My first experience of horses was being taken to ride the farm horses who lived nearby in rural Cheshire. I learned to ride aged 8 on Badger, a retired pit pony who had spent most of his life working down coal mines, later I had an “around school” job caring for and exercising winning harness racing horses. As a teenager I competed at riding club and county level, and after studying for BHS exams I evented successfully, later concentrating on dressage and teaching, especially coaching to improve performance. Disliking the traditional “shouting” that some of my early instructors used to do in their lessons, I have developed an empathic and encouraging teaching style that helps my clients do their best.
A childhood spent with family dogs and caring for racing greyhounds led me in adulthood to take in problem rescue dogs to rehabilitate and retrain. This in turn led to requests from other dog owners to help them with their dogs’ behaviour and I went on to study canine behaviour in my Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare MSc. I continue to do so through CPD with my professional body the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors. As well as addressing any behaviour problem your dog has at the moment, I am a firm believer in a long-term approach to achieving a great relationship with your dog. My aim is to skill you up so that you can be confident about your dog’s behaviour for the future, understanding good practice and knowing which resources to rely on for accurate information. Sometimes there’s no short term quick fix to a behaviour problem, and behaviour that took time to learn also takes time to be replaced by something more acceptable, but there are strategies you can put in place to make life easier while you and your dog are learning together.
My interest in people led me to study counselling, and in 2002 I qualified in humanistic counselling. An eye-opening training workshop with Ben Hart introduced me to the use of psychological learning theory in horse training, and I then had the opportunity to study with Heather and Ross Simpson at the Natural Animal Centre in Wales, a world leader in companion animal behaviour training. I qualified in Equine Behaviour in 2006 and, having also graduated with First class honours in Psychology, found myself uniquely placed to offer an all-round service to horse owners and riders; using counselling and sports psychology to explore rider-related issues and offering behaviour modification support where owners feel behavioural changes would be beneficial.
As well as working with horses and dogs in the UK, I travel to Turkey and the Middle East to research equine and canine welfare and to work with horse and dog owners there.
My intention as a behavioural consultant is to help horses, dogs and their owners to cope with the challenges of multispecies living: the domesticated horse is the same animal that ran wild over plains and steppe; domestication came very late in its history. Sometimes the mismatch between what we expect of our horses, and what they need for physical and psychological health, can be overwhelming, and behavioural problems often follow. For dogs, the difficulties produced by unsuitable breeding, socialisation problems, busy family lives or being left home alone while owners go out to work can all result in behaviour problems. I aim to help owners understand and resolve the difficulties their animals are experiencing, and to do this in a way that is psychologically sound and follows the principles of learning theory and ethology.
I am committed to continuing professional development, and as well as my Psychology BSc I have a Masters degree in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare. I was only the third equine behaviourist in the UK to qualify to register at the highest level with the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC) as a Clinical Animal Behaviourist (horses and dogs), and I am an Accredited Animal Behaviourist (horses) with the ABTC too. I am a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, which has the highest entry level qualifications of any animal behaviour organisation in the UK; all full members are academically qualified to at least FHEQ level 6 (honours degree) and knowledge and practical experience are rigorously assessed in the form of detailed case studies. I am also a Certified Horse Behaviour Consultant member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and Secretary of the Equine Behaviour and Training Association. I am a graduate member of the British Psychological Society and an academic member of the International Society for Equitation Science, I also hold membership of the British Veterinary Behaviour Association, the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, the UK Centre for Animal Law and the UK Register of Expert Witnesses.
Subjects of study and CPD for an animal behaviourist include:
- ethology (the behavioural repertoire of a species), evolution and domestication;
- the theory of learning (including associative learning, habituation, sensitisation, operant and classical conditioning), animal cognition and concepts of consciousness;
- physiology of nervous and endocrine systems as they relate to learning, behaviour and welfare;
- physiological indicators of welfare;
- the interaction between health and behaviour;
- welfare considerations in management and clinical practice;
- clinical procedures;
- animal law.