My Story With Horses. Vicki Jayne Yates BA Hons.

Childhood. Just Starting Out.

My journey with horses started out in the early 1970s when I was a child. I relentlessly pestered my mother to let me ride. My mum took my sister and I to the local stables. My very first ride was on a little bay pony being led by another child through the woods. No riding hat, just my bobble hat to keep my head warm on a winter’s day. No instruction either.

Ride number 2 at these stables, I rode a different dark brown pony and was led by another rider from her horse. We went along the roads to a cart track. This was my introduction to power and speed. My mum had followed us as she was worried about seeing my sister and I head out onto the roads on ponies. She was right to be worried. She watched in horror as the string of horses cantered off along the cart track. I bounced in the saddle and clung onto the pony’s mane and managed to stay on. It didn’t put me off. I still wanted to ride.

The photo was taken of my first ride. 

My mum wasn’t happy for me to go back to these stables. She researched and found a brilliant riding school for my sister and I to learn to ride. Kingswood, run by Wendy Pauling (back then known as Wendy Walker). Wendy ensured my sister and I learnt to ride correctly with no short cuts. I now know a very classical approach is what we got taught. It was here I found my first love – Ben. A bay pony. I guess my love of bay horses comes from him.

Not only did Wendy teach us to ride, she taught us how to care for the ponies. We learnt to groom, plait, tack up, clean tack, learn about tack and how it is used, muck out, feeding, first aid, turn out, catch and lead the ponies and so much more. My mum joined us in learning to ride here. That is how it began and our family fell in love with horses. We had a solid foundation gifted in the lessons we learnt from Wendy and her team.

Photo - My First Love Ben. 

Teenage Years. Doorways Opened to Opportunities.

As I got older I sadly outgrew Ben. Looking for adventure I rode at other stables and got the experience of riding lots of different ponies and horses. The lady who ran these stables could see I was confident in caring for the horses, handling, catching and I was able to ride all on the string of horses she had.

When I turned 16 she offered me the job of taking out customers on hacks and assisting the instructors when teaching. The instructors could see I was keen to learn and took me under their wing. I learnt so much watching them teach. This riding school closed.

My friend Sue, who rode with me, suggested we go riding with her brother at a different riding school. And here too the lady who ran it could see potential in me. That summer she offered me the job to teach the children’s Pony Play Scheme. A summer of pure delight before I went to university to study art and design. The riding school owner was very impressed with my work and offered me work as an instructor.

This I fitted in around my studies, with many happy hours at weekends and in the evenings teaching. I graduated from University and went on to do teaching qualifications. This led me down a very interesting pathway in education teaching part time at 2 different universities and higher education colleges in a wide range of subjects. I did this alongside still teaching part time at the riding school.  

Photo of Rocky. One of the many beautiful souls I was lucky to get to know when I worked at the riding school.  I still visit Rocky he has a wonderful retirement home with my dear friend Chris. He is one very cherished and treasured horse.  

Lifelong Learning. Horsemanship and Merlot Arrives.

I have never lost my passion for lifelong learning and I grabbed any opportunity to learn more. My eyes opened to a different way when Natural Horsemanship came over to the UK. I went to clinics galore, to name a few - Monty Roberts, Pat Parelli, Franklin Levinson and Mark Rashid. It certainly made me think about what I had based my knowledge upon.

About the same time my once in a lifetime horse Merlot came into my life. Merlot was a 15.1hh Hanoverian cross Riding Pony. No surprise he was a bright bay. I purchased him to get him out of a very abusive environment. The lady who owned him beat him. She had had him since he was weaned and he was 8 years old when I met him. 8 years of abuse resulted in Merlot being a fear aggressive horse. I couldn’t leave him there. So Merlot became mine.

Merlot was sharp, hot and a quick thinker. It took 18 months for Merlot to let me in, 18 months of dealing with all sorts of undesirable behaviour. Traditional methods would not work with this horse, nor the natural horsemanship that uses pressure be it physical or emotional pressure or negative reinforcement. It was Merlot, my soul companion who made me stop, question things, research other approaches and examine what lessons I need to learn.

Soul companions come into our lives to profoundly change us and that is what Merlot did. He led me to the pathway of positive reinforcement. I used positive approaches so eventually without a shadow of doubt the positive experiences outweighed his negative and abusive past.

Photo is of a portrait I have done of Merlot. Click here to visit my gallery of portraits.

