Bitless 'Team Naturally Spanish'

My eyes were opened to a different way of doing things with horses 9 years ago at a demonstration. I walked out of there a changed person doubting and questioning all the ideas I had about horses. I was always kind, I believed horses should have company, live out and I was careful knowing I was attached to a piece of metal in my horses mouth but suddenly I could see a way of communicating with them, of working together, of being one.

I had grown up going through the pony club, showjumping and working with professional high level competition horses, always considering myself reasonably competent so to suddenly find myself with rope halters, long ropes and the obligatory extension of my arm it was a shock, I don't mind telling you!

My husband and I each had our own bay mares and we set about practicing our new found skills with various degrees of success, our poor horses looking at each other thinking what on earth? We had lessons, followed courses, watched, absorbed, practiced and made mistakes. We fell in love with our horses all over again, we spoke and they seemed to understand, unimaginable progress was made and dreams realised. These mares have both sadly passed away now but they laid the foundation for the life we live today. It's more than a way to train horses, it's impacted my life, relationships, helped us bring up our son and it has certainly shaped our careers.

We now operate from a small private yard in a delightful corner of Surrey and own two beautiful PRE (Pura Raza Espanola or Purebred Spanish Horses). Chiquita IV owned since a yearling, now rising 9 and Edita owned from 3, now rising 7.

Drawn to this breed for their beauty, trainability, intelligence and versatility we have never looked back. The horses have been started by my husband and I using natural and classical groundwork, liberty and were backed bareback in only a halter. The time is taken to expand their horizons and thresholds in a way that brings them comfort and understanding. We find a helpful dosing of well timed treats aids this learning a great deal!

We made a conscious decision early on never to use bits, they do not even know they exist. The cues all taught from the ground and transferred to riding. Rope halters are our starting point as we use these on the ground. We prefer sidepulls as the horses advance for hacking and the Transcend double bitless bridle for refinement work.

Consistent with the metal free approach we are barefoot, my husband qualified as a DAEP three years ago and he keeps a number of steady clients locally as well as keeping our girls beautifully trimmed. Bringing up young horses barefoot is very conducive as you naturally increase the workload steadily and we rock crush miles and miles only turning to the brilliant Scoot Boots on very harsh terrain. I have found that to manage successfully barefoot it comes down to feeding correctly, management of stimulus, the trim and of course a healthy dose of genetics. We are pleased to have struck the balance.

We opt for Treeless Saddles, the memory foam Enlightened Equitation Saddles being our choice and have recently introduced a total contact saddle with great success.

So yes you can safely say we started on an alternative path and kept going! Working full time with a small child I fight for the time to realise the dreams I had as a small child which at 40 I am now truly living!

My husband has pulled back from the training and riding of our horses to concentrate on his trimming clients and he has a reputation for his patience and skill with the tricky ones. He is making a difference in some challenging cases.

With my dear friend Fi Hewkin we live Team Naturally Spanish and can be seen most days, including VERY early in the morning (or dark festooned with flashing lights) riding the girls over the thousands of hectares of hacking that surround our yard. We joke life is not long enough to live all the dreams.

We show them, bitless of course, Edita has shown and been placed at National Level, we do agility and both are showcasing this at GBPRE, the breed society national show at Hartpury this summer.

We plan working equitation, endurance, ridden archery, Le Trec, taking them on holiday and riding through Hyde Park. Recently we took them to the beach for the first time and to ride through the sea on home trained bitless, barefoot, treeless hot blooded home trained horses is a moment that will stay with us forever.

We have lessons with Sally Ede and are quietly progressing with flat work, pole work and Chiquita is starting to to jump (usually very high and fast as is her signature style).

Our proudest achievement is the liberty work, both horses working to a high standard of connection. Richard and I have spent hundreds of hours locked in an indoor school before most people are awake and the results, sheer joy and progress have been mind blowing. We train using specific cues and well timed treats which the Spanish brain just absorbs. We have our first public demonstration planned for September and are filming a short showreel as I think it is time to open this up to an audience beyond the neighbours and birds... Samantha Ferneley

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