Alison Willis

Alison brings to Horse Charming considerable experience of what it is like to be a typical leisure horse owner, dealing with the challenges faced every day and not knowing where to turn for help. But never giving up! She finally found solutions that really worked and she is passionate about making those choices available to others.

Alison is based in Scarborough in North Yorkshire and she can be reached by email using the address on 07946 670932 or on Facebook.


Hi I’m Alison, I live in Scarborough, (affectionately known as Scarbados by the locals!), on the edge of the National Park in North Yorkshire with my husband, 3 chickens, two ferrets, a teenager and my elderly parents. I have two other children, a son at University and a daughter who is building a career as an artist and lingerie designer in London.

Just up the road lives my beautiful Irish Draught cross Hanoverian mare Bracken, (Queen B to her herd mates). 

Trying to understand her, connect with and help her over her fears and anxieties, set me off on the most wonderful journey of discovery which has brought me here.  And this is what I’d like to share with you.

I won’t pretend it has always been easy and I have gone through every emotion imaginable, yet the wonderful relationship that we have built has been well worth the effort.  Of course I am still learning and making mistakes along the way, and as I have learned, this is all part of the process.

I am a practising Holistic Equine Massage Practioner, graduating from Equine Holistic Training with distinction in 2014, and now studying for my advanced certificate in Myofascial Release, Hydrotherapy, Cranial Sacral Therapy and Meridian Therapy (think acupressure).

Over the last three years I have also gained certificates of achievement in Equine Nutrition, Animal Welfare and Behaviour, Introduction to the Neuroscience of Behaviour and Chicken Behaviour and Welfare.  I’ve gained a diploma in Equine Psychology as well as receiving certificates of attendance for continued professional development in saddle evaluation and related problems for Veterinary Physiotherapists, manual techniques training with Daniel Kamen (American Chiropractor), and manual manipulation and mobilisation techniques for equines, with Caroline Lindsay of Perfect Movement Solutions.

I have also introduced some of my equine massage therapy clients to the concept of reward based training, and we now have a small local group who meet and keep in touch regularly for support, share our thoughts and give each other general encouragement.  I perform home visits for a rescue centre and have helped out with the rehabilitation and daily care of rescue horses and ponies at a local registered charity-run facility.

I guess I am a bit of a learnaholic! There are so many interesting avenues to explore when learning about how horses think, feel, learn and communicate, and how we train and ride can positively or negatively affect how horses behave and move. 

I  also attended a webinar with animal behaviourist Loni Loftus entitled “Identification of Emotional States in Equines through the observation of body language and behaviour” and had the opportunity to attend a seminar given by Neuroscientist Professor Jaak Panksepp on the subject of the Evolved Primal Emotional Feelings of Animal Brains and Animal Minds: Clinical and Therapeutic Applications, hosted by the Oxford Animal Behaviour Centre.  

Last but by no means least, I hosted Max Easey’s one day “How Animals Learn” course in June 2016, and partook in the short course she ran on Mastering Motivation, for Connection Training.

Continued learning has helped me both with the horses I treat, care for and interact with on a daily basis.

My love of horses began as a child when my Mum took my sister and I for riding lessons at a local riding school, where we were taught by a very bossy shouty dressage instructor! 

I loved the pony I rode, an Appaloosa cross named Sailor Boy. I would often beg my dad to buy him, but of course owning a pony was way out of reach for a working class family with a back yard.  

As I grew up studying for my exams, then leaving school into the world of work, there never  seemed to be enough time or money for horses. Then I got married, kids came along, and the only riding I managed in this time was the odd pony trek when on holiday. 

I studied for a degree in English and Applied Social studies and my first job after University was as a pupil support assistant in a pupil referral unit.  I was working with challenging students who were placed in the unit because they struggled to engage with the education system, and the school was under government instruction to keep their expulsion level low. 

The job was challenging but very rewarding.  I had to give this up in the end to support my eldest son who was  diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and high functioning Autism at the age of 7. He was also struggling to cope within a system which did not adequately provide for his unique needs.  I believe these experiences have helped me understand how horses may feel in a human world, which seems so alien and can often create conflict and confusion for them.  Working with challenging behaviour, non neurotypical children and adolescents has also given me some insight into why horses may sometimes find it difficult to understand what we want and can struggle to communicate with us.

