I hope you enjoy reading through the comments below- these are from a range of my clients over recent years, and cover a range of topics from riding lessons to workshops to behaviour problems- something for everyone!
A comment on Classical Riding:
few years ago I became a convert to classical riding. I read and watched
what I could on the subject. I was fortunate enough to have a couple of
lessons from Sylvia Loch and her two of her fantastic school masters but I
could not find anyone in Northern Ireland to develop me and my young horse
using the principles of classical riding until Helen started working with
us. She has been great, taking us back to basics and helping us to apply
the theories to enable us to progress at our own pace and achieve our
ultimate goal of perfectly balanced, invisible riding."
It works for Donkeys too!!
"Life generally, and my relationship with my rather difficult donkey, Thistle, improved dramatically, after I attended one of Helen Spence's clicker workshops.
I had used the clicker for years with my dogs, but somehow, despite reading the relevant equine clicker training books, I was unable to apply it successfully to the donkey. But now, I had a much better knowledge and understanding, which I could put into practice. A great help was the 'training game'. I was very reluctant to play initially, but I benefited so much that I feel it really is the key, and everyone should be brave and play the victim!
Apart from improvement in general behaviour, Thistle now loads easily, is pretty spook-proof, can stand on a step, has been dressed in fairy lights and tinsel at Christmas, and, despite not really liking his ears to be touched, he wore a large straw hat recently. Very, very, occasionally, he 'huffs' and won't have anything to do with the clicker, but generally, I wouldn't be without it" Hester Little and Thistle, 2007.
The Reluctant Hacker:
"Mon 27th April 2009: We are proceeding really well with the 'drop the contact' thing and we have now had about 15 rides without any situations that I couldn't handle. Not that I am counting you understand! We have had a couple of potentially hairy things where he would have reacted very fearfully before but, with your excellent advice we waited, stayed calm and he was fine.
I really appreciate your help and I expect the horse would say the same!
Fri 1st May 2009: Just wanted to tell you that today we got past one of our previous 'sticking points' on a ride! We were at the spot where he turns and does not want to go on and I was asking him just to walk to the other side of the road for a reward of some grass. Along came an elderly cyclist whose phone rang, he stopped and when he set off, I asked if we might try and tag along because he was dressed in fluorescent yellow and I thought Harley might find him of interest. He hesitated, I encouraged and off we went! No stress at all! We did not go too far, just as far as he was comfortable then I turned him and headed for home and a bigger horsey dinner than usual. I am delighted with this little bit of progress and hope to build on it over next few weeks.
We have had a busy day as he also learned how to touch the target on cue, which I think he is enjoying as there is food to be had!" Rachel Holmes and Harley, 2009.
Helping the (Particularly Difficult!) Problem Loader:
"I had only owned Elke for a few weeks when we first encountered our loading problem (3 hours later and he still wasn't on....) and following that, contacted Helen, so the relationship was bound to grow and deepen anyway. That said, I feel that this training process has helped me to understand him, his body language and his personality more. Perhaps the clicker may help me solve a problem that crops up in the future. In working through this problem I can now really appreciate how physiological horses are especially that when the head goes up, the adrenaline flows. If I want him to do something when his head is high that he doesn’t want to, I have no hope. If I can keep his head level or low, I stand a much better chance of getting the result I want.
One of the things I learnt from this process is that everything has a
price. With this problem the price is time.
If you are prepared to put the time in you will get there.
It comes down to how much you really want to do the right thing by
your horse. Most ‘horsey’
people that I know all had opinions on how I should get my horse
travelling. All involved
force, pain or both. There
were very few people that thought that my ‘soft’ approach was the
correct one. Some thought that
this was allowing the horse to take advantage of me but I don’t believe
this. You have to be prepared
for people being negative about this approach especially if the results
are slow in coming. There were
times when I was very frustrated and despondent and despaired of ever
reaching the goal but as the only alternatives were force or resigning
ourselves to never leaving the yard until the end of his days, I just kept
going. The whole journey was
one step forward, two steps back, two steps forward, one step back.
What really helped me to keep going, was to look at where we where
a week ago, two weeks ago etc. Without
exception every time I looked back, even back a very short space of time
there had always been progress, even if only a little.
