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.
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 train 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 in the UK, I travel to Turkey and the Middle East to research equine welfare and to work with horse owners there.
My intention as a behavioural consultant is to help both horse and owner to cope with the challenge of equine domestication: 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. I aim to help owners understand and resolve the difficulties their horses 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 am a Certified Horse Behaviour Consultant member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and an Accredited Animal Behaviour Consultant registered with the Animal Behaviour and Training Council. 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 and the Equine Behaviour Forum. My case studies submitted to the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) contribute to the range of post-graduate practical experience required for full membership. The APBC has the highest entry level qualifications for both provisional and full members 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.
Subjects of study and CPD for an equine behaviourist include:
- equine 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.