Jessica talks holistic horsemanship, the subject of a new documentary series.
I caught up with holistic horsemanship practitioner Jessica Fobert about her training methods and new TV documentary series, Free Rein, which earned the honor of Best Equestrian Series at the Equus Film Festival last month. It debuted last night on the Canadian-based Oasis Network and can be viewed online.
Hi Jessica! First tell us a little about your background with horses?
My start with horses was at a friend of the family’s farm when I was a preteen. I exchanged Sunday morning chores for spending time with the horses. When I bought my first horse (saved my money working at Tim Hortons after school) I kept her at that farm for the first year or so. Many knowledgeable horse people say that novices should not own green (untrained) horses for safety reasons – but I fell in love with my Curly Horse “Nekoda” the first time I saw her, when she was just months old.
Nekoda has been with me along the way as I’ve learned. I’ve worked at show barns, boarding facilities, and I brought her with me about 6 – 7 years ago to a farm near Wasaga Beach for a Natural Horsemanship apprenticeship under Tim Fortune (he passed away suddenly last year).
Lately over the past several years I’ve been studying the art of “classical dressage” for my horses’ physical well being. Larry Whitesell has been a mentor, and I try to go down to his farm in Tennessee annually to learn more from him. There are many more amazing horse trainers who I would like to meet and learn from.
Describe ‘Holistic Horsemanship.’
To have a holistic approach to horses means that you consider the “whole” horse. There is a lot more to horses than riding, including but not limited to their mental, physical, and emotional well being. I try to consider every aspect of a horse’s well being when I train and coach: Saddle and tack fit/comfort, hoof health and care, nutritional requirements, herd behavior and lifestyle, freedom to roam and act like a horse – when these kinds of things are in balance, the horse tends to be much happier and healthier, and therefore can do his job better.
What led you to train with those methods?
I’ve been moving around the horse community and different facilities, and everywhere I go I see people who do not understand the needs of their horses. Many “behavioral issues” stem from something that can be fixed easily, i.e. a very unnatural lifestyle that makes the horse feel stressed, bored or lonely. Training a horse requires the trainer to learn as much about them as possible, to help make the process easier for the horse and rider. The more I learn about the nature of the horse, the more I realize how much more there is to learn. Taking a holistic approach by recognizing all of the horse’s needs helps me to prepare a program individually designed for each horse.
When were you first approached to make the equestrian series Free Rein?
The creators are Zoe Carter and Garth Drabinsky. Zoe approached me when she was looking for a good home for her two ponies when her and her family needed to move back to the city. I invited her to come watch me working with her ponies and she was inspired by my way with them. This was a few years ago. Leslie Haller is one of the producers, and Stefan Morel is the director.
In the first segment of the show we meet Bellator, a gelding with biting issues, and his owner Vicki.
Vicki had learned ways of being around Bellator to avoid being bitten. Their everyday was a little tense because she never knew when he was going to try to bite, but the biting got worse when he was stressed. It was obvious that they got along most of the time, but that this habit was putting a damper on their working relationship.
Part of your process with Bellator involved rewarding good behavior with “play” via the lead rope through his mouth. That method seems almost contradictory for a mouthy horse?
Bellator was very oral, as you can see in the footage! He seemed to need to chew on something all the time almost as though it was a pacifier, like a stress reliever. My approach with allowing him to chew on the rope was just the first step , over time he didn’t feel the need to grab at the rope because the other stress triggers had been fixed. I didn’t have to do as much to teach him not to bite, it was more about teaching Vicki how to read his stress levels and respond accordingly.
How are Vicki and Bellator doing today?
I’m thrilled to share that Bellator and Vicki are doing very well, and moving forward. Bellator does not bite anything or anyone anymore! This issue was resolved as soon as their communication improved between each other.
Next up is the story of Prospero, an underweight and very ill gelding bought at auction. Of all the horses, why did Prospero grab your attention?
Prospero was gentle, and passively persistent at getting my attention. He was in poor condition so I know nobody else would give him a second glance, which would mean he would end up on the long truck ride to the slaughter house. There was something very special about him that made me decide he was worth the challenge and risk.
Tell us about Prospero’s struggle with E. coli.
This was only one of his stuggles. His body had been fighting illness for quite some time and our vet mentioned that if we had not started immediate care for him he would not have survived.
How is Prospero now? Is he available for adoption?
Prospero has a clean bill of health! He has gained over 200 lbs and still needs to gain a little more. He is available for adoption locally, and anyone interested can contact us at freereinhd.com
The final segment was a little different in that you played more of an observation role while visiting Horse Spirit Connections.
This farm is magical, as they use horses who are specifically trained to safely interact with people who may have never been around horses before. They use the very powerful healing energy that horses have been known to share with us if we learn to access this within our own hearts.
Tell us a little about Horse Spirit Connections student Olin.
Olin was great fun to watch. The horses would mimic his nervous movement around the arena during the first session, so it was quite obvious to see his improvement over the sessions.
How did watching Olin interact with the horses affect your own training?
I think Olin got a little taste of what it’s like to slow down and just appreciate how powerful yet gentle horses are. When we stop forcing things to happen then the horse can offer us much more than we ever imagined.
This past summer was amazing! I have always hoped to share my passion and love for horses, but never dreamed of being able to reach so many people. I am truly thankful for this opportunity, and whatever comes of it for the future. I will continue my work with horses and stay dedicated to their well being.
Here’s how to contact Jessica and learn more about the show!
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – @ Free Rein HD