After a marriage breakup at the age of 40 and all kids settled in at school or college, I began to  spend considerable time with my sister and her old Clydesdale cross Jake, and this rekindled my childhood passion and I took up riding again.  After having some refresher lessons at a local riding school and Ride With Your Mind coach, I took a horse on loan and she became one of Jake’s field companion.  Bonny was the sweetest horse, approximately 16. We had no clue as to her history, and she had no tail! We suspect she had to have it amputated after an accident many years before.

I loved Bonny and we spent many hours hacking through the local woods.  She eventually became mine, but unfortunately she had an undiagnosed neurological disorder, which resulted in her collapsing.  We lost her, which was heartbreaking, and I blamed myself for being a clueless owner, but she had never showed any signs of discomfort, had regular physiotherapy.  As I now realise, she was just putting up, shutting up, getting on with it and compensating the best way she knew how.

I was without a horse for another twelve months, and couldn’t bring myself to even go to the field because it just reminded me of Bonny, but began to feel ready to consider having another horse in my life. 

Bracken’s beautiful face leaped out at me from the computer screen,  so we got in touch with her owner, went to meet her, rode her in the school, she put her head on my shoulder, and that was that! I was SOLD on her and she eventually came to live with her new herd in December 2010. 

Bracken fitted in well and soon her and Jake became inseparable, we rode everywhere together just following her steady field mate everywhere, however there was no way could we go anywhere by ourselves, because she would plant or spin and head straight for home. 

Clearly separation anxiety was a big issue for Bracken. As is common, I was told to “buy a bigger bit”, “let her know who is in charge”, “get after her”.  This advice just didn’t sit well with me, and I decided to look for another way and came across Pat Parelli,  and then began to have regular lessons with a Parelli professional. 

To cut along story short, I did learn some valuable horsemanship skills, my rope handling abilities improved and my confidence around Bracken grew, even managing bareback rides in the woods in a rope halter with my hubby on the ground.  However Bracken’s motivation was at an all time low, only putting in enough effort in order to escape the pressure applied, nor could I ever bring myself to escalate to the levels that instructors would do to get a response, because it just didn’t feel fair or ethical.  Her separation anxiety didn’t improve much, getting worse after Jake passed away.  Bracken also began to show signs of aggression during some of our Parelli groundwork, her resistance grew and after a particularly dangerous bolting incident, our confidence was in tatters.  As I learned more about equine behaviour, ethology, anatomy, physiology and how animals learn, I began to question traditional and natural horsemanship training methods. So now what?

I came across clicker training quite by accident whilst browsing the internet for my course and began to find out more, contacted Dr Helen Spence by email explaining about Bracken and the problems we were experiencing. After a few more exchanges Helen introduced me to the Connection Training team.

Hannah Weston came over to meet us, and that is how our journey with positive reinforcement began.  We started to work slowly through our issues, using clear science-based principles applied in a positive rewarding way.  I became a member and student of Connection Training, receiving help and advice from Shawna Karrasch, Rachel Beddingfield and Hannah.  Bracken’s confidence grew, I re-backed her creating new associations with being ridden, ground exercises for suppleness and strength, taught new cues, without the need for her to feel forced or afraid, using targeting and shaping.

We soon began to enjoy really each others’ company.  Slowly we increased her comfort zone, separation anxiety became less of an issue, and she loves to go out, often dragging her heels on the way home, and we can even walk at liberty through the woods. Bracken will often choose to spend time with me over that of her herd, her enthusiasm and motivation continues to improve.  Bracken never fails to raise a smile. You can watch some of the stuff we have been getting up to by checking out our You Tube channel, I add to these videos now and again when I remember, as I love to be outdoors spending time with Bracken.

Anyone can acquire the knowledge about how horses learn and feel.  With support and guidance, anyone can help their horses overcome any fears they may have and make steps towards eliminating any unwanted behaviours.  I have found that when we use reward based training we can improve trust, confidence and two way communication and teach horses in  the most empowering, stress free, positive way, enhancing the time we spend together.