This is probably one of the hardest posts I've ever had to write. I don't really know where to start.
As many of you may know already James Roberts died in a car crash last night. We were told early this morning and have been in shock ever since. I have thought of all sorts of things to write about James and have decided that I must write in a style he would have approved of. He had rules at his yard which included "You can't say anything negative", "Don't talk about the past", so I'll try and stick to those rules here.
When talking about James it is difficult to find anything negative to say anyway, so that bits easy.
He always tried to encourage me, whatever he privately thought about my ambitions, and had a happy knack of understanding what it was that I needed to hear right now to help me progress as quickly as possible. That is the mark of a true teacher.
He never ever talked down to anyone, and made a point of understanding what point they were in their progress and then impart information in a way that expanded that progress. It would have been easy for him to have baffled me at the start of my time with him but he could put over complicated topics in a way that I could understand, then as my knowledge grew he would explain the same thing but in a more advanced way. Thus it was easy to learn from him, you were never made to feel in awe of him, just that he was a little ahead of you all the time. That is a very encouraging teaching style.
Before I started going to James I really did not understand Natural Horsemanship at all. I had seen the DVDs and had a few lessons, but it was only watching James play with young colts and putting all those techniques and principles to work that I could start to glimpse the whole picture that the little jig-saw pieces I had fitted into. He emphasised so strongly that techniques were not the corner stone of Natural Horsemanship, the principles were. The number of different ways I have seen him start colts was astonishing. When I asked him why he used a certain technique on a particular colt the answer was often "just to show you a different way. Stick to the principles and it doesn't matter how you do it". He was so good at horsemanship he could play with it like this and it was very inspirational to watch. I now try to emulate the same idea, it doesn't matter what you do so long as the end goal is in mind and you stick to the principles.
One of his favourite comments was that the Level 4 pack is the one you should watch until you could see it in your minds eye, even if you were only playing in level 1. Without knowing what level 4 looks like how on earth could you get there ?
I could go on and on about his qualities and what I have learnt from James, but there is a good record of that in previous posts on this blog. I think James would approve if I spoke of the future a bit. I have lost the physical presence of a great mentor, but that does not mean that James does not still have things to teach me.
We discussed whether we felt like riding today, but then I thought of the disapproval James would express if we let his sad demise out-focus us in our horsemanship so went to the yard to ride.
I joked with Ritchie that now James is in horsemans heaven he can watch us all the time, not just when we are at his yard. And you know the funny thing was that it really felt like that as I rode today. I really had this feeling James was watching me and it made me ride better. I did not want to disappoint him by riding without focus and purpose. It really worked and I had one of the best, most responsive and fun rides I have ever had on Bonitao.
If that is his ongoing legacy to me then I am a very very fortunate man to have known and studied under him. It also means that I don't have to think about the past when thinking of him as he will always be sitting on my shoulder giving encouragement and advice.
Thank-you James. I would say rest in peace, but you still have your students to look after and we never gave you peace in the past.....