EMMA MASSINGALE grew up around animals and horses and it was from an early age that she realised she could connect with them in ways others could not. She admits to not being an academic in the traditional sense at school and it wasn’t long before she realised it was being with horses that would become her life’s work.
Emma has travelled the world pursuing her passion of working with horses and has been the subject of television documentaries and newspaper articles. She even spent 30 days alone with trained and wild ponies on an island for an adventure named The Island Project which you can find out more about and buy the DVD of at www.emmamassingale.com.
In this exclusive interview Emma talks to us about her adventures and work with horses and shares some of her experiences from The Island Project. Read on to find out about the riding school she has set up in Devon as well as her exciting plans for the rest of the year and beyond.
Where does your passion for horses stem from and when was it you realised you could form a bond with them like no-one else?
My very first memory is of playing with animals, my godmother just before she died gave me a pony she had bred called Mini. Mini along with a pet chicken were the two most important things in my life when I was a child.
I was never the best rider or anything, in fact, I hated Pony Club the couple of times my neighbour would take me. I loved spending time outside and just playing with them.
I found school difficult as I’m very dyslexic and so left at the age of 15. I knew I needed a career and horses were the only thing I was really good at. I persuaded a local lady to let me train her horse for her, I didn’t know how to I just worked it out as I went along. From that horse onwards I realised I could connect with horses, they liked me and even some of the most difficult/dangerous horses would seem to want to look after me and so my life working with horses began.
I went from fixing dangerous horses here in the UK and Europe to developing a way of communicating with whole herds of them in complete freedom, so no head collar or lead rope, saddle or bridle.
Where in the world has your interest in horses taken you and what have been some of your biggest adventures?
I have trained horses all over the place: Australia, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Germany, Denmark, France, Spain, Portugal. But my biggest adventure has to be surviving 30 days on an uninhabited island off the West Coast of Ireland. I took four of my trained ponies and then took two wild ponies and trained the wild ponies without any equipment. While on the island I just took rice with me and went spear fishing to catch my food to eat. It was awesome getting to connect with Nature on a whole new level. Having the ponies with me prevented me from ever being lonely or missing humans to talk to, in fact seeing them thriving on terrain they were bred for gave me the confidence to thrive too… I loved every second, I could have stayed there
Tell us about the school you founded in Devon and the opportunities it gives those with an interest in horses?
Having taught myself how to work with horses and realising that despite the elitist image having a horse creates, I wanted to keep it real and to inspire young people to feel confident that you only need two things, passion and hard work… the rest will follow. I train people how to trust there instincts, how to look and feel for the animal stood in front of them not just think of what they want the horse to do for them.
What was the inspiration behind the Island Project and where can our readers find out more about your experiences on the Irish island back in 2015?
I broke my back a few years ago (falling off a horse) and literally sat at the breakfast table drinking a cup of coffee sobbing, I knew at that point I either had to give up or give it everything, training horses is hard, it’s extremely physical, everyday my body hurts, you never get a day off, it’s relentless.
As the last tear hit the table I decided, that was it… I wasn’t going to just train horses for money, I wanted to learn more, follow my dreams, immerse myself in adventure.
It’s quite difficult thinking of adventures with horses because packing light isn’t really an option, after all three tonnes of horse needs a fare amount of planning and logistics to get anywhere.
I came up with The Island Project as a way of testing myself without risking my horses in anyway. The horses didn’t need me on the island, they could be totally self sufficient. I was interested to find out if you set them free somewhere they really didn’t need a human, would they still want to stay with me or would they revert to being wild again as I didn’t have any head collars or ropes etc. At 5am everyday they were outside my tent!
Tell us about your television work and how important it is to you to share your experiences and passion with a wider audience?
Getting to share an adventure is simply the coolest feeling. Over the last few years I have worked hard to be able to do what I love the most, while sharing my adventures and experiences with people along the way. I have a great, interactive group of followers on social media and YouTube. When I was training horses for clients I used to think I was helping, but I realise now that projects like The Island Project is how to make a real difference.
After The Island Project I received so many messages, saying how I had inspired them, one letter was from a lady whose dream it was to ride but had had a car accident so had let go of that dream as being impossible, since following The Island Project she found the courage to join the RDA (Riding for the Disabled) and has full filled her life long dream. Another letter was from a young man who had broken his back canoeing, he had totally given up on his adventurous life, he sent me a photograph of himself back in his canoe for the first time!
I feel it is my goal to help and encourage others not by simply talking about something but by actually following my dreams if this can then sow a seed of inspiration to someone else which is sometimes all that is needed to transform dreams into reality.
What exciting projects are you currently working on and what do you have lined up for the rest of the year and beyond?
My next adventures is to the Alps in the Hoof steps of Hannibal. One of the greatest feats in History was when Hannibal led his army of 15,000 Horses and 37 Elephants over the Alps to Rome. I am going to try to free ride the high mountain passes that he is said to have crossed 2,000 years ago, some are up as 10,000ft so it’s going to be a huge challenge but it is exciting to get to engage in something totally all encompassing.
One thing I have learnt over the years is that deep down in your heart if you have a goal, you can achieve it.