Those around me judged, even ridiculed me for doing things very differently. I was even called a maverick and I wear that badge with pride. As I am indeed a maverick. One of many articles I wrote was - Maverick that was published in Horsemanship Magazine. I listened to my horse and went about finding an approach that was right for us both. Not bend to the considerable pressure to conform or to align myself to an ethos that my intuition felt wasn’t a good fit. There was no going back.

With what I learnt it became impossible for me to carry on teaching at a riding school as my eyes had been opened.

Merlot was a horse many would not dare go near. My sister even said “it costs no more to keep a good horse than a bad one”. I never saw a bad horse in Merlot, I saw a damaged soul. I invested my all into helping Merlot, and bit by bit he let me in. He went from a horse that hated me, to one who would look up, neigh to me, leave the herd and come to me.

It was about this time people saw the results I was getting with Merlot. People started to ask me to help them with their horses. So I went freelance.  The lessons Merlot taught me helped so many other people and their horses unpack a tangle of issues. I often was a last resort call when all else had failed. One such example was Storms story. This got published in Horsemanship Magazine in an article Riding the Storm. I can say in my lifetime of being in the equine industry I have seen stuff that haunts me.  

Photo of Merlot and I. Permissive riding where I looked for assent from Merlot enabled us to no longer require a bridle. 

Getting Recognition.

My approach was getting known. I was asked to write articles for many different magazines. I had magazine writers and photographers visit to watch training sessions, interview me, for them to write articles on my approach.

Through this time Merlot and I had progressed and made such an incredible journey. I could ride Merlot without a bridle, he had transformed from a fear aggressive horse that had huge behavioural issues to a horse that let me in and we shared harmonious interactions.

I could hear and understand Merlot. I know that sounds crazy. Horses commutate and I can hear them. I have taught others how to better open up two way dialogue with their horses. It is not magical, it is real. Click here for more information. 

With Merlot I could feel him on a soul to soul and heart to heart level. I had to earn that. I was communicating with him in open dialogue along with application of intent, energy, breathing, body language, rhythm before if required any soft touch aid. (If you want to read the article I wrote for Horsemanship Journal on Intent and Energy click here). Yet I could tell there was one small element missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

People cross your path for a reason. I was asked by a friend, Fay, who is a healer and geomancer if I would teach her to ride her horse in exchange for teaching me more about energy, plus healing sessions for me and my horses. I jumped at the chance. This was the missing link. She taught me to see the energy I could feel. Yes, as crazy as it sounds she taught me to see energy. I could see leaks, vortexes, colours and more. I could see auras. I had no idea what they meant at this stage. She gave Merlot healing, this was the missing element. It took 2 sessions before he fully released the last element that needed to be removed from his abusive past.

Photo of one example of my many published articles. I gift with Love all my Published Articles for FREE and more. To find out more about my FREE gifts to you click here.  

Horsemanship and Reiki Fusion.

For many years I worked using my approach and seeing these energy imbalances in humans and horses. Helping them to address issues and achieve connection and harmony. I knew I had to learn more to help at an even deeper level. So I studied Reiki and became a qualified Reiki practitioner.

If you are interested in finding out more about Horsemanship and Reiki Fusion click here

Photo of me offering Reiki

For me there is a blurred line between horsemanship and healing. As many of us are on profound personal journeys with our equines. On a personal level horses have healed me. My Merlot was the first horse to offer me healing. He was not the only one who suffered abuse. 

Abuse comes in many shapes and forms. My biological dad wasn’t kind to me. As a child I knew nothing different, and didn’t even think it could be classed as abusive, I grew up thinking it was normal. Sadly this led me into adult life to accept abuse from partners.

It was when my soul companion Merlot passed to spirit, it opened my eyes to the abusive relationship I was in with my then partner. He was cheating on me yet again. And the day my beloved Merlot passed to spirit he just said “You knew he would die” and went out the door to see the other woman.

Something inside me turned that day. I was fed up with the lies, mind games, bullying and when he was drunk the bruises he left on me. I realised just like Merlot I did not deserve this. I rescued Merlot, and the day he died it hit me hard that no one was going to rescue me. It was up to me to free myself from this relationship. Unlike a horse I had a choice, I didn’t have to stay in this relationship.

I owed it to my Merlot to honour his life lessons he gifted me and take that brave step. Just as he had taken that brave step with me. That brave step of freeing myself eventually led me to find my darling Steve who I married.

Photo of my Soul Companion Merlot.

The Student Was Ready.

