A day at Brackenhill by Kira Ivanoff (October 2001)

As you turn into the driveway of Brackenhill Stud, you are immediately drawn in by the breathtaking views before you. Rolling, lush green paddocks, speckled with crows busily ‘gardening’ and horses, glowing with well-being, grazing in blissful peace and tranquillity.

I had no preconceptions concerning the daily running of the yard and was intrigued to meet Lulu and George in the middle of a working session with one of the horses. Without thinking, I asked what George might be telling the horse (it seemed such an obvious question as they were so obviously communicating). To my surprise, I learned that this was exactly what was taking place – George was indeed assisting with the loose-schooling of the horses. There was a mutual respect taking place between them that was not the same as a dog barking at a passer-by.

My appetite having been whet, I tingled with anticipation for the next item on the agenda – Lulu schooling one of her competition horses. From the moment they entered the arena together, I was enthralled! What a Boy strode into the indoor arena almost literally from the paddock (a thorough grooming session in between), with such pride and presence that he was a dream to behold. The harmonious balance between horse and rider seemed so natural, it was hard to believe that they had not been ‘warming up’ in secret for the last hour. His ease of movement and enthusiasm to carry out all his paces to the maximum of his ability was truly a rare pleasure to watch. A pleasure which I relived a few weeks later when I watched him perform the winning Advanced Medium Qualifier test at his second show of the season.

After schooling in the indoor arena George takes over again and loosens any areas that the horses may have been tensing during their session. He leaps and barks and dashes about and the response always comes in the form of the horse stretching out that part of him which requires it. The horses are then left to interact and socialise amongst themselves whilst they cool off and relax. Since none of the horses are shod, there is far less likelihood of injury to George and the other horses, if they kick out during work or play.

The next stage is back to the paddocks. Huge, sprawling acres of nutritious grazing where the Brackenhill Horses live in herds, as they would in the wild. They spend their days and nights interacting and grazing as they have for centuries, rugless, shoeless and blissfully content with their lot. We drove around all of the paddocks, checking on all of the precious charges before nightfall. Thanks to the constant grazing and unrestricted movement, there is little incidence of colic or stiffness, no vices like weaving or crib-biting – these horses are far too busy having a life for all of that.

That is when it struck me! I have been riding for twenty-four years, competing, schooling, spectating, owning horses and yet I never realised how, by trying so hard to do the right thing for our wonderful horses, we take away more and more of their natural lifestyle to modify them to ours. Observing them at Brackenhill, thriving in a lifestyle suited to that for which they were genetically designed, I had to laugh at how simple it really is to make sure that your horse has all he needs to keep him happy and healthy.

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