Working problem horses in Germany 2014


I’ve just come back from 4 days in Cologne, Germany, where I worked several serious problem horses. You may or may not remember that Monty Roberts went over to Germany about 10 years ago to film some of their toughest horses doing his join-up. Monty decided to not continue with these horses. Intrigued by what the horses must have done to have been given up on, I asked to have the chance to work them also.

I’m also doing a 3 hr demonstration using problem horses at Brook Farm Training Centre, north London, 28 June from 6.30pm. We would really appreciate you passing on the details on to as many friends as you have. Click here for more info.

So I was given a mare who was of the same bloodlines as the ones that Monty tried to work and who was described to me as actually tougher. She was a super sensitive mare.  Only one lady could coerce her into being caught, through food. When she was lead away from the herd she would pull away and panic, getting very stressed – and this would start at about a 50m distance.  She was 15 yrs old.  I was able to spend 1 1/2 hrs working her, trying to gain her trust in people so that the stable could continue working with her after I left.

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Once the mare was handed over to me, my main objective was to find out the way she thought and what triggered her nervous reactions. But first, I needed to connect with her in a calm way.  So, instead of trying to separate her and work her, it was much better to start her lesson and make the connection where her mind is more at peace. I guided her around the herd, getting her to gently follow me. I wanted to use the most gentle squeezes on the rope. She responded quite well by maintaining quiet focus with me and if she got a bit distracted, I could gently squeeze the rope and regain the connection. I spent the whole time guiding her, walking away from her, and making her feel calm when she was close to me.  After about 20 mins she started to give me the feeling that she was wanting to centre with me, that the security I offered her when she was close made her feel good. Whenever she came close I would rub her, manipulate her a bit and make her feel calm. I opened my arms to her and took away any pressure. When she didn’t want to be with me, when she was off, looking around and getting anxious, I just stood there and let her do her thing, but as soon as she paid me attention, I let her know that I would be there for her.


After some time I felt that she was calm around me and not resistant to the pressure.  Through feel, I decided to stimulate her a bit more.  I walked off gently squeezing the rope and creating a bit more energy until she lightened in the rope and gained a bit more energy in her stride.   As soon as she broke into a jog behind me, I felt her tension really rise. She panicked in a way that gave me the feeling that I didn’t know if she wanted to attack me or run away.  I got her to calm and then suddenly she tried to run away.  I stopped her and gave her space, allowing her to settle. This happened only twice.


Now I felt ready to take her away from the herd to the gate that leads away from the pasture. There was still a few horses near the gate so it wasn’t a big change, and she accepted the transition quite well. I gently led her around, constantly feeling the rope and asking her to walk at different paces, bringing her attention again and again back on me. Once she was ready we passed through the gate into a large lane way that feeds the barn.

In the lane way there was a hay feeder, some dirt and some piles of sand.  We had made it through the gate, but now I had to make another connection and find calmness again – the different environment and visual obstacles scared her enormously. She elevated and became very fragile and stressed. She showed all the signs of a horse that cannot cope by herself. Without her herd she was obviously lost and extremely frightened.  The whole time since I had caught her and all I was really doing was showing her how to find me and find comfort with me. If this mare didn’t understand that she could find comfort in me then there would be no way to make any connections or progress with her training. The whole time I was also trying to show her that I was here to help – not to create pressure or make her feel uncomfortable.

So this is where the real dance began. She had really lost the plot by now – I had to use 100% of my concentration.  She was looking at everything, literally everything – eyes bulging out of her head – everything was a threat to her and she could not stop moving. Even though there were times that I thought I would be jumped on or run over whilst her mind was in escape-and-return-to-my-herd mode, we had done enough work previously on the lead for me to help calm her. Just the weight of the lead was enough to stop her when she got to the end of the rope. I kept showing her that as she paid me attention I would acknowledge her doing the right thing. At one point, she came right up to me, in between my outstretched arms. She was starting to look to me for support and comfort.


