Interview with Western Trainer Nicole Sherwood

We take five with Nicole Sherwood and find out a few facts about her approach to horses and life. 


๐Ÿ“ธImages by Nicole Ciscato

What drew you to specialising in young horse training? 


Since I was a teenager, I have always enjoyed walking on foot with my horses. I made my youth horse, Cracker, a backpack, where I would put a packed lunch and we would go out walking. I rode that horse for hours on the road just to get to a menage. I have never had any fancy facilities, so when I showed at AQHA as a youth, to train I would use friends menages and some were 10 miles away! Yes, I hacked there and back on him. This was when I was 15/16 years old, so I wasn't driving then.  


When I was 18 years old, my dad bought me a yearling to train myself. I couldn't ride him for 2 years, so I just walked him like you would a dog. By the time I saddled him, I just took him straight out on the routes we had been walking for the past 2 years. Instead of being by his side, I was now on his back. I love the whole preparation of a young horse. They are so willing to learn and are curious. It's lovely to see them grow and progress, and be able to be the first one to teach them their life skills.  


Groundwork is my favourite part of the training. Building a connection with the horse, and teaching them how to release tension and come back to relaxation requires patience, but it's one of my favourite things to teach a horse. As Martin Black says, “It doesn’t matter how many times a horse gets stressed, what matters is they come back down to relaxation, this is when they learn something positive from the situation.” 


Older horses usually have behaviours you have to undo. Yearlings and 2 year olds are my favourite, as most are still in the mindset to accept leadership and reassurance. A ‘blank canvas’ if you want to call it that. 


Who are your biggest influences? 


My biggest influences are Ray Hunt, Martin Black and Craig Cameron. They are the ones I watch a lot of and study how they are with the horses. If I have questions and need to talk to someone, I will ask Steve Young, as he is a friend and he deals with the kind of horses I can come across. I like Warwick's new approach but, in all honesty, it is very hard when you have questions or situations you want to discuss. So, I get my answers by testing different techniques on the horses and see what they say about it. The horse is the best teacher you will ever have if you choose to listen and observe him.  


What are the benefits to training outside the arena and why would you recommend it? 


nicole with young horseAll I know is fields and the road, that's my territory for training. The benefit for the horse is that he gains exposure. It is nothing new to horses being out in hustle and bustle; they were the ‘cars’ once in the towns and cities. It is only in modern times that the horse has been cast off and imprisoned in a 4-fence paddock and not exposed to life. There are many benefits for the horse, but it is the riders that must learn how to expose the horse in the correct way as most horses and people nowadays are both full of fear.  


Nick Dowers said when he went to work for Fappani, he found it incredibly hard to go from the round pen, then straight to the arena. As he was used to going from round pen and straight outdoors in a cattle ranch environment. In an arena, there is no purpose for the horse. Outside in a working environment, he has a job he gets left alone to do. His mind is stimulated because there is lots to take in and be aware of. But in the arena/menage there are only 4 walls, and going up and down them is boring and pointless. Especially for a newly backed horse. I get the babies out and about as soon as they can mentally manage it. The difference between my own horses and customers' horses, is mine are already used to it. They have been exposed to the outside world already. When I start someone else's, I am not just 'backing' them, I am building a new relationship/connection, exposing them to new environments. Dealing with any behaviour that is undesirable, and then once that is in place, then I can start them. Shane told me when I started as a trainer, people would expect 'Moneypits' in 8 weeks. But what people don't understand is all of the above I have just spoken of. 



What is your favourite discipline and why? 


Western riding is all I know, but It doesn't matter what discipline or basically what outfit the horse has to wear to be labelled a discipline. Horsemanship is everything. Horsemanship is the heart and the foundation every horse and person should know. Then you can go and choose a discipline. If I drive a carriage or I ride in an English saddle, then I am horsemanship first. This is a massive thing the horse world needs to understand! Horsemanship is the art of training, riding and handling a horse. When I was doing a clinic this year, an English riding lady asked me if she would be able to 'do' horsemanship and still ride English with her horse. This is how misunderstood the word and meaning of ‘horsemanship’ is in our country. 



If you could give our readers one piece of advice, what would it be? 


nicole western horse birminghamDon’t present things that are too hard to learn, don’t be arrogant. Allow the horse to learn in his own way. This takes discipline and maybe that will be the hardest thing for you. When you’re riding, try to do more by doing less and less. You have to be on the spot every moment because that’s where the horse is. Don’t worry, he’ll teach you if you let him. Fix it up and let it work. Turning loose means that when you reach for him, he softens. It should be like silk all the way.” - Ray Hunt  


 And just for fun. What’s your favourite food and drink? 


Chip shop chips with loads of salt and vinegar. A medium McDonald’s original coca-cola.