Ross barker became involved with horses aged twenty in 1995. At this time Mel was on her first ever break for fifteen years from being a horse owner. The year previously she reluctantly had to retire her 17.2hh hunter Winston to a good friend to be kept as a pet. Winston had been treated for navicular disease over several years with remedial shoeing and it sadly had not worked. Initially Ross and Mel loaned a cracking Dales pony called Thomas and part shared two other horses to get involved with horses on a daily basis and hack out together. Ross too was now hooked on horses.

They both attended a Monty Roberts demonstration in Harrogate, UK in 1997 after coming across Monty’s book ‘The Man Who Listens To Horses’. Monty was blazing a trail and selling out large venues as he promoted his ‘join up’ theory and more ‘sympathetic’ horse training methods. Ross and Mel bought their first horse together in 2001, a Welsh Section D called Soli. Aged seven, it transpired Soli had made his way through seven owners in seven years. It was Soli’s very acute instincts that became the catalyst for them to expand their knowledge and skills outside of the traditional horse keeping practices that had served Mel, (and to a much lesser extent Ross), extremely well up to this point. It was a corner stone that sparked a rapid expansion of their book collection and need to discover more about newer methods of training. Alexander Kurland’s book ‘Introduction to Clicker Training’ was the first ‘alternative’ publication but many authors including Bill and Tom Dorrence, John Lyons, Pat Parelli, Buck Brannaman filled the book shelves. Open to new ideas, coupled with their approach to keeping and training horses more ‘naturally’, it was after reading an article on barefoot in a UK horse magazine in 2002 which led them to first take the shoes off Soli. After just two weeks and a small ‘panic’ over a chip smaller than the size of a finger nail on his hoof they booked their farrier to come out and put them back on. The thought of horses working with no shoes was still a difficult concept for Mel to handle after many years believing in the common perception that all horses should be shod when they were brought into work.

In 2004 Ross and Mel took Soli - and shortly after their other two Irish cob youngster’s Boncey and Billy and 15hh cob Dolly - to regular Parelli clinics and private weekend tuition, with at that time, UK Parelli instructor Lynn Henry Lynn’s holistic approach to horses, married with a Shiatsu and Equine Iridology qualification was a well matched philosophy for them. Mel attended a horse owner’s course on Shiatsu for horses arranged by Lynn at her farm in Leeds. Lynn has since written the successful series of children’s books ‘Think Like a Pony’ and hosts horsemanship clinics all around the UK. Ross and Mel advanced their own horsemanship skills over the next two years and Mel worked through stages 1, 2 and 3 of the Parelli training programme. They attended their first Parelli conference in Solihull, UK in 2004.

While studying natural horsemanship they significantly became hooked on the philosophy of saddle fitting with the horse’s – as well as the riders - right to comfort in mind and they were introduced to Balance International Saddles. It made perfect sense and they quickly started to see what many ridden horses were tolerating due to ill fitting saddles and muscle atrophy. Around that time they crucially got their first barefoot publication by Jaime Jackson ‘Horse Owners Guide To Natural Hoof Care’ and under supervision of their local farrier Chris Adams they had the shoes taken off Soli and then Dolly, and gradually took over the trimming of all their four horses. With no barefoot trimming professionals anywhere near Yorkshire due to it being the very infant stages of ‘barefoot’ they relied on Chris’s support and purchased every available book, DVD and video on natural hoof care as well as studying information from the pioneering natural hoof care websites on the internet.

The thirst for knowledge into natural horse care snowballed and they attended the UK’s groundbreaking Natural Horse Gathering in 2006 held at a former yard of Grand Prix dressage rider Lucinda Mcalpine near Henley on Thames, UK. They had the opportunity to see the famous barefoot race horse ‘Saucy Night’ do a light hearted Horse V Human steeple chase. These were very exciting and pioneering times because the trainer Simon Earl had turned around Saucy Night from a poor performing shod race horse into a winning barefoot race horse. The demonstration leaving the greatest impression of all from the weekend had been presented by Lavinia Mitchell and Sarah Harris representing Balance International saddles Ross and Mel attended several more such demonstrations in the following months and both of them felt repeatedly ‘moved’ by the astonishing changes in the horses fitted with a wider, more comfortable saddle that allowed for the dynamic movement in horses rather than the traditional idea of fitting to a horses static shape.

