ABOUT SUZANNE HALSEY
If we have to look back at where it all started, then the Brownies really must take responsibility. I was 7 years of age, and the Brownies were organising a trip to the local horse riding centre, so off I went, having convinced mum to come as a helper. My first ever experience of riding was on a very cute, small, fluffy white pony called 'Misty', who proceeded to tread on my mums foot whilst she was leading him around the school! She wasn't overly impressed, I on the other hand I was in heaven, and weekly lessons followed. So I fell in love with ponies, horses not so sure, they looked ever so big when you are just 7, but ponies became the love of my life, and not just the riding, I loved everything about them, and fondly remember the first time I was shown how to pick out 'Misty's' hoof, which I thought was amazing.
I had a brief fear of cantering, and by then I had met 'Basil' the Thelwell look-alike, who I figured had the same fear, because, well basically we just didn't 'do' cantering! We could trot, really really fast, but we both thought cantering should be avoided at all costs. Until one day, my wise instructor put me on a pony that did do cantering, and I promptly loved it, but still had firm affections for 'Basil' my non-cantering friend! I lived for my weekly lessons, getting there as early as possible to absorb every thing, and take in the unique horsy smell. Both my sister and my mum started taking lessons, frustrated at just sitting at the side and watching. I think my sister thought horses were ok, but didn't have the same passion as I did.
Then the worst possible thing happened, the riding school announced they were closing down, and we didn't really know anywhere local enough that did lessons. However, not to be outdone, I had a plan; it seemed perfectly obvious to me that we would have to get a pony of our own. Mum and Dad, (rather conveniently ) had 4 acres at the back of their house. So there were a few trees in the way ~ minor problem! I begged, pleaded, everything. My sister was less than keen, but I told her that if she appeared as keen as me, they would be more likely to agree, and that I would happily do all the work! Somehow and I'm still not sure how, we succeeded in convincing our parents; all we had to do now, was find a suitable mount. Now I was 11 and my sister was 15, and mum and dad had friends that had horse's and it turned out that their daughter was emigrating. What a good idea, we could have the horse – a 16.2hh fit hunter type, used to being ridden and cared for by their quite proficient daughter. But we tried her, and liked her, so she duly arrived. Looking back (isn't hindsight a wonderful thing?), we didn't really have a clue, first mistake, we didn't have anything to put her water in….its a big jump from riding once a week to then owning your very own rather large horse!! Anyway, she thought she was onto a winner, and on the first day, she took off with my sister, they parted company on a tarmac drive, and decided that maybe she was a little too much for us!
So off we went looking again, and I think they saw us coming, we must have had novices stamped all over us. 'Bobby' was a 14.2hh Welsh section D who when we tried him seemed perfect, we cantered, jumped, went on a hack, all the things we wanted to do. We should have been suspicious when they said that we could only have use their vet to vet him, but….hindsight again….and we knew so very little at that stage. Also they insisted they would deliver him, and he spent the first 3 days with us running around almost it seemed non stop! He seemed semi wild, but we thought that maybe he just needed time to settle in, I don't think he ever did – settle in that is. We managed to ride him, but he was dangerous on the roads, so we were confined to our fields. No hacking to shows then. He wouldn't go in our very new stable, and certainly not in a trailer, which we found out when we hired one. My sister soon got frustrated and hung up her boots, after he bucked her off one sunny day, so it was just me. I would say 99% of the time that I was riding I was scared, but there was no chance that I was going to tell mum and dad that. I had a strong suspicion that if Bobby was sold, I may never have another pony again, and that thought was unbearable. Even though he terrified me to ride, I still loved him to bits, and spent ages grooming him, cleaning his tack, and generally being his friend, in the hope that if I was always nice to him, he would like me back, and not scare me so much when I rode him. 'Bobby' was with us for 3 ½ years, until colic took him away from us. Despite all his problems, I was distraught. I never wanted another pony except 'Bobby' back, and I thought that may be the end of my horsy life.
However a few months down the road, I knew that wasn't so, and rather amazingly after our rather wobbly start in our involvement with anything equine, my parents agreed we could look for another one. By this stage, we had an instructor, so with her help, we found 'Trojan' a 4 year old, ¾ Welsh D x TB, (yep, I hadn't learnt about the whole welsh thing!). She thought that it would be good to have a youngster, as we could learn together, that's fine, if I had some knowledge to impart on him, however, 'Trojan' soon realised that he had landed on his feet, and felt it his duty to impart every little piece of Welsh knowledge he had onto me. Lets just say the first 9 years together were interesting, until our turning point when I saw my first Monty Roberts demo.
So life with my horse continued, and even though there were more than our fair share of challenges with Trojan, I still loved every minute of it, and was never deterred. I went through school unsure of what I wanted to do, and although did ok at my grades, I didn't like being indoors all that much, and knew I couldn't end up in an office job, it just wouldn't have been for me. After a very short period at college, which really didn't suit me, through a distant relative who was a saddle fitter, I found myself at our local army barracks training for my BHS exams. I hadn't planned to go into horses, but it seemed a natural path for me to follow. So there I was earning £29.50 per week, and realising that looking after a whole yard was very different to looking after my one horse, but despite the hard work, and long hours, I did love it, and felt more at home. After taking my BHS Stage 1, I moved onto another livery yard to train for my Stage 2, and again, gain more experience in the running of different yards. I think it was here that I really learnt how hard work horses can be, but I also enjoyed the care side of looking after the full liveries, and it was around this time, that I began the dream of one day running my own full livery yard. I trained again elsewhere for my Stage 3 and went onto take my Assistant Instructors exam, and then, there I was qualified.
Suddenly in a position to teach, I decided to gain experience teaching in a riding school, as didn't feel ready for freelancing. It was around about that time that I began to question how much I really knew about teaching people? Having had 2 less than easy horses, I didn't really have the competitive experience, and felt a bit like a fish out of water teaching, which wasn't good really! I had one man that I taught that sticks in my mind, who would ask so many questions, and between us we would come up with the answers. Initially I was perplexed by his questioning, but I soon realised that it was a good thing, and it made me question an awful lot as to why we do the things the way we do them? I stumbled my way along for a while, doing a bit of teaching, and generally a bit unsure as to weather teaching was for me, and the thought of having a full livery yard seemed more and more appealing.
It would seem that was meant to be, as in 1997 we got a call from a friend, who dealt in property. He had seen a 14 acre plot in the catalogue, which was 5 miles down the road from where we lived. It had permission for equestrian use, and stood with just run down buildings on it, awaiting conversion. The auction was in a week's time, so we went and had a very brief look around, and it seemed like a viable proposition, so we decided to go to the auction, fully expecting to be out bid, and really didn't have our hopes up. Well, somehow, we were sat in the bar afterwards, my parents the owners of this plot of land!
So work began on the yard, and I carried on doing a bit of teaching, and putting my energies into the yard. In May 1998, however things were about to change. I went to see a Monty Roberts demostration at Eaglesfield EC, and that was going to change everything, not that I knew that at the time. I came away from that demo amazed at what I had seen, but slightly sceptical, but eager to know more. There was so much about what he had done that I liked, but it all seemed very different to what I knew already. At the demo I had picked up information on the course's that were run by Kelly Marks, Intelligent Horsemanship, and that seemed to be the answer to finding out more about Monty's work. So in September that year, I went on my first 5 day course, and learnt more that I had ever imagined possible. At the time of going on my first course, I was unaware of the further training on offer, but after that first course found myself booking up as soon as possible on the rest of the course that formed the Monty Roberts Preliminary Certificate of Horsemanship, and at that stage wasn't aware of how much my life would change.