An interview with Noelene
• Why did you book into your TKH Clinic and what did you hope to gain from it ?
I had recently purchased a (very large – 17.3hh) warmblood gelding at the beginning of the year. It wasn’t until I got him home and was exposing him to different things/environments that I realised he had a frightening problem with anxiety that I just did not have the experience to deal with. His anxiety gave me anxiety which created a crazy and unsafe snowball effect!
I started to feel like a failure and thought this should have been something that I was able to deal with. I ended up selling him on, but I felt like I needed to do something to address my lack of knowledge and understanding of horses, not just focus on getting better dressage scores. So I started my quest to become a better rider and horse person!! I put a post on Facebook asking for recommendations for horsemanship clinics in Northern NSW and Tanja came highly recommended! I really liked how Tanja had a focus on helping female horse people especially to gain back our confidence.
I was hoping for a relaxing weekend, meeting new and likeminded people (absolutely ticked that box!!) and what I was mostly hoping for was some “tools” that I understood HOW to use and WHY I was using them to help an anxious horse be more controllable. Hopefully I could deal with a horse similar to my warmblood gelding again in the future.
• How was your TKH experience different to what you expected?
Wow, in so many ways! I was expecting just to work on controlling and lowering anxiety levels in horses. What I didn’t expect, was that I would come away with an entirely new perspective on how to train my dressage horse. I have been to a number of dressage trainers in the past, most will have you riding circle after circle after circle. When you do get the movement right, we would then do it again and again.
I now look at training totally differently. To be able to teach the horse to break down more complex movements on the ground first then under saddle was a totally new concept to me. Also, the idea that I should STOP after getting the right move (even if so subtle to begin with) and let the horse have a breather…
sounds so simple right?
Also, I use to feel anxious if there was something different going on, I.e my neighbour’s kids kicking a ball around, etc but now I see it as a training opportunity and a valuable way of teaching my horse to lower her anxiety.
I’m now looking for ways to slowly “introduce stressful situations” to my horse so we can work through it together.
• Horsemanship is usually not synonymous with dressage training. How do you think the horsemanship has helped you with your dressage?
I know right! And I have absolutely no idea why. Tanja trains all of the same dressage concepts - such as self-carriage for the horse without pulling/bracing on the horses mouth or insisting on an impeding “frame”; to have a horse that is willing to move off subtle cues, be “sensitive to the aids” and changes in our bodies energy and to have a happy and relaxed horse are what I have always been striving for in my dressage horse!
I structure each training session differently now. I think about training one or two things each session and think about how I can ask for it using the subtle cues I have taught my horse on the ground. When she gets it right, even only just right to begin with, I stop and let her have a breather.
Also, I do strengthening exercises and stretches every day to help develop the muscles in her back which are crucial for a dressage horse.
• What surprised you most about the clinic?
You can have a horse that is HAPPY to do dressage work, that is willing and relaxed. You can perform dressage movements without harsh aids, over repetition, bracing on the horses mouth or creating anxiety in your horse. There is a better way to work with your horse.
Groundwork isn’t only to reduce anxiety and make your horse easier to control, it can be used to create a sensitive and willing partner.
• What was the biggest take-home from the clinic?
I’m now starting to listen to my horse and use my intuition. I’d always felt like I wasn’t confident enough or experienced enough to really know what was going on with my horse, but watching Tanja work with the horses during the clinic has made me realise that I should be watching, listening and responding to what my horse is trying to communicate to me. Not just throw the saddle on and go.
I have always loved my horse, but I now feel like I’m starting to really SEE her.
• Is there anything you'd like to add?
Can a warmblood do Cowboy Dressage? lol