It's an art!
When I first started learning horsemanship at Pippsway and I mentioned freeschooling to other horsey folk, not from Pippsway, I was surprised at how their faces looked. They weren’t impressed and nor were they interested! Given the things I was experiencing and witnessing, this really surprised me. Since then I’ve seen enough ‘freeschooling’ on youtube and such like to understand why they were not moved. Making a horse run around in a round pen where he has no choice is not true freeschooling. Playing about in a menage and ‘seeing what he does’ is also not true freeschooling, nor is mirroring what your horse is doing…. True freeschooling is an art whereby using only your energy, intention and body language you can achieve collection and extension within gaits, coming off the line, circling, figures of eight, even working with several horses at once and being able to ask some to stand aside and wait whilst you work with another. It is very impressive!
Today I watched Pip freeschool Henry and Bronson and it was fascinating. Pip wanted the horses to work with Bronson in front, Henry behind and at an extended trot. When they first started off Henry was rather keen to be up front and so it was a mixture of Pip working with Bronson to inspire his confidence to keep Henry behind him married with Pip also asking Henry to stay behind, whilst also ensuring Bronson kept thinking forward, as all this concern with what was going on behind him was not focusing his attention on going forwards! Also, Bronson’s preferred gait is canter, so asking him to go around the menage consistently in trot is no small thing.
It’s hard to capture on paper what unfolded today and I won’t be able to do it justice. But seeing Pip in the middle of a big menage, with only a lunge whip and herself, control two horses to the point of even being able to ask them both to stop, ask Bronson to move across the menage in front of Henry and send him on his way and only then allow Henry to follow, purely with her leadership energy, intention and body language, was A-MA-ZING!!! Made all the more amazing by the fact that, having done freeschooling myself, I know how difficult it can be with just the one horse, never mind two! Pip’s menage is far from flat and getting a horse to maintain his pace and gait over the changing camber can also be a challenge. You don’t realise until you try to do it yourself the myriad of ways that a horse can ignore you and please himself. Once you have an appreciation of this then watching what Pip did today becomes mind boggling!
Even after all this time, watching Pip communicate with the horses and seeing them understand and then comply just blows me away. My recent ability to be able to understand what is being ‘said’ between Pip and the horses, and the horses with each other, has taken it to a whole new level. The horses naturally understand how she communicates with them, so it doesn’t matter if it’s a horse like Bronson that has worked with Pip many times, or if it’s a new horse at a clinic, they know what is being asked and it’s extraordinary to watch!
The photo above is of Pip freeschooling her herd in a huge field. The more horses there are, the harder it is to get them to listen to you and, obviously, the bigger the space you are in, the greater the opportunity for the horse to choose not to be with you. Watching the horses encircle Pip and listen to her every instruction is a sight to behold and the energy is amazing, she makes it look so easy but it truly is an art!