From this environment I look her into the arena and decided to take her off the rope. A bit of a gamble – if she chose to run and panic at this stage, all the work we had done would be forgotten and lost. She started to pace up and down the fence, now in a lather of sweat and very stressed again. All I could do was to remain absolutely calm while she processed her extreme anxiety. This time I wanted the onus for her to come to me to be a bit clearer. As she paced one way, I would pace the other and as she changed direction, so would I; crossing each other in the middle, up and down the arena.  I started to be able to walk closer to her, until we were passing each other with only a small distance between her. She started to pay me little bits of attention  but was still very focused on her herd. So then I started to use her favourite corner, which was the gate we came in. Every time she left the corner I would go to the corner and wait. And every time she came back to the corner to where she felt safe, I was there, waiting. When she approached, I would stand there for a moment, before walking out of it, away up the fence. Now she would follow me for a bit and pass me – locking on to the other corner simulating her previous pattern of pacing up and down. I would go back to her favourite gate corner.  and wait for her. Every time she came to my corner, I offered her support – I did nothing other than gently rub her.  I could see that when she was there she enjoyed my company and I could see that she was wanting my help more. Once we had had a connection, I would walk out, and soon she started to follow.  If I felt that she lost me, I returned to my corner and waited again. This went on for about 30 mins, maybe more.  We got to the stage where we would walk out of the corner together and as I would turn to walk back, she would also turn and follow me right back to the corner.  There also moments where she followed me in other directions, not just up and down the fence. All of this was at liberty – through no applied pressure – an untrained mare that could not be caught easily.

At this stage I was happy enough and felt she was ready to wind down. I knew having the rope on her and that constant connection would calm her down more than keeping her at liberty.  I put the halter back on her and lead her around the arena before taking her, through the lane way and back to her paddock.  She led like a lamb, head down and soft as anything. If I stopped, she stopped. As I moved, she moved. Very switched on. Very focused. Over piles, around the machinery.  All the things she was super frightened of on the way out, she passed calmly on the return. Purely because I had made her feel safe with me.  She followed me as a leader and helper; a chosen leader.


I had basically broken her lessons down into sections – one in the paddock, one at her paddock gate, one in the lane way, one in the barn. I hadn’t used any complicated horsemanship methods – but I had to be extremely focused to ensure my timing on every little movement was perfect.

I was very pleased with the result. I had spent about 1.5 hrs with her.  This was the first time the owner had seen her lead like this. For them, me coming – an unknown trainer – was a big risk. Other trainers had worked her and made things worse and understandably, they were nervous about another foreigner coming through to test their methods on her. The owner has since made me feel very welcome to return to her stable.

This mare is a very good example of why the join-up can’t be used on every horse. You couldn’t chase her away and expect her to submit – any process like this would cause high levels of unwarranted and unacceptable stress. I didn’t chastise her or chase her once.  I was just there for her.

Being there for horses is what I hope my horsemanship will lead to. I loved spending 4 days working horses in Germany. I helped many different issues that have been very stressful to the owners and managers of the stables I went to and it is to their credit that they have been passionate about not giving up on these horses.

The owner now has something that she can go on with and hopefully this mare’s trust in people can continue to grow.

Starting John’s Mare: the last day here

Words and photos by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley.

John’s mare has finished her education with us now. She left today, with her owner.  Her confidence and aggressive character was clear from the start – she bucked pretty hard with the saddle and it was a photo with her hooves higher than the rails of round yard that prompted us to follow her through this blog, giving you an insight into how Mark handles an unusual sort of horse and how she has developed in her understanding and trust of people, especially Mark.

We’ve seen how she has gone from not letting Mark touch her down the sides at all, to accepting a rug. We’ve watched how she has learnt to lead, to give to pressure, to take the bit, be fully shod, taken a stock whip, opened gates, ridden out on the property, float loaded, and even used as a demonstration for a training video on how to turn on the hind quarters (you can also see this once you sign up to Mark’s free horse training tips here).  Pauline even rode her today.

Now, after so many milestones have been reached, John’s mare is ready to go back to her owner.  She has had just 12 rides out on the property.

