Andalucía is well known for its love of horses and long tradition of riding. However, many of the ways that horses are looked after, trained and handled can be brutal and far removed from the natural way that horses normally live. Horses are forced to work with people, rather than doing so willingly. One equestrian centre in the region is showing that there is a different way that respects the horse’s intelligence and seeks cooperation not coercion.
Equinatural, in the unspoilt beauty of Barranco Blanco near Coín, was established 3 years ago, by Karyn Chauvet who has been working with horses most of her life and in Andalucia for over 20 years. Trained in classical riding techniques and working in mainstream stables from an early age, Karyn soon began to look for different solutions to looking after horses. Over time Karyn introduced natural techniques into her work and watched how the horses responded. “It started with letting the horses run free and not keeping them in stables all the time,” Karyn explained. “Once a horse can be out in a group using its excess energy and grazing freely they become much more manageable when you want to ride them.” Karyn also pointed out that the horses can live much longer because they don’t suffer from colic and laminitis like many stable bound horses do. “People treat them like bikes,” Karyn said. “Parking them after a ride in a small, dark stable. It is not natural for the horse to be alone and unable to move for long periods of time. This is when problems occur.”
Karyn also prefers not to use horse shoes, allowing the horse’s foot to harden naturally as it runs in the finca. She explained that the pressure on the horse’s foot acts as a pump each time it hits the ground to help the circulation and aid the heart. “Once you put a solid shoe on the foot, this pump does not work and the heart has to work twice as hard,” Karyn pointed out. “So again the horse does not live so long and can have more health problems. Our horses could live up to forty years compared to the twenty year lifespan of the average domestic horse simply because of the way we look after them.” Food also plays an important role in this long and healthy life that Karyn creates for the horses at her riding centre. She explained that while the traditional seed mix fed to horses is very cheap it is too high in proteins for an animal that would normally graze for up to 16 hours a day, constantly chewing small amounts of grasses and herbs. “Giving horses one or two big feeds a day isn’t how they were designed,” Karyn explained. “What we try and do is consider how horses think and design their life at the stable around that – grazing, being in groups and running freely in the finca.”
Horse psychology plays an important part in Karyn’s approach to looking after the animals and she refers to other ‘natural trainers’ like Monty Roberts, Lucia Reid and the Parelli method as inspiration, although a real turning point came six years ago when she attended a course in Madrid based on the American Indian system of riding. From this she learned that it is possible to work without the painful metal bit in the horses mouth and to use a softer saddle so there is more contact with the horse. For lessons and hacking at the centre an English saddle is used which is safer for less experienced riders, but without the bit the horses are more mellow and cooperative. Karyn believes that the key is to find ‘tricks’ that get the horse to do what the rider wants, rather than force. “It is strange how things become fixed in people’s minds about how you do something,” Karyn concluded. “People usually mount a horse from the left – but this is only because we used to wear a sword on the left side. This is not so common now! But the habit is still there and by always mounting on one side only this can unbalance the horse. Everything we do at Equinatural starts by asking what would it be like in the wild, how would the horse be if it was in nature. The answers usually come quite easily and usually work. This is the message I want to take to the horse community of Andalucía.”
Equinatural specialises in horse riding for children, running a Sunday Pony Club and lessons throughout the week.
This post is also available in: Spanish