1. How did you first develop your passion for horses which led to your professional career?
I always liked being outside and grew up next to a farm so was always out with the animals. I was four when I started riding, having regular riding lessons and sharing a pony. I think at this point I had a passion for animal psychology although I don't think I yet knew it - my mum was an obedience dog trainer, my grandad a police dog trainer and handler and my great grandfather also trained animals so it's fair to say it runs in the family. It was when I was around 14/15 years old that I started to ask questions about behaviour and gravitating towards that arena. It helped that my instructor at the time was also very knowledgeable and pointed me in the right direction to find the answers for myself. This expansion of knowledge just grew my passion of horses and specifically horse behaviour and that is where my journey started.
2. You’ve been dealing with some behavioural issues and working beautifully with one of our horses at Wilderley. What was your first impressions of the farm?
For me, it was like a fairy-tale world as it has pieces of places that I have had connections with rolled together into one place! Around one corner there were horses, the next a Mongolian yurt, followed by a boat and a Yoga Centre, all of which have relevance to interests of mine. This was all before I had even met the people! It's safe to say they are similar to me in their mindsets. It's a community, but more like a family whose main goal is to help each other, help animals, and make a better life. All of this positive energy, I feel, is down to Celeste and Sergei who have this passion to build this world around them. Meeting them both and finding we had similar ideas about things and places, especially Russia, was the icing on the cake. Russia is my favourite place in the world and I travel there annually to compete in the sport called Djigitovka.
3. Our animals are our ambassadors and play a central role in making the farm special. Why do you think animals are so important for people’s mental health and how do you think they help?
I believe that animals don't judge people and give us a huge sense of freedom. They are the best therapy a person can have, certainly in my case. Thanks to animals, my view of the world is as it is. Never before have I publicly discussed just quite how animals helped me during the early stages in my life. Growing up, I was always a very emotional child and often grew overtly angry or agitated. As I got older, through my teens, it didn't get any better! I liked school for its social life but didn't enjoy the work. I knew I was intelligent but my grades reflected otherwise. I was getting into lots of fights and stressed with exams and as time went on, I was being pressured into making a decision about my future. In the end, I was expelled. Luckily, I'd started learning to train horses at this point. I would go into the arena with a horse - I was usually incredibly emotional and agitated after something that had happened - I knew what I had to do on paper but the energy I was using was wrong and was being mirrored by the horse - so much energy that the horse ended up just running rings round me. My trainer knew this and let it happen with multiple horses until I started working out why. This experience was the trigger point to develop my understanding and passion by training myself to control my emotions. What could have been a downward spiral turned into a mission for self-improvement and a successful career in equine behaviour and training.
4. What’s the most difficult case you’ve encountered and how did you overcome the problem for the client?
Often people ask me is there any horse that you haven't been able to train and my answer is yes. You can't train pain! Horses react differently depending upon their personalities however they will have found their defence mechanism to make the situation they're in easier, just like people, and this can take a lot of time to undo. Many horses I see have a combination of behavioural issues and physical discomfort. I have to then break down the whole horse and work on physically rehabilitating the horse or getting a professional in that area. There isn't one particular case that stands out as being the most difficult as there have been many throughout my career so far. The ones that come to my mind usually share one thing in common and that is that a rider/trainer has already tried to teach (or force) a horse to do something using methods that have generated confusion and anxiety in the horse. These horses take a lot longer to come round to relax and understand.
5. Recently, you’ve represented Britain in a sport known as Djigitovka which was developed in Russia. This includes both the performance of traditional acrobatic tricks and the use of weapons on horseback. What’s it like competing at an International level and where do you see the sport going forward?
I have enjoyed travelling to many countries to compete and train horses. Russia and the sport of Djigitovka is my favourite! Competing at an International level is incredible as you're sharing the stage with some of the best athletes in the world and not only this, you also learn so many different things about the horsemanship they use in that country and the history of it. Djigitovka is a relatively small sport and not only is there little funding but the requirements from the athletes is very high. They have to be good at using five different weapons to a high level riding a horse and trick riding on a horse. Some of the weapons including pistol shooting and archery are sports in their own rights so combining this all together, whilst on horseback, means the athlete has to be of a high skill level in all areas. I would love to see Djigitovka becoming more widely known, not only in Russia, but around the globe and seeing the level of competition grow and develop. The world competition has only been running for four years and every year the performance level increases, which is a great advert, however the first goal is to gain more competitors and have more countries join. In Russia, Djigitovka is recognised by the FEI which is great, so hopefully this will enable the sport to expand into new countries. I'd love one day for there to be sufficient competitors to hold multiple national and international events every year. Meanwhile, I'll just keep practising!