Episode 35

Natural Horsemanship with Katie Taylor

Published on: 20th July, 2022

At the tender age of 18, Katie Taylor has already set herself the audacious goal of becoming an expert in Natural Horsemanship. Having spent much of her youth in a homeschooling environment, Katie has developed the skills, confidence and resourcefulness to be able to achieve her goals. In this interview with our youngest ever podcast guest, Katie explains: 

  • what natural horsemanship is and how it differs from conventional horsemanship
  • how learning horsemanship skills can develop leadership and communication skills
  • how being homeschooled gave her the confidence and desire to educate herself
  • how years of dedication and hard work have led Katie to be considered an expert
  • how to literally be outstanding in your field

This is the Parelli Natural Horsemanship Program that Katie mentioned.

Note: we first ‘met’ Katie when we interviewed her Mum, Jen, whose audacious goal was to travel Europe in a campervan with her family of five for one school year. Katie was 9 years old at the time. If you wish to learn more about Katie’s educational background, the interview with her Mum is here: Homeschooling in a Campervan with Jen Taylor

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Music: Pablito's Way by Paolo Pavan

Transcript
Helen:

So hello, Katie, and welcome to our podcast AudaciousNess, and thank you so much for agreeing to talk to us for our podcast. Now, it was your Mum who introduced you to us. Your Mum, Jen, was one of the first people who we interviewed on our podcast. And she did what we thought was an utterly audacious thing in taking her family, which was obviously your dad, your two older brothers and yourself, around Europe a few years ago in a campervan. And you at the time were just nine years old, I understand?

Katie:

Yes. I was nine.

Helen:

So I wonder if we could begin, Katie, by you taking us back to when you were nine years old doing this audacious thing with your family. What can you remember? What are the key memories that are coming up for you from that event?

Katie

I think the main thing was the connection we made with people. We went travelling all around the place and we met so many interesting people. And I really loved playing with the kids, discovering the new cultures and the foods that people would eat and it was amazing to meet all these incredible people. And my brothers were quite different in terms of connecting with people. My brother would spend a day with someone and come back and I'd be like, “What's his name?” and he’s like, “Oh, I don't know.” And I'd come back and I'm like, “Oh, she's got three sisters and she's got pets and she lives here and she wants to invite me for dinner tomorrow night.” So I would say that the connections and visiting all these amazing places.

Helen:

Fantastic. And so we fast forward a few years. So you're 17 now, is that right?

Katie:

I’m 18.

Helen:

You’re 18 now? So in those nine years, then, can you bring us up to speed on what you've been doing since then?

Katie:

I’m still carrying on my homeschooling journey. Actually, I went back to school after we went travelling for a year. We all did, me and my brothers. It was secondary school so it was all really new and exciting. And I absolutely hated the one year I was back. So my parents offered the chance to be homeschooled again. My brothers decided to stay on because they had big exams coming up, so I took up the offer straight away. And I feel really lucky now to have done that because it's given me enough time to focus on something I really love, which is natural horsemanship.

Helen:

Natural horsemanship. Okay, can you explain that and describe what you do?

Katie:

Natural horsemanship to me is a way of working with horses. And it's a lot to do with psychology and getting your idea to become your horse’s idea. So it's understanding their natural instincts and how they communicate with each other.

Helen:

Okay, and I understand you've been doing that in France, where you live?

Katie:

I’ve been doing it in France and also I've been a working student, so I went to Ireland for four months and also a few other places in France.

Helen:

And what was it that attracted you, because you said when you were nine, it was very much about making contact with people, and now you're making contact with horses. Is there a connection between the two of them or were you always interested in horses?

Katie:

I've always loved horses. I think the main thing that attracted me to the natural horsemanship, though, was the relationship side of it. In natural horsemanship, they're always talking about putting the relationship first and all about relationship-based horsemanship, so that really drew me in first. But also I find it a lot safer now because you understand the horse and why he's doing things and their natural instincts. It’s a lot safer. So it’s two things.

Helen:

So can you describe for those of us who don't know horses at all, what do you do? What is a typical thing that you might do with the horse?

Katie:

It's not particularly about the things you're doing, but more about how you're thinking about it. It's understanding where the horse is coming from and why they might be acting that way.

