That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Elaine Heney of Grey Pony Films, County Tipperary, in the second leg of a two-part written interview.
“Many years ago, in New Zealand, I stumbled across a totally different approach to horsemanship.
As a result of that, one of my biggest challenges was realising how much I had to learn about horse training and training in a way that protects the horse’s health.
Since then, I have become addicted to improving my knowledge and skills and regularly attend international horsemanship events, lessons and clinics.
Listening to the horse is my motto, and this is also the name of my seven-part docu-series.
Grey Pony Films
From an equestrian perspective, Mark Rashid, Steve Halfpenny, Tanja Penders, Jeff Sanders, and Kas Fitzpatrick have inspired me, while from a business perspective, I love to meet entrepreneurs from all over the world with unusual businesses (not at all horse-related) who worked very hard to turn their dreams into reality.
I am very independent, so running my own business and being CEO, and making all the decisions is perfect for me.
I have total freedom to create and publish an equestrian book, app, movie or online course I want to. Moreover, I have no gatekeepers, and I do not need anyone’s approval to open a door for me.
Also, I love to forge my own path and make my own opportunities. I have little to no experience on how the different genders are treated in the equine sector; I just try to make my students and readers as happy as I can and exceed their expectations.
I am usually quite optimistic and often get ideas for all sorts of new projects. Then I get very excited, and I think how fun it would be to make them.
Then, I immediately start to make them! I do not struggle with procrastination or a lack of focus, which really helps me keep moving and creating.
Moreover, I have heard that someone with an entrepreneurial personality type is happiest when they are in motion – in the middle of a new project – so that is definitely me.
I just try to write and design/create/film as best as I can and keep improving my skills all the time.
But I have no idea how each project will be received. I just try to do the best that I can, and I love the creation process. The success of these projects definitely took me by surprise.
In 2023, all going well, I hope to have a trade stand with my books at both Badminton Horse Trails in the UK in May and at the Dublin Horse Show in August.
I have also launched my new online bookshop, so customers around the world can buy my books directly at http://www.elaineheneybooks.com.
I also hope to start translating some of my books into other languages this year.
My hope is that through my books, apps, documentary and online courses, I can promote the concept of listening to the horse.
I want to encourage people – when they run into challenges or difficulties riding or training their horse – to stay open-minded.
For example, sometimes, a horse gets labelled ‘naughty’ for bucking or refusing a fence.
But it actually could be anything from a sore back, or badly fitting saddle, to ulcers or the bit causing damage to the inside of the mouth.
‘On the bit’
Or if you would like to get your horse ‘on the bit’, instead of using tie-downs, gadgets, rolkur, nose consistently behind the vertical, heavy hands, constantly pulling on the reins or using side reins – all of which are horrendous for your horse’s health and posture – you could study the classical masters.
You will discover that ‘on the bit’ (which should be collection and self-carriage) has nothing to do with the head position or a bit.
If you look at paintings of the old masters, you can have a horse who is collected and ridden with a loose rein!
Instead, you need to start teaching both yourself and your horse lateral movements – the first being shoulder out, followed by shoulder in – to ask the horse’s hind legs to step under more deeply, which, in turn, changes the angle of the pelvis, lifts the back and withers and changes the head and neck position.
I have seen this issue quite a lot, which is why I published a dressage for beginners book with a lot of creative exercises you can do at home to influence your horse’s balance and improve their posture and collection.
It is perfect for adults who are interested in improving their flatwork, dressage scores or their horse’s posture – no gadgets or heavy hands needed.
I want to empower horse owners to trust their own judgement about what is right for themselves and their horses.
Also, to learn from people who are doing the things they aspire to, even if those people are not particularly well-known or out competing.
If we see someone riding a horse forcefully or in a way that makes them tense and unrelaxed, it will never be good for the horse’s health or mental well-being.
We need to be confident enough to choose the path that we feel is good for our horse and ourselves, supported by trainers who are kind and consider the horse’s well-being too.
Also, I have a goal to encourage people to think about allowing horses to ‘grow up’ before expecting them to carry our weight and start working.
There are studies that state that many horses are ridden and working far too young before they are physically mature, and I strongly support that.
Horses mature at the same rate, regardless of breed, and are not fully mature until they are 5-6-years-old at the minimum.
From that, it follows that we should not be riding and even competing three-year-olds if we want them to have the best chance of a healthy old age.
I am very lucky that my work allows me to continue to learn more about how horses think and how we can get along with them in harmony.
You can find out more about my documentaries and online courses at www.greyponyfilms.com, and I have just opened my new online bookshop, will you can access at www.elaineheneyhorses.com.”
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