Interview with Blair Ireland
Blair is a pretty shy kind of guy who has trouble talking about himself, so we thought the best way to let you know more about him was to interview him with all the questions you might like to know. If there is anything we have missed, feel free to pop on over to the contact page, or jump on facebook and ask away!
What style of horsemanship do you use?
I like to think that you would call my style of training "common sense horsemanship" with no gimmicks and no tricks. I don't have a seven step program I follow as every horse is an individual and needs different things. I try and work from the horses point of view, setting up good communication, respect and most importantly, trust. I guess you could call it natural horsemanship, however there isn't really much natural about strapping some leather to the horses back and riding it. I always want my horses to be soft, relaxed, willing and most importantly happy. With any horses I have for starting or training, I initially focus on ground work and getting things right there before moving onto the next step. I start horses initially in a halter, and work them this way until they are confident and balanced carrying the rider before introducing the snaffle bit and mouthing. With everything I do, regardless of whether it's starting a horse under saddle, re-training, addressing some behavioural issues, float loading or even working with weanlings, I am always looking to build the horses confidence and make sure he is happy with what we are working on before moving to the next step.The horse really wants to do the right thing, so it's my job to make the right thing easy.
**For more information on the services Blair can assist you and your horse with, just click on the services tab in the website menu.
Who inspires you and why?
My main inspirations in horsemanship have been that of Ray Hunt, Tom and Bill Dorrance and Buck Brannaman. I was lucky enough to come across these guys when I first started taking my horse work seriously, and each of them inspired a desire to try and make things a little easier for the horses to get along with us humans. From there however, I'd have to say it's the horses themselves that give me inspiration and have been my greatest teachers. Their kindness, compassion and willingness to do what we ask of them never fails to blow me away.
When and how did you first get into horses?
Growing up as a kid my Mum always had a few horses, so of course I had ridden horses a little, mostly just mucking about, trail riding and such. I didn't really develop my passion for working with horses until I went to work on a cattle station after school. At times I thought I must have been mad, riding these rank station horses that didn't have a lot of feel or training, I got bucked off more times than I could care to count. After completing a Jim Lindsay low stress stock handling course, I started to look at the horses in a different way, and really gained a sense of respect for them. Wanting to be able to do more than just get bucked off, I started researching and came across the teachings and methods of Ray Hunt and Tom and Bill Dorrance. I read and watched everything I could get my hands on, and from that moment on, knew there was a better way of getting along with these animals. On the stations we often had some good outback horseman visit like Scotty Walsh and Mitch Gollon, and it was at these times I was able to ask a thousand and one questions to further expand my knowledge. Because I seemed to be having some success on the station, I became the main one to start any of the new young horses, and spent lots of time working with the older troubled ones. It was a great time with lots of learning (plenty of mistakes). I started working with a local trainer on my down time away from the station, and was impressed with this trainers ability to start horses in a kind and fear free way, with rarely a buck in sight. This started me on the path to working with him full time, before branching out on my own. Of course, learning is a lifelong commitment that never ends and I still try and read/watch anything new, and regularly attend clinics and lessons with local and visiting horsemen and women.
Who has been your most influential mentors?
I have been extremely lucky over the years to have been able to watch, meet, ride with and learn from some of the greatest horseman both here in Australia and overseas. These include Buck Brannaman, Joe Wolter, Martin Black, Tom Curtin, Dave Stuart and Ross Jacobs. Kevin Stallings was my mentor for my Legacy of Legends scholarship, where I was lucky enough to go over to the USA to ride and train with him and his wife for 3 months. Both successful in their own rights within the reined cow horse competition, this was an amazing opportunity to spend quality time with a great horseman, and I have been lucky enough to head back again since. Unfortunately I never got to ride with Ray or Tom personally, but getting to ride with those who have, has helped passed on their traditions and messages and been a huge influence in my horsemanship today. I have also recently completed a dressage clinic with UK Olympic coach Peter De Cosemo which was brilliant, and I look forward to expanding on this going into the future.
What has been your biggest achievement with horses?
Probably winning a Legacy of Legends scholarship in 2014. I was able to ride with Buck Brannaman in his colt start at the Australian Legacy event, and was then drawn as a recipient of the scholarship in the following USA event. This gave me the opportunity to travel to the USA and spend time living, working, riding and learning from a great horseman name Kevin Stallings. A successful reining cow horse trainer, Kevin also spent a lot of time with Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance, so was great to learn from someone who continued on directly with what they taught and have it passed down through the generations. Legacy of Legends is coming back to Australia in 2016 and I have been very fortunate to have been invited to ride again in the Buck's colt starting class. This time around it will be run as a demonstration which means I'll be riding with some really amazing local and international horseman, some of them my greatest mentors which I am very excited and slightly nervous about.
Who is your all time favourite horse and why?
Wow, this is a really hard one. I've been lucky to work with some really great horses over the years. I'd probably have to say my all time favourite was a firery little chestnut station horse named Talent. She was an incredibly forward and free moving mare, would work all day, could cut any cow and boy could she buck! When I started riding her up on the station, I didn't really know too much about horses and horsemanship and one of the other stockmen on the station told me that if you bend a horses neck around, he can't do much to get you off. Well I took on this advice and went to turning Talents head around each time I felt a bit of a buck coming on. That little mare is one of the smartest horses I have ever known, she actually started to anticipate this, and began putting it there herself before she bucked! I kept riding Talent regardless, and over the years she sure taught me a lot about what does and doesn't work when it comes to horses and horsemanship, and is one of the main reasons I do what I do today.
