Kathie Gregory is a qualified animal behaviourist and trainer and has worked in the industry since 2001. Passionate about raising standards and awareness in how we teach and work with animals, she encourages everyone to use the best methods available. We caught up with Kathie for an interview, to find out a little more ...
KG: I was so thrilled to own horses for the first time that I kept a diary documenting their progress.
When meeting Charlie and Star, people commented that they were not typical of the reactive Thoroughbreds they knew, and how lovely to see chilled, content horses. They could see what a difference I'd made, and said that others would be interested in my methods and how I achieved what I had. Of course, that got me thinking. I realised I had the bones of a book already in place by charting their progress, so after discussing it with my husband I began the process of writing A Tale of Two Horses.
Can you explain the concept of free will teaching?
KG: Yes. It focuses on advanced cognition and emotional intelligence. By enhancing an animal’s cognitive abilities and awareness of self, he is able to make decisions and choices for himself. I then teach him how to manage his emotional responses, so he can regulate his emotions, enabling a balanced response to whatever situation he finds himself in. It gives him the autonomy to think and behave freely, and I can trust that he will behave appropriately for the situation with little, if any, guidance from me.
How do you use free will teaching in day-to-day interaction with Charlie & Star?
KG: Free will teaching is a way of life, so it is used in every single decision and action. My mindset, body language, and speech are all part of free will teaching. How I approach managing the horses’ environment, teach them, respond and adjust during our conversations every day, are part of the whole concept.
What are the main benefits for the animal(s)/people of FWT?
KG: The list is huge, but I'll keep it to a few key benefits!
*You don't have to put time aside to do specific exercises: free will teaching is not something you train; it informs your approach to everything you do, whether working directly with your horse or attending to management and husbandry issues. This means you are using it all the time and it naturally progresses and develops the mind.
*Safety and reliability is a huge issue when working with animals as large and strong as horses. Problems occur when horses cannot control their emotional response; FWT shows them how to manage their emotional mind so they can cope with situations without going into a blind panic and acting on instinct. They are capable of controlling their reaction to assess the situation and give an appropriate response, unless, of course, they genuinely do feel threatened. The point is they learn to be in control of their mind to make that distinction.
*Every part of it is force-free, ethical, and with the best interests of the horse at heart. A contented, happy mindset free of fear and anxiety results in a well balanced horse who can achieve his full potential, and take you further than you thought possible.
KG: Yes, I did. During the first year, Star suffered an eye injury that required drops to be administered several times a day for over a week. Overcoming Star's reluctance for me to do this took a little time and patience. I worked on getting closer to her eye in small steps that she could cope with. When she was not comfortable I moved away and we started again. After a couple of days the procedure was down to a fine art. Star stood with her eye open, and I put in the drops: it took about 3 seconds.
I also had a challenge with Charlie. He applied active defence strategies when he realised he had a voice and a choice. It resulted in a strong offensive of biting and rearing to let me know he was not going to do anything asked of him. This outcome is anticipated and expected when an animal reclaims his ability to express himself and it is often a necessary part of rehabilitation. It was resolved by understanding the reasons for the behaviour and adjusting to defuse the situation and increase his sense of safety, rather than try to combat and suppress his actions.
Do you work with dogs as well as horses? Any other animals?
KG: Yes, I work with dogs, too. I have many clients around North Devon teaching their dogs language, choice and decision-making, with great success. I occasionally work with cats, but concentrate mainly on horses and dogs.
What can people find on your new website? When will it launch?
KG: I'm really excited about the new website. It has the concepts of FWT and more detailed information about what I do. My blog is now included in the website, so you can catch up with Charlie and Star, and meet my puppies, Wolfie and Remy. Look at the Courses page for more details of my book A Tale of Two Horses, along with the workshops and seminars I teach. I also have a new course in the pipeline, so keep checking in for updates and news. My website is about to be launched, so there is a good chance it will be live by the time this newsletter goes to print. www.freewillteaching.com
Two horses with behavioural problems embark on a rehabilitation programme using only positive, reward based methods, developing into self confident, well balanced horses. Woven throughout is the story of their owner’s life on a rural farm, and insights into her work with dogs, cats and other species as an animal behaviourist.
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