Professional Natural Horsemanship by Cathy Sugden 

The Horseback Heroine

The name ‘Horseback Heroine’ sums up Cathy completely. Not only does she transform horses lives but also the people involved with these horses.

I have had my horse for five years and during that time I have threatened to sell him for more times than I can count. These times were usually after his unpredictable and explosive behaviour, which many people had told me many times ‘to just ride him through it’. I contacted Cathy after battling with him at competitions to try and contain his excitement, which at the time I thought was naughtiness, I decided that I would give my horse six months and after this time, if we were still struggling I would sell him. I felt heartbroken about this but decided it was not fair for either of us to carry on like this. I also thought my horse needed a more confident rider that would bring out his full potential. Many people had said to me, that horse needs to be galloping over cross country jumps not poncing around doing dressage!

I have now had sessions with Cathy for around a year and the transformation in me and my horse is amazing. No longer do I think he needs a confident rider, as Cathy has helped us to develop such a strong bond that I am that confident rider that gallops him along the beach and takes him jumping. This year we are looking to start eventing him, the difference being that this time, I am not afraid of my horse. I understand he has high energy and I have learnt to love this and how to channel it in order to bring out his full talent.

Hayley and 'Mister Whistle', Bonnington.




Read some of the fantastic feedback The Horseback Heroine has received from recent clients:

This testimonial from Bryony Elliot as posted on The Horseback Heroine facebook fan page on 7th October

I am going to tell you all about Whistle, Hayleys horse. Hayley bought him as a 4 year old and has had him for 5 years. He has done nothing but dressage. Hayley had some success with him, but there were big problems. He was nappy, spooky, loved to spin, not adverse to bolting and enjoyed doing his own thing. A good hack, was Hayley not coming back in tears. She tried various bits, a variety of instructors, and spent a mortgage on calming supplements. Nothing worked. The final straw came 18 months ago, she took him to a dressage competiton, it took over an hour to get on him, and the dressage test is best confined to history.

At the end of her tether with him, Hayley decided to try a new training method (new to us), contacted Cathy and the rest is history. 

She rode hers and his first ever cross country, in something that to me resembles a set of shoelaces, and has not looked back. Cathy can fill in the blank for the last 18 months! Needless to say we owe a big debt of gratitude to Cathy. I will post a video that was taken today of whistle in no headgear whatsoever!

This is Cathy Sugden and Hayley Elliott enjoying a break after completing the cross country course at Bon Fleur.


'I started lessons with The Horseback Heroine back in late March 2015 and haven't look back eversince.  In fact my three year old Freisian mare and myself wish we had found Cathy Sugden years before.

Being taught by such a tolerant, animal loving, knowledgeable person, both in horse AND human bahaviour is a great feeling and pure confidence booster.

With The Horseback Heroine's help and undstanding, both Kelly and I have gone through an amazing transformation.  From basic level teachings to the present day, we have both learnt an incredible amount.   For example it's not 'Can you, but will you?'  It's an unbreakable seal of friendship and understanding we now have for each other thanks to Cathy's teachings.  Kelly and I communicate through body language and eye to eye contact, building each others trust, confidence, understanding and recognizing situations as and when they come, to the point where nothings matters.  It's another way of life that you will never want to escape from!

Thankyou Cathy for 2015.  Both Kelly and myself are looking forward to many more years of your friendship and wisdom.  It's so natural, it's almost unbelievable!

Les and Kelly, Aldington

"Calm, connected, responsive, responsible, thoughtful, respectful and able to solve puzzles... And that's just me! Guess what? My horse is too!  I've spent 4 months now with Cathy and she has revolutionized the way I think! Not just in the way I interact with my horse but also how I regard myself and my actions.

My confidence has made a long awaited reappearance with Cathy's expert coaching and I really feel that she has given me access to a huge range of tools and skills. I have already learned enough language in order to recognize what my horse needs and establish myself as a fair, consistent and competent leader on line and now ridden and at liberty and I am just at the beginning of my journey.

After Rio recovered from a leg injury and completed a stint of rehabilitation he became very difficult for me to handle and the thought of riding him filled me with a mixture of dread, fear and disappointment in my own lack of ability and 'bravery!' We had a complete lack of communication and I had no recognition of his emotional state.

After only 4 months of sessions I am now achieving things I didn't think would be possible with Rio. I don't feel an ounce of fear or anxiety around him any more and I always look forward to learning the next step with every session.

Cathy is phenomenal around the horses, they visibly relax in her presence and always look pleased to see her! She is understanding and compassionate to us owners, imparting her time and knowledge selflessly and providing support and encouragement at every opportunity.
I am so relieved I have found her and look forward to continuing my journey - there are so many things to learn. I just wish I had started here, rather than ended up here when convention failed."

Jo with Rio

I spotted Cathy when looking for some help with my Fresian mare Willow and her fear issues.  I liked Cathy’s website with all the testimonials of people with horses that seemed much worse than mine! I enjoyed the videos as they were so inspiring so I made that call despite me already having had Willow for around 1.5 years and seemed to have made no progress despite having two others to help me learn about Natural Horsemanship.

However, one thing I found out prior to Cathy coming was that I did not like the approach of Parelli, Monty Roberts and the like.   I guess it worked for some people but personally I did not want my horse who was already submissive to other horses, to be that way to me.   I wanted my horse to actually be pleased to see me, want to be with me and even come looking for me.  That was not going to happen if I kept pushing her away or driving her on and pushing her so hard that she got confused.  We needed to connect and when Cathy asked me did we have connection I thought me just fussing my horse and her loving it was connection!  Doh! How far I was from that!