Here are the results of Mark’s efforts, time, patience and amazing understanding:

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Need I say there was not a moment’s hesitation going on the truck.  With time and work Mark is sure that she will make a super horse. “I haven’t ironed out all of her issues but I hope I have ironed out at least half of them.

“It was sad to see this mare leave. It is these types of horses that draw the most out of me.  There was quite a long time building trust, and even when I started riding her, for quite a few rides all I was doing was trying to get her to relax and only giving her the basic jobs that were planting seeds to her foundation.  It wasn’t until the last 5 rides that this mare started to accept my ideas and go with them in a more relaxed way. All of a sudden she was going with pressure and calming to it.  When this happened, she was picking up things in a far superior way than some easy going horses do over a longer period of time. When I started moving her hips under saddle more, there were certain areas (especially near her rib cage) that caused her a lot of aggravation and tension.  She would round out her back and push her hip up into the pressure and her head would brace in search of an escape.  Then all of a sudden, after some chipping away, finding the right moments when she was centred to move her hindquarter, she freed up and moved her hindquarter in a soft and calm fashion that I would not have expected from her for some time. She even managed to keep her tail still whilst moving her hips.  She also showed natural ability to work on her hindquarter and was very good at opening her shoulders up. 

She even started to read my seat when I asked her to move sideways.  When I took my centre sideways she started to pick up on it without needing my leg to help.

This mare could handle steady miles, general day to day poke-around-cattle work.  She is intelligent and quite talented but this ability shouldn’t be flaunted with. I believe that if she was now pushed hard without appropriate time out, she could sour and quite easily become resentful.

She has a lovely soft side. I am pleased that I have been able to see it. “

We’d love to hear your comments on this blog on our facebook page.

I have added the links to the previous blogs here if you want to recap:

First blog:

Second blog:

Third blog Introducing the saddle

Fourth blog Backing:

Fifth blog Softening:

Sixth blog Ponying with the saddle

Seventh blog Rain

Eighth blog After 10 days off

Ninth blog Mouthing & the first rides

Tenth blog Trotting

Eleventh blog Gaining Evenness on Lateral Flexion:

Twelfth blog Riding with Calmness:

Thirteenth blog The First Ride Out:

Fourteenth blog Mustering

Fifteenth blog Shoeing


Shoeing John’s mare

Words and photos by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley

John’s mare is leaving tomorrow to go back to her owner tomorrow. Her education here is nearly finished – Mark has got her to the stage where he deems her safe and competent enough for her owner to carry on with. Mark has spent the last few rides on her outside, spending time cantering her on the last few rides. And he has been rugging her the last couple of days, which is going to help with today’s lesson – getting shoes on.

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Pauline comes in to the round yard to help clean it – Mark is about to use John’s mare for a training video on turning on the hindquarter (if you want to see this, make sure you are signed up soon to get our free newsletters and the video link will come straight to you). She seems little fussed by Pauline. This is important – as you will see later. John’s mare seems and quiet around Mark…but she is a particular mare….

Mark warms her up to some exercises before the filming starts.

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With the video taken (and she did brilliantly), Mark unsaddles her and asks Pauline to go back into the roundyard to catch her. Mark likes someone else to have handled and ridden his newly started horses before they go  back to their owners. He knows John’s mare will be weary but we didn’t expect an all out refusal! Look at this!

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She not only clearly flattens her ears but she nods her head up and down enormously before turning away from Pauline. There is no way she wants Pauline near her. So this is just a reminder of what Mark has been working with – she looks soft and calm in the photo’s now – but Mark has won her trust and friendship and underneath, she will always be a strong minded mare.

“70-80% of un-handled horses generally accept a new person fairly quickly after being started. She fits into the small category. It will take a little bit of adjusting.”

Mark goes in and demonstrates what Pauline needs to do.

I was showing Pauline that where she stands and holds her hands are important for her safety.”

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Mark decides to trim her in the round yard, which she is familiar with.

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Then he takes her outside, to shape and put on her two front shoes.


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Mark works efficiently, and the mare gives little argument. She is uncomfortable at the end when Mark has to place himself under her chin to finish off. “Horses don’t like you under there – its a blind spot. That’s why it’s never safe to go under a horse’s rope that you don’t know. Always safer to go around their hind.”