Other horses have certainly gifted me their wisdom too. They say when the student is ready the teacher arrives. If we are humble to be the student of the horse and to see the world through their eyes we can learn lessons only they can teach us.

One example was my son’s horse Moss. I purchased Moss, a 16.3hh TB for my son (bright bay… can see a theme here). When we tried him out he was foot perfect. A real gentleman. He passed vetting with flying colours too. Yet I couldn’t help but feel we would see the real Moss once he came home. I wasn’t wrong.

Photo of Moss

I turned him out in the field and off he went to settle into the herd. The next day, he wasn’t going to be caught. So I spent 2 hours in the field negotiating closing the gap between him and myself until he gave me permission to approach. Then I gave him a carrot and departed so he could ponder that.

The next day I could see he was thinking….ok she has carrots….maybe lets her check out. So no fuss….he allowed me into his space, to touch him, pop a head collar on and give him carrots. I could see some degree of scepticism in his eyes. So I didn’t do anything other than make a huge fuss of him, finding his sweet spots where he liked to be scratched and let him leave when he was ready, which was a considerable time he loved sweet spot scratches.

Day three he walked over to check me out, here is the lady who does excellent sweet spot scratches and has carrots. He was relaxed in my company and not at all bothered. Again I let him leave when he was ready.

Day four he came trotting over to see me and presented his favourite spot to be scratched…..his bottom! So I could tell he wasn’t scared of me, so it was more to do with what he associated interactions would be after he was caught. I could see it wasn’t about being beaten, as touch didn’t induce any flicker of fear or anxiety. So it was something else.

I remember how he was foot perfect, so compliant when we viewed him. It led me to think he switched into a learnt helplessness state. He hadn’t been allowed to express an opinion so he just gave in and did exactly as requested.

So that first day at his new home, in the field was the only place he could feel safe to express himself. I knew as he realised we would allow him to have an opinion we would be in for some interesting conversations. And for sure we did have interesting conversations.

I learnt from Moss that the previous approach he experienced the joy had been sucked out interacting with humans, prior training had been serious and drilling. Once he realised this wasn’t our approach we discovered Moss had a high play drive, and a high level of curiosity to learn.        

Photo - Left Moss, Centre in the background  Merlot. Right Guinness.          

Earth Angel.

After Merlot passed to spirit I was at a stage on my horsemanship journey where I was very aware of soul to soul and heart to heart bonds. I had that with Merlot. I had to earn that with Merlot. What happened next makes me realise there is more to learn out there.

I wasn’t prepared for what happened when I met Ruby, my next horse. I saw her advert and went out to view Ruby. 15.3hh Welsh Section D (Guess what colour? Bright bay). She knew her current owner was no longer able to keep her. It was so clear she adored him.

Ruby knew why I was there. And right away Ruby attached an energy cord to my heart chakra and pulled me in. She looked deeply into my soul, never has a horse done that with such searching as she did. What she saw she liked and she decided I was going to be her new human. And that was that. She chose me.

Photo of Ruby's beautiful eye.

Ruby had all her paperwork back to the breeders and full history including notes written by her previous humans along with news clippings about her father and mother. Wow, her dad stood as a serving stallion at Jennie Loriston-Clarke’s yard and Ruby’s mum was a national driving champion.

It was clear Ruby had always been treasured, cherished and loved by all her humans. There was no baggage or unpacking to do at all.

This horse saw me on a soul to soul and heart to heart level on day one. I didn’t have to earn it. She expected it.

Ruby wasn’t the name on her passport yet a real Ruby Red she was, a rare and precious jewel.

I introduced her to positive reinforcement and she adored it and I quickly discovered she loved to problem solve and to share chilling out time with me.

There was no escaping that she knew me inside out. She knew how I felt. One experience that stands out was when my life was hard, my darling husband Steve was diagnosed with leukaemia. During treatment Steve got seriously ill and was in hospital. Ruby knew my heart was breaking.

In the field she walked up to me and with her liquid eyes she looked deep in my soul, she saw my pain. She used her head to pull me into her chest and my tears fell into her mane. I stopped crying and realised time had stopped, the two of us sharing a bubble of love that I have never felt so strongly and intensely from another horse. Her message was simple. I am here for you. Time and love will heal this.

I saw this horse had the same qualities angels do. Earth angels are all around us, some have 2 legs and some have 4. Some call it a spirit, others a soul. I believe we and our animals have this energy, be it called a spirit or a soul. These love bonds between souls are eternal. Ruby passed to spirit and her wisdom still is felt as she is one of my spirit guides. She made herself present in spirit during my journey with breast cancer.        

