Georgia Kolovos has a simple mantra to live by when it comes to training horses . . . the horse is never wrong. The soon-to-be 28-year-old TWOTH competitor says while many horses get labelled bad or dirty or naughty, it was simply not the case. “Horses never do anything to deliberately annoy or disappoint us,” says Georgia. “They just act in ways which will either keep them alive in a moment or through learned behaviour.”…
That behaviour could be what people deem as either good or bad – the horse doesn’t understand the definition. “The horse only understands that a behaviour led to a release or pressure or in some cases could lead to a reward. These behaviours, if continually reinforced, will become learned behaviours and be offered by the horse as answers to our questions and pressure.”
Georgia combines negative reinforcement – pressure and release – with positive reinforcement, sometimes using clicker training with food rewards. “I do not use clicker training for everything all the time, so don’t call myself a clicker trainer but I use what I have learnt about positive reinforcement to help my horses to find relaxation and understanding in situations where they may struggle with just negative reinforcement.”
Another principle Georgia focuses on is that pressure is not bad. “We need to use pressure on horses and this can be in many different ways and at many different levels, but pressure is not bad. Pressure may be physical but it is also often energy and intention without even touching the horse.”
Georgia honed her horsemanship skills from a lifetime of horses. She learnt to ride while growing up in Geelong, when she was very young on a pony her parents had leased for her and her brother.
At eight, Georgia started weekly visits to a trail riding business and she became ‘horse crazy’. She joined Pony Club and at 12 started riding for Sue Wright, a teacher from her school who had horses and gear but had been forced to give up through ill health. “This is where I really learnt to ride well, riding and training green horses and ponies.”
One of those was the aptly named Mischief who taught Georgia a lot about how to handle ponies with well-established evasion tactics and how best to stick in the saddle.
She was a regular at Pony Club and competed mostly in showjumping with great success, but also in dressage, eventing and showing. The first horse she owned herself was Mr Jinx, a quarter horse gelding bred by family friend Ken Hole and started by Steve Burke, who is now her friend and mentor. “I learnt a great deal bringing Jinx along from a green broke seven-year-old to a very successful showjumper and dressage.” The horse is now enjoying his retirement with Georgia’s aunt.
At 15, Georgia discovered natural horsemanship through Steve Burke and her world changed. “He sparked a fire in me to learn as much as I can, be the best I can be for the horses and to always give the horse the best deal possible. Whenever we speak on the phone or in person he asks me what I have been discovering lately with my horsemanship. It is a great way to always be thinking and reflecting, and to avoid falling into a pattern of training which might not allow for growth. We need to be constantly improving ourselves for the horse’s benefit.”
VBA Bond was her first Brumby. He came in from the Bogong High Plains as a six-year-old stallion. “Looking back I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into but he came already halter broke. I think he was a very good boy to let me learn and figure things out with him for my first wild horse.”
Their efforts caught the eye of others too. “It was as I took Bondy to Pony Club and competed him that people started asking me to help them with their horses and it just snowballed from there. What was originally supposed to be a hobby business while I studied to become a school teacher quickly became my main source of income. All my daylight time was spent with horses and I would study in the evenings.” She completed her degree but has never put it to use in a school.
Her parents have continued to be hugely supportive throughout her equestrian career and love coming to watch and support her adventures.
Georgia, husband Jimmy and two-year-old daughter Piper live with them on 180 acres in Meredith. The property adjoins the Bamganie State Forest giving them access to amazing trails with breathtaking views, creek crossings, hills, ridges and more.
“We are building our training facilities from scratch and are so proud of what we have achieved here so far. We both love the environment in which we get to work and also raise our daughter.”
“It is a very rewarding job and lifestyle.” Unsurprisingly Piper already has a little pony called Snoopy and is flying along with her riding skills.
Georgia and Jimmy met in Australia in 2015, moving to his home country of Canada later that year. She spent the summer of 2016 working at the Rocking Z Guest Ranch in Wolf Creek, Montana. The two got engaged during the Extreme Mustang Makeover finals before thousands in the main arena. They returned to Australia mid 2017.
More recently, Georgia has started doing cowboy dressage with her quarter horse mare Chex Out my Genes, and in extreme cowboy racing and mountain trail events with her Brumby VBA Smokey. “My favourite events to compete in are training competitions,” she says. “I have competed in the Australian Brumby Challenge twice and the Extreme Mustang Makeover (in the United States) and I really love the journey these events give.”
Georgia says that every day she learns more enabling her to help both horses and people.
This year just seemed the right time for her to put her hand up for TWOTH. “I think it is a brilliant way to showcase to the public how we can offer the horse a better deal,” she says. “I also look forward to challenging my personal horsemanship skills and being able to share my experiences and knowledge with others. It is exciting.”
She will be seeking a horse who has a degree of emotional self-control. “One who seems like it will better cope with the time frame in which we have to work. Some horses will just naturally cope better in this type of situation, so I will be looking more for mental traits than physical ones.”
Georgia’s top five training tips . . .
1. The horse is never wrong!
2. Pressure is not bad, use it well and with a smile.
3. Be as gentle as possible but as firm as necessary to get a response.
4. Food rewards used correctly are a very helpful and powerful motivator for horses.
5. Take negative thoughts and emotions out of your training. Even if a horse is behaving in a way you don’t like, don’t get mad, instead say “good idea” and do something productive to counteract the undesirable behaviour.
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