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Tracy Allin Baker

Tracy Allin Baker

Articles on Saddle Fitting by Tracy

A piece from Equine Life Magazine   :   Norfolk equine behaviourist Tracy Allin-Baker talks to Kirsty Whittle about how her extensive training has helped her to get inside the mind of our four-legged friends

Having moved to Norfolk from Herts with her family at the age of 12, Tracy attended Wymondham High and then Wymondham College, before moving to Essex to do an equine studies degree at Writtle College, which later became a masters. Following this, Tracy spent 10 years as a lecturer and instructor at the college before her curiosity towards equine behaviour led her along a new path and right back to where it all began – Norfolk.

In 2010, Tracy decided to branch out from her job as a lecturer, securing qualifications as an equine behaviour consultant (EBC). “I had an accident out hacking on my own horse which afterwards led to him developing sudden flight behaviour,” remembers Tracy. “Despite being a qualified BHSAI I felt that I needed some expert help and found Dr Debbie Marsden’s course and realised that this was what I wanted to do full-time. Incidentally now my horse is hacking out again regularly, confidently and calmly!”……

Tracy trained with Paul and Tessa Fielder, before going on to develop modern coaching techniques using clear goal setting. Her ‘fingers in pies’ attitude to furthering her knowledge has led to a unique training style that has built Tracy’s faithful client base. “Nearly all of my freelance clients come to me for lessons because their horses are performing an undesirable behaviour, such as bucking or napping,” explains Tracy. “I have also helped competition riders who are struggling with a particular movement or type of fence which has been holding their performance back.”

……. Tracy currently teaches foundation degree students at Otley College, judges dressage at a local riding club and teaches at Pony Club, while having her own clients who she teaches on a freelance basis. She is also an examiner for horse management courses for NPTC (City & Guilds), an NVQ assessor, a speaker at educational talks ranging from local clubs to the BVNA (British Veterinary Nurses Association) conference and teacher of bespoke courses for para-professionals such as equine sports massage workers.

As Lingfield tutor, Tracy will share a personal online cloud folder with each student to enable her to check assignments securely and privately.

full article below

 

Norfolk equine behaviourist Tracy Allin-Baker talks to Kirsty Whittle about how her extensive training has helped her to get inside the mind of our four-legged friends

 

Got it covered

Having moved to Norfolk from Herts with her family at the age of 12, Tracy attended Wymondham High and then Wymondham College, before moving to Essex to do an equine studies degree at Writtle College, which later became a masters. Following this, Tracy spent 10 years as a lecturer and instructor at the college before her curiosity towards equine behaviour led her along a new path and right back to where it all began – Norfolk.

“I have been fascinated by horse behaviour for as long as I’ve been interested in horses,” says Tracy. “Almost all of my ponies and horses have been difficult or quirky, and I was often searching for answers to why different behaviours were occurring.” Having competed a lot as a teenager and during her early 20s, Tracy’s interest in understanding equines continued to develop, as did her love for training. “As a keen Pony Club and riding club member, I was exposed to lots of different instructors and their methods on both the flat and jumping,” she says. “This led to me combining these two interests and completing my degree thesis on how learning occurs in horses and its application to training.”

In 2010, Tracy decided to branch out from her job as a lecturer, securing qualifications as an equine behaviour consultant (EBC). “I had an accident out hacking on my own horse which afterwards led to him developing sudden flight behaviour,” remembers Tracy. “Despite being a qualified BHSAI I felt that I needed some expert help and found Dr Debbie Marsden’s course and realised that this was what I wanted to do full-time. Incidentally now my horse is hacking out again regularly, confidently and calmly!”

 

No easy task

No stranger to elite education, Tracy was lucky enough to train with regional, royalty, Paul and Tessa Fielder, before going on to develop modern coaching techniques using clear goal setting. Her ‘fingers in pies’ attitude to furthering her knowledge has led to a unique training style that has built Tracy’s faithful client base. “Nearly all of my freelance clients come to me for lessons because their horses are performing an undesirable behaviour, such as bucking or napping,” explains Tracy. “I have also helped competition riders who are struggling with a particular movement or type of fence which has been holding their performance back.”

Establishing the cause of the problem is a very important part of Tracy’s work – and not an area that she takes lightly. “No two cases are the same – each horse and rider is unique, and I take a ‘holistic’ approach to each partnership,” she says. “Establishing the cause of the problem is key, and it often takes an ‘outside eye’ to be able to do this. Some owners will need to be firmer, others need to back off if the horse is in pain and resolve the issue. Some riders lack confidence and some are too demanding of their horse given their age, conformation or fitness.”

After ruling out pain, Tracy assesses the relationship between the horse and rider, before creating a plan to move forwards with achievable goals. “Living in herds for protection in the wild means that horses are naturally programmed to have dominant and sub-ordinate relationships with each other, and that is the way that they form relationships with us too,” says Tracy, who uses her behavioural insight to enlighten riders on the horse’s perceived impressions. “Some people accidentally give their horse the impression that they are submissive when they work around them and so naturally, the horse believes that he is in charge. This balance can be changed by careful attention to husbandry, handling, and possibly changing turnout groups to help lower the horse’s social confidence.”

