How Bridget Colston found her Rebel and a cause
PUBLISHED: 09:00 13 August 2018
© Simon Palmer, © Simon Palmer
Is it possible to learn to be a ‘horse whisperer’, to understand horses’ ‘language’ and achieve results through co-operation and kindness alone? Sheena Grant meets a trainer who has been honed her skills with some of the world’s best.
When Bridget Colston took on a Welsh Section D, rather fittingly named Rebel, she knew he’d be a ‘project’. She didn’t expect him to change her life completely.
At that time, Bridget was a police officer who had joined the force after giving up on the idea of ever finding a job in the equestrian world where she felt truly at home. Horses, she thought, were best kept as a hobby.
But Rebel had a penchant for rearing and turned out to be more of a project than Bridget, who knew a thing or two about ‘challenging’ horses, had expected. So she called in an Intelligent Horsemanship Recommended Trainer (IHRT) called Sandra for advice.
“The day I met Sandra was the day I thought, ‘this is what I am supposed to be doing with my life’,” says Bridget. “I left the police a month later.”
Nowadays Bridget is an IHRT herself, the only one in Norfolk, Suffolk or Essex. She lives an idyllic life in a cosy mobile home with sweeping views across the Suffolk countryside near Yoxford, with facilities including eight acres of paddocks, stabling, a storage barn, large all-weather school and the round-pen essential for the ‘join-up’ work at the heart of Intelligent Horsemanship, which uses equine psychology and behaviour to develop a sympathetic way of working based around co-operation and kindness.
IH was founded by Kelly Marks, who has a long association with renowned American ‘horse whisperer’ Monty Roberts and organises his UK demonstrations. Now, as well as running her own horsemanship courses, taking on training liveries, giving lessons and helping people sort out ‘problems’ with their horses, Bridget is also part of the Monty Roberts tour team and has even helped him start off the Queen’s young horses at Sandringham.
“Life is idyllic and I appreciate it every day,” she says. “But it is hard work. I work six days a week and in the summer can be working until 9pm. I’m never going to make my million doing this but I absolutely love it.”
She moved to Suffolk four years ago from Norfolk, where she ended up after leaving the police and deciding to put herself through IH training.
Bridget has always been ‘horsey’.
“I nagged my parents from the age of three for riding lessons,” she says. “They gave in when I was six and I started helping at the riding school when I was eight. Even then I had a reputation that if any of the ponies was being ‘difficult’ it was my ride for a month. I got my first pony at 11 and went on to work with horses.
“But I couldn’t work out where I fitted. I had done riding schools, livery yards, show jumping and point-to-point and could never escape from the fact that all those people got involved with horses because they loved them but many of them ended up shouting at and hitting their horses when things didn’t go right. That wasn’t my world. So I joined the police for six years and thought I would keep horses as a hobby.”
Then Rebel came along and changed everything.
“After leaving the police and starting my IH training in Oxfordshire with Kelly I rode everything I could get my hands on, watched videos and spent all my time learning,” says Bridget. “Even now after taking my (invite only) exams and qualifying I consider myself a perpetual student. I am always reading and learning and going to clinics and constantly expanding my repertoire.”
The main difference between IH and more traditional methods is that the trainer works without confrontation, using horses’ ‘language’ rather than trying to make them understand ours.
“Horses have a language based on posturing angles and positioning,” says Bridget, who also uses Enlightened Equitation harmonious riding methods in her training. “It is a non-verbal language. You can teach a horse to respond to any set of cues but it’s easier to use things that already make sense to them.”
Many of the ‘problems’ she’s asked to help with involve loading, napping, catching and shoeing.
“Often these ‘problems’ start from stress and become default behaviour when horses find it works for them,” she says. “When things go wrong with a horse it is often a lack of understanding on our part about what a horse is communicating with its behaviour. A lot of problems come down to discomfort. Very often, the horse is saying, ‘I am having trouble with that for whatever reason’, often bad backs, ill-fitting saddles or digestive trouble.”
And what of Rebel, the horse that started it all? He’s still with Bridget and is, as you would expect, a transformed character.
“When I was living in Norfolk I set about totally restarting him from the ground on my own,” she says. “He is worth his weight in gold. When I first got him, everyone said he was going to kill me. He’s not an angel now - he’s still a horse at the end of the day - but he is lovely. He is a rock in traffic and I trust him implicitly.”
To find out more visit Bridget’s website, www.complete-horsemanship.co.uk.