Equine International, in collaboration with Touching Wild, partners with a number of organizations around the world to offer unique educational excursions to amazing locations to study feral and wild-living horses and equids. All courses offer insight into equine ethology, behavior, welfare, and how to bring this knowledge back to our own domestic animals. Each course brings in professionals and specialists in the area and portions of the proceeds support research at Equine International, local efforts in Rewilding, conservation, wild equid welfare and management, and environmental efforts. Each course combines sustainable ecotourism and conservation travel with a passion for horses and the roles they have in our history, cultures, and landscapes
A chance to observe, study, and understand how horses choose to live their lives and how we can use this to better the lives of our horses at home.
We are excited to invite you to join us for the first ever Learning Wild course at Wicken Fen, the UK’s first nature reserve and home to more than 100 free-living Konik ponies.
Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve is home to over 9000 species, encompassing over 2000 acres. It is the Nature Trusts first reserve, with a history dating back to 1899. Wicken Fen is a unique remnant of undrained fen, which once covered the vast lowlands of East Anglia. This special environment holds a range of designations including Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), National Nature Reserve (NNR) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Part of the conservation program at the Fen includes the incorporation of large grazing ungulates (horses and cattle) who were once a key part of the natural ecosystem of this landscape and are a critical part of the restoration and regeneration of the natural ecology of the region. These grazing animals help with the maintenance of the wetlands which helps keep the landscape open for new vegetation, increases biodiversity for plants and wildlife, and promotes the rehabilitation of the grassland areas.
To achieve this goal, the experts at Wicken Fen chose Konik ponies and Highland cattle, two robust breeds, to live on the Fen and assist with the conservation project. Apart from some fences, the ponies and cattle have free range of the Fens, creating rich habitats for other species and cohabitating in the same areas to provide the necessary biodiversity that can only result from two different grazing species. This unique environment also gives animal-lovers the unique opportunity to observe horses living in family groups, freely interacting, playing, and engaging with one another in a variety of habitats and environmental conditions. There are over 100 Koniks at Wicken Fen split into two major groups: One is a breeding group with stallions, mares and youngsters, all free to make their own choices with regards to breeding, friends, and family groups, and the other group is a non-breeding group comprised of vasectomised stallions and non-breeding mares. While there are occasional population management procedures in place, the horses are left to live their lives freely on the Fens.
The Learning Wild course at Wicken Fen provides an incredible opportunity to look inside the lives of feral horses as they live alongside human visitors in this gorgeous nature reserve. With the support and assistance of the horse management team at Wicken Fen, we’ll explore the rich history of the herd, the individuals that make up the social groups at Wicken, and get an exclusive look inside the lives of the horses that live there.
Join Dr. Emily Kieson as she conducts research in the social lives of horses and explores applications to domestic equine welfare and developing stronger friendships with our own horses.
Share the experience and enthusiasm for the observational study of feral ponies with Bonny Mealand who is passionate about enabling others to learn from the richness of this perspective. In addition there will be local experts and representatives from relevant organisations.
In addition there will be local experts and representatives from relevant organisations. We invite you to explore thought provoking perspectives on horses, horse welfare, and sustainable horse keeping practices. By learning from experienced experts and through educational observation and discussions we can explore more about horses, our perceptions of them and how they choose to live when they have the freedom to do so. The learning will be a mix of guided lessons, discussions and individual and/or group observations. We will examine how best to implement what we learn from our studies to enhance the health and well-being of domestic horses.
This is an outline of the structure of the 5 days.
The delivery of the course will be determined
mainly by the weather.
The Art of Observation
Equine evolution, physical and behavioural
Putting together a simple ethogram.
Ecology, conservation, history, historical significance and culture.
Behaviour - horse and human. Regenerative grazing, the value of equids in a landscape
Strong foundations, relationship before training.
What we have learned and how we can best implement this to improve the lives of equines.
As we will be exploring the environments inhabited by the ponies challenging terrain may be encountered so a reasonable level of fitness is suggested.
Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve website
By car - south of Wicken (A1123), 3 miles west of Soham (A142), 9 miles south of Ely, 17 miles north east of Cambridge via A10
Address for SatNav - Lode Lane, Wicken, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 5XP
By train - the closest train stations are Ely 9 miles; Soham 5 miles. Taxis are usually available at Ely and you can also join the National Cycle Network route 11 to Wicken at Ely station if you have bought bike on the train.
There is no accommodation at Wicken Fen reserve, but we have booked accommodation for a limited amount of people close by. There are also plenty of places to stay in nearby towns, some of which are within walking distance of the Wicken Fen visitor centre. Cambridge is also about a 45 min drive from the Reserve for those who want to stay in the city and do daily drives in for the workshop.
Bonny Mealand (Touching Wild) qualified as an Equine Podiatrist in 2005 and has been committed to understanding, implementing and promoting a whole horse approach to health and well-being ever since. Bonny specialises in working with wild, free-living equines and “difficult” domestic equines by building trust and helping them learn to be handled in a low stress way.
A short clip of Bonny working with some Takhi (equus prezwalski) can beviewed here - BBC Inside the Zoo.
Bonny is committed to constantly learning as much about and from equines as possible. Believing that it is possible to define what a life of quality looks like at both a species and individual level. She then uses this perspective to implement a high standard of welfare into their domesticated lives.She is also a retained Firefighter, Somatic Yoga and Mindfulness Teacher and BHS Welfare Advisor and is a MSc student at the Dick vet (University of Edinburgh) studying Equine Science.
Emily Kieson (Equine International) holds a PhD in Comparative Psychology, a MS in Psychology, and a graduate degree in Equine Science.
Her research focuses on equine behavioural psychology, equine welfare, and horse-human interactions as they apply to both horse owners and equine-assisted activities and learning programs. Her current research focuses on equine affiliative behaviours to study how horses create and maintain social bonds and how those can overlap with human affiliative behaviours to create authentic lasting friendships between horses and humans.
She also has a passion for supporting sustainable systems of horse management and husbandry that promote physical and psychological welfare of the horse while simultaneously supporting sustainable ecosystem practices on small and large scales (for both feral and domestic equids).
Early Bird Rates are available until March 1, 2024. Rates for the course (without accommodations) are 500 GBP. Rates that include accommodation are 650 GBP for a shared room (twin beds) or 800 GBP for single room. Click here to see the official learning wild site or use the link below to register now.