In 2005 they successfully applied to the American Association of Natural Hoof Care Practitioners training programme in the USA and completed their very first orientation clinic with Jaime Jackson who left a big impression on them both. This coupled with field research with wild mustangs in Nevada cemented their passion for equine health, natural horse keeping practices and natural hoof care. At the orientation clinic they were introduced to Jaime’s revolutionary idea for ‘Paddock paradise’. The book was still being written and waiting to be unveiled on the global horse owning community, but when it did it started to change the concept of a traditional livery yards - often alien to the horse’s physiology – for thousands of horse owners. After the book became available Ross and Mel created their own Paddock Paradise and have since consulted on its set up with many clients and friends. The AANHCP training programme gave Ross and Mel the opportunity to study with leading pioneers of barefoot trimming who were amazing themselves and others at the very powerful healing abilities of natural hoof care. Their progressive mentorship based training took them coast to coast across America visiting 7 U.S. states and included Chad Bembeneck (Wisconsin USA) now field instructor with the esteemed Equine Sciences Academy and founding member of the American Hoof Association. Todd Jaynes (Georgia USA) now field instructor and public education clinician with the Equine Sciences Academy and UKNHCP field instructor. Charles Hall CFJ (Tennessee USA), founding member of the original AANHCP and now Equine Sciences Academy field instructor. Ida Hammer (Illinois USA) successful hoof care clinician, and Bruce Nock Ph D (Missouri USA) founder of Liberated Horsemanship, and acclaimed author of ‘The ten golden rules of horse training’. The big message from Bruce about stress and horses was a very important ‘light bulb’ moment for Ross and Mel, ‘Stress endocrinology has been a focus of his research for many years. He has a deep understanding of the negative impact stress can have on a horse’s life’. Bruce’s seminar made perfect sense and they continue in the belief that it is a significant issue within their day to day practice.

In 2006 they attended a UK hosted clinic with Pete Ramey and in the same year attended a five day course in North America with the HPT method of trimming founding member KC La Pierre and the ‘Applied Equine Podiatry’ training programme

As qualified natural hoof care practitioners with the AANHCP it was a natural progression for them both to become members of the newly established United Kingdom Natural Hoof Care Practitioners and they attended the UK’s first conference for a professional Natural Hoof Care training organisation held in 2006 in North Wales. The conference was attended by around 30 individuals including co founder Nic Barker co founder member Sarah Braithwaite  Paul Jackson RSF, Mathew Jackson Dip WCF and Mark Johnson Dip WCF. Ross and Mel, not people to miss out on an educational ‘gift horse’ seized the opportunity to study with them in the field with their mentor’s own clientele to gain further experience and knowledge. As part of the UKNHCP’s expanding membership and international training programme Ross and Mel became field instructors in 2007 and have enjoyed taking mentorship strings for students as well as running the UKNHCP’s training course on professional hoof boot fitting. The UKNHCP training programme has provided, and continues to provide, high levels of excellence for practitioners and students. In 2007, UKNHCP training courses included: the UKNHCP Veterinary Update held at Leahurst veterinary hospital. An Equine Behaviour Clinic run by Ben Hart leading horse and donkey behaviour trainer and author of several works including ‘The Horseman Within – The Principles of Horsemanship’ and the Equine Nutrition Clinic For Natural Hoof Care Practitioners hosted by Independent Equine Nutritionist Claire McLeod MSc RNutr author of ‘The Truth About Feeding Your Horse’

For the third annual UKNHCP conference in 2008 they attended a three day intensive seminar by Professor Robert Bowker VMD PhD of Michigan State University Bowker is a world leading scientific researcher on the equine hoof ‘focusing upon understanding how nerves aid and improve foot function, how horses use the many sensations present in the foot to negotiate within its environment and how the foot dissipates energy and supports the whole horse during health and disease conditions’ In 2008 Mel also attended an anatomy and gait assessment clinic hosted by leading Physiotherapist Mary Bromily who pioneered the transference of physiotherapeutic methods from humans to the equine athlete as well as writing several equine books over her 35 year plus career including ‘Massage Techniques For Horse And Rider’

