I had a bit of sad news recently. A few weeks ago, I was working late, preparing my presentations for the lectures I was doing for the vet students at Liverpool University. I had been going through video clips, which I had saved on an expansion drive. Most of them were also saved on memory cards, but I realised that a big chunk of my training videos needed backing up. ‘I must do that’ I said to myself, as I closed everything up, ready for bed. Then as I stood up, I managed to catch the edge of the expansion drive and drop it on the hard kitchen floor. I picked it up, and, hoping for the best, headed off to bed. Imagine my horror when, next day, I plugged it in and it was no longer working. The following few weeks were spent with it being looked at by various specialists. Meanwhile I went through what felt very much like a grieving process, as I realised what I might have lost. Unfortunately, at the end of it all, they were unable to retrieve any of the data for me. The pain has gradually dulled, although I keep remembering things that I’ve lost and then there is a little sharp stab of regret. I know I’ve only myself to blame, it was entirely my fault for not getting round to backing them up. I’m not looking for sympathy with this blog post, but I’d like to share some of what I’ve been thinking this last while as I adjust to the loss.
I found myself wondering just why I was so upset? What was it about those videos that was so irreplaceable? After all, I still have all the footage of my daughter over the years, of family holidays and of her riding the various different ponies and horses that she’s learned with. All I’ve lost are work related videos. Sure I can just re record those with different horses?
Yes, certainly I can record new footage. But the stuff that is lost is irreplaceable. I hadn’t realised just how much until it was gone. In the autumn of 2019, two young cob connemara crosses came to live with us. Benvarden Blue Bayou and Benvarden Kaikoura. They were three years old, recently gelded, curious, friendly but pretty much unhandled and untrained. Over the years I have started a number of youngsters on my own and for clients. With these two boys, I planned to film every training session so that I could then put together a course for trainers, showing how you can start a horse with a focus on appetitive stimuli, but still produce a ridden horse that responds happily to ‘normal’ aids and could be sold on to a rider with traditional background. I wanted to show the world the benefits of training this way and how we can produce horses that are safe, calm, willing, and as the FEI terms it ‘happy athletes’. I know I’m not alone in working this way, there are more and more trainers out there who use these methods. So you could argue that me losing this footage isn’t much of a loss to the world! But it is a loss to me. So just why do I grieve it so much?
I painstakingly recorded everything. Introducing them to the clicker. Teaching start and end signals. Calmness around the food. Liberty leading. Target training. Cues for yielding to pressure but using a target. Introducing the headcollar and leading. Introducing the tack. Standing by the mounting block. Loose schooling, long reining, lunging. Lying across their backs, sitting on them. Short walks along the road. Loading. Introducing unusual objects like bunting, clothes lines etc. Needle training. Preparation for the dentist.
But what made the work with these two boys so special for me? I think it was the fact that I hand picked them. They had just the right mix of curiosity and innocence. They were unspoilt and ready to learn. And maybe I was at just the right stage of my life to work with them. Experienced enough and patient enough. Creative enough. Maybe slightly more fearful than I would have been when I was younger. Which made me more cautious and more careful. I felt like I did the best training I’ve ever done. And I don’t know if I’ll ever have that opportunity again. I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to take on more youngsters. I don’t think I have the same time these days as more of my time is dedicated to Suzie, Pony Club etc. And I ended up keeping Kaikoura and I just want to spend my time progressing his training at what I feel is the right pace for both of us.
Those videos were just a snapshot in time. I loved watching them back. I enjoyed the work with those boys so much, it was the culmination of twenty plus years of learning and training practice. And now they’re gone.
I guess they aren’t really gone for me, because I still have the memories and experiences. But at a time when my mum is gradually becoming more forgetful, I am very aware of how these things can slip away.
I’m saddened because I’ve lost the opportunity to share those experiences with my students and clients. But I can still talk about them. I can still teach people how to do those things that I’ve done. All is not lost, it’s still in me, and I need to remember that.
And I’ve gained one very wonderful thing from the whole experience that is worth more than anything else: my beautiful Kaikoura. I have been blessed to have owned and cared for some amazing horses over the years, all of whom have taught me valued lessons and stretched me as a trainer. But I think in Kaikoura I have found the most generous soul, so smart and so gentle, yet so strong. If I hadn’t decided to take those two young boys on to put together that filming, I would never have ended up keeping him. So all is absolutely not lost!
This has been a bit of an indulgent post, a way for me to work out my feelings over the past few weeks and to reconcile what I’ve lost. I hope you don’t mind me sharing it here. It does have a slight purpose though. I am going to have to look at ways of creating new video footage for my lectures and teaching, to replace some of what has been lost. It won’t be the same. In fact it won’t replace it. But perhaps it’ll be better? If you and your horse would like to contribute in some way, get in touch with me!