Mark leads her back to the round yard to work on getting her hind feet picked up for tomorrow. She moves a little, then stands for him.

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Mark will ride her out again this afternoon, and then tomorrow will be her last day with us. I’ll try to put as much detail into the stage that she is at for you tomorrow so you can really get an idea of how far she has come.

Mustering on John’s mare

Words and photos by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley

Mark has been riding John’s mare out every day since our last blog. Each day he has worked on her confidence and ridden her out on our property. Today a chance opportunity to muster some renegade cows into a paddock enabled Mark to test her out on cattle, with our collies working them around her.  This is now her 6th ride out on the property.

“I started riding her out in the bit when she proved to be calmer and a bit more reliable outside. You don’t need to compound nervous tension by introducing a relatively unfamiliar tool whilst she is still having trouble adjusting to her surroundings and rider. Today was probably her 3rd or 4th ride in the bit. If there were no time frames or deadlines there would be no need to integrate the bit so quickly.”

These are beautiful Autumn days. The air is clear, crisp and still and everyone enjoys being outside, especially when there is fun to be had.

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“It was good to give her something to do because she has a little bit of trouble freely moving forward – only because she still has a bit of nervous concentration on me.  The remedy for this is just good steady miles.”


Ebony wanted  to say hello to her. She lowers her head as Ebony reaches up with her hand.

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With the cattle in, Mark decides to take her for a ride up the hill, with a trot and a canter.


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Only to find some renegade sheep that need sorting! So, more mustering for her.

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She’s handled it all beautifully.

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The first ride out on a young horse (John’s mare)

Words and photos by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley

The first ride out for John’s mare. Mark introduced her to Pauline & her horse, Wills, in the round yard.

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Mark then took John’s mare out on our 500 acre property. First, he headed for the forest, then out through tea tree, grassy areas, and back through our garden with all its strange and scary objects.


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I spent the ride guiding her, taking her away from Wills and towards Wills, keeping fairly busy on her.  She was quite attentive to me, but not too confident with moving forward.  A lot of this is due to the amount of concentration that she keeps on me. 

After trotting her ahead a little bit, I thought I would let her follow Wills. But it wasn’t very good for her – she got more confidence in him and got in a mind frame that made her think she needed to run away from me.  So within about 5 metres of trotting behind Wills, she quickly put her head up and tried to run.  She actually ran into Wills’ rump. I shut her down and relaxed her, then rode off. (I rarely shut horses down, I only do it when it is an absolute necessity for safety. Most times it is better to just guide their energy until they relax and then just stand with them.)  I made sure I kept her in the lead after this and did a reasonable amount of trotting with her.  I think that this will be a one off instance.

Other than that, she did really well, she just needs time to build confidence. I am very happy with her.  Now when she gets pressured or stressed she is happy to take my guidance and relax quickly.  Most of the time, pressure doesn’t make her worry or look for an escape.  These are some of the guiding factors that I use to determine whether a horse is ready to be ridden out.”

I am happy to answer questions on any of the blog I have done on John’s mare today – about my training techniques or something you want to know more about.  Post your questions to my face book page I’ll have a look at them after I come back in from mustering the sheep and do my best to answer them.

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John’s mare: riding with calmness

Words & photos by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley.

It’s been over 2 weeks since Mark was able to last work John’s mare, following several horsemanship clinics that he was running in NSW.  Another break in this mare’s unusually drawn out education.  Mark has been working John’s mare since the middle of February and we have been blogging her progress so that people can have an insight into the work Mark does, particularly with her as she is a very sensitive mare and has needed a lot more time to get used to Mark than most horses. Mark has started and finished 2 batches of horses in this time. The drought breaking rain, her stone bruise and our trip away has all effected her training time. But John’s mare has been started in a very careful way and the building blocks which Mark has laid, step by step, have not faltered.  The strong, confident, aggressive mare that was barely handled when she arrived is now able to understand and accept much of what Mark offers. Her mind is now ready to really start learning.