Mel joined Lavinia Mitchell (UK) for regular saddle fitting mentorships between 2007 and 2010. To add to her knowledge Mel has also attended several saddle fitting clinics. In 2007 a ‘Saddle Fitting Seminar for Professionals ‘with Carol Brett, co founder of Balance International Saddles and co author of ‘straight forward Riding’. The accompanying clinic ‘Straight Forward Riding’ run by Carol in the same year was another ‘not to be missed’ fascinating educational opportunity which also sparked their enthusiasm of the Feldenkrais technique. They have since attended Feldenkrais courses with leading instructor Vreni Booth who translates the method from classroom into the saddle effortlessly and they rate the results for both horse and rider very highly. Mel has also attended a Professional Saddle Fitter’s course with Dave Johnson in 2008 founder of Saddle Company Saddles as well as Lavinia’s very own Saddle Consultant Certification Training Course held in 2010.

Throughout 2007 to 2009 Ross and Mel dedicated one to two days most weeks to training with Emma Lethbridge BSc .Emma is currently studying a PhD in the nature and etiology of stereotypic behaviour in equines and released her first book ‘Knowing Your Horse – A Guide to Equine Learning, Training and Behaviour’ while tutoring Ross and Mel. Three of their horses; Soli, Billy and Dolly make up part of the case studies in the book to demonstrate the science based learning theory for horse training Emma promotes. As well as being a very accomplished horse woman in her own right, Emma is also an EET (1) qualified instructor (training with Heather Moffet of Enlightened Equitation) which has complemented Ross and Mel’s love of classical training. This period of Ross and Mel’s development was very significant and it helped them gain a wider knowledge of clicker training horses. Alexander Kurland has been a major teacher for them also and they rate her clicker training books and comprehensive DVD library as amongst the best educational material they have used.

Equine nutrition plays an increasingly significant role in both rehabilitating, and maintaining health and performance for 100’s of Ross and Mel’s clients. In 2009 Mel enrolled on the excellent equine nutrition online courses run by Eleanor Kellon VMD, one of a handful of experts in the field of applications of nutraceuticals for horses The knowledge gained from the courses continues to prove itself as the final piece of the puzzle in many of their rehabilitation cases.

For Ross and Mel the principle of whole horse care is paramount. When faced with new consultations they are eager to assess every aspect of the horse’s lifestyle to create the best action plan possible. ‘Everything is Everything’. They continue to educate themselves for both their professional careers, as well as for the love of their own horses. Hoof care, nutrition, environment, saddle fitting, veterinary care, equine dentistry, balanced and humane training and riding and the involvement of professional body workers are inclusive in their approach where relevant. Every horse and every mentor who they have worked with has given them something to help them explore their progressive thinking and ideas. Exploring possibilities is fundamental to them and they take away the good from ALL their courses and training. For Ross and Mel every horse owner and professional should ‘explore the possibilities’ without prejudice within all horse / human relationships. 

Ross and Mel have so many people to thank for their knowledge, help and support. These are just a few that deserve a special mention who have not already been included. They have all directly influenced their work with horses.

Emily O’Sullivan BSc (Hons) ost med PGDIP Emily has helped them rehabilitate one of their own horses, Dolly and helped her to enjoy being ridden after several years of previous pelvis issues. Emily has also been invaluable in rehabilitating many of Ross and Mel’s client’s horses. The lady with the magic hands!

Jane Fletcher RCVS. Jane’s experience and considerable wisdom as a traditional vet who has expanded her practise into holistic therapies, works in and around the Greater Manchester area of the UK. Jane’s extensive list of treatment options, but particularly homeopathic remedies, and the astonishing results on Ross and Mel’s horses, cats and ferret, as well as treatments on their client’s horses have been a revelation.

Patrice Edwards Patrice is a current life member of the ‘Training Teachers Of Tomorrow Trust’ in the UK. Her training focuses on the classical approach to dressage training and explores the principles that focus on the biomechanics of horses and rider. She has trained many horses and riders form novice to Grand Prix level and both teaches and lectures all around the world. The knowledge Patrice has on crookedness in horse and rider is second to none!

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