This is my new blog to continue my journey with my Dales Ponies. It will also be the story of my building a new life for myself, alone now, except for my friends, horses and dogs, since my partner died in March 2009. We had lived and worked together, mostly twenty four hours a day, for nearly 28 years and I have never lived alone before. It is a tribute to my wonderful friends that I am still here, still sane(ish) and ready to re-invent myself. I love them all more than words can ever say and can never thank them enough for all they have done and are still doing. It is also a tribute to Alexandra Kurland and 'The Click That Teaches' that I know how to save myself now. To new beginnings.......

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Dreams and Plans for the Farm and the Future..

I have had a dream for the farm since the day, not long after David had died, that my main inspiration, his brother and another friend of David's and of theirs, spent the day here to begin the job of clearing and tidying up. David was a hoarder and collected endless rubbish just in case it would come in handy one day - a habit quite common among farmers! It was a mammoth task and one of them joked that they should use this place for Community Service because no-one would ever offend again after a few hours working here!

We laughed, joked and gently teased each other all day long with everyone trying to make it as easy and least traumatic for me as possible, worried about how I was going to feel about all the changes. With anyone else I would have felt the need to be apologetic and defensive of David but with these three, who loved him too and understood, it was easy and comfortable.

It suddenly occurred to me that the atmosphere here that day was really special, with everyone laughing, supporting and caring for each other, because they had no more got used to the idea of David not being here than I had. Some other friends arrived and everyone was just being so kind and affectionate to each other that I thought, if I could keep this atmosphere and build the yard up around it, with people who would want to be part of it, then this would be a very special place to be and a fitting memorial to David.

I told myself afterwards that it was idealistic rubbish and the horse world isn't like that. I would never find enough of the sort of owners I wanted to make it a reality and earning my living had to be my top priority.

Since then I have had two new owners arrive and they, along with my friend who has been here for many years, have made the atmosphere here remain just as it was on that day. One of them was having trouble with her new horse when she arrived and had they had completely lost confidence in each other. I have been riding out with them with Grace, on slow, steady rides and leading them on occasions where necessary, and I also showed her a little clicker training, gave her a start with it and pointed her in the direction of Alexandra Kurland's books and DVDs. The difference it has made to them and their relationship has been remarkable and a joy to watch. They were both, horse and human, desperate to form a partnership with each other but neither of them knew how.

I got so much joy and satisfaction from being able to help that it gave me an idea. There are loads of horses and owners out there in similar situations, losing confidence and trust in each other. Even in big yards there isn't always someone who will help or even someone they dare admit the truth too, for fear of being ridiculed. The horse world can be a very competitive and critical place.

My idea is to use what I have, to give me a happy, satisfying and fulfilled life here. I am such a different person now. I love meeting new people, can talk to anyone, feel genuine affection for most of the people I meet and people seem to like me too. I have three lovely owners here already, who are all very kind and supportive of each other, some empty stables and loads of grazing, two very quiet, reliable horses to ride out with people, and four clicker trained horses to demonstrate the possibilities of clicker training.

My dream, rather than fill the yard with anyone who wants to come regardless, is to find a couple more like minded people who will be keen to keep this a lovely place for people and horses to be and use the other stables to offer confidence and relationship building stays, using positive reinforcement in a lovely, kindly, supportive atmosphere, along with a quiet horse to ride alongside. I plan to show people the sort of horse that clicker training can produce but not push the point, and point them in the direction of 'The Click That Teaches' gently. I see role as a guide rather than an instructor because I have never been instructor material, preferring to lead by example rather than dictat.

My main inspiration has made me a much better and less resistible leader than I was before I got the chance to study a great and irresistible leader in action. So softly spoken that you have to shut up and concentrate to hear him, that's exactly what everyone does, and with total competence, endless patience, kindness, affection and empathy, underscored by an unspoken and almost imperceptible steely determination that has taken me a while to recognise, everyone quickly learns that resistance is not only futile but also stupid, as he's always right! Opposing points of view are considered by him with with infinate attention, patience and politeness, and then the correct course of action is gently and good-humouredly explained.

