The past two weeks have been busy, and I'm sure since I only have less than three weeks left, it won't slow down. Last Thursday I attended SICAB which is the international PRE festival that takes place in Sevilla every year. It draws all the top breeders and riders from all over Spain, Portugal and other parts of Europe. All I can say is WOW. I saw some incredible horses! At the same time it was a whole new world of horses for me. I think that part of it was not knowing what the judges were judging on, and after talking to Johanna and Nancy, some of it is that the culture has changed and in turn has changed the horses.
Horses with less than ideal conformation are so fat that you can hardly even see how they are built. In the morphology classes (conformation) they are basically required to show off the horse's gaits in each direction. This involves making the stallions as animated as possible despite the fact that it usually makes them fall on their front ends. Basically what I saw was nice horses not being shown to the best of their ability despite knowing that I was looking at a high caliber of horse.
I met up with Johanna and Nancy at the show after having wandered around on my own for close to two hours. I loved this because I was able to ask two experts in the sport what I was seeing, and if what I thought I saw was indeed what I was looking at. Sometimes I was right sometimes I was very wrong. That's the beauty of being comfortable enough to ask questions - its easiest to LEARN that way! Surprise surprise.
That night I got together with Carolina for a drink. I had done so the night before as well, and what had originally only been getting together for a beer turned into a glass of wine, then another, then a totally coherent decision to buy a bottle of wine to finish while we just sat and hung out. Its so easy to just laugh and be myself with her. We are so similar in many way, yet so different at the same time. When we disagree though its never a cause for concern, it simply incites interesting discussions. The coolest part? They are always in spanish. Anyway, Thursday night we got together again, and what start out as a chill night with us being exhausted from the night before, turned into one of those 6am nights where all of a sudden you look at your watch and know its a good idea to get home before the sun starts to rise.
Anyway, as previously planned, on Saturday I got on a bus to Bollullos de la Mitacion to meet up with Nancy and Johanna to attend and equine psychology clinic given by Lucy Rees. Now I had no idea what to expect from this clinic, but I was pleasantly surprised! Her methods are of the nature that people in the US would call "natural horsemanship" but unfortunately these words carry a lot of negative connotation among north american horsemen and women. In the past ten years there has been a sudden rise in the number of people who use those methods, and many people have been billed as crazy as lots of the methods are so commercialized that many "crazies" end up using what they think are the correct methods to the detriment of the horse. Even one of the cult like leaders, the famous Pat Parelli recently had a rather disgusting display of horsemanship in a public forum in England with the jumper stallion Catwalk.
Anyway, now that you have a general idea of the background of the current social implications of the terminology "natural horsemanship", meet Lucy Rees. As she is a friend of Johanna, I had the great pleasure of getting to spend an evening of dinner, wine, and invigorating discussion on the state of the horse, but more on that in a bit. During the clinic Lucy taught by example, and spoke while establishing trust with a nervous young three blooded gelding (Anglo-Arab/Spanish). This lovely gray gelding had just come into new ownership in the last month, and the young man who bought him has gotten dumped a few times because the gelding is nervous, spooky and distrustful. In just a little while Lucy used her methods to establish a confidence with the horse, teach it a few new things, introduce it to the objects it was too afraid to go near without her confidence, and eventually rode him around a bit. She speaks to them, she plays with them, and best of all she allows their natural personality to come through. She lets them be themselves while instilling in them a confidence and the foundations of an education. In her method every problem can be worked through by returning to and reestablishing the basics.
I think the best part of watching this clinic was seeing something that Nancy was first to point out. In a culture that so known for its rich history with horses, in this group of thirty Andalucians, you could absolutely see the wheels turning in their minds as they learned about methods that had previously been unknown to them. In some places this entrenched in history you would find people opposed to new ideas, certain that the way thing have been done for years and years must be correct. That wasn't the case with these people. They were genuinely interested in learning about ways to improve their relationship with their horses and almost every person (including me!) bought a copy of her new book La Lógica del Caballos. This willingness to open up to new ideas s exactly what the horse world needs. Kudos to you Lucy, for inspiring an excitement about learning more about establishing a relationship with the horse.