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TWOTH Update - Communication Key for Cowboy Dressage Champ

Growing up around horses, Ken Faulkner always felt something was just a little off in the way cowboys handled their animals.

It didn’t take this horseman long to figure out a far better way and now, decades later, he is in demand across the globe, to share his knowledge. Faulkner is one of the four invited to go head-to-head in EQUITANA Melbourne’s All-Star TWOTH. The 2012 TWOTH winner, along with Bruce O’Dell (2014 champ), Adam Sutton (2010 champ) and Kiwi Tui Teka (EQUITANA Auckland 2017 winner) will have just hours over four days to transform unhandled horses from wild to willing...

“When I was a young fella and helping my uncles with the horses, it was all old style – people were rougher but not deliberately,” says Faulkner. “Now things have progressed as people learn more.”

He was just 16 when he started to create his own style of working with horses, and over the years he’s continued to add to it along with influences from Dr Rob Miller, Tom Dorrance and others who follow a natural style of horsemanship...

“They utilise and understand animal behaviour,” he says.

Faulkner ducks away from any fancy names preferring to “just call myself a horseman”. But he’s one who many now look to for guidance, assistance and inspiration. Last year he did a presentation with Dr Miller at the world finals of the cowboy dressage. “I first met him in 1997 and it was a real honour to present alongside him.”

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That it was at the world finals for cowboy dressage was another bonus as it is now Faulkner’s preferred discipline. Think classical dressage with a softer feel. He’s worked his way through polocrosse and rodeo but this is now his focus and passion. He had three catch rides at the world finals for two firsts and a second – on a borrowed horse, for the past two years has been the Australian open champ and just recently he picked up the Queensland State crown too.

“I have a bit of a theory,” he says. “A competitive rider doesn’t need to be much of a horseman, but a horseman can be a competitor.” He’s got two special horses at home – the US-imported Whizitation and King’s Invader whose line goes back to the early cutting horses. He’s had great success with both and they also double as demo horses for clinics and aren’t bad at mustering too. “They are both very talented horses.” Faulkner and wife Kathy Stewart, one of Australia’s leading cowboy dressage judges and a very accomplished horsewoman herself, live on 400 acres where they annually start between 20-40 horses. The equines come from all sorts of backgrounds – endurance to reining, warmbloods and more. But Faulkner spends a lot of time on the road, giving presentations across Australia, and in New Zealand, England, France, the United States and Japan. “I like it a lot,” he says. “It is great to be able to try and help people understand horses. From my own perspective, when I was growing up the answers just weren’t there. It’s different now.”

He’s noticed too there is quite a difference between how nationalities interact with horses. “The horses don’t change but the climates do and the closeness to people make a slightly different angle from where they come from. In Europe the horses are a little more aware of people so they tend to be more disdainful. They are quick to ignore and talk to the hand.”

Communication is the key to everything in Faulkner’s world. “That encompasses everything – the body language, tone and attitude and the five senses. A good horse trainer needs to be aware and stimulate all five. As the horse gets more information, he stops needing to be a prey animal.

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As he gets more educated, he has less need for the flight response that prey animals have. However, Dr Miller believes as we breed more athletic and better horses, we are strengthening the flight process in our horses. It is the only domesticated animal that time hasn't dulled the negative reactions of the prey animal.”

He explains that for a horse to be an athlete, he has to respond faster and stronger and so too will be his negative reactions. “So we need to know how to get along with them and how to train them. The old style of training is just not relevant any longer.”

His TWOTH win in 2012 remains one of his life’s highlights. “It was so prestigious. They called me a veteran horse trainer back then . . . I wonder what I may be called this year!”

The victory was another step in his journey, giving him credibility to a far broader range of people. “It didn’t change my direction, but more people became aware of what I do and it gave me a lot of confidence.”

Faulkner was just coming back from a head injury, and the TWOTH win was his way of saying “I’m back”.

He is excited to be lining up against the others for EQUITANA Melbourne. “I am sort of looking at this one as being more of a showcase – more of an education presentation than a competition.”

He’s got his own reasons for viewing it like that. “I get so nervous when I am competing. It is weird. I calm my nerves by breathing a lot and sort of go inside myself. Nerves aren’t a bad thing mind you – they have a way of making you sharp and keeping you grounded. If you don’t get nervous you are either an idiot or a liar!”

For more information on Ken and the rest of the IRT The Way Of The Horse Champion of Champions contestants, click here!