In the beginning…
Taphyl Stewart spent his early days on his family's farm in Elsmore a small rural village with a population of 327 in Gough County on the Northern Tablelands. The village is situated 10 km east of Inverell, New South Wales. He grew up with his three older brothers where their major form of play was their imagination and horses so they spent a lot of time riding horses.
Taphyl’s parents had sheep and horses on the 400 acres. So he spent a lot of time watching his father work with the foals and young horses that he was starting. Taphyl’s father would get him and his brothers to sit on the foals’ backs leading them around to get the foals used to having people on them. This helped to get them calm and relaxed. During this time Taphyl learned how to read horses and their expressions through watching and interacting with them.
When Taphyl’s parents had to sell the farm and move to Armidale, they managed to keep some of their riding horses and take them to their new home. Here Taphyl and his brothers were able to ride the horses around town and through the bush. As the four boys got older they started to ride and interact with the horses less and less as the space and freedom to ride became limited. As his older brothers rode less and less so did Taphyl, but his interest in horses never really left him. He would imagine he was a cowboy out on the plains of America or watch television shows/movies with horses in them and try to get his older brothers to go riding with him as he was too small to get the saddle on the horse.
Taphyl’s first pony
At this time Taphyl got to know one of his best teachers, a little buckskin paint pony named Prince. He was one of the last foals bred on the family farm from a Cremello stallion and his brother’s bay paint mare, Slipper. Taphyl first met Prince when he and his brother went with their father to the farm to bring the foal back to their new home in Armidale. The foal was loaded into a Toyota van with Taphyl and Brylan holding him in the middle of the van.
Taphyl watched and worked with his father when he was training the foal. It wasn't until Taphyl started riding Prince that he learned the most from him. He was a very strong-willed little pony that wanted to get higher on the pecking order than any of the other horses. Prince also wanted to dominate some people as well. The best lesson Taphyl learned from this strong willed pony was how to become the top horse or leader of the heard.
First experiences with Natural Horsemanship
During Taphyl's late teens and early twenties, he drifted away from his passion of horses to follow another of his interests–carpentry and wood working. It was his friend Emily who brought him back to horses. Emily introduced Taphyl to Natural Horsemanship. Prior to his association with Emily, he had not really heard of a different way of handling horses other than ‘breaking horses in’.
Taphyl describes his first experience with Natural Horsemanship as something that he will never forget. His friend Emily demonstrated what is called “join up” by Monty Roberts.
“Emily asked me if she could work with my brother’s horse, Sonus, when he wouldn't let me catch him in the paddock. After about 30 to 40 minutes she had the horse following her around which amazed me. Emily taught me how I could do the same thing. I will remember this experience for the rest of my life. I was blown away with the idea of a horse following me around of its own free will without a halter. It is something I never expected to ever see.”
“It was just the best feeling to have a horse that would never allow itself to be caught with out a lot of work, or feed for inducement, just follow me. This was the second big lesson I learned. Again, if it wasn't for a horse named Sonus, I probably would have never have come back to my first great passion in life.”
Learning natural horsemanship
After that encounter with Sonus and Emily, Taphyl started to look into Natural Horsemanship as a way to work with horses. Using the internet, Taphyl found out about Monty Roberts and began reading his books. He tried to emulate and follow this form of horsemanship. When Taphyl visited his grandmother in the United States, he also planned to spend time at Monty Robert's Farm. He did a couple of his courses. Knowing that he needed to practice what he learned, when Taphyl returned to Australia, he purchased two wild Brumbies from Guy Faulkes. Using this two young colts, Taphyl started to teach himself more about natural horsemanship.
As Taphyl worked with the Brumbies, he also studied more Natural Horsemen. Taphyl’s father had talked about Jim Wilton. As Taphyl investigated the personal history and the philosophy of Jim Wilton, he became aware of others in the field. His investigations lead to Des Kirk, Kel Jeffrey, John Pinnell and Steve Brady. He read the books and watched videos of other Natural Horsemen like Bob Miller, Sean Patrick, John Lyons, Pat Perelli and Buck Brannaman. Following the trail led him to a couple of older horsemen named Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance.
From these men, Taphyl found that his interest intensified and from these experts he really started to learn some of the most important things for working with horses. These horsemen were getting him to think about where the horses were coming from. They emphasised that to work successfully with a horse, you have to stop and think about the training event from the horse’s point of view and his needs, rather than the trainers.
The supreme lesson for all of us
Learning to think like a horse is one of the most important lessons that everyone who wants to work with horses should learn.
“This is a great lesson that we all need to learn whether we work with horses or not. Being able to see how the other person or animal, might be thinking about the interaction helps in all areas of life. It is not just working with horses but with every thing and everyone that you come across in your life.”