Thank you for reading our story. We really hope that you will want to be part of the on-going experience.
The Free Spirit Ponies Project aims to enable anyone with a love of horses and ponies to get involved and be part of the lives of the herd on a regular basis. It is also about our journey (including the ups and downs) in natural horse keeping and finding out what horses and ponies really need emotionally, physically and psychologically to thrive in their lives and in their relationships with humans. Everyone is welcome to join us on our journey so please pass our story to anyone who might be interested.
The Free Spirit Ponies are a small herd of horses and ponies, living as natural a life as possible, alongside their ‘piggy’ friends Percy and Norman, in East Sussex. The ponies have been together as herd for approximately 10 years and have lived out 24/7 happily for the last 9 years and recently we have welcomed some new members into our family. All of the horses and ponies are unshod and un-rugged (except when absolutely necessary) and allowed to live ‘as horses’ on a forage based diet. We are also bitless and working towards treeless too! They play together, eat together, rest together, run together, grow thick woolly coats in Winter and get muddy when they want to! They are a mixture of breeds including Connemara, Welsh, New Forest, ISH and Thoroughbred and range from a miniature Shetland called Toffee up to Sky at 16.3hh. All of the horses and ponies have great ‘characters’ and willingly have a go at anything asked of them.
Future plans also (hopefully) include a website of which this is the first stage and maybe even web-cams to enable people to watch the ponies and Wilber themselves, whenever they want.
Maybe one day we’ll even have our own land to create our own Free Spirit Farm so that you can visit – but that’s a whole other story…….
WHO ARE WE?
Let me introduce myself… I’m Andree and I’m the Founder of The Free Spirit Ponies Project (promoting positive compassionate ‘Horse Guardianship, based on friendship, trust, partnership, knowledge and nature, through example and education).
I have been around horses for over 20 years starting as a beginner in the conventional riding school environment and progressing now to guardianship of our naturally kept herd of 13 independent, strong and amazing horses and ponies, who continue to teach me and urge me to pass their wisdom and knowledge on every day.
I am a qualified Teacher, with an Honours Degree in Psychology and a PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) – I have taught for over 15 years in all kinds of settings, teaching everyone from children to adults, humans, horses, dogs and even pigs and everything from riding to confidence building, natural horse keeping and management, reading and writing, dealing with stress and anxiety and improving our memories as well as basic psychology for humans, horses and all kinds of pets!
I have written several books on horse keeping, horse psychology and behaviour and pet psychology and have many more in the ‘pipeline’.
I am able to offer one to one coaching or run workshops and talks on a range of subjects related to the project – please have a look at the workshops and talks page here on the website.
Darren, my fiancé is an excellent accredited photographer and horse guardian, having been chosen and ‘taught’ by some amazing and wonderful horses over the years. He is also the designer and producer of many of the products in our shop and is able to personalise pretty much any item in terms of colours, designs and mixes.
We also enjoy the company of 3 Jack Russell’s in our lives!!
The story so far……..
I have loved animals all of my life and have been lucky enough to have animals in my life since I was very small. Ever since I can remember I have dreamt of owning a horse. It wasn’t until I was 21 and able to afford the lessons myself, that I even started to ride and then I was nearly 30 before Stanley came into my life. Now I consider myself incredibly lucky and honoured as we currently have 10 ponies, 3 horses, 2 pigs and 3 Jack Russells as part of our family, so it’s also pretty busy!
Following years of reading, research and learning, I have had my views changed dramatically as far as animal care and welfare goes. There was a time when I would do what the ‘experts’ told me to do, without question because ‘what did I know about my animals’. I can think of countless times that I did something to or with an animal that I knew didn’t feel right just because an ‘expert’ told me to and i didn’t have the knowledge or the confidence to do any different.
Not any more though. Now I make it my responsibility to find out as much as I can about what it means to be the animal I am working with and do everything in my power to ensure I provide that animal with the things they need to thrive not just survive.
Our animals are part of our family and are each loved deeply but are not pampered or ‘molly-coddled’ – they are treated as individuals in their own rights, with their own unique needs, based as far as possible on what would be natural for them.
When I moved from Orpington to Hastings, East Sussex, my original plan was to set up and run a riding school – little did I know that nearly 13 years down the line, I would be on such a dramatically different course both for me and the equines around me!
For years I have been considered a ‘bit odd’ and probably a bit ‘eccentric’ as far as my horses and ponies – I consider them to be equals not something to be used by me as and when I choose. I also don’t believe that they are ‘defiant’ or ‘naughty’ or any of the other negative or stereotyping expressions we use. I do however, believe they have souls and emotions as we do and are capable of communicating so much to us if only we would listen.
The dream and now reality of the Free Spirit Ponies grew from these beliefs and the knowledge and understanding we are continuing to gain every day. To show by example, how our beloved horses and ponies (and in fact all animals) should be able to live, in accordance with their natural needs and in harmony with humankind not at its mercy.
I know now that this will be a journey without an end but actually that’s wonderful as it means we don’t need to be in a hurry to get there! If we can just help one person help one horse or pony (or other animal) to find a better place in this world, through the examples we set and lessons we learn as we travel through life’s up and downs, we will feel that we have made at least a small positive difference to the world and the beautiful friends we share it with.
The Free Spirit Ponies Project philosophy is based on a few key principles. These are:
- That horses (and all animals) should be treated with respect and as partners not ‘vehicles, slaves or just animals’. Horses are considered to be equals not ‘something’ to be used.
- That horses are not ‘defiant’ or ‘naughty’ or any of the other negative expressions we use – they are simply trying to ‘tell us’ how they are feeling about any given thing.
- That horses have souls and emotions as we do and are capable of communicating and feeling happiness, companionship, love, pain and loss.
- That horses should be allowed as far as possible to live as naturally as possible i.e. freedom, friends and forage – ideally this means living out 24/7 in a stimulating environment, within a stable herd of mixed ages, sexes and breeds, foraging and self-medicating and with constant access to grazing and/or hay, herbs and other beneficial plants and flowers, un-shod and where possible un-rugged, able to play, groom, and perform any and all of their natural behaviours. (Our male horses are gelded as we do not believe in breeding for the sake of breeding, however we do allow and encourage natural ‘relationships’ to be expressed)
- That horses should always have a choice – in their interactions with us, what we do to and with them, in what we teach, in whether they are ridden or what activities we ask them to take part in.
- That all horses have the right, if they are happy to be ridden, to be ridden in minimal, comfortable and well-fitting tack and equipment, bitless – and that ridden work should be based on relationship and harmony not control.
- That all ‘training’ and any interaction with our horses should be positive and based on positive communication and methods, ideally at liberty, from the foundation of science and learning theory. For the Free Spirit Ponies, that means we avoid using punishment or negative reinforcement, except in cases of danger or emergency.
Welcome to our ‘journey’ – please be aware that the above principles will guide the discussions and blog posts here. I don’t expect you to ‘abide’ by these as ‘rules and regulations’ as we are all on our own ‘journey‘ but I do ask that you understand and respect that this is where the foundation of this project lies.
I hope you will enjoy our story as much as we enjoy travelling it and thank you……
Andree and Darren….Stanley, Sky, Louie, Bear, Casper, Willow, Red, Tilly, Bentley, Little Sky, Whipper, Toffee, Gizmo, Percy, Norman, Diesel, Shilo and Indiana…and watching over us from Rainbow Bridge….Cindy, Annie, Puzzle, Flash, Scruffy, Squidge, Wilber, Peggy and Sally xxxx