One of the things I learnt from this process is that everything has a price. With this problem the price is time. If you are prepared to put the time in you will get there. It comes down to how much you really want to do the right thing by your horse. Most ‘horsey’ people that I know all had opinions on how I should get my horse travelling. All involved force, pain or both. There were very few people that thought that my ‘soft’ approach was the correct one. Some thought that this was allowing the horse to take advantage of me but I don’t believe this. You have to be prepared for people being negative about this approach especially if the results are slow in coming. There were times when I was very frustrated and despondent and despaired of ever reaching the goal but as the only alternatives were force or resigning ourselves to never leaving the yard until the end of his days, I just kept going. The whole journey was one step forward, two steps back, two steps forward, one step back. What really helped me to keep going, was to look at where we where a week ago, two weeks ago etc. Without exception every time I looked back, even back a very short space of time there had always been progress, even if only a little.
I would have no hesitation in recommending Helen to others.
I found her to be very helpful and always answered phone queries or
texts very promptly whenever I got a bit stuck.
Knowing that she were there at the end of the phone helped me to
feel less alone with this problem, especially on days when things didn’t
go so well. Helen is obviously
very in tune with horses and extremely knowledgeable on her subject.
I envy her that insight!"
I would have no hesitation in recommending Helen to others. I found her to be very helpful and always answered phone queries or texts very promptly whenever I got a bit stuck. Knowing that she were there at the end of the phone helped me to feel less alone with this problem, especially on days when things didn’t go so well. Helen is obviously very in tune with horses and extremely knowledgeable on her subject. I envy her that insight!"Juanita Duke, 2007.
Working with young horses and being inspired to do things differently:
"I've known for a few years now that my horse hasn't been happy and through that it became a chore to want to be with him. My heart was telling me it shouldn't be this way. I took a year of hacking on the roads, pondering life, and working out what I was going to do. I deeply missed the connection I had with them as a child, and selling just wasn't an option! They say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears, and this was the case. I watched Parelli on the TV and was immediately intrigued by this way of thinking and considering the horse's emotions in every situation- I was hooked. But there was a problem. I had 4 young horses coming on, and Mr Parelli lived in America! I did go to England with my horse to search out more of this style of horsemanship, but I came back with more questions than I went with. Through coincidence or fate, I heard about Helen, who, with a heart for teaching and understanding the difficulties that learners go through (both horse and human), made the transition possible for my horses and I to have a happy and fulfilled future. Helen's manner of teaching is unlike anyone else I've met. The positive approach makes a comfortable learning zone, and the feeling that mistakes are not mistakes but powerful learning experiences allows your confidence to grow and to try new things without realising it. One experience I had involved lifting my (touchy) youngster's back feet- I put a lot of pressure on myself to get the task done, and ended up frightening myself in the process. So I asked Helen about it, and her reply was 'Don't touch them then!' (along with some helpful advice on desensitising and using reward to teach her). I thought about it a lot, but the next week I found I couldn't wait to work with her back feet- leading to great success! This is such a good feeling, to not have the pressure or expectation of success or failure, to just relax and experiment: it's very liberating and a great way to learn.
feels almost impossible to tell you everything Helen and my horses have taught me in just a
few sentences, but the most important part of this level of horsemanship is to understand
it is really a journey of self discovery, self awareness, self-belief, vitality and focus.
Horses present us with challenges that can really get to the heart of our emotional or mental
barriers to success and happiness IF we are prepared to listen. My personal interest is how any
brace in our bodies can be linked to the horse. When there is mental or emotional
brace from either horse or rider our relationship cannot be complete. While it exists, our energy
cannot flow together with our horses, our hearts cannot fully connect; and neither horse nor
human can be as beautiful as we have the potential to be. Tell me this is something to aim for
Starting all over again- confidence building with a 21 year young horse:
first started taking lessons from Helen in October 2008 in an attempt to
sort out my “problem” mare, Rosie. Rosie is 21 and I’ve had her for
11 years in April 2009. When I first got her we did lots together
including some registered competitions, pony club, gymkhanas, the area
year I moved Rosie from my parents home to a new yard near my married home
which opened up a world of discontent! Many facilities including jumps and
Thursday training shows led me to get itchy feet. So when Helen was
recommended to me I decided to give it a try!
