It’s not exactly a secret that we at Alberta Carriage Supply are mainly focused on draft horses and the work we do with them. But it’s important to provide a variety of information for the range of people we serve.
So we thought it would be fun to catch up with our fellow horse enthusiast and owner of Horse Encounters (formerly Just Horsing Around), Tovie Van Nes. She recently changed the name of her business but she still provides the same excellent, no-nonsense instruction for those looking to develop a better relationship with their horses.
Here’s a bit of our conversation:
Tovie, can you explain a bit about what you do?
Folks with good intentions and a love for horses don’t know what they don’t know. I offer an introductory program that gives them a good understanding of equine behaviour, including safe handling practices and standard horse care and management.
My goal is to give folks enough knowledge to become involved in the horse industry confidently and safely. I hope people gain enough confidence to pursue whatever equine adventure they choose; whether it’s horse ownership, riding or driving lessons or volunteering at equine events.
I also travel throughout southern Alberta helping people learn how to effectively handle the challenging horse they aren’t enjoying.
How did you start doing what you do?
In 2005, our vet commented on how well-mannered our six horses were. He often gets called out to tend to unruly horses where the owners have no idea how to manage the behavior. A couple weeks later, we advertised one of our horses for lease, stating he was suitable for beginners. Many calls were from interested folks who knew nothing about horses but were keen to learn.
These two things showed me there were a lot of people who loved horses but had little knowledge about them. As a late bloomer myself, I found the horse world intimidating and learned many lessons the hard way. I wanted to create a welcoming, fun, safe learning environment.
How has what you do helped riders or drivers?
There are too many folks, new to horses, that head to a rescue organization for a neglected or young horse. They need to understand how much time, skill and experience is required to train a horse well and keep them that way. I hope by demonstrating how to handle well-mannered, well-trained, calm horses, folks will be more knowledgeable and discriminating when getting involved with them.
Who are your clients?
The majority are women over 40 who have always loved horses but never had the opportunity to have them or thought the opportunity had passed. Now their kids are grown and they have more time and money to pursue their dream of horse ownership.
There are also those who come to learn about horses and be around them but have no intention of owning one. Some are supporting a horse-crazy family member and want to be more knowledgeable and some just want the experience of being around horses. I’ve also taught several couples and young families who are considering an acreage life that includes horses.
Does connecting better with your horse apply to driving also?
Handling and managing horses safely and effectively makes ALL equine endeavours more enjoyable for the person AND the horse. Folks need to know there is a better way if they’re heading out to the pasture to do battle or feel scared of their horse.
How does this connection make you (and the horse) more safe?
As prey animals, horses are hardwired to flee when they’re worried or threatened. Effective handling practices based on mutual respect and trust will help override this inherent instinct. Horses are strong with an extremely fast reaction reflex; making us vulnerable if we’re in the way when they’re frightened or feel threatened.
Why do you continue to do it?
Most folks only think of riding or driving horses but they don’t know how to safely and effectively handle and manage horses before they saddle or harness up.
The positive feedback I receive about the program is extremely rewarding. I love hearing folks admit they had no idea how much there is to learn.
Some of my most rewarding students have been the ones who only came out to learn but had no intention of ever buying a horse. By gaining confidence and understanding, they are now the proud owners of their first horse and having more fun than they dreamed possible. The added benefit for me is I am surrounded with like-minded riding buddies.
How do you practice what you preach?
Throughout my 30 years with horses, I have made my share of mistakes. Those mistakes drove me to learn more so I could become the best handler I could be for the horses and the best teacher I can be for the people.
I wasn’t always a brave horse person. By learning to develop a mutually trusting and respectful relationship with horses, I am able to be that calm, confident handler they trust.
What would you tell someone who is hesitant around their horse or can’t get them to do what they want?
Horses sense our emotions and intentions extremely well, so the old adage “fake it ’til you make it” doesn’t work.
I remember an interesting scenario with a couple who come for lessons. I gave them each a well-mannered, reliable horse to practice with. Interestingly, the lady’s horse didn’t respond to her at all. When she confided she was actually terrified, it surprised me because she was doing everything I asked her to do. They switched horses and everything changed. Once she became confident with her handling skills, they switched back to their original horses and she had no problems. The first horse could feel her hesitation and completely ignored her while the second horse filled in for her lack of confidence.
Do you see yourself in any of these situations? Want to learn more? Please contact Tovie for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.