Devon’s inspirational women: Wild adventurer and horse trainer Emma Massingale
PUBLISHED: 12:04 17 July 2018 | UPDATED: 12:04 17 July 2018
In the latest in her series throughout 2018 profiling inspirational women, KATE HASKELL talks to Emma Massingale, horse trainer and adventurer | Photography: Matt Austin
As someone far more worthy than me once said: “The woman who follows a crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone will find herself in a place that no one has ever been to before.”
A quote by the great Albert Einstein which could not be more applicable to Emma Massingale.
She’s an adventurer with a wild spirit who has a natural ability to tame other wild spirits and made a career, or should I say, vocation, out of it.
A christening gift of a pony at six months old set the tone for Emma’s life which has been brimming with a strong sense of purpose, all thanks to a love of horses.
I meet Emma at her smallholding near Holsworthy and with 16 horses and two ponies on site along with a cat and three dogs, it is clear that animals are her passion and life: “From an early age I knew I wanted to be able to connect with animals and horses in particular.
“I wanted to ‘have a certain way’ with them, a trust if you like, but it is not a connection you can just pick off a shelf; you have to work at it and it’s been a long process.”
Emma announced to her dad at 15 years old that she was leaving school to become a horse trainer which wasn’t something he was overly pleased about at first: “He asked how on earth I was going to do that and I said I have no idea but I am going to be one.”
Once her mind was made up there was no changing it and at 18 years old she phoned up a horse training centre in Australia and asked to visit and from then on there was no going back: “There is no college course for training horses you just have to learn through experience so I thought this was the best way.
“I spent three months there and it really changed the way I look at horses. In the UK they have quite an elitist image around them whereas abroad they are more utilised. I went from wearing jodhpurs and having a saddle to rounding up cattle and breaking in horses that were coming in off the deserts.”
After that Emma headed to Portugal where she experienced classical riding before travelling to Germany to work for an Olympic rider.
By now she knew she needed to head home and get on with her goal and so persuaded an elderly lady down the road to let her break in her horse and it was a moment Emma has never forgotten: “He didn’t know anything and never been ridden; the first time I climbed on I remember thinking this was the most exciting thing ever to be the first and for him to trust me.”
A strong reputation for training difficult horses soon developed but a horse called Tom was a turning point: “I went to a horse show and saw this kid getting chucked off by this naughty horse so I offered to help. He had a really bad reputation and everyone knew of this horse.
“So, he came to live with me and gradually improved but whatever I did he just couldn’t shake his bad reputation. Eventually I brought him into my living room and made him lie down in front of the Christmas tree and took a picture to prove he was trained. It went viral and from that moment on things changed for him.”
In 2012, however, things changed for Emma: “I fell off a horse and broke my back which was devastating but I recovered and it made me think about what was next. I knew I wanted to push myself further on the adventure side and had a desire to experience horses in their native environment.
“So, I found an island just off the west coast of Ireland to rent and I took four of my own ponies and two wild ones. I was dumped on this island for a month with just a bag of rice and had to forage for my food and sleep wild. All with the intention of training two wild ponies without any head collar or tack.
“I wasn’t lonely because when you have animals with you then you are never alone. Every morning they were outside my tent, chomping away.
“When a horse connects with you it is just the amazing feeling and they quickly they make you their friend. When you live wild with them there are no fences between you or distractions so you are completely at one with them.”
The publicity from that experience led to sponsorship, along with some work for the BBC and also training animals for commercials because as Emma says: “Once you teach an animal one thing you can teach them many things.”
Try telling my dog that! For Emma the adventure never stops and she is already planning the next one and in the process inspiring others to be wild at heart and stop following the crowd.
Who inspires Emma?
Explorers like Chris Bonnigton are amazing but basically anyone that goes out and pushes themselves beyond what they thought they can do. As my dad always told me ‘If you work for it you will appreciate it far more’.