 

Common problems

Naturally, we all suffer from nerves, and while this is at times impossible to control, it can have a large impact on the horse, as Tracy explains: “As social, prey animals, horses are experts in reading body language from the ground, as it’s their main method of communication. From a ridden perspective the rider’s aids are the means of communication with the horse, so if they are confusing e.g. kicking a horse into a fence and then pulling it up in front of it due to nerves, this can quickly lead to the horse being blamed for refusing, when actually it is just complying with the rider’s aids,” she says. Tracy teaches her pupils to identify and respond correctly to displayed behaviours. Tracy says: “All aids given must be consistent and must involve instant release of pressure (whether rein, seat or leg) once the horse has responded correctly. This is how horses become trained to consistently repeat the behaviours that we want. It is therefore important for riders to learn to be able to control their nerves, and be clear with their aids at all times when riding.”

Common problems that Tracy tackles include: bucking, napping, rearing, bolting, and spooking and further up the levels problems with a particular dressage movement or type of jump – usually after a loss of confidence. Problems with loading and clipping are also fairly common. “It’s important to remember with problems such as clipping and loading that there is no ‘magic cure’, so where these problems occur it’s important to spend lots of time in advance dealing with them as some fear-related behaviours can take multiple sessions to resolve,” says Tracy.

 

The science part…

Owners can be quick to reprimand horses for bad behaviour, without fully understanding the cause. Tracy’s extensive training and many years in the field have helped her to educate her pupils. “Every problem has a cause; but the cause can vary considerably,” says Tracy. “Causes usually fall into one of two categories, pain or learnt misbehaviour due to the horse believing that they are ‘in charge’ of the rider or handler. Sometimes the problem is easy to solve simply by changing the diet or management, but other problems can be multi-factorial and lots of things need to be addressed.

“It’s important to remember that horses don’t think in the same way as us – they don’t get out of bed in the morning and think ‘I know I’m going to be really naughty today!’ Although domesticated, horses are still governed by their ‘flight or fight’ instincts and are very social which can lead to problems.

“It should be remembered, however, that some cases cannot be ‘fixed’ and in a very small minority of cases sadly some partnerships just aren’t suited to one another and sometimes it is better to sell the horse onto a more experienced home, or retire him.”

Behaviour consultants’ training focuses on using correct identification and interpretation of the horse’s body language to understand why the horse is behaving as he is, along with the science of learning theory to devise suitable re-training programmes. “This allows us to get to the root of the problem much more quickly, therefore making the process safer for the rider, while improving the horse’s welfare. A horse in pain can quickly turn into a dangerous one if the rider resorts to increasingly stronger methods to ‘fix’ the problem such as severe bits or spurs. Similarly a horse that is pain-free, showing a confident learnt behaviour can quickly become more difficult if the rider is not firm.” A full case history is something that Tracy insists on with new clients before she will touch the horse. The case history ensures that any physical problems, such as poorly fitting tack or lameness, are dealt with prior to her training, leaving Tracy to deal only with the issue at hand. “Sometimes a simple change of diet or management can solve the problem in a short space of time. More complicated problems can take months of careful re-training and the involvement of several professionals such as a farrier, physiotherapist or saddler to resolve,” she says.

EBCs use three main re-training techniques – all are based on scientific theory: Systematic de-sensitisation, counter conditioning and shaping. Whilst sending a horse away to be trained can help in some cases, often the problem is person or place specific – so the problem re-occurs when the horse is back with the owner. “I work with the owner – through lessons or training sessions and by devising a training plan that they have to carry out,” says Tracy.

 

Case Study

Claire has a three-year-old Spanish mare who was virtually unhandled when she bought her. She was very difficult to handle even with simple things such as being led. Silver was also very socially dominant. I advised Claire to turn Silver out with an older, more dominant mare who politely ‘put Silver in her place’ (as would happen in the wild). We also made some husbandry changes to ensure that when Claire was working around her she was always re-enforcing that she was in charge. We have also been working Silver from the ground, using systematic desensitisation, counter conditioning and shaping, setting clear boundaries and gradual goals. She is now lunging calmly and confidently in tack and long reining over poles and we are about to start backing her.

 

Onwards and upwards

Tracy currently teaches foundation degree students at Otley College, judges dressage at a local riding club and teaches at Pony Club, plus has her own clients whom she teaches on a freelance basis. She is also an examiner for horse management courses for NPTC (City & Guilds), an NVQ assessor, a speaker at educational talks ranging from local clubs to the BVNA (British Veterinary Nurses Association) conference and teacher of bespoke courses for para-professionals such as equine sports massage workers.

Tracy is currently freelance, but is hoping to have a permanent training base to be able to offer further services, such as running short courses on behaviour and other horse-related subjects, as well as having guest speakers; and to be able to offer intensive help for those that need it.

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