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No More Heroes Anymore

Updated: Jun 14, 2018

Jenni Nellist Animal Behaviourist Horses Translated Blog Clicker Training with Penny

In the header photo I’m about 23 years old and I’m practicing a well known natural horsemanship method with my mare Penny who was about 4 or 5 years old at the time.

When I was in my early twenties I was very keen to learn more and improve my horsemanship, OK nothing much has changed in my basic motivation to learn! But back at that time, my eyes newly opened to more than one way of doing things, something which started in my late teens upon seeing my first major natural horsemanship demonstration, and primed by various articles in the equestrian press,  I had a few horsemanship heroes.

By the time of my mid-twenties those gurus halos quickly tarnished and fell at awkward angles. There was a reason for this. I found my gurus and they became heroes because I was hungry to strike out on my own and learn and develop as much as I could. Seeking new ideas led me to find a variety of people with silver tongues ( or their marketing people had silvery tongues too!).  I was wowed by those who brought something new and dynamic to my world. However, since it was my desire to strike out and learn new things, I continued to learn even more things, and I learned things about my heroes’ actions that I didn’t like. Suddenly there were no heroes anymore.

This was not a dark place for me though, to be without heroes. Being still open to and actively seeking greater and deeper understanding of my subject, the horse and his relationship with us, I found something new and constructive to replace them. Peers. I went on to study animal behaviour and the human-animal relationship at the University of Southampton, and I joined a well established professional membership organisation, the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, first as a student member, then as a newly practicing provisional member. People I held in high esteem, such Gwen Bailey, the first animal behaviourist to be employed by a UK animal welfare charity, the Blue Cross, which I also worked for as a groom at the time of the photo above, were people who I could interact with and learn from. Rather than make untouchable, unreachable heroes out of them, their candid discussions on the online members’ forum quickly had me realising they were people like me, without the showman’s ego and focused on learning and helping, and self development. I found the same amongst my fellow students in Southampton, and in many other wonderful people involved in the science and application of equine (and other animal) behaviour since.

So what about my fallen heroes? Were they also not human and with some worth? Yes, in hindsight especially, since they are of course human beings too, and I have learned many useful lessons from them, and gained skills and understandings that I would not have otherwise.

I now integrate those lessons with my deeper understanding of horses and people, to better effect than I ever had previously. I can combine and recombine techniques to suit an expanding variety of horses and their people, teaching people how to read and interact with their horses better, like some kind of equine interpreter come equestrian coach, with the benefits of the LIMA approach: Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive; in combination with knowing where to be, when to be and why to be better than I ever knew and understood before.

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