FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions
Are you a Natural Horseman or a Clicker Trainer?
I believe that all horse trainers should have a deep understanding of a horse’s nature as well as learning theory, no matter what discipline. All too often ideas are forced upon a horse or a student with detrimental effects. If I have to be labelled I would call myself a trainer of horses and humans.
Where does dressage fit into the picture?
Dressage is like a diamond with many facets. There is pre-school that is generally known as backing, this is to get the horse calm and relaxed with a rider and muscle them up for further schooling. This is also called Debourrage. Then there is the schooling part where the more serious training continues, known as dressage. After this comes high school dressage. The aim of all good training is to improve the horse’s flexibility, mobility, straightness and collectability and move the horse’s weight and balance gradually more and more towards their hind quarter in a manner that keeps the horse relaxed and happy. Dressage is just a beautiful French word for training. In other words - all training is dressage. Start with the simple and develop to the complex.
Where did you learn?
Horses have been my teachers mostly. After all, they are the ones that will let you know whether what you are doing is working or not. I have also learned from my students, from experience and from life itself. My ability to observe riders and horses have developed over the years; good or bad - There is always something to be learned. I also love reading, so there is an extensive library at home.
Which is your favourite piece of training equipment?
My brain, afterall you don’t need much else :)
Which breed do you like the most?
It is hard to say. I like Arabs since they are fast learners and have lots of energy. Warmbloods are fun to train because they are mostly even tempered. I would love to own an Andalusian, just so I could brush its mane and tail every day.
Does your wife share your love for horses?
Kathryn was the one who encouraged me to start riding again after I broke my back. I owe her a great deal of respect and gratitude; if it wasn’t for her I would have been doing an office job since 1999. She also maintains a healthy balance in my life… otherwise I would not rest.
Does your daughter share your passion for horses?
Bjork has been exposed to horses and training from when she was very young. She loves all animals big and small. Whether she will become a horse trainer is her choice. I enjoy being a witness to her life’s journey and it is amazing to discover the world through her eyes.
Which trainers do you admire the most?
Different ones for different reasons:
Alexander Nevzorov the Columbus of horsemen – Not afraid to go over the edge and find that the earth is actually round.
Honza Blaha the Da Vinci of horsemen – A real artisan.
Philippe Karl the Einstein of horsemen – A man of logic and GREAT understanding.
Pat Parelli the Donald Trump of horsemen – A businessman of note.
Karen Rolfph the Amelia Earhart of horse(wo)men – A woman not afraid to challenge the norm.
Stacey Westfall – the Mona Lisa of horse(wo)men – A genuine good and honest person.
Nuno Oliveira – the Master of horsemen – One day when I’m big, I would like to be as good as him.
How do you feel about bits?
What is a bit? It is a piece of metal that is intended to be used to communicate with your horse.
I believe that bits are only as good as the hands that use them. This puts the responsibility squarely in the hands of the rider to develop their skill, balance and understanding.
Due to lack of knowledge and understanding it is often misused to force horses to perform behaviours that they are either physically or mentally not ready to perform.
Do you ride in a halter?
Yes, at the school all horses are started with rope halters and trained to go in a relaxed, balanced outline in the walk, trot and canter. This includes halt, reinback and lateral movements before a bit is introduced to refine the connection between horse and rider. We believe that you have to crawl before you can walk. This develops the horse’s confidence and the rider’s ability.
How do you feel about other trainers and training methods?
Believe in not judging a book by its cover. The outfit does not make the horseman - the horse is a reflection of the rider’s ability. You’ll be amazed how much you can learn from a Cowboy about Dressage if you are able to keep an open mind and really observe. I look, I listen and I learn. Then I take what is useful and leave the rest behind. The one thing that Dressage Riders, Showjumpers, Cowboys, Natural Horsemen and Clicker Trainers all have in common is that we are all striving to be the best trainers we can be.
If you had a mission, what would it be?
My vision has always been not to stay stuck in a problem solving, reactive state of mind, but to get into the creative proactive side - Afterall horsemanship is art in one of its finest forms. At the core of all behaviour, be it “good” or “bad”, is thinking. So if one has to change behaviour, you have to get to the thinking that drives it. In short, to change the thinking that drives counterproductive behaviour.
Are you not afraid of getting hurt when you deal with problem horses?
There is always a risk of getting injured when dealing with horses, even the tame ones. I broke my back in a freak accident on an outride in a forest when a Reedbuck jumped in front of us. The horse stopped so abruptly that it fractured my lowest vertebra in two places. It took two years before I was able to ride again (against doctor’s orders). My motto since then: “Rather be on the ground wishing you were on horseback, than be on horseback, wishing you were on the ground”.
Which is your favourite saddle?
A saddle that fits the horse properly. I enjoy riding in a hand made Jochen Hennig dressage saddle. I also like Kieffer saddles, but nowadays there are so many brands and the technology is constantly advancing that I have to say almost any saddle, as long it fits the horse nicely.
What kind of bridle do you like?
Kieffer or Stubben make really nice quality bridles. I like them plain with buckles since it is easier to change bits. Definitely a single noseband only and it must not be tight at all.
What bits do you like to train with?
One that fits the horse’s mouth properly. Bombers bits are hand-made in South Africa and I particularly like the “Happy tongue” snaffle since it doesn’t put pressure on the horses tongue.
How do you handle being outside in the scorching heat all day long?
I think the only way to cope with it is to be in the right state of mind. Most of the time I get so absorbed in what I’m busy doing with the horses that I don’t notice the heat.
Wearing the right clothes for the job is very important. My hat is an Akubra Zephyr, it is cooler than the felt hats. Re-applying a good spray-on sunblock means that I don’t have to touch my face with dirty hands. I wear sun protection shirts from Columbia, they protect me from the sun and keep me cool, even though I never roll up my sleeves. My denims are from Wrangler. Since I spend all day on my feet it is very important to me to wear comfortable shoes that last. I am currently wearing Ariat Paddock boots.
I also drink lots of water that I freeze in re-usable Bpa-free plastic bottles.
Do you have a hobby?
I like flying radio controlled helicopters.
I saw a picture of you standing on five galloping horses. Is it real?
Yes, I was in the Roman riding display team of the South African Police from 1990 to 1993. The picture was taken towards the end of ‘92. We used to ride standing on three horses and that was fun, but riding five was, to say the least… exhilarating.