I am an avid pupil these days, determined to learn all of life's lessons and learn them well, and I have duplicated his attitude and leadership style with my horses and they love it, and it fills them full of confidence in me. I don't feel competent, comfortable with, or the necessity to try to lead people - just to show them the possibilities and help when invited to.

If I can put all these elements together and attract a trickle of horses and owners in need of what we can offer here I will have a future to be proud of and endless opportunities to make new friends - horse and human.

I don't know if it's possible or practical but I can only try my best and hope. If it all comes to nothing then there's always shelf stacking at a supermarket and at least I will have tried. I try my hardest to be brave in all things these days.

Still taking deep breaths, going with the flow, and trying to follow my dreams...........phew!


  1. Hi Helen,
    Not sure if this will work, but here goes. I am Shirley Merrin, and know both Charlotte and Hilary. Hilary gave me permission to access her blogs. I too have been doing clicker training for past four years using Alexander Kurlands methods and approachs. Unlike the four of you who seem to have owned horses forever I am relatively new, so still learning. But knowing that clicker training works as we did and do this with our dogs - so why not our horses.
    I have three horses in the family. Ben - my 17 year old Irish 14.2 cob, Lizzie 10 year old highland x tb/welsh and Grace a connermara (we think) x - show pony type.
    I really just wanted to say how moved I was by your writing and your hopes and dreams for the future, from what is probably the most worst thing that can happen in all our lives. To take the atmosphere that your farm must have - which was obviously created by you and your husband and use it to bring hope and joy to people and their horses is wonderful - not just heart warming, but inspirational. Although not had the pleasure or privilege to have met you -yet anyway- I hope at somepoint our paths will cross.
    The idea of a full clicker based livery yard - is my ideal. At present I am the only person using clicker on our traditional yard of 50 plus horses. However after Alex's clinic that I attended at Hilarys just last week I know that I will quietly, determined and persevere with what I do with my horses - as they say the proof of the pudding is always in the eating and I am determined to show others that clicker produces better horses than they could ever imagine possible. That from someone who does not have as much experience as they do either. Like yourself I do not see myself as an instructor, more like yourself a doer in action.
    So basically I would wish you well and that the reality of your dream is not too distant in the future. That the reality be even better than you could possibly ever dream and then once this reality is reached, where is the next dream to take you Helen???
    So thankyou for your inspriation Helen, you have given me motivation to get out and use my strengths to make the difference where I already am. Now if you can do that with one bit of writing, what more is there in store for you to be able to do - on perhaps a more personal level???
    My best wishes to you
    Shirley Merrin

  2. Thank you so much, Shirley, that is so lovely of you!

    I've always found in livery yards, even though I have always been in them in a position of power, as I didn't own a horse until I was an adult and was managing a yard, that just getting on with things my way and waiting for others to notice and start asking questions, was always the best way to influence people. I'm sure that you will find the same is true and people will soon be stopping to watch you and asking you questions.

    That sort of humble, quiet approach seem to me to suit the whole ethos of clicker training, and Alex's example, as I see her on the DVDs, not having been lucky enough to meet her in the flesh.

    I really hope we meet one day too, Shirley. Thank you again and best wishes to you and your horses too.

  3. What lovely aspirations you have. I wish you only the best of boarders who can truly share the pleasures and joys of owning horses. Too many places create rivalries and jealousies instead of kind collaboration. Sounds as if you are planning all you can to make your place different.

    I'm looking forward to reading of all your future successes.

  4. Hello Helen, I would say that you have such a gift of imparting knowledge, in a very gentle way, and enthusing others about your clicker progress, and indeed being an inspiration to others (like me!) who are taking the clicker route, that it would be a positive sin not to follow your idea. It sounds a really lovely route to follow.

    I must tell you of my exciting day today. The new arena, that I had hoped and dreamed of for many years was finally ready. Lady and I went in to play and it was wonderful. Now I can try all sorts.....

  5. Thank you very much, Jean and Gill.

    Gill, so happy for you with your arena! Things seem so much more valuable when you've had to work, plan and dream hard to achieve them, don't they?