Horse trainer Emma Massingale spent a month alone on an island off the Galway coast, training ponies without a bridle, saddle or enclosure
Connemara sets the stage for anyone with a sense of adventure and a soft spot for our four legged equine friends as the latest offering from the award winning film-maker and horse trainer Emma Massingale is released.
A year ago, Devon-born Emma dreamed up the idea of taking four of her beloved Connemara ponies back to the landscape of their roots, to a wild island off the west coast of Ireland. “What better place to do such an awesome challenge than the stunning homeland of the ponies. Waking up and living for a month with the breath-taking hills as a backdrop will remain with forever, Ireland is a very special place to me,” Emma said.
Emma wanted to find out if, without the help of a bridle, saddle or equipment of any kind, nor any kind of enclosure, she could back and train two ponies that had never been ridden before. Her plan was to see if she could use her four trained ponies to influence the newcomers.
The Island Project film, launched last Friday, tells the story of three year old Evenos and four year old Echo, bought in May from the Connemara pony sales in Clifden and taken in June to the 70 acre uninhabited and windswept island of Freaghillaun South in the Connemara National Park.
“It truly was an Irish adventure. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the generous help from so many in the area, and I’ll always be grateful,” Emma said.
Emma, who slept some of her time on the rain soaked island in a tent, and the rest in a cave, says she knew the challenge would be huge. “I knew it was going to be solitary – I had only the ponies for company. My challenge, and it was huge, was to work with and start Evenos and Echo completely at liberty, without the use of any tack, and without any help.
“There were no places to catch the ponies, no help and no home comforts, just me, the ponies and our relationship. It wasn’t going to be plain sailing and, when people asked me before I began, I said it would test me to the limit and test my ponies’ trust.
“The concept of starting a horse completely at liberty isn’t something to be taken lightly. Horses rely on caution, flight and agility, to keep themselves safe.
“Starting a horse at liberty is the perfect challenge. There is nowhere to hide, you can either do it or you can’t, there is no cheating, no shortcuts, no easy wins.”
Emma was determined that she would be alone for the month of the project and much of the footage she filmed herself, using a number of cameras from GoPros to handheld devices.
Spectacular aerial footage was filmed separately to capture the wild remote beauty of the place. With Emma recording her progress in the style of a daily filmed diary, she has been able to catch every moment as the ponies cottoned on to what they were being taught.
The story also tells of the daily trials of life on the island, bathing in a plastic barrel, swimming in the sea to catch fish with her spear gun, or delving amongst the rock pools for cockles to eke out the rice rations she had taken with her.
“It was a proper adventure, a bit scary when it was wet and windy and we only had four dry days,” she says, “but it was the most amazing experience.”
She used her trained ponies to help teach the new pair.
“I taught Evenos to lie down pretty much straight away by showing him the others doing it. From there I taught him to stop, turn and go while riding another horse at liberty, without the use of tack, so he got used to seeing me up above.
“To have half a ton of horse that wants to work with you, when they are at liberty, is the purest, the most perfect challenge.”
Emma’s collaboration with equine film specialists Equine Productions on the previous documentary No Reins, No Rules, No Limits, which introduced her to a wider audience, has won two international awards this year, including last month’s Equus Film Festival in New York.
Equine Productions also worked with Emma on The Island Project. Sam Fleet, Equine Productions Managing Director said: “It is always a pleasure working with Emma, she brings something totally fresh to our understanding of these beautiful animals. We think anyone with a love of horses will enjoy this film and find it utterly fascinating. They will also learn from it too.”
The DVD’s bonus features include a very emotional interview with Emma recorded shortly after leaving the island, glorious aerial shots, and the award winning No Reins, No Rules No Limits.