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The Island Project with Emma Massingale

Emma Massingale - The Island Project


On 1 June, horse trainer extraordinaire Emma Massingale will be arriving on a remote, uninhabited Irish island off the coast of County Galway, with just 6 indigenous ponies for company.  While four of these will be Connemaras from Emma’s existing Liberty team, (Atlantis, Nahla, Comet and Calypso) two will be unhandled youngsters purchased fresh from the pony sales at Clifden, Ireland. Her overall aim is to show how, contrary to thousands of years of tradition, force is not necessary when training these sensitive animals.

Emma, who is based near Holsworthy, Devon, will be training her two new ponies at liberty, without utilising any equipment, such as halters, lead ropes, saddles and bridles, which are usually considered vital.

While on Freaghillaun South, Emma will begin building her relationship with the new ponies. However, the challenge she has set herself is daunting, as she will be working single handed on the 70 acre island, without the benefit of any facilities such as stables or training arenas.  Emma won’t even take large supplies of food or water, as she intends to catch fish, crabs and lobster from her Stand Up Paddle board, and filter spring water to drink.  With just a tent to call home for a month and a camping stove, this is certainly not for the faint hearted.

Emma Massingale - The Island Project

The Island Project was conceived by Emma, to push herself to her personal limits, while also demonstrating the power of the extraordinary bond she forges with her ponies and horses.  It will be filmed and eventually televised, but Emma herself has editorial control, as she emphasises that this must be a true record of her relationship with her ponies, her solitary survival and the inevitable highs and lows that will need to be encountered and overcome.  Island Cam will also be up and running, so social media fans can follow her trials and tribulations in real time.

Mole Valley Farmers have been delighted to work with Emma for some time, and now are pleased to be able to help realise her island dream, by sponsoring her adventure.


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Watching Emma’s team perform is amazing.  The Connemaras work without any tack, yet move together in a line, directed by Emma, who Roman rides the two central ponies.  This means she stands up on their backs, and uses only a schooling stick to gently direct them.  She talks to her team constantly, in a low voice, calling their names and instructing them as to how and in which direction, they should move. For the average horse owner this is a revelation, as traditional wisdom tells that unlike dogs, horses respond predominantly to physical, rather than oral commands.  This means instructions are usually relayed via reins, the rider’s legs and weight, spurs, and whips.  In addition, specialised equipment such as various bits, nosebands, or martingales, are often utilised to reduce the horse’s range of responses.   

When asked how she achieves the extraordinary training feats with her ponies, or indeed with her 17.2 Warmblood X Thoroughbred stallion Marcus, Emma is characteristically modest.  ‘Anyone can do it’ she declares, but those who have handled horses, recognise that what Emma achieves is truly amazing.

Unlike other ‘alternative’ equine trainers such as Monty Roberts or Pat Parelli, Emma says she doesn’t have a specific system.  But she is a professional horsewoman with wide ranging, international experience of the horse world.  This has included breaking- in wild Brumbies in Australia, working with riders from at The Portuguese Riding School training horses for picadors, and working with top Three Day Eventers in Germany.

What soon becomes apparent is that Emma can read horses like few others – it is almost a sixth sense.  She explains how she was sent a horse with behavioural issues for retraining, but after watching him in the field, became convinced that he was suffering from ulcers.  Veterinary tests confirmed this, and treating the problem was the turning point.  Similarly, when asked how she selects her ponies from hundreds of unbroken youngsters at auction, Emma says she just stands and observes them.  And why Connemaras?  Because, she replies, the breed complements her own personality and like her they ‘Love life’. Indeed her belief is that the main key to success, is an equine which is mentally and physically suited both to its job and its owner.

All in all, time spent with Emma and her horses is both fascinating and inspiring. Her personal drive, the unique empathy she shares with her ponies, and their obvious desire to both socialise with and co-operate with her, make it a magical experience.


Emma Massingale

roman riding Emma Massingale


Source Details

Susi Atkinson

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