What is Ponies Naturally?
Hi, and welcome! My name is Julie, and I am the coach, here at Ponies Naturally.
A bit about my background:
I am a lifetime student of the horse, and offer coaching for best practice foundation horsemanship training.
As a lifetime equestrian, I have been riding since I was old enough to say ‘horse’ (about 50 years) and am addicted to never ending improvement.
My horsemanship journey started as a child, and has been the passion and central tenet to my life. I started out very traditionally; I had weekly lessons in London, then when I was nine we moved to NZ, and I had the wonderful experience of weekend visits to Marius Stud, which was run by the kind and dedicated Rhona Fraser. There I learned everything practical- catching, tacking up, husbandry, health care of horses as well as many many miles covered with beautiful partners such as Stranger, Winkie, Gingernut, Cheyenne and Pearlyshell. Those ponies were the best teachers.
At age 13 I was given my first pony- Robbie. That little mare taught me a lot about myself. I have owned horses ever since.
My first job was in a riding school. I later worked in the racing industry, covering all aspects of thoroughbred breeding, handling, weaning, preparing, starting and training racehorses.
Somewhere along this line I realised I had lost my way. The dream did not match up to reality. I wanted partnership, relationship, and harmony with my horses. I wanted to think of heading off and have my horse intuitively be there with me. Instead I found the world of horses full of angry, stressed and therefore unjustly harsh humans, and scared, shut down or defiant horses, and an innate sense of ‘just get after ’em’ as a sweeping solution to every horse problem that arose. The gentle dream seemed a childish fancy, especially in the ruthlessly efficient face of the racing industry. While it has many good people involved, the bottom line was money, and the things we did to horses in the name of the dollar shames me to this day.
I left the racing industry to get a ‘proper’ job, and horses became my hobby again, rather than my way to earn a living. At least that way I was in charge of how I treated the horses around me.
In 2005 I had an accident (not horse related- it was in a kitchen! I now know to avoid kitchens) and damaged my spine to the extent that I did not know if I would ever ride again. This coincided with my then current herd of equines all ageing and retiring, and I found myself in a quandary. Perhaps it was time to give up?
I couldn’t do it.
Instead, I decided to let my love of horses have a crack at helping my healing.
I bought a very young mare with a foal at foot, knowing I may never ride either. However I could improve my horsemanship and try and set these two young horses up for a good future. I looked around for the gentlest, best method of groundwork that I could find.
Up til then, I knew of (and had not the best experience with) such methods as taught by Monty Roberts and Neil Davies (and it may well have been my interpretation as a student- no reflection on their work at all). Parelli was recommended by a friend, and their video lessons were great for someone recovering from an injury. Horsemanship is so much more than just riding, or a method, or the science, or the art, or the morals. It is all these things combined and more.
Suddenly I could see all the holes in my foundation training, and I was aghast. How was it that I could gallop a racehorse, jump 1.5m, handle stallions during breeding, yet I did not know how to bend my horse to a stop, or the vital importance of hindquarter control, or how to stop a horse running away with me, or even make an unmotivated pony move forward without hitting and kicking for every reluctant stride? So many really fundamental, basic building blocks of safety, confidence and competence measures exist that just do not make it into the traditional pony owner lexicon.
For two years I was not sound enough to ride, but I studied and learned, and applied everything I had to my groundwork with my young mare and her filly. I set a goal, enjoyed the process, started riding again and five years later achieved my level three Parelli green string. When it came time for starting my filly under saddle, I had never had such a seamless, non eventful process unfold so naturally before.
It wasn’t perfect! I made mistakes, and I still do, but the contrast to my prior methods was just like night and day.
Meanwhile I keep studying, reading the science, history, and coalface publications of all the best, most effective partnership based teachings out there. I am still doing as many clinics as I can, by the best horsemen and women I can access. I have learned, and continue to learn remotely and in person from many such instructors as Russell Higgins, Ruth Carlyle, Buck Brannaman, Steve Halfpenny, Jackie Chant, Karen Rohlf, Gavin Morison, Warwick Schiller, Maryke de Jong, Andrea Wady, David Lichman, Silke Valentin, Jonothan Field, Frederic Pignon, Anna Blake, Bex Tasker, Elsa Sinclair…there are many more, and I will edit to credit as they appear in my life.
For the past few years I have also been the organiser for clinics in the Wellington area for the incredible horseman, Russell Higgins. Russell has been my main mentor for the past decade, he and his partner Ruth Carlyle both live and breathe good horsemanship, and I cannot recommend them enough.
in 2012 however I met the best teachers in the form of a herd of horses who were headed for slaughter. I became involved in helping to tame and train these 21 wild Kaimanawa horses who were rescued through the actions of an amazing woman, Sam Hart, who would not give up on them. It was a massive project, quite different from starting a domestic horse, or anything I had done before with horses.
Those ponies were master teachers- it was like going to Horse University. The wild horse rescue, intended to be a 6 month to a year long project, has never really ended as more horses appeared and our experience grew. It’s very hard to say ‘no’ when horses may be killed if there is no one willing or able to domesticate them…and the payback is indescribable. Every horse is a mastery lesson.
Whenever I can, I continue to work with them. As there are musters every 2 years, and ex-wild horses that fall into situations that aren’t suitable and that don’t help them adjust, there is always a horse around that needs a hand.
In 2017 I discovered clicker training, which is a glorious addition to any training programme as well as being an excellent option for your partnership based training, and I learned my first clicker savvy from the talented Bex Tasker. That was a different way aside from release with which to instantly ‘take a picture’ of exactly the behaviour wanted.
While I know and use the band of operant conditioning known as Negative Reinforcement, which is the most utilised method of many good horsemen and horses themselves everywhere, the further development of Positive Reinforcement operant training (which I did use but more by instinct than technical training st that point) just added a beautiful high point to training horses that puts the smile on my horses’ faces. This also helped immensely with the continuing stream of wild horses, as well as deepening and uplifting the relationship with my own herd. It is especially useful when dealing with wild animals- it is the most successful method utilised in zoos worldwide for handling and treating wild animals of all species, and it fits with my philosophy very well.
In addition, there are a further methods, bigger pictures, such as that shown by the amazing Elsa Sinclair known as freedom based training. This also has been an invaluable addition to how I interact with horses. Real choice, in open spaces, and connections made through these criteria create super bonds and confident horses that are true partners.
So what do I actually do? I offer lessons in doing the just the basics really, really well, with deep understanding of where it leads. All the missing fundamentals of horse husbandry, handling and riding that will set you up for success. Overall my methods today, while still evolving, are based upon providing a bedrock solid foundation of Natural Horsemanship and Positive Principles for safety and thoroughness, empowering you to reach for whatever horse related goals you have from a solid fundamental grounding for safety and confidence. This is the stuff that you need underneath you to support any goal with a horse; whether it’s a games, hacking, relationship or sports based endeavour.
I offer both coaching/training to horse owners working with their own horses within the greater Wellington region, plus I have a select group of naturally trained horses and ponies at my home facility for horsemanship lessons in partnership; for children and for adults, to learn these skills before you buy your own horse.
My goal is to help horses and humans to adapt and connect using relationship. Trust, communication and mutual respect underpins everything. I invite you to come and meet my herd, and me, and decide for yourself if what we achieve together is something that inspires you.