Helen:

Okay. And is this a career that you want to take? Do you have a job? Is it a full time job or how does it work?

Katie:

Well, I would say my real audacious goal would be to become a horse expert. So yeah, a horse expert would be my audacious goal.

Maribel:

I would love to ask at least two questions, Katie, for me to understand. So I know nothing about, well, I’m almost embarrassed here in front of a dog lover and a horse lover, I know nothing about animals. I know a little bit about kids, that’s another type of animal. So what is the difference between regular horsemanship and natural horsemanship?

Katie:

Well, I'd say the biggest difference is the mindset of people. Sometimes in a more traditional sense, you’re maybe more thinking about, am I standing up straight, or am I doing this correctly or does my horse look pretty or am I going to win this competition? Whereas really with natural horsemanship, it's a lot to do with the horse is always right and the horse is your teacher and it’s really about the relationship.

Maribel:

Okay, and do you also then do races with horses like this or or is it, I don't know, just to take the horse, have a ride or…?

Katie:

I mean, you can do anything you can do with horses in the traditional sense as well as the natural horsemanship sense. Like I said, it's more of a mindset, like people are at the Olympics and they're still doing natural horsemanship. So you can do anything.

Maribel:

Okay, do I need a special sense or can I learn?

Katie:

You can learn. I thought I needed a special sense when I first started, because you see all these amazing people online doing really cool stuff with horses and I thought I'm never gonna be able to do that. And I started learning about it and it's quite logical when they start explaining it, step by step you get there.

Maribel:

It sounds a little bit to me, Helen, like the horse is coaching you how to treat it.

Katie:

Yeah, exactly.

Helen:

Like a horse whisperer?

Katie:

Exactly.

Maribel:

So I’m assuming that has positive results for the horse, for the person? How is it better than traditional horsemanship?

Katie:

Well, for the horse I think it's a lot better because it encourages them to really think about things. And sometimes in the traditional riding, it's more about, do your job and let me steer you over here, steer you over there. Whereas in natural horsemanship it’s really trying to get the horse to come up with his own ideas and how you can encourage them to do what you want to do. So I think it has a really positive impact on the horse because they're a lot happier and they're always suggesting things, maybe sometimes a little bit too much. But I think it also is really good for you. I feel like I’ve become a better person because of horses.

Maribel:

Beautiful, that's really nice. And you said your audacious goal would be to become an expert. What do you need to do in order to achieve that goal?

Katie:

Well, I think the things I'm learning just know, anything about horses, is going towards that goal. But I think the things that I haven't learned, I don't know yet, so I'm not sure what I'm supposed to learn to get there. But it's funny because I was considering putting this into the podcast, saying I want to be a horse expert. And when I said it, I thought it sounded a bit cheesy because I'm like, “Am I being a bit weird saying this?” And I remember a few years ago, we met this amazing guy. His name was Runar Ness and he's a wolf expert. And he took us around a wolf park near here and he showed us around and told us all this really fascinating information about wolves. And I went up to him after and asked him, “How long have you been learning all of this?” And I was expecting him to say he was born a wolf lover and when he was five he would read books about wolves. And it was the complete opposite. He said he only started learning about them in his 40s. And now people from all around the world are contacting him asking him about wolves and he travels all around the world. So I thought that was really amazing, that it's never too late to start studying something that you love.

Maribel:

Wow, it could be that I see here a correlation with homeschooling. There's no university to become a horse expert. It's your own journey, is that how it is? Because I found really interesting what you just said, “I don't know what I need to learn.” But you will find out. Is that how it feels? How does that work?

Katie:

To me, there's not really a set path, like this is the path you have to follow to become a horse expert, a wolf expert. I think you just learn along the way.

Maribel:

And is there a connection between that and homeschooling?

Katie:

Definitely. I don't think I would have even started the natural horsemanship stuff because I would have been too tired or too busy with school. And I think with homeschooling it's really taught me how to be my own teacher and go out and learn things on my own and not have someone tell me you have to do maths from 9 to 10 and do this from 11 to 12 and things like that. So I think it's really helped me achieving the goal of horse expert.

