Professional Natural Horsemanship by Cathy Sugden 

The Horseback Heroine

People started asking me questions, like 'How does he know where you want him to go?' and 'How do you get his head up when he's eating?'  'How can you stop him in that?'  One time, a lady came up to me and showed me that her horse's mouth was bleeding from where she'd pulled at it around the cross country country course and she was mortified that she'd done that to her horse and was impressed that I was just in a halter. He has even been around a full size BHS Novice event cross country course and those jumps are BIG for a little guy!


Finally we had what I call a proper win.  It was Cross Country, competing with over 50 others and then there was nothing to prove after that.  After all, the naysayers just could not say any longer that Natural Horsemanship doesn't produce winners and I was invited to write a piece for the local magazine!
Our bond continues to grow!

I can read him like a book and understand his emotional needs. I put HIS needs above my own, which in turn is so much more pleasurable for both of us.  We can do so much more together and in complete safety...even chase post office robbers across the fields behind us!!

Eight years ago, a big soft French Horse came into my life.  I wasn't really looking for him, but somehow I feel that I've been sent him to teach me more of what I needed to know! I  call him my 'charity case'.  His past makes for shocking reading!  He has a highly bred pedigree that can be traced back to 1748 and discarded on the muckheap of life as a failed three year old French Trotter.  He'd already been scared to death and flipped upside down underneath the sulkie.  He was doomed to department 41 in France on a fattening farm, ready to be shipped off to Italy for Salami.

 A lovely lady rescued him and bought him back to England, whereupon she got him started under saddle, using kindness and not force.  I got him from the local horse sales in Ashford as a six year old and since he'd been rescued he'd had three homes, the last being a dealer, trying to MAKE him into a man's hunter.

By the time he came into my hands, he had NO IDEA that he had any part to play in his life.  No idea that he had responsibilities and was completely unable to use his brain to think through things, so he just used to bolt off everywhere, usually dragging a 22 ft line behind him or fall over.   I didn't even attempt to mount him for a year and a half.

He is progressing really well and is one of the softest horses I have ever owned.

The more I learn, the more I realise there is to learn and the more excited I am to share with you what I have learned.  I used to be in the same boat as you are, remember? 

The past four years  have seen me add another dimension to how I can help others.  I have noticed that there are two main negative emotions us human beings experience around horses when things aren't progressing the way we would like them to.  We feel the despair that comes upon us when our dreams are slipping from our grasp.

I have invested four years with a fully qualified psychotherapist trying to understand these two main emotions and what we can do to keep them in check.  I don't mean in the classroom or reading a book on the subject either.  I mean actually DOING it!  I can understand myself more and this in turn has helped me understand why others behave the way they do and what I can do to help them in those dark moments with their horse, when everything is going wrong.

So please, feel free to explore this site.  I have created it as a resource for you and will keep adding to it, in the hope that you too, will go onto to help and inspire others who choose to travel this path that I like to call  Wholehearted Natural Horsemanship :-)

​​How did it come to being that a fully qualified BHSII with many years experience teaching and coaching people how to get the best out of their horses, would find out that 25 years into their career that there was a much better way to take their horsemanship to a higher level that very few ‘horse people’ can ever get to experience.

Having come up through the ranks of Pony/Riding Club Instructor, teaching the likes of Georgina Harland, (winner of the modern pentathlon bronze medal at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games) and William Fox Pitt as a young boy and also tutoring and examining for Pony Club tests, Cathy Sugden was finding it increasingly dull continuing to work with horses.  Having partnered and run a ‘Livery, Breaking, Schooling and Teaching business successfully for nine years and then taking time out to raise her own family, the thought of more of the same just didn’t motivate Cathy any more, even though she still loved horses and people kept telling her she was good at what she did.

So what changed in Cathy that has now made her one of Kent’s top ‘go to’ people for help with their horse when problems that seem unsolvable arrive?

Cathy's Story

‘I think many of us made our connection with horses as an emotional decision and not a fitness decision or rational decision as one would when playing other sports such as tennis or golf etc.  When I look back at my own emotional trigger, it was that very first ride that I had been begging a local young teenage girl to let me have on her pony.  Finally after much begging from her each time she rode past and agreement from my own mother, the evening finally came when I was allowed to be led around the lanes from our house.  I remember that pivotal moment so well even though it is nearly half a century ago!!  I was wearing green shorts that evening and I refused to let my mother wash them for days afterwards, with the smell of the horse ingrained in them I knew from that time that I wanted to do more of the same.

