Giving back to horses. Horses have been my life for half a century. They have given me so much over those years, it is impossible to calculate, and I could never imagine a life without horses.
In my professional work as a trainer, I am always looking for better ways of training, methods that will make it easier for the horse. It was this search that led me first to equitation science and then to embarking on a PhD with a focus on horse training and welfare. Having built such a life on the back of the horse, I felt strongly that I wanted to ‘give back’, to repay these wonderful creatures by helping those animals that most need it and would be the least likely to receive it.
Of course, I had several big questions – where to start, where to go, how to help, how I was going to afford to do it, and how I was going to manage to take the time away!
The first three questions were answered when I came across the India Project for Animals and Nature (IPAN) who happened to be looking for someone to work with their horses (particularly the orphan foals that are so common in the area). The final two questions were more difficult to answer in a way that made sense to the project, so I decided I would have to live with ‘I’m not’ and ‘never’ but do it anyway!
So here I was, a completely self-funded PhD student, in the middle of my research degree, taking a month out to travel to a remote part of India and gift the horses and people my time and expertise. Sometimes you just have to take the leap and make a start – and that is precisely what I did.
Sitting on the flight from Sydney, I wondered exactly what I might be teaching these horses. Would these horses, of all ages, different breeds and sizes, need similar lessons to those that I teach to my horses (those lessons inside the Kandoo Equine Online Training)?
Interestingly, they needed exactly the same lessons. Our first day of training began with a very anxious horse that had become quite defensive/aggressive.
I began with ‘give to the bit’ and we soon had a horse working in the engagement zone and no sign of the kicking, striking and shying that had been on display a little earlier.
This gelding was followed by a four-year-old mare that had been orphaned at two days of age. Once again, getting her into the bubble of communication and working in the engagement zone resulted in her listening and becoming responsive in minutes – a jaw-dropping (according to the refuge manager) change.
If you would like to meet some of the horses I worked with and hear their stories, you can do so online and using this link: https://www.kandooequine.com/blog?tag=india
IPAN is situated on a tiger reserve and the grounds around the main compound contain wild elephants, vultures, panthers, tigers and bears, just to name a few of the local residents.
I also spent a few days in the nearby township of Ooty. The town is well-known for its beautiful lakes and is a popular tourist destination.
My IPAN hosts work with the Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) and they have a large headquarters in Ooty. While a big focus for their team is Rabies vaccination, they also run a free weekly clinic for the Ooty Tourist Riding and street horses. These tourist riding horses and their handlers are of particular interest to me and I have decided to make them the focus of my future work in India.
The tourist riding horses are mostly either Thoroughbreds (that come straight from the track) or full or part-bred indigenous horses. The Thoroughbreds have a particularly difficult time as they, understandably, find it very hard to adapt to the new life.
You can find more about them on my online blog, which you can read here: https://www.kandooequine.com/blog?tag=india
Beginning with my next trip to India, which I hope will be early next year, I plan to make a start on the development of a training, management and care plan for these tourist riding horses.
While it is tempting to simply say ‘it shouldn’t be allowed’, it’s unrealistic and it will not stop the practice. What is needed is education and solutions to make better lives for the horses and people involved.
If we can develop a pilot project in Ooty, we can take that to other areas where there are tourist riding horses, not just in India, but in other developing nations.
And you can get involved! Find out how by using the link: https://www.kandooequine.com/white
Many years ago, a very wise and experienced trainer told me to ‘always have one horse in training that you simply ride/work for the pleasure of it – no money should be involved’.
I have tried to do this by having a friend’s horse in work when I can and donating my time to Pony Club, judging and other activities. From here on, India will play that role for me. India, and more specifically, the Tourist Riding Horses of India will be my way of ‘giving back’.
This article appears in Horses and People May-June 2019 magazine.