Maribel:

And would you care telling us a little bit about how during, I mean, you're still homeschooling you said?

Katie:

Yes.

Maribel:

So how is or how was in the years after you came back, or after that horrible year going back to school, how does a week look like for you? Who decides what you do and how do you organise yourself?

Katie:

With the homeschooling it was really different because sometimes, well it's kind of self explanatory, but if you're homeschooled, sometimes it's exactly the same as school but you're doing it at home. So you're working from 9 to 5 and you're doing subjects all day. Whereas for me it was more autonomous learning, and I would choose what I would learn and when I would do it. So some days I would do half an hour of work. Some days I would wake up at six o'clock in the morning and study till midnight, because it was so interesting. So, there wasn't really a typical week. But if something was interesting, I would just go for it.

Helen:

Katie, you said earlier that when you were talking about the relationship that you had with the horse, that it's not only good for the horse but it's made you into a better person as well, you feel. Can you say a little bit more about that? How have you developed as a person in developing these relationships with the horses?

Katie:

Well, I think to be good with horses, or to be good with any animal, you have to have certain qualities. You have to be a good leader maybe or you have to be patient or you have to have good plans, good ideas, clear communication, all these things. And that's helped me in my life in general. It’s helped me be more confident and helped me have my own ideas and be clear and slow down. All really important things that you need.

Helen:

Definitely. And is this a big business? I've never heard of it because, I think like Maribel we just watch on the TV or wherever these people giving instructions to horses and the horse has to do whatever the person says. I hadn't even considered it from the other way around. Is this done a lot or why haven't we heard about it?

Katie:

Well, it depends on where you are in the world. Some places, like in France it’s just started to become a thing. There are a few people that have heard about it now in France, but a few years ago when I started you were a weirdo if you did natural horsemanship and practised all these strange things. But now it's growing in popularity. But it's depending on where you are in the world. It’s either big or no one's heard of it.

Helen:

So in France, you're kind of one of the pioneers?

Katie:

Yes.

Helen:

How does it feel to be at the cutting edge of this?

Katie:

It felt very strange at the beginning and I would practise all my stuff behind a bush, not wanting anyone to see what I was doing and a bit embarrassed and had all these thoughts that I wasn't going to be good enough. But when I started practising, getting better, my horse was getting better, I was getting better, people started to notice and they were like, “Katie, how do you do that with your horse?” or “How come your horse is so calm?” And I started giving advice to people and now I give people lessons. So I have students every Saturday and I give them lessons with their horses and it started like that.

Helen:

Wow, so the students that you're giving lessons to, how do they find out about you? Are you part of a community now or is there a growing community? Have you started a community?

Katie:

Not really a community, it was just word of mouth. Someone said, “Katie’s good with horses, go to her if you have a horse problem.” For me, I've got quite a big support group online. There's a learning platform called the Parelli Program which is the programme I follow for natural horsemanship and there's so much support and advice you can get on there from people all around the world. But around here it was more word of mouth. People just started chatting and that’s how it started.

Helen:

And where do you see it going? What's the next steps for you?

Katie:

Well, I'm planning on doing an exam next year, which is an exam you have to do to become a riding instructor. And after that, I'm not sure. Wherever this journey takes me, I’m excited.

Helen:

I'm curious now as to the connection between, because you said exams and then we were talking about homeschooling. So it's kind of like formal education on the one hand, but free thinking and homeschooling on the other. Do you see them as compatible with each other? Or will the exam detract from what you're learning? Because you mentioned nobody tells me what to do, I just have to work out myself what to do. So how do you see things like formal education and examinations fitting into the homeschooling and what you intend to do with your natural horsemanship?

Katie:

I think both homeschooling and school work for different people. Some people are really successful with school, some people are really successful with homeschooling. But I think if you want to do something enough and you're homeschooled and you have to do this exam to do whatever you want to do, you'll be more than happy to study for it. So I think that they are compatible, it's just the way you make it compatible.

Maribel:

Nice. I’m curious about more specific things for me to understand. So you said that people started observing you and asking, “How does Katie get the horse to do this or that?” and that people come to you with horse problems. Now to me both things are, I don't know, so could you give us examples of what are the things that you can get a horse to do that other people think is difficult? And the second is, what are the kinds of horse problems that people have that you can help them with?