My childhood from then on was spent trying to get as near to horses as possible which included my parents finally succumbing to buying me a pony of my own.  I remember that day well too.  The dealer arrived at our house with a practically wild 2 year old New Forest colt and drove off leaving it tied up on our driveway.

I was terrified!  I was 12 years old.  I knew diddlysquat about horses and my parents knew even less.  How I survived was a miracle.  I took many falls and broke several bones, including my spine on that runaway pony but it didn't seem to squash my love of horses! Years later after that day I knew that I wanted to work with horses and set about gaining the necessary British Horse Society qualifications to Intermediate Level.

Twenty years after that, something else happened........

Here I was in 2003 with a little 4 year old 14 hand chestnut pony, that we had bought as a wild foal from the New Forest Pony Sales in Beaulieu, Hampshire back in the autumn of 1998, that I could do absolutely nothing with. 

It was supposed to be a dream come true!

To take a wild pony and tame him to be a brilliant partner.  Yet it was the opposite.  It was a disaster!

When I say I could do absolutely nothing with him, I don't mean that in the literal sense. I mean, we could MAKE him do stuff......all kinds of stuff.  Like bribe him with a bucket to catch him.  Argue with him in the arena when he wanted to go sideways back to the barn. Make him go in an outline with draw reins.  Force him into the trailer with two lunge lines on each side of him, which meant it took three people to load him, one to lead him up into the trailer, and one on each of the lines to winch him in.  When we did take him out anywhere in public, he was all over the place......screaming and prancing and totally unconnected with me.

Hacking out was a real disappointment.  I remember one time, when he was 4 and I thought he was grown enough for me to start to 'teach' him things.  A bicycle approached us.  I knew he was scared and even though I took him into a field gateway off the road, as the cyclist approached us Mr Smiffy just turned and bolted flat out across a stubble field and there was NOTHING I could do to stop him.....NOTHING!!

I was holding onto him for dear life and felt sure I was going to hit the floor at any moment.  When he had bolted four or five hundred yards, he finally felt he had put enough space between himself and the bicycle he came to a stop.  But that was a horrible feeling for me.......I was a 'professional' remember!!

Soon after that episode I was out hacking with one of my daughters and we were on the way to a friend’s house and we had to go past a pig farm. 
 There was NO WAY I could get that little chestnut pony past this pig farm.  I was SO angry with him.  I broke my whip on him that day.  It makes me so ashamed to think of that now. 

But it is said, that the darkest hour is before the dawn and so it was with me.

Why is it then, that for so many of us, Natural Horsemanship is viewed as a last resort, rather than a first port of call?

I will always be thankful for the day that I stumbled across a demonstration of Natural Horsemanship, quite by chance at an Equine Expo at Sandown Racecourse.

I watched the girl move her horse around the arena like magic while I heard the speaker ask us, 'Who would like to learn the secrets to this invisible bond that can be created between Horse and Human'?   And do you know? As hard as I looked, I just couldn't see HOW she was communicating with her horse. 

That was it. I HAD to find out what they knew that I didn't know.

Bearing in mind, that at that time, I was a B.H.S.I.I who taught and examined regularly for the local branch of The Pony Club and yet I felt here was this great void gaping in front of me.

Six months later, I attended my first two day clinic on Natural Horsemanship with this poor little chestnut guy who had been at the wrath of my emotions because he wouldn't do what I wanted him to do.  And that is where my journey began.

It's been 16 years since that clinic.

It took me two years to park all those outdated beliefs and get rid of all the gadgets and iron from my horses mouths.  It still amazes me today how much ironmongery I used to have in my tackroom and I'd invite you to look in your tackroom too and ask yourself how 'Natural' your equipment looks.

Gradually I learned to put the RELATIONSHIP above everything else.  Then eventually I started to take this little chestnut guy out in public and compete with others.  Only I had no bridle.  Just a soft halter.  And little by little, we were able to show others what can be achieved when you put the relationship above everything else.  Each time out we were placed in the top three.

​​'It's funny how life goes.  It's not until an event draws everyones attention to what one has been doing quietly, that the opportunity to share the knowledge becomes compulsory!'

​Cathy Sugden AKA The Horseback Heroine