Photo of the article Earth Angels that I wrote and it was published in Horsemanship Magazine.  Click here to read the article.   

Warrior Healer.

My husband Steve and I share our current horse Kez. Unlike all my other horses Kez is not a bay although he tries hard to become a bay horse as he loves mud. Kez is a 15.1hh skewbald heavyweight Irish Cob. Totally unlike any of my previous horses.

When Steve and I went looking for a horse there was a good choice there however we only had eyes for Kez. He was the one for us. He was sold to us as a riding horse. This wasn’t to be. We discovered that Kez found riding tricky.

Kez was super polite about it. Never any bad behaviour, I guess he knew we would listen. Listen we did. We had a top physiotherapist visit and our local vet to check Kez. The vet ran lots of tests and still could not work out what was wrong.

We sent Kez to Newmarket Equine Hospital for a full investigation. Kez was there for a week. Then we got a diagnosis which meant Kez could not be ridden. Kez came home.

Home for Kez is at Wendy Paulings. She invited us to keep Kez with her horse Beau. For me it was like coming home to where it all started for me as a child. Kez is very happy there and has become best buddies with Beau.

It just shows how stoical Kez is, he never gave us one moment of grief yet we knew he was in pain and not happy. With our local vet we worked on making Kez’s life comfortable. Bit by bit because Kez has been allowed to just be a horse and never pushed to do anything that he doesn't want to do he has healed well enough to no longer need pain medication. Although he is pain free we will not ride him as we know his issues will not go away and riding would aggravate his conditions.

Photo of Kez

I know from experience horses come to me for a reason. It was Kez who laid the non ridden agenda at my feet. Thousands like Kez have no loving guardians and end up in the dark underbelly of the equine world with the truth hidden. They get passed on, they go from pillar to post, through auctions or worse dumped and abandoned. Many get neglected or abused. In a world geared towards riding, non ridden equines are the most likely to suffer. I have seen first-hand these souls.

Yet again Wendy gave me a golden nugget in a question about what is out there for people who have horses they can’t ride. So between this question and the dire equine crisis out there it became clear Kez was asking me to step up.

Steve and I set up the original Non Ridden Equine Facebook group. Little did we know when we set up the group tens of thousands would join. It hasn’t ever stopped growing. Social media is a wonderful way for like-minded people to connect, share stories and showcase good practice.

The non ridden agenda I started took on a global life force, and people contacted me from all over the world to set up their own non ridden groups. I was approached by magazines from far and wide. The non ridden agenda was getting on the radar from not just the UK, but also in the USA and Canada with magazines writing articles about my non ridden work.

Click here to go to the Non Ridden Equine Facebook group.  

However it was clear to influence change we needed a collective voice outside of social media. So a small group of us set up the not for profit, formally constituted Non Ridden Equine Association UK. It had a website and showcased all the wonderful non ridden opportunities out there for all to enjoy as everything non ridden is great for all equines be they ridden or not. It had a huge resource bank and we made everything FREE to access.

The team who worked on this did so unpaid. Much of the work fell in my in-tray.

Standing above the parapet we regularly got shot at, abused and bullied. The association ran for 4 years. The equine industry we set up the association for as a platform to showcase good practice made it impossible to continue. The stress, unpleasantness and threats took its toll on my health.

It was during this period I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was struggling with cancer treatment, the after effects of treatment and the gift it gave me of post-traumatic stress disorder. I was seriously unwell.

At my lowest I nearly took my own life and if my mum hadn’t been at home that day I would have done it. Healing is not pink and fluffy, it can be brutal and raw. I had to heal my mind, body, spirit and soul. This I could not do under constant harassment, bullying and threats.

The entire committee for the Non Ridden Equine Association UK voted to close the association down. The people who pushed me and the committee to this know who they are. I will not name and shame them. They will have to live with what they did. They contributed in pushing me to the point I wanted to end my life. Plus destroyed the Non Ridden Equine Association UK which was set up from the heart for the greater good for all. No wonder equines suffer in this world.

Part of my recovery included healing from my friend Sally Anne Roberts. This healed my spirit and soul. It was intense, powerful and included Kez. He appeared to Sally wearing a war bridle standing over my legs as I lay on the ground. (He doesn’t have a war bridle and has never stood over my legs, but a powerful image with a message).