Katie:

Good question. Some of the things that I can do with horses, obviously because natural horsemanship helps the horse, it helps them be a lot calmer. So even simple things like getting on your horse, a lot of horses just move around and you've got one leg and you’re kind of jumping around with them. So even things like getting your horse to stand still and be relaxed when you're getting on them. But also things like, my horse would run towards me every morning in the field because he was so excited, whereas some horses run the opposite direction. And then more technical things like riding your horse without a bridle, so you get on a horse like spirit and you’re just riding them around. So it’s really a close connection that you have with your horse. And then there's so many problems you can have with horses. I find it interesting how you can fix them. So there's more extreme problems like the horse can be dangerous because he's rearing up or he's trying to bite people or more extreme problems, but small problems like the horse doesn't like his ears being touched or he doesn't like the dentist or little things that you can help with and it makes a huge difference.

Maribel:

So in order to learn all this, do you need to own your own horse or have access? Do you need to go every day to... what is it called where the horses live? A stable? So is it a stable where lots of people have horses? I'm sorry if my questions are really basic, but I'm sure some of our listeners are non-experts in this area. So do you have your own horse or do you… I know here in Germany, you can own together with other, I don't know, three people a horse and then each one is responsible for the horse for a couple of days during the week. How is it with you?

Katie:

Well, when I first started getting interested about natural horsemanship, it was because I’d recently got a horse. And unbeknownst to me, when I got her she was quite a character and I had to think in a different way with her because the stuff that I’d been learning up until that point, my traditional background, wasn't working. So that was the first step. And it was really good because I was with her every day in the fields, albeit practising behind a bush because I was a bit embarrassed at first of not doing it right. But then I went away as a working student, so the horse went back for a little while. And I became a working student for professional horsemanship, natural horsemanship instructors. So I came back from Ireland, I was there for four months, and I met some incredible people. And I was a working student in France. So that gave me a big boost in terms of learning. And I’ve just bought a horse, actually, and he’ll be arriving this weekend. So I've got more practice.

Maribel:

Oh, wow. So you have two horses?

Katie:

I currently have one horse because the horse I had was a ‘location’, it’s called in French, which is when a few people own it. So he went back to the original owner.

Maribel:

Okay, and now you have to train this new horse.

Katie:

Yes.

Maribel:

And how long does that take, would you assume? Is it months or years?

Katie:

There's not really a timeline. But I suppose you can really start seeing a difference straight away. I mean, it depends on what your goal is with your horse. There is a difference straight away, I would say.

Maribel:

And what is YOUR goal with your horse?

Katie:

I'm not really sure yet. I'd like to be doing a bit of everything with him. But with the Parelli Program I follow, which is the steps that I take because it's a programme that's really well designed and they show you, you do this first and then you do this. And you have what's called auditions, so you film yourself for 10 minutes and you have to do a series of tasks and you get a certificate for each level. So I’d like to do them, that would be my first goal.

Maribel:

Alright. Well, that sounds audacious to me.

Helen:

I understand as well, Katie, that you have quite a menagerie at home, is that right? You have a donkey and other animals as well, is that true? So do you practise your… can you practise… is there such a thing as natural donkeymanship?

Katie:

Yes, there is. It's a bit trickier with donkeys, actually. They're very smart and if you don't have treats they will lie down and they won't do what you’re asking them to do. So I've had to learn again a whole new set of skills for donkeymanship. But it works on all sorts of animals — sheep, you can do it with them to get them more confident about people. And you can do it with goats, so it’s quite interesting.

Maribel:

So that would mean it works also with dogs?

Katie:

I'm not sure it works with dogs. The reason it works with horses and goats and sheep is because they're prey animals. So the technique that I learn is to get a prey animal confident with predators, so that would be us, the predators. So yeah, it works in all sorts of animals, you just have to learn different stuff.

Maribel:

Helen, there you go, that’s something you can learn.

Helen:

Well, if somebody is wanting to learn this, Katie, if someone's listening to this podcast and is interested in this, how can they find out more information? Can they contact you or is there an organisation?

