My name is Kelly Sherman and I am the founder and lead facilitator of Choice Equine learning and managing director of my social enterprise company.
After graduating with a 1st class B.A Hons in Business Studies I held several positions in the corporate world of finance, marketing, human resources and sales, but I never felt it was for me and then I found teaching. I love teaching. I have taught for 12 years now in secondary mainstream and have experienced many highs, as well as lows. Not a lot comes close to the buzz of people discovering new things, realising their potential, overcoming challenges, succeeding in the face of adversity and pushing themselves to achieve more. Unfortunately this has been coupled with the witnessing of lack of self-esteem, confidence and will power, behavioural problems, feelings of hopelessness, constant comparison and never feeling good enough, depression and anxiety to name just a few.
It is not for me to give reason why and how these feelings and behaviours come about, just that people need support and opportunities to learn differently and challenge and change thought patterns to enable them to have a more fulfilled life, whatever that may mean to them. Where we think we might be helping people by telling them the answers, how to do things and doing things for them, we may actually be doing more harm than good. We are not giving them the opportunity to learn and discover things for themselves. Equine assisted learning provides these opportunities. When I realised that I could combine my passion of horses with that of teaching Choice Equine Learning was born.
My first interaction with horses was when I was 10 years old when I helped out at my local stables with a friend from middle school. It was a hacking establishment so there were no lessons on offer, just walking out with the rides and helping round the yard. I taught myself to ride and had my first riding lesson when I was 34! I couldnt wait to get there every weekend. I fell in love with a horse called Tegan a dapple grey with the most beautiful soulful eyes. I went through some pretty turbulent times throughout my teenage years and felt that being with the horses was my "safe" place. I didn't have to talk to them, I just felt they "understood". I would happily sit in their stalls with them listening to their breathing and being in their presence was such an encapsulating feeling.
After the stables shut down my interaction with horses was intermittment. I looked after a couple of people's horses and rode every now and again but for about 10 years there was a big gap in my life of being around these wonderful animals. It wasn't until a friend brought a horse that I realised how much I missed being around them, and so after finding a field to share I embarked on the adventure of finding my first horse that I would "own". My first horse was a chestnut thoroughbred called "Chillie". Although she was a beautiful high spirited horse, after 4months, as much as I loved her, I knew that we weren't right for each other. Chillie had been retired from racing at 6 years old and had had little done with her since then. With two young children I didn't have the time or the expertise to devote to her so with a soulful heart I let her go.
As a young child and growing up I never had the desire for the "showing" side of horses but often felt I "should" because that's what everyone around me was doing. I had a go at it a few times but I never enjoyed it and remember a familiar feeling of disappointment when being "judged". Why did I not live up to people's expectations ? I was trying my best!
Little did I know that I was on a path of discovery to finding out what my individual connection truly was with horses. Tha was until I found Jim. When I first met Jim I recognised a familiar feeling, I was drawn to his "eyes". I felt an instant connection to him. Jim was being kept in a small piece of land on his own. He had not been ridden for months and when I rode him I felt he had an accepting nature about him but also a spirit that would teach me many things. This was the start of our journey...
Two days after bringing Jim home I had a call from a neighbour in the late afternoon saying that Jim was incredibly lame. The vet was called and several abcesses were drained from him foot. As the vet set to work I reflected on how trusting Jim was with us as he stood there patiently. As he stood with his foot in the bucket whilst it was being cleaned I realised this horse had a lot to teach me.
As I couldn’t ride Jim for the first couple of weeks I spent time just being with him and getting to know him. We were finding our feet with each other. One of the most magical moments I remember with Jim was when I was in the field with my son who was 6 years old. My son is profoundly deaf and as Jim came over to him I remember my mother radar telling me to go and get my son and move him out of the way. Then the most magical thing happened, Jim just laid down in front of him and my son looked like he was telling him his secrets. I was blown away. I then went over to Jim and he just lowered his head into my hands and gently pushed into me. Luckily my husband was there as well and was able to capture the moment.
From that moment I was on a path of discovery with Jim. He was the teacher, not me. Although I thought I "should" be the one that was teaching him, little did I know!
There were lots of experiences with Jim in those early days, but there are three that stick in my mind that although I didn't realise at the time, provided me with some of the most powerful learning experiences that were shaping my journey to where I am now. After a while I was able to relate back to them and realise just how meaningful those experiences were and can validate my emotions at that time. Perhaps if I hadn't of had those experiences I wouldn't be where I am now...
