I first met Ben at Organised Equestrian’s 2017 clinic with Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado. To be honest, I just thought he was a trick rider. His horses could clearly do some cool things but I wasn’t really that convinced that how he’d got there would be up my street. It looked cool though.
I was riding myself with Magali that year and I remember us all sat around the fire pit at lunchtime and Ben talking about his family, and his horses, and how he prepares for performances. I was struck by how open and friendly he seemed, and I felt my perception shift a little.
Later on I bumped into him walking back from the car park and we exchanged a few words, and I again found myself thinking that perhaps this was someone who was more on the horse’s level that I had assumed.
I’m pretty fussy about my horsemanship. I respect many different types, techniques and even philosophies of training, and I understand that different people have different journeys, but for me and what I do with MY horses, I am very selective. I am sure that a lot of you are the same.
I can confirm, after watching At home with Ben Atkinson and writing six pages of notes, that his philosophy and principles work for me. I am certain that everyone will take something from this production, regardless of your experience, goals or background. And I can also confirm that it will make you feel good (which I know can be a risk for some of us more sensitive horsepeople). These are happy horses.
We open with Ben working with a younger horse, on some of the very basic “foundation” commands.
When I was younger, a now nameless faceless instructor once told me “Grand Prix is just the basics done really really well”. The message was so powerful and I’ve repeated it so many times that I’ve forgotten who told it to me, but I could hear it again while watching Ben and his youngster, Graham.
From day 1, Ben focuses on working the body and the mind, working smarter, so more efficiently, and with precision. Because if you get it right the first time, you don’t have to go back to it.
The real unique selling point? Something I’ve always been looking for but never found? Someone to just TELL ME WHERE IM SUPPOSED TO BE!
Like literally. Put your right shoulder here, your left leg there, raise your stick to this point and put your other hand over here and do THIS. Create THIS exact response. Then repeat.
This is the magic. Ben talks about the magic of the liberty performance, and even refers to it as sleight of hand. Sleight of hand is created by consistently practising the same movement over and over again. This is Ben’s magic. He is completely consistent in his body and his cues.
He builds a language, a vocabulary with the horse, and most importantly, his physical pronunciation of the language is exact. I am HERE, you should be THERE, we will go HERE. He is clear, and consistent, and this fosters confidence in his horses, because they can speak the same language.
It is this same clarity with the horses that Ben brings to how he teaches and explains what he is doing, and it is very valuable. Often I find myself questioning the nuances of what I can see a trainer doing, but as I was doing this in my head, Ben was explaining with words my questions. He is very confident in his own movements, everything is deliberate. Because of this, he can relay in almost real time what he is doing.
There are little pieces of philosophy scattered through this feature, and some need to be experienced firsthand as you watch it yourself, but I want to share with you my two favourites:
1. The “Harry Potter” rule – hold your whip like your wand and there will be magic
2. Training horses is like laying one sheet of paper on top of another every day
I thought – how many pieces of paper until you make a book?
What kind of book do you want to write?
As our day with Ben progresses, we join him as he works with more and more advanced horses. The building blocks are starting to come together, and you can see how one fits on top of another, and another.
For many of us, we have been playing with concepts like yielding to and from pressure, desensitisation, flexion and lightness for a long time. If you want some real refinement for those concepts, you can find it here. If you are clear and consistent you can put a pin right in the spot you want. Just right THERE. Perfect. The more perfect blocks you can build, the more confident you and your horse can be in your language, and the more transferable your vocabulary becomes.
We started with a young horse in a round pen with a halter and a lead rope. We’re now Roman riding a team of four horses around an arena. It doesn’t feel any different. The path has been laid, and Ben is right, anyone can do this, it is all a language built on basic principles and written one word at a time until suddenly you can write sonnets and poems and ballads together. Nice. Very nice.
There are a thousand little puzzle pieces I haven’t included in this, because I would be here a very long time (!), the specific details that make the difference between good and excellent in a response that are so often missed out. These details needs to be watched first hand.
A note on price, as this is a review, you can rent At home with Ben Atkinson for £9.99, and purchase for £24.99. This is a feature length production, which is packed from start to finish with information and education. I can confidently recommend with hand on heart value for money with this product, and I would actually recommend purchasing, because you will likely want to watch it again at some point. I am sure I will be once I have had time to lick and chew and play around. If you want to rent instead, you can be assured that even if you rent twice you are still in good value. Stamp of approval from me!
An Easter weekend/bank holiday treat, I’ve had a lovely afternoon watching and reflecting and writing, I look forward to watching everyone enjoy this piece as much as I have!
You can find At home with Ben Atkinson at http://www.organisedequestrian.com, go and grab yourselves a notebook and some popcorn and settle in, I can’t wait to hear what you all think!
For now, peace out and pony love,