A message from the founder
Many of the relationships I have developed with horses over the years I would describe as true friendships and I value my equine friends deeply – as much as I do any treasured human friend. I feel strongly that horses shouldn’t just be ‘vehicles’ for our entertainment but partners with whom we can share a reciprocal appreciation and whose lives we can also enrich.
I believe that the most effective way to achieve this level of harmonious coexistence is to understand horses in every way possible. Not just how best to effectively ride or nurture them physically, but also the things that matter to them: what they enjoy, what gets them excited, what scares them, their friendships with each other, and how they experience and understand the world around them. I believe that there is something to learn from almost all traditions and disciplines – Classical Dressage, Western working traditions, natural horsemanship, ‘the BHS way’… All have something to offer.
With an approach rooted in the science of animal behaviour, psychology and cognition, I take inspiration from many carefully-evaluated sources – but not least from the horses themselves! Observing these beautiful animals, studying them, paying attention to their relationships with each other, and how they feel and display their emotions – often subtly – in different situations, getting into their minds and really seeing the world from their perspective, giving them a say and a choice – that’s how we can gain the necessary understanding to be able to offer horses a more equitable and productive relationship with ourselves. Drawing on both science and personal experience, I have developed a way of working with horses that is highly flexible and explicitly recognises that every horse is unique and requires a tailored approach.
Of course, you can’t train horses without training their humans too! I really enjoy this aspect of my work – much more than I would have anticipated 10 years ago! It is immensely rewarding to watch a fractious relationship blossom into a beautiful partnership that bridges the gap between species. Even when the relationship is good to start with, everyone has some goal they aspire to reach that poses its own unique challenges to overcome. I have helped and advised a wide range of equestrians – from people competing at an international level to nervous returning adult riders, from experienced happy hackers to ambitious aspiring young competitors… It really doesn’t matter what your level of riding is or if you have no interest in riding your horse at all – there is always something interesting to discover about yourself and the horses in your life that will inform and change how you interact with them.
My goal is to help all of us understand how horses and humans can work together to achieve our goals – however big or small – taking into account individual circumstances and the physical and mental welfare of both horse and human. With empathy, patience and persistence we can build truly fulfilling relationships with the horses in our lives.– Di, Founder of Combination Horsemanship
Di, Founder and Behavioural Consultant
Di fell in love with horses as a child in New York. She started riding aged four and took every opportunity she could to ride in a variety of disciplines, including both English and Western riding styles. She feels she only really learned to ride after moving to Europe, under the tutelage of a coach who emphasised key concepts from Classical dressage. In turn, Di’s lessons revolve around Classical principles and an appreciation of biomechanics – but also horse psychology and cognition, with an approach that emphasises empathy and kindness towards the horse.
Di holds a BA in Biological Sciences (Animal Biology) and an MSc in Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology (Human Psychology) from the University of Oxford. While at the Royal Veterinary College, Di conducted her own research in animal behaviour and taught the vet students there.
She left academia to pursue a full-time career in horse training and behavioural consultation, founding Combination Horsemanship and developing a holistic approach to horsemanship that is open-minded and adaptable, with a basis in science and the latest research, and an explicit acknowledgement that all horses (and humans!) are unique and that we should adjust training programs accordingly. She is an advocate for a least intrusive, minimally aversive approach to behavioural modification and is a proponent of the use of positive reinforcement in horse training where appropriate.
Francis, Trainer and Coach
Francis has a special affinity with animals. As a child he dreamt of becoming a vet but ended up going down a very different route and studied English Literature instead! Having barely ever even met a horse despite growing up in Hertfordshire, England, he started riding as a one-off lesson in his late 20s and discovered a real passion for horses that he didn’t expect, a natural ability in the saddle, and a proclivity for jumping.
More recently, he has learned to appreciate the more technical and subtle aspects of riding and is often the first to sit on youngsters and teach them the basics. He particularly enjoys working with horses at liberty and trick training, combining his passion for parkour with his passion for horses. Francis also has a background in human psychology with a Masters degree in this subject area from the University of Oxford.
Combining his athletic background with his understanding of human cognition and his relatively recent experience of learning to ride, Francis often has great insight into the difficulties faced by beginner riders or those who need some extra help developing their physical capabilities and balance.