by Julie Bradbury

As the Black Pearl celebrates turning 18, we’ve been reflecting on our journey to date and the lessons she has taught us - far too many for this blog but here’s a short overview.

Jeltsje is an 18 year old Friesian mare, leader and most senior member of the Gordonsdale Herd in Aberdeenshire. She’s also the member with the most diagnoses and somewhat depressing prognoses. She begs to differ and instead she embodies the whole philosophy of listening to the horse and not the diagnosis!

Briefly, she has confirmed neurological impact from Lyme Disease - ataxic gait, facial paralysis and damaged neural pathways of movement, especially on her right side. She also has extensive advanced high and low ringbone in both hind legs. She has touching spinous processes - kissing spine - in two places and a few other issues uncovered through investigations a few years ago.

But that is all her old story now! We could have taken the advice to let her go “as she wouldn’t be able to do very much”. Instead, we chose to listen to her and see what she had to say about building new neural pathways of movement, about figuring out how to rebalance a contracted and very upright Friesian body, about how to release and reconnect her with her whole body, even the parts her brain appeared to be no longer ‘speaking’ to ... after all, I reasoned, many humans are helped to regain movement and more following significant brain injuries and strokes etc. Surely we could utilize that kind of approach and do the same with and for Jeltsje.

Studying classical training exercises gave me the starting point for whole body rehab ... it led to many revelations and many, many discoveries I never set out to make - or, of course, even suspected. Classical training has indeed helped the Black Pearl to discover her deep healing. She continues to build on that all the time. At eighteen years old, she is stronger and in more robust health than at any time in the last ten years. It has also helped us to develop our holistic approach to the lifestyle the herd have here. They live out on surfaced tracks with ad lib organic hays and access daily to old rough pasture. They’re all barefoot and have strong rock crunching feet. There are several ridden horses amongst them and they’re all ridden bitless - and frequently tackless!

We live and train by a few mantras here, simple ones that embody our philosophy - namely ‘less is more’, and ‘meet strength with softness’ ... as a result of truly embracing these philosophies, courtesy of the teachings of the Black Pearl, I mostly train completely at liberty these days - no whips, bits or spurs and total respect for the horses’ choices. If they choose to leave the training session then they choose to leave. Interestingly, I can’t remember the last time anyone left! and there’s a queue on a daily basis to come and train ... perhaps that’s because our overriding training philosophy is that it’s ‘for the horse - mind, body and soul’. It’s all about being the best version of ourselves, humans and horses.


A key part of our journey has been the incredible humans we’ve come across over these years, ones that have opened up new doors and routes to better health. Rhoni at Horseward has been one of these very special humans. She came into my life at a really difficult time and gave everything of herself to help. She’s gone on to trust me with a very special horse as well as offer advice and help for several of the herd members. The Black Pearl has benefitted from the magic of Horseward’s Golden Power Plus, to the extent that she can now bend and flex her hind legs in a way that her x-rays would say could never be possible again. I may have mentioned that the Black Pearl doesn’t care for diagnoses, she just cares for the moment she is in. If she wants to dance, then she does indeed dance! The Golden Power Plus has taken the dancing to levels we could never have dreamed of and I don’t doubt, these days, that there is more to come.