog

References:

Brega, J. (2005). Essential Equine Studies – Book 1 Anatomy and Physiology. London: J.A. Allen.

Encyclopedia Britannica. 2020. Tracing The History Of Horse Evolution And Domestication – Origin Of Horse Domestication.. [online] Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tracing-the-History-of-Horse-Evolution-and-Domestication-1900351/Origin-of-Horse-Domestication> [Accessed 21 August 2020].

Woods, R., 2016. Sports Involving Horses. [online] Topend Sports website. Available at: <https://www.topendsports.com/sport/horse-sports.htm> [Accessed 21 August 2020].