With the horses
The horses were the foundation stone of Bridle Ways. And, no matter how they found their way to us – or what they presented, we looked at each of them holistically – their physical health and well-being, their behaviour, their possibilities and set about helping them to become all that they were capable of being.
We’re great believers in prevention being better than cure – so we checked out each horse’s teeth, back, feet, worming and anything else that seemed appropriate to eliminate anything that could pose an underlying cause to bad behaviour or poor condition. Each horse then quietly progressed through our gentle hoof camp programme to ensure that they were good in every way – to catch, shoe, box and handle and to ride out alone and in company, before searching for their 5* home for life.
It was not a quick-fix to help each horse back on track but it could take a single moment to put them back to square one. This is why, perhaps, our single most important role, was to find the right person to take on any horse that was ready to leave here. This is what we called our ‘Equi-match’ service ie trying to match the right person to the right horse. We know that buying a horse can be a huge nightmare, which is why we went to huger lengths to persuade people to take time and trouble before embarking on the quite scarey but infinitely enriching journey into horse ownership.
With the humans
The care, exercise and education of the horses provided the working framework for anyone who came to ‘help’ us here.
Our approach to anyone who came on the yard was ‘person-centred’; this means that although, for every sort of reason, a person may get lost or be struggling with their lives, given the right environment, everyone has the capability to get themselves back on track (a bit like the horses) and become all they are capable of being i.e. have a great life. We’re allergic to giving advice, telling people what to do, judging people etc.
When young people (any age really) joined us on the yard they could have any number of issues….the idea was to get them to engage with and enjoy the environment, to care for and respect the horses and to place their trust in us. While they were here they found the help that they needed, but also they learnt about the boundaries of a working environment – time-keeping, respect, working with others etc. So, when they left here they could carry on up the further education/employment – or just life ladder and have something more for their CV, a reference from us and so on.
Bridle Ways – end of this era
It took us nearly two years to finally close the gates of Bridle ways to any more horses – how can you say no to desperation? But, finally, in the summer of 2016, we had to say no more horses once and for all. So the final tally of the Bridle ways years was 80 horses and 40 people in and then out of our gates – but, in and then out of our gates to a better place.
Every single one of the horses that came here – no matter what shape they arrived in – often unbearably awful, went through our holistic MOT getting them back to A1 health and well-being, getting their teeth, backs, feet and everything in between checked out, put right and then maintained, and when they were up and running and had got their mojo back, bringing them gradually into work – where the deeper scars often manifested themselves. Time and TLC are the best healers of all and most of the horses spent well over a year with us. Sometimes – as we seemed to take one step forward and several back, we despaired that they would mend sufficiently to go on to new homes.
Molly (above) – was our longest resident – she stayed with us for three years. We believed that Molly had been broken as a trotter before she was two years old and we knew that she had aborted a foal when she was not much more than a foal herself. When Molly first came here, our specialist equine vet told us to just turn her away and give her time to grow up and sufficiently mature before attempting to bring her back into work. Over and over again as he checked her over, our vet advised us to give her still more time.
To look at Molly from the outside, you’d think she was quite perfect – but eventually, once we’d been given the go-ahead to start a work programme, we found that one day she’d seem so confident and together and everything would go smoothly, and the next day, week or month, she’d get in such a state we couldn’t even approach her with a head collar – never mind a saddle and bridle – and as for getting on her and going for a ride – well, forget that. Molly seemed so infinitely erratic, we came the closest to giving up, but, eventually, in response to our website, a mother and daughter team came to visit us and were keen – even after they’d heard Molly’s story and our experiences to take her under their wing. Today, we still hear from Molly’s owners from time to time and the reports continue to be happy and positive. Of course, Molly still has good days and bad days and although those deepest invisible scars may never go completely, in time and with enduring care they do fade.
And, so, finally, we were left with Duchess (above) and Minnie. Duchess, my own beloved Clydesdale mare – now 24 years old, and who, unable to have foals of her own, has successfully taken over the upbringing of all the youngsters we have had here – the matriarch of the Bridle ways family. Duchess has now gone off to live at Polcoverack – a comfortable retirement home for horses just up the road and where I can visit her whenever I like. And, Minnie – the Shetland, the last of the horses – albeit pint-sized, to squeeze through our finally but definitely closing gates. Minnie is now living with Tara (Tara was the last person to work for Bridle ways see her story ‘The Last Post’) ruling the roost as usual, as a companion to Tara’s horse Dezy.
Always during the Bridle ways years, I have been quietly and anxiously aware that there were those waiting in expectation (I won’t say in gleeful expectation!) that this mad old woman would be left under an enormous ‘pile’ of horses – or worse, but I can happily report that every horse irrespective of size, shape or story has found that ‘just right’ home.
If I had my way, I would have continued taking horses forever, but after Bob’s confrontation with prostate cancer – and the fact that I have reached 70 years, and Bob is not far behind me (he insists he’s my toy boy), we had to draw the line somewhere. But – and it is a BIG BUT – although we have drawn the line under horses, we will be gathering up all the wisdom and experience gained from the Bridle ways years for the continuing benefit of the people that are already joining us to help themselves and in turn to help others – a chain reaction, we hope, in the future.
I still absolutely believe in horses as just one of an infinite number of devices for facilitating people and actualising them into a better place. And as we move onto our next phase – Take 9 Lives (at least!), I am sure that horses will always play a specific part in what we do (ie the right horse for the right course) – even if I have to beg, borrow or steal them for a specific occasion from somebody else.
Meanwhile, catch up with just some of the Bridle ways equine success stories on the horses page.