Here is a copy of my blog from today.
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.....
I am so sorry to hear of this. I do not know this man, indeed, have never heard of him, but I can see that I have missed out on a great opportunity. You are so lucky to have had a great mentor such as this man. And, it sounds like you are following in his footsteps, with thoughtful and positve words. This honors him.
Condolences to you all and to his family.
James was a protegee of Pat Parelli, and specialised in young horse starts and troubled horses. He was also a 3 * Parelli instructor, but personally I would rate him higher.
His patience was amazing, but he did not hang about either. If a horse gave a green light it was "move on now, don't miss it". His own work horse, Princess, was a beautiful black mare. When he first met her nobody had been able to catch her for so long she had actually grown into her rug ! With patience and skill he turned this mares life around until she became his workmate. It was a long difficult road from what I hear, I only ever saw her as his perfect partner. He rode her as he taught young horses to yield to pressure and be respectful of personal space. As he said Princess could teach them in minutes what would take him hours. I highlight Princess as I thinks she embodies his horsemanship, taking a very troubled young mare and making her into a very dependable workmate.
I am so lucky that Filly, my young tb, was started by James and his team just 6 weeks ago. I already feel very comfortable riding her and was looking forward to going back there regularly for more advice and tuition. One of my proudest moments was when he asked if I lived close enough to him to become one of his liveries as some space had just opened up. Sadly I am too far away, but did briefly consider moving house to make it happen !
He also took part as one of 6 of Pats students in the young horse start clinics Pat Parelli gave last year in the USA. He will be sorely missed by the Parelli community and horsemen everywhere.
This is an article that James had written about himself, his mentors and his ambitions just prior to the accident.
James My Influences
Ritchie and I went to James' funeral yesterday. It was a very sad, but not sombre day.
The weather was fantastic, hardly a breath of wind and clear skies, if a bit chilly.
We started at the James Roberts Foundation Station where his coffin was placed in a horse drawn hearse with his hat and saddle draped over the coffin. His fiancee, Vicky, was there behind the hearse on James' horse Princess. A horse he loved to bits. Bravely he used to say, in front of Vicky, "I think more of this horse than my fiancée". She would just smile sweetly and get her own back later :-). James' brother was also in the cortège riding Becks, his show jumping horse. I noticed that even for this occasion they stuck to James principles and did a prepare to ride with the horses before mounting.
They made two rounds of the yard and then set off on the forty minute walk to the church. We all followed. And I mean all. There must have been two hundred followers, and as per the request of the family we were all dressed in western gear. Boots, Stetsons, some in chaps and spurs. I am pleased to say we all walked with a forward walk, 110m / minute pace with heads held high, but a few tears. The people in the local village were amazing. Many had dressed up and stood on their porches. The local shops shut and the staff stood outside to pay their respects. He was not just loved by the horse community, but by the whole area.
We made our way, via his house, to the church where all but close family went inside to wait. The church could hold 280 people, but was packed. There were around 100 who had to stay outside and listen via the loud speakers set up.
James was brought in by his closest friends and family with saddle and hat still in place. We sang the hymn "Lord of the Dance" which seemed especially appropriate for me. It really spoke to me that James had started this "dance" and it was for me to continue to follow in his footsteps. Not the religious meaning of the hymn I know, but I can only report its' meaning to me.
We heard Vicky give a lovely speech about James, with hardly a falter. One of the bravest things I have ever witnessed. It was a beautiful speech as well, with only a little sadness in it, it was a celebration of his life. I particularly liked the fact that James used to leap out of bed every morning and do a silly little dance around the bedroom :D.
We also heard from his brother, and so got details of his behaviour as a child, From what I heard it hadn't changed much. His brother is a huntsmen and played the horn at the end of his speech. A moving moment.
Vickys' brother also spoke. This was about more recent antics and mayhem, and how close he had become to James, thinking of him as a brother.
After the service the coffin was again placed in the horse drawn hearse to be taken to the crematorium. That was my last sight of James, or at least the coffin, and it finally came home to me that he was gone. That came as a real shock and hit me hard.
Ritchie and I decided not to go to the crematorium, feeling that it was a private time for his close family. We headed to the pub instead.
The pub was packed, just moving around was hard work. It had been made clear by Vicky that the day was not to be a sombre occasion, so whilst there were tears there was much laughter as well. In the corner there was a tv set up showing movie clips from his life. Very few about horses, but much about song, laughter, pranks and fun.
So the night went on. Lots of conversations about James, horses, horsemanship, the future.
I think James would have approved. As I have said before he lived by a set of rules and maintained those rules on his yard with his staff, students and friends. Break them and be fined a pound (though I never saw anyone pay :wink:)
1) Don't talk about the past. Horses live in the present, so must we
2) Don't say anything negative. Phrases that include: "can't", "won't","don't", "yea but" were not allowed
3) Always know why you are doing something. If you don't, stop.
Not a bad set of rules to live life by really, especially if you want to maximise your potential and enjoyment as James did.
RIP James. Sorry for the loss of a beloved horseman.
You write so beautifully Tim. James was also my mentor and I feel a great loss, but he has left me with enough inspiration to last a life time, I feel he is with me every time I think of/see my horses, and like you I feel he may be watching me and that makes me feel I must be the best me I can be.
Just to let all James Roberts friends, students and admirers know that Claire Spelling has produced a beautiful calender as a memorial to James. Ours arrived today. I know it is a little late in the year for new calenders but we will be keeping ours to remember a great horseman, instructor and friend.
All the profits are going to Wiltshire Air Ambulance and raising a memorial to James.
I think you have to email Claire to order a copy as it does not seem to appear on her website About Me | Claire Spelling Photography
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