What I'm about to write are just my experiences and my interpretations of them. I am not saying that if the same thing were to happen to someone that they mean this or that, its just what they meant to me. Everyone has their own reason for being involved with horses and they take what they need from it whether it be for competing, riding or companionship. As the expression goes "each to their own".
To get to a heath where we could ride, instead of a 20 minute road journey, a local riding centre that was opposite would kindly let us ride through their premises cutting the journey down to 5 minutes. To get to the heath we would have to ride alongside the paddocks that horses were kept in. When we went out with company Jim seemed to be ok but when we were on our own he would always get to a certain point and plant his feet and refuse to move. At first I thought he was just being stubborn and didn't want to go out and I felt frustrated, what I didn't appreciate at first was why Jim was reacting like this and would end up turning back and trying to school him, as he dragged his feet round like a sullen teenager! The experience for both of us ended up being not a nice one and every time I tried to take him out on his own before we got to the point where he would stop I would say out loud "I suppose your going to stop here now?", and right on cue he would and refuse to move, and so the cycle continued. I had comments from others saying "you need to show him who's boss", "I make mine listen to me (as they would continue to endlessly kick and battle with their horses working the horse into a right tiz that then turned into a one sided shouting match). For me this just didn't feel right, I didn't want to force my horse to do anything he didn’t want to, I wanted a partnership with my horse, not a constant battleground.
One day I went out with a friend whose horse refused to go up the track. As she battled with it the horse was getting more and more distressed by the minute. Jim had done his usual planting of his feet and just stood there. I was getting distressed watching this poor horse working itself into such a state and tried to suggest that perhaps it wasn't the best way to be dealing with the situation but this lady was adamant that her horse was "going to listen" to her as she took it into the school next to us and continued to ride it round and round in circles forcing it to work this way and that. At this point Jim and I were still standing in the same spot and I did something different, though simple, I got off. As soon as I did Jim's whole persona changed. He looked at me then put his head in my arm. As I walked forward, Jim walked with me with a relaxed gait right up to the gate to the heath. As I got on at the gate, Jim helped me to shut it by pushing it voluntarily with his chest and off he went. No words, no force, just a silent movement that spoke volumes. It was like Jim was looking for me to reassure and lead him, I had been blind to his message. From that day on sometimes he would walk happily up to the gate, others he would stop and I would walk with him then get on, but to me that was fine and that was the way we worked.
Another time was when he was being ridden by someone else who wanted to try and school him and was trying to get him to go on the bit. As time went on Jim was getting more and more frustrated and holding his head high, yet still this lady was relentless. I suggested that he was not happy and that it was time to leave it now but this lady was determined she was going to get him to do what she wanted. I remember feeling really upset and unable to speak up and tell her to stop it, I was feeling a whole host of emotions yet felt "over powered" by this person. This person had had horses for years and was more experienced, I felt inadequate. For Jim at the moment I felt enough was enough he started to rear. I had never seen him do this then he planted his feet and just stood there refusing to move. He was done. This was a power struggle, not a meeting of minds and working together. I often think back to this occasion and didn't realise the many messages that were being relayed at the time. Power, submission, force, unwillingness, non-verbal communication from Jim, reluctance, lack of mutual respect, the need to be "right", the list goes on...
The third moment was when we were working in the school. Again someone else was trying to get Jim to work in an outline and after 30 minutes of no success, but a very frustrated horse who was showing clear signs of not being happy they got off and after a 10 minute rest for him, and to calm down, I got on. I walked him round with no agenda, just a free walk on a very loose rein. I concentrated on his movement, the way his feet were moving, noticing the moment of his ears and generally just "being". Then I stared to think about how he might look if he was working in an outline and how he might feel different, then as if by magic when I took the reins and asked him he responded, the moment felt incredible, it was like we had connected. In that moment I realised that I didn’t want to compete, I didn't want to show, for me I just wanted to be with Jim and spend our time riding out together. That feeling of realisation was extremely powerful for me. Jim had helped me realise what I wanted, not what I felt I "should" be doing.
Equine assisted learning provides these opportunities and when I realised that I could combine my passion of horses with that of teaching, Choice Equine Learning was born.