What advice would you like to give to other horse owners, especially those that are perhaps new to this style of horsemanship, or having some difficulties with their horse?
In the words of Ray Hunt, "Whistle, Grin and Ride" is a saying I often repeat to myself and my clients. I think everyone needs to remember to go out there and have some fun. We all strive to be the next greatest horse trainer, cutter or dressage rider but we can easily get too focused on getting everything perfect. It's certainly important to have goals, as well as be a good leader and effective communicator but sometimes we get caught up in our own plans and stop considering our horse and where he is at. Rome wasn't built in a day, and it doesn't hurt to sometimes slow down and take things at the horses pace, rather than our own. You know the saying, do things slower to get there faster, just like the tortoise and the hare. Most importantly however, always make sure you find time to have fun and enjoy your horse, after all, that's what it's all about.
What is your favourite horse memory?
Whilst I was over in the USA for my Legacy scholarship, we travelled to an event at Galway Downs in Temecula California for a NRCHA reined cow horse show. Here I was surrounded by some of the worlds best trainers and competitors in a place I'd only read about in previously and I was in seventh heaven. I had finished working all my horses for the day and was watching the cutting when this older fellow wandered over and introduced himself as Jimmy Flores. For those of you who do not know Jimmy, he is one heck of a horseman, a NRCHA hall of famer and a very talented gear maker. To say I was humbled was an understatement. Jimmy must have spent most of the afternoon quizzing me about my horsemanship, what I was doing over here, how was I enjoying it and what were my plans for the future. I have never met someone who in such a short space of time can really make you feel like you are the most important person they have to talk to. Jimmy showed a genuine interest in my horsemanship, gave me lots of advice that I still carry with me today, and offered to help me in any way he possibly could. Sadly Jimmy has since passed away but I still carry the rawhide and leather keyring he made and gave to me that day and will be forever grateful to have had that time with him.
What do you enjoy most about training horses?
More than anything, I really love seeing their confidence grow in everything we ask of them. Horses are honest, kind and compassionate and the feedback they give you directly relates to what you put in. There are a lot of troubled horses out there, and if I can help even just a handfull of them get along a bit better with people, or help to give them a good foundation under saddle or a trouble free future, then I feel like I've done what I came to do. Nothing feels better than being able to see the change in a horse for the better that relates directly to your work with them, and the happy owners that get to take that horse home and continue on make it worthwhile too.
What is your funniest horse training memory?
Way back when I first started taking in horses for myself, I was starting a big Friesian x QH mare under saddle who didn't have much forward in her. I'd been puzzling over what to do to get this mare moving off my leg more, and remembered the Ray Hunt colt starting DVD in my collection. Well, this is the day that I will forever remember as the day Ray Hunt got me bucked off! On the DVD I recalled watching Ray working with a young, unbroken horse. He was on the horse with his rope coiled in one hand and every time the colt stopped he would lean back, give it a tap on the backside with his coils and make this "phhhh phhhh phhhh phhhh" noise. Knowing that if anyone knew how to get a colt moving, it was Ray Hunt, I decided to copy his example. I took the halter off the mare, grabbed my rope, jumped on, leaned back, tapped her with the coils and said "phhhhh phhhh phhhh phhhh" Well that mare did move, but not exactly in the fashion I was expecting. Needless to say that mare had never experienced (or even seen) a coiled rope before, nor had she heard the words "phhhh phhhh phhhhh phhhh" and I'll admit that I was glad the ground was soft that day. It was however a great lesson for me, in that I learned to prepare a horse with a rope (and noise) before I try to do it horseback, and thankfully after my little mistake, that mare turned out to be a lovely, quiet girl who now takes her young rider to pony club and competitions on a regular basis.
What does a typical work day at Blair Ireland Equine Education look like?
Well, I wake up early, however nothing starts without my morning coffee. From there it's outside to feed horses and clean yards, and if I'm lucky enough Erin will be home or I'll have a helper there to get through those early morning jobs. After that, I'll spend my day working with a variety of horses, from those being started under saddle, retraining or education or even working with some youngsters. I'll often have a lesson or two booked in, or a client coming to visit their horse and watch him or her being worked. If I get time, I might manage to get into the veggie garden and pull some weeds before dinner, and of course with a property there is always some fencing or other work that needs to be done. Finally it's evening feed time, before checking all of the horses and heading inside to reply to any missed phonecalls or emails from the day. After dinner it's time for bed before waking up to do the same thing again the next day!
What do you hope to achieve with Blair Ireland Equine Education in the future?
Going forward, I will always be predominately a horseman, working with, starting and training horses and people. I have a new found interest in dressage in addition to my cow horse roots, and look forward to expanding on this over the next few years. We hope to be able to improve our property to eventually be able to offer ongoing private full care agistment services to clients horses and to hopefully have an olympic size undercover arena in which we'll be able to host a number of clinics each year. Of course I am always looking to learn and experience everything I can, and will continue to try and better myself, my horsemanship and spend time helping people and horses get along.
What is your favourite horsemanship quote?
I've got a number of quotes that I like, but to sum up my horsemanship and how I feel about working with horses, I'll leave you with two from the late Ray Hunt.
"Believe in your horse so your horse can believe in you" and "It's all the little things that make a big difference"
Yours in good horsemanship,