My guest today is author Ann Nyberg Bradley. Ann and I met recently at a birthday party for my stepdaughter, Lauren, and, because she and Lauren had originally met at the stables where Lauren boards her horse, the conversation naturally gravitated to the equine. That’s when I learned that Ann had authored two books about horses: Of Life and Horses: The Nature of the Horse, and Of Life and Horses: Cooperation Through Communication. I was immediately intrigued, and asked Ann if she’d allow me to interview her for my blog. Here is the result.
Ann: Thank you, Joe. It’s my pleasure.
Joe: So, Ann, tell me, when did you first become interested in horses, and what made you want to write about them?
Ann: I guess I’ve been fascinated with horses for as long as I can remember. Back when I was young, in the fifties, it was not uncommon to see roadside pony rides, and I always begged my parents to stop so I could ride a pony. My mother said that if I was still interested when I was 10, I could take riding lessons.
Joe: And . . . were you, and did you?
Ann: I was and I did! That was the beginning of the end for me. I started riding with the Mission Valley Pony Club in 1960, and continued through 1967. After college, I started riding some horses for other people. I was paid three dollars a head, but what I learned in those early years was invaluable, and I began to put my prior instruction to use. I also began to see some things differently from what I had learned. As time went by I began to teach as well as train, but I found many of the riders I taught didn’t always follow or understand my beliefs. Many of them wanted to, but they didn’t “get” it. That was what planted the seed in my mind to try to write down the theory I wanted to teach, although it was many years before I actually did it.
Joe: Regarding your two books, what makes them so unique?
Ann: I think I present a perspective on horses and how they learn that is quite different from many others who work with horses. My books offer (for some people) a paradigm shift in the way one views and interacts with horses. Many horse trainers and handlers react to a horse’s behavior—often times resisting or punishing the behavior exhibited. I think we need to get underneath those behaviors and determine what it is that fuels them. Most often, if a horse is exhibiting “bad behavior,” the underlying state of being is one of fear, pain, confusion, frustration or resentment—or any combination thereof. If we can alleviate the fear, address the pain, clear up any confusion, mitigate frustration, and not give the horse any reason for resentment, then the “bad behavior” will begin to resolve itself. As I like to say: calm, attentive, willing horses don’t do “bad things,” so let’s focus on getting them calm, willing, and attentive instead of punishing the behavior that arises from fear, pain, confusion, frustration or resentment.
Joe: Well, that’s certainly a different approach. Of course, most people are familiar with the “horse whisperer”, Buck Brannaman. Is what you’ve written somewhat somewhat similar in philosophy to what he advocates?
Ann: Yes, in many ways. Allthough, my books are theory books as opposed to “how to” books. I think my theory and Buck’s are largely in line with one another, but we might address the “how to” aspect differently. That’s fine, though, as the underlying theory is, in my opinion, more beneficial than the particular “how to” instructions. Horses can learn to do anything via different aiding systems, but the trainer’s underlying intentions and expectations far outweigh the particular aids given.
Joe: How so?
Ann: Well, the best trainers will always have the horse’s best interests at heart, and they have learned to expect what they want. Though the latter is easier said than done, because many riders will expect what they don’t want. But I believe Buck definitely meets the criteria of an excellent trainer as his heart is in the right place. Approaching a horse with a pure heart will automatically change one’s overall demeanor versus approaching a horse with the simple intention of “showing him who’s boss.” Our training should focus more on gaining the horse’s understanding of what we want rather than his obedience. If he is calm and attentive, and understands what we are asking, then he will most likely be obedient.
Joe: That certainly makes a lot of horse sense. [I can’t believe I said that.] So what makes sense to you, Ann? When you’re not writing books about horses, what kinds of things interest you?
Ann: Like most people, my life changed quite a bit with the onset of the viral pandemic. Prior to the COVID-19 quarantines and shut downs, I was taking a number of weekly classes—yoga, dancing, boxing, painting, and an agility class with my dog, Riley. All of those activities have been on hold since March, but a couple have started going online via Zoom. But I am able to get my dog out every day for walks, and I exercise my horses daily.
Joe: Well, at least you get to see your horses. The virus certainly has changed our lives, I would agree. So, Ann, do you have any plans for more writing, perhaps a novel?
Ann: I originally planned on three books for a little series, but I’ve been remiss in working on the third. But, no, I definitely wouldn’t write a novel, though I am an avid reader and love reading novels. But, as a writer, I stick to things I know, which is horses. I’m not creative enough to write a novel.
Joe: Somehow I doubt that. You’ve certainly shown that you can write—at least about horses. I would think your books would be at the top of every horse owner’s Christmas wish list. Anyway, I guess that about wraps ‘er all up. Thanks so much for being my guest today.
Ann: You’re very welcome.
NOTE: If you’re a horse owner, or are just interested in the interaction between man and horse, I would highly recommend Ann’s two books: Of Life and Horses: The Nature of the Horse, and Of Life and Horses: Cooperation Through Communication. Both are available in paperback and Kindle editions through Amazon.com. And, yes, they would make excellent stocking stuffers!