Kez was a huge part in my healing. He never wavered. He stood by me like a strong solid warrior to help me fight cancer. Every step of the way Kez was there. At my sickest he saw my fragility, rawness and how broken I was. Just as I had stood by him, Kez stood by me. He helped me to get physically stronger, to get fitter and emotionally he saw my mind and held space for my healing. He wove healing deep into my soul. Our healing journey I shared with an article The Warrior Horse that was published in Horsemanship Magazine. 

As I worked my way through my healing I gave myself Reiki and shared the Reiki with Kez. Often we shared times and still do in a blissful bubble of contentment and love, just like I did with Ruby.

Kez is a warrior and a healer. Horses carry this wisdom in their soul. When I got well enough Kez reminded me to pick up being a warrior and stand with him for non ridden equines. One door closed, it left room for other doors to open.

I looked to Kez, the reason I started this non ridden journey for inspiration. And there it was right under my nose. All the wonderful things we do, all my knowledge and experience, I had to share it.

I created a Facebook page for Kez where we share our stories and experiences. I also created two banks of resources on my website that I gift for FREE to all who would like them. Kez's Club packed with non ridden resources, great for all equines be they ridden or non ridden. Plus Horsemanship Resources, all my published artiucles and blogs. Also I gift with love themed detailed resources you can download for FREE, for more information check under the Equine Offerings and check out the different themed sections. Click here to go to Kez's Facebook Page. 

Photo taken during my cancer treatment.  

Tips for Building a Closer Bond with Your Horse.

  •       Time and patience in industrial quantities. In our fast paced modern world we can easily forget to slow down and take time with our horses. It will take as long as it takes, there are no shortcuts. No quick fixes. Don’t compare you and your horse’s progress against others. You are individuals and one size does not fit all.
  •         Look out for the smallest of tries and reward your horse and yourself. As this is the ignition for your horse to want to engage in interactions with you. The smallest try is often overlooked and not recognised. Train yourself to look for them. We are often hung up on an outcome and forget the steps that are needed to get there. Break everything down into the smallest steps, baby steps and look for the smallest try for this. Reward it generously and give you and your horse time to process. Don’t rush onto the next step. 
  •         Be kind to yourself and your horse. A compassionate mind is essential. How easy is it to focus on what we didn’t achieve? To be hard on ourselves? To chase perfection? To coach ourselves to believe we are failing? Learning something new isn’t easy. Building a close connection with a horse is about exploring ourselves as much as learning about our equine partner. We may discover aspects about ourselves we need to change and this can be an opportunity for personal development. Sometimes facing this can be painful and an emotional time. Think about how compassionate you would be to another who is working on changing something deeply personal in themselves. The chances are you would be encouraging the other person, cheering them on for each new small achievement and the new skills they gained. Remember to apply this to yourself and your horse.         

Photo of Kez and I. Taken after I had chemotheraphy in 2018.   

  •         If you are presented with a horse with a negative or sceptical outlook on connecting and bonding with a human. To move from a negative mind set of no to yes there is a lot of maybe to travel through. Make sessions positive and rewarding. Ensure your horse learns nothing bad will happen and time with you is safe and fun. With deeply held trauma we must place a value on showing every interaction holds no pain or fear. Then you will see the horse start to evaluate things differently, and see you differently from the previous humans. When offering your horse positive enjoyable interactions your horse needs to mentally process and consider its response. Expect and allow your horse to express how it feels. It is very valuable feedback on how you are doing. You can adjust or rethink what and how you are doing things. It is ok for your horse to say no. Look for the first tentative maybe and the door is opening. Your horse may go back to no again. This is ok and expect that. As given time and patience your horse will consider maybe again. It will happen more frequently. Once at that stage let your horse learn, process, don’t rush. Lavish positive reinforcement and you will discover the shift happens to yes. Horses with troubled pasts the no phase may take a long time. Along with all this you need to forgive any unwanted behaviour instantly and not take it personally.
  •         Spend time just being with your horse. Not doing. For many people it is an eye opener to just be with their horse. To just be with a horse is to put aside our agendas. We can easily get hung up on doing stuff with our horses. Have a go at quietly watching, observing him interacting within the herd and his environment. From simply being you can extend into simple interactions that form the basis of meaningful two way open conversation.

Be loyal, dependable and consistently tell the truth to your horse. Ignore the unconstructive, hurtful and negative comments from other people who are always ready to point out the “naughty horse”. 

The tips I give to you with love. 

Photo of Kez and I taken 2022