Emma Busk’s & Harvey’ Success Story
Meet IH Member & Bit/Bridle Fitter Emma Busk & Her Horse Harvey
Emma is a fully qualified & LANTRA accredited bit and bridle fitter, both through Horse Bit Fit Academy AND Neue Schule Academy. Check out her website for more information www.thebitandbridlefitter.co.uk
‘Thank you IH… couldn’t have done it without you!’
When a middle-aged woman returns to horses after a 19-year break, there are two quickly learned lessons. The first is that you possess neither the skill, nor the courage, of your youth. The second is that, despite the learning the first lesson, your dreams and aspirations remain unchanged. Admittedly, I no longer dreamt of riding at Badminton, but despite my age, I still wanted to event.
I decided that if I was going to ‘go fast and jump things’ again, I really needed a horse capable of doing it with me. To be honest, I’d lost my bottle over fences, so the most important attribute of any new addition to my herd was being a confidence giving jumper. When I went to see Harvey, the seller did advise me that he was ‘grumpy’ in the stable. I figured I could cope with that, especially after riding him because as soon as my bum hit the saddle, I felt at home. He wasn’t a push button ride, but he felt safe, jumped nicely and I genuinely didn’t want to get off. So, I arranged a pre-purchase examination during which I saw some red flags. The owner (who had bought him a mere 5 weeks earlier) needed a stallion chain to trot him up. During the lungeing phase, the vet stopped the owner when Harvey did a very good ‘wall of death’ impression before turning in and rearing. But there was something about him I really liked. The vet found nothing physical that would potentially prevent him from eventing, so the deal was done and I now owned an exceptionally handsome, 8-year-old, 16.1 chunk of opinionated sports horse.
Harvey’s seller hadn’t lied, he certainly was grumpy in the stable… but also bargy; very handy with his teeth (with the speed of a cobra and the jaws of a crocodile), confrontational in the field, a nightmare to tack up, difficult to lead, and IMPOSSIBLE to load.
Harvey’s seller hadn’t lied, he certainly was grumpy in the stable… but also bargy; very handy with his teeth (with the speed of a cobra and the jaws of a crocodile), confrontational in the field, a nightmare to tack up, difficult to lead, and IMPOSSIBLE to load. This was definitely an issue seeing as I’d bought him to compete. He wasn’t just sticky… he was simply not going to go in and used multiple techniques to avoid it: planting, rearing, spinning, reversing – he had the lot.
At that point, my only experience of Intelligent Horsemanship had been watching a Monty demo on television and attending a couple of demos by Lincolnshire-based IHRT, Garry Bosworth. So, within a month of arriving, Garry was at my place and by the end of our session, Harvey was walking in and out of my lorry with ease. I had learnt some techniques, purchased a dually halter, and actually started to make slow progress on the ground and with loading.
Now we were mobile, we made our competitive dressage debut. I was thrilled we came home with a red and a blue frilly, but crushingly disappointed, and a little terrified, by Harvey’s behaviour on the ground. It was a two-man job tacking up, and mounting required a leap of faith that I really don’t want to ever repeat. After that outing, Harvey’s grumpiness increased at the same rate his willingness under saddle decreased.
I have never believed that horses possess the ability to be ‘naughty’ without reason, so the only logical step was to investigate the cause. I suspected a pain issue but because I knew his tack fitted, he was sound, his teeth were in good shape and his back was fine when palpated, concluded that it was worth checking for gastric ulcers. My vet agreed and the scope showed grade 3 squamous and glandular ulcers. After 3 months of treatment, he scoped clear but my vet cautioned me not to expect a total personality change. And he was right! Harvey’s ridden work improved significantly but we were only making slight improvements on the ground. In hindsight, at that point, I should have hot-footed it down to Hartsop Farm and worked on my skills, rather than trying to teach myself the application of IH principles.
But we WERE making progress, especially under saddle, and I genuinely loved this complex horse. And he loves to jump… he is forward and sensible to a fence, honest and forgiving… and he gave me my jumping mojo back! We were building trust in each other and having fun. And, if he could forgive me for sometimes messing up our approach to a fence, then I could surely forgive him for his foibles.
None of my friends could though… after that first outing, there was no one who was prepared to groom for me at events as that would mean handling “Harvey the Carnivore”, “Horrible Harvey” or “THAT Horse” as he has been variously referred to. So, I donned my brave pants and ventured out alone, all the while trying to implement IH techniques as best I could.
As each year passed, we became better and better together in all aspects of our daily activities as our trust and understanding developed. We expanded our horizons: stepping up to BD, heading out on fun rides, attending camps and generally enjoying life. Then, last June I took him to the vet… for a couple of months, I’d felt he wasn’t really through from behind, and although no one could really see anything untoward, he just felt wrong. Sometimes, it’s awful being right – Harvs had developed bilateral hind-limb PSD (proximal suspensory desmitis). Looking at treatment options, it seemed best to try non-invasive shockwave therapy and rest.
So, what made me decide to attend IH courses after muddling along, moderately successfully for 3 years?
So, what made me decide to attend IH courses after muddling along, moderately successfully for 3 years? Well there I was, in the middle of summer with no horse to ride. Some friends suggested I borrow Giles, their homebred Trakehner, who had been sitting in the field doing nothing for a couple of years, had never left home (or mum) and is also 17.3! Sure, I said, that will be fun and picked him up a couple of days later. Coming to mine was a huge deal for him… and when his owners led him to his new paddock, I did question my sanity as he pranced and leapt down the track. I brought him back into work slowly, with a lot of long-lining and short sessions of ground work, using Harvey’s dually. I booked a lesson at a nearby yard and found I couldn’t get him in my trailer. I thought back to Garry’s instruction 3 years earlier. I cancelled the lesson and relaxed. We now had all day to load. After 20 mins I had him walking in and out with no issues. Then it clicked… stop messing about with this, learn do it properly and make life better for your current and future horses.
So far, I have completed: Feeding & Nutrition/Horse as an Athlete; Horse Psychology; 5-day Foundation; Handling the Untouched Horse. One of the many lessons I learned is that every moment you are training your horse, whether you realise it or not. The other is that IH ethos and techniques are not a quick fix but a way of life. I now do groundwork as part of my daily routine… turning out, bringing in, in the stable, mounting, feeding, with all 5 of my horses: Alfie the little welsh rescue, Annie my WB dressage mare, Parel my KWPN broodmare and her foal, Floyd, and of course, with Harvey who has improved immeasurably in a very short time.
And what about Harvey? Unfortunately, the shockwave provided only temporary relief. After informed and careful consideration, he went to Rossdales for surgery in June (where he was described as mannerly & delightful!), and the prognosis for a full return to work is good. To me, however, the most important thing is that he is field sound – anything else is a bonus. He will always have a home with me – he brings me so much joy, even if I can’t ride him.
Looking back on 30+ years of horse ownership, it’s not the rosettes that I’m most proud of, it’s Harvey.
Looking back on 30+ years of horse ownership, it’s not the rosettes that I’m most proud of, it’s Harvey. He is no longer the angry, aggressive, dangerous horse who came to me 4 years ago – he’s a happy, much-loved member of the family who has taught me so much. And since returning from Hartsop Farm, we’ve even nailed the solo hacking. Who knows, if all goes well, we might even overcome the ditch phobia and return to eventing.
Thank you IH… couldn’t have done it without you!