The result? Well Rosie and I have been competing in training shows and I plan to use her all summer at events like unregistered jumping and working hunter.
has been excellent, is very encouraging, and has the patience and
professionalism to get to the heart of the horse AND rider’s problems.
By Rosie and Fiona Stevenson
ps see our success at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTqyy83Byug
Another confidence success story:
1 year ago I read an article about you and the type of work you did - it
sounded just like how I felt about working with horses and animals - many
of my so called friends thought I was mad even considering any other
approach than that of the "professional trainers" These
not so wonderful people believe that the horse is only a tool - and that
we as humans are there to conquer and rule - how wrong can someone be?!
for some time I had been searching for someone in N Ireland that actually
believed there was something better than pain and terror when dealing with
some horses. So with this in mind the article I read was really a
breath of fresh air.
that time I was quietly riding my trusty cob Radar - he is the perfect
horse and looks after me all the time. However somehow I had lost my
nerve and couldn't go into fields and open spaces - the more I tried the
more I got tied up in knots and the more poor Radar got up tight - this
lead to the inevitable - Radar taking off and me hating every minute of
our time out. So I plucked up the courage and rang to register
for the Confidence in Every Day Riding course. I was even nervous
about coming to this !!! I didn't even tell my friends as they kept
telling me to "Lean back and laugh" and "Wise up and
relax" when faced with open fields!!! Off I
trundled to meet you and the other girls - when we all discussed our
issues I felt that maybe I wasn't doing so badly after all - I was
confident riding on all roads, could complete Long Distance rides in the
forest parks (and love them!), and could canter in any of these situations, and
could load and tow my horse wherever. But I was there to get over
the field thing. We had a great day that day - I always
remember it as the start of a new era for Radar and me. I came back
refreshed and ready to try.
by bit I started with my training of open spaces!!!!
Within a couple of weeks I started to canter in the field - what a buzz -
I don't know who loved it more - Radar, me or my long suffering
husband!!!! (Even my son cheered and when I got off that day he hugged me
so much that it was better than winning any competition!) Over
time I started to jump very small fences - and within 4-5 weeks I could
jump a course of fences at 50cm - this may seem small to many but this was
the next real turning point . My aim was to compete in a small
competition - I entered a 3 phase comp at Gransha and off we went - Radar
gleaming and plaited and me buffed up and nearly sick with nerves!!!!
Anyway off we went - Dressage then Showjumping and then the dreaded
Crosscountry - as we went off I told myself (out loud!!) Fear is in
the Future - I shall not meet him!!! (Then I asked Radar to look after me
- please!!) We did our bit - and jumped back into the school - and
hey presto we had done our 1st show - and gained a 4th at the same
time!!!!! I punched the air and shouted "We didn't meet
him!!" - It was only Chris, my husband, that knew what I meant.
A couple of months later we did same competition - this time a 3rd!!!!! At last I was enjoying my horse to the level I had dreamt of - and its all thanks to you Helen. I know exactly how to control the What If's when they occur and I know when not to do something.
for phase two! I had been thinking of getting a foal and wrestled with the
idea for 6-12 months - considering if I had any chance of being able to
manage a youngster or if I was just going totally round the
bend!! Anyway you get to a point in your life when you push to
make your dreams come true and this had been a dream of my from when I was
a little girl - I had always said I would get a foal and work with it so
we would be a team - and I would show the world that I could bring on a
horse with a difference - and in a happy safe and respectful
little woolly bundle is now turning into a real butterfly - she is
beautiful and is learning that life with our family is good (though I
say it myself) she is a confident happy youngster who I believe will turn
into a super horse and will, all being well, stay with me for the rest of
her life. I am not so foolish as to believe that the next few
years with be all rosey but I do know that I am getting a buzz out of
moulding this young animal and bringing her on to enjoy life.
I know we will have hard times but with your help I can work my way
through them methodically and safely.
What I would really like to tell your followers is that no matter how nervous you are there is a way to conquer it - the best things are nervous at the start, and sad at the end but its the middle bit that counts - and that's where I am - its great - thanks." Sandra Vollands and Radar (and Ruby too!), 2006.
Many thanks to everyone who has sent these testimonials to me- I really appreciate your willingness to share your experiences with everyone. To quote from a famous speech Nelson Mandela made "let your light shine"- by doing so, you give others permission to do the same- Helen :-)