In one email message Cathy struck a chord with me when she asked me this:  I was that I did not have the ‘tools’ to deal with the behaviour?  What Cathy was saying was ‘I am talking about strategies up your sleeve for how to handle the situations when she becomes tense and scared’.   As a person who likes a “tool box” whether that be for jobs around the house, projects I am working on or whatever I thought, ‘No, I don’t’ because I could not work out what to do when my horse was frightened and had avoided riding her out because in fact it was dangerous.

Now before meeting Cathy, I was told my horse was dangerous which was not helpful.  She was being a horse and flying from a problem and now I know that I needed to have that connection and be able to help Willow through the problems.

I booked Cathy to come to Devon, luckily she was coming to North Devon and bringing her horse Smiffy with her and she would come on to me afterwards.  I was so looking forward to it.

Cathy arrived in the afternoon as arranged, Willow was very interested in the horsebox which Cathy just let the back ramp down for Smiffy, he was not to get out at this stage. 

We haltered Willow and walked her around the yard, past the horsebox and kept her busy.  We then went into the arena to start some work.  I had bunting in the arena and cones etc as I was previously advised to start introducing Willow to these things in order to help her when she was faced with potential “horse eaters”.

This was great actually because it was also windy and the bunting was flapping and when Willow went to panic Cathy shouted at me to move her around and she also said ‘It’s not about the bunting, it’s about the connection.’

I learned more in that 4 hours about the “why” which is something I needed to know.   I must have been like one of those kids that kept asking ‘Why?’ and still do.    I see no point in doing anything or knowing about anything unless there is a reason and of course mine was to have a safe and happy horse to be with and ride out.

Of course, I thought all that would be happening in no time at all! Mistake….

Cathy stayed over which was great and we got cracking on the next morning, we had another 4 hours together doing things that would seem so simple if you read about them in a book but this whole process for me was nothing I could personally learn from a book and the book does not have feelings.

When you are working with someone as passionate as Cathy the whole process is real.  Also, I felt no pressure from Cathy and neither did my horse and for me that was great although I do now realise that in order to get something from your horse you do need to put a little pressure on but allow the horse to process what she/he is doing.  I have learned that I can set the goals but the horse sets the timeline.

I also realised how much I had been avoiding basic contact like picking up feet, spraying natural horse fly treatment on Willow.  I learned the “friendly game”.  So now I just rub her legs and do whatever without actually “doing” something.  Beforehand I was just doing the jobs and hoping for the best.

Cathy also got me writing down some fundamental things to observe about my horse and she did a video of me which was really funny, I could not even swing my rope!   Cathy made me laugh as she is so subtle yet so funny and not at all like a teacher.   I never felt I was doing it all wrong or had got it all wrong.

Cathy never seemed to concern herself about time so I never felt rushed but what I learned most of all from that was that she did know what time it was and that we were only going to get into that time what was possible for the horse and not a list of “to do’s” that one ticked off as we went.

When Cathy left I thought ‘Great!  I’ve got my tools and I will have cracked this in quick time’.   Again, mistake and I started to recognise that I just had no idea and in point of fact I didn’t.   I just thought I was going to go and do the things that I had learned and go through the exercises/games as I had learned and we would be up and running! No…..

However, I am observing much more.   I thought I was observing before but actually I was just looking which is completely different.  I don’t feel I am doing very much at all but it is not a quick process so time is not on the schedule.

This is ongoing and I would like to keep this “blog” going just so I will be able to see how far we have come.

​​​​"Cathy came into my life at a time when I was desperate to form a relationship with a pony that we had owned and loved for 10 years.  Although I loved her dearly, she was totally uninterested in my presence (unless I had food!), quite pushy, very good at spinning and running away from motorbikes, lorries, machinery and anything flappy or out of the ordinary!  I had very little control over her and she knew it.  She would buck if I so much as nudged her a little bit too hard with my heel or lifted up my whip and this always terrified me.

I was a late beginner when it comes to riding and still very much a novice but with Cathy's help, this little pony was to become a dearly loved partner, giving me confidence along the way.  So, an acquaintance happened to give me Cathy's name and I got in contact with her.  I can't say I was impressed when she said I shouldn't ride her for a month or so!  A really clear two way conversation might have helped me to understand why this was so necessary but I was a little reluctant to ask.  I must admit I was on the verge of leaving it, but there was something about Cathy that made me go ahead.

Cathy truly believes in what she does, she is absolutely passionate about it.  That passion and belief is truly contagious and so I couldn't help but trust her and started having sessions.  Our first sessions saw enormous changes.  My pony was suddenly interested in me and showed an enthusiasm that I had never seen before - it was quite unbelievable.  Her expressions were amazing.  As we carried on with the session I learned so much about how massively my own feelings and behaviour impacted on her behaviour. 

At times, there were moments in the sessions which I found stressful and these were always as a result of not knowing why Cathy did certain things.  I found that asking questions until I was satisfied with the answer always resolved this.  And so, a couple of years later, we have both come a long way!  I have a solid rewarding relationship with my pony and she in turn is safe, content and fun to be with.

Never a day goes by, when I don't thank my lucky stars for meeting up with Cathy and discovering a way forward with my beloved pony.....

Anonymous, Romney Marsh              


"After a bad experience travelling I have not been able to load my pony at all for four years.
In fact I haven't even been able to get her to within three metres of the trailer!
She is a very emotional right brained extrovert and sees ghosts wherever she looks!
Within a few days Cathy had her loading herself....... Miracle worker.
The joy I got when I went over to try loading myself and within a minute she had loaded herself for
me too.
Her whole demeanour has changed.   I understand it is all about learning to talk "horse" rather than "human"
I am getting a very different pony home. Huge thanks to Cathy!"

Anne and Biddy, Brookland