Katie:

They can contact me if they want, but there's so much information you can get online now, that really the biggest source of support that I’ve had would be this online learning platform called the Parelli Program. And that's really helped me have a clear goal because sometimes you do get a bit lost and you're not really sure what you're doing and if you're doing it right, so it's been able to keep me on track. I also have stick insects but I don't think you have stick insect whispering yet. I'm not sure if that exists.

Helen:

Does it work on your hens as well?

Katie:

I haven't tried, actually.

Maribel:

So you’ve got lots of animals at home?

Katie:

Yes, I’ve got donkeys, stick insects, hens, sheep. And hopefully, well soon, a horse.

Maribel:

Wow. So you must have a huge garden there.

Katie:

Yes. I mean, I don't think I would have been able to get where I am now without all the support I've had from people. So I’m very grateful for everyone who’s stuck with me.

Helen:

Is that mainly your family, or friends as well?

Katie:

Mainly family and friends, but especially my aunt who lives in Australia. She is a natural horsemanship instructor and an equine therapist and she's my role model. She gives me advice whenever I need it.

Helen:

I see. So it IS in the blood a little bit, is it?

Katie:

Yes, a little bit.

Helen:

So, Katie, this has been a lovely conversation, thank you so much for sharing about natural horsemanship. We're going to go to the last question now, which is to do with the name of our podcast, which is AudaciousNess. And the audacious part refers to having the audacity to step out of the box and do this thing that you've decided to do in the first place. And the word ‘ness’ refers to a spit of land which juts out into the sea and remains calm, no matter what the weather and the elements are throwing at it. So our final question to you, Katie, is what is it that gives you the solid grounding to continue, despite everything that life is throwing at you, all the worries that you have or anything that's coming up? How do you keep going? How do you stay grounded in your vision, despite everything?

Katie:

The main thing was probably having an idea of where I want to go. When so many things are thrown your way, and there are going to be things, it can be a little bit challenging at times to carry on with your goal. But definitely the support that I’ve had from everyone, that would be the biggest thing. If I didn't have people around me that believed in me and thought I was able to do it, I think it would have been a lot trickier for me to achieve my goals.

Helen:

That's great. Thank you so much, Katie, thank you for talking to us.

Katie:

Well, thank you. Thank you so much. I'm so happy you asked me. Like I said, I have been a bit nervous about this podcast and I was actually getting advice from people in the last few weeks, if they had any tips. And it's funny, I went to my Dad about 10 minutes ago just before I started the podcast, and I said “Dad, do you have any last minute advice for me or any tips?” And he said, “When in doubt, tell a Dad joke.” So I think he would be happy if I added this in. He said, “Katie, instead of mentioning in your podcast that you want to become a horse expert, you should say you want to become outstanding in your field.” And that made me a lot less nervous for this podcast. It was the best advice.

Helen:

Haha! I have to add, knowing your Dad, that is a typical Neil joke.

Katie:

Oh, yeah, there's plenty where that came from. But, definitely, I think if you've got anything really big coming up and you're nervous about something, tell a few Dad jokes. It works wonders.

Helen:

Especially if you have a Dad like Neil. Thank you, Katie.

Maribel:

Thank you so much, Katie.

Katie:

Thank you.

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About the Podcast

AudaciousNess
A solid grounding on which to practice your audacity.
AudaciousNess showcases individuals who have set themselves bold, audacious goals and have worked to achieve them. Our purpose is to inspire people to act with the courage to create a positive impact in the world.

Through interviewing 'regular people' about their audacious goals, we highlight the fact that role models are everywhere. Each and every one of us can have an impact in some way. Our goal is to enable a courageous community that honours their genius and lives their calling.

The name 'AudaciousNess' has two components: audacious, meaning 'bold', and ness, meaning 'a strip of land projecting into a body of water'. We believe having a solid grounding on which to practice your audacity is crucial, or, in the words of the great philosopher king Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, 4.49):

"Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it."

About your hosts

Maribel Ortega

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I help women find their worth and be confident so that they can use their voice, speak up, take new opportunities and ultimately lead fulfilled lives.

Helen Strong

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I run an eco-friendly, vegan B&B in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. This is just one of the many audacious goals I've pursued in my lifetime.