Mark wastes no time today, and after brushing her down, saddles her without any prior preparation. His lead rope hangs down on the ground, unattached to anything – one of his signatures training traits: Mark expects his horses to stand still when they are saddled and mounted.

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Mark decides to lunge her in the big yard and give her a bit more space. She comes through the gates like a dog on a lead.  She’s fine with this.

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As she lunges, she makes use of the full length of rope and picks up speed – but there is no concern with the saddle on her.

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Mark draws her in and asks for more controlled responsiveness to turning one way and then the other. He is careful to keep working on her left eye – the side she has most trouble with putting on him.  He asks her to bend to him a few times on that side, working on her softness and confidence.  She moves with far more flow and ease than I remember in the previous lessons.

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Then it’s time to test her again – time to ride. The last time Mark rode her, over 2 weeks ago, he rode her at a trot and canter in his round yard then at a walk in his big yard. She seemed then that she could still buck if she wanted but chose not to. As always, the first few minutes are tense for us as we watch her settle into being ridden, but she quickly relaxes far beyond her previous lesson. Each time that she has come in after a break though, she has picked up where she left off. “She has a good retention memory”, Marks comments.  Mark asks for a trot within minutes and at first she takes a few strides before stopping. Mark repeatedly asks her to keep going until she trots continuously round and round the yard, both ways. “She is trotting the best yet – her ears are on me and forward.”

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Next step – the canter.

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It’s all really good. Not a sign of a hump or a jump. Her canter is still jerky and not her natural rhythm though. Mark takes her to the rail and taps various things on it before refreshing her memory to the crack of his stock whip above and around her.

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Look at her – no sweat – she’s switched on with attentiveness and she is much calmer.

Into the big yard next. Mark trots her around.

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As he stops for a backup with his seat, Mark asks for a lowering of her head, then flexion either side.

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Mark knows she is calm and ready to learn. He asks her to move her front legs across. This is just her 5th ridden ride.  Mark waits until she is ready to make the move.  Mark works her for a while, getting her to move her feet as he asks. “She’s going to be a very handy mare.”

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Mark returns to the round yard to put her bridle on and ride her in that before stopping.

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He asks her to move her head from one side to the other and he is impressed when she moves  through the centre, not up.  She will be very trainable. A mare that has taken some effort to get to where she is now – but no doubt she will be worth every bit of it for her owner.  Tomorrow, Mark is riding her out. Don’t miss it!

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John’s mare: gaining evenness on lateral flexion

Text & photos by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley.

We’ve had constant rain, day and night all week. We’re not complaining – this is drought breaking rain and has been badly needed.

Mark continues to work through it, riding his horses in full length oilskins and persevering as best he can.  The horses must knuckle down and accept lessons through it too.  Work carries on.

John’s mare has missed a couple of lessons though because of the rain. The yard is now too boggy to ride her and thankfully we are about to go leave for 10 days of clinics further south in NSW.  But during the last 2 lessons, Mark got her to a stage where he could ride her out in our big yard; she has now been ridden in a bit; and her education continues as Mark fine tunes her responsiveness to lateral flexion on her bad side.  These photos show Mark working on her, now her 3rd & 4th ridden rides.

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All sorts of things get introduced in these first lessons – here Mark cracks his stock whip over and around her whilst on her back. He has done it on the ground with her but this is the first time on her back. He cracks it whilst she moves until she settles and can stand still. The cracks penetrate the still wet air like rifle shots.

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Then it’s time for the bridle and bit. She takes to that with little problem. Mark has already done a bit of long reining with her, which he doesn’t normally, just to speed up her education process as this mare has been with us a long time.

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Now you can see the problem that Mark is trying to fix – her lateral flexion to the right is stiff and awkward compared to the left. It is as if even when she bends that way, she still tries to put her other eye on Mark.  A huge part of both lessons were just spent on Mark working on this – continually flexing her that way, asking her again and again whether she was walking, running or standing still. Mark is as persistent as I guess he needs to be – which is a lot. I have heard him quote people at clinics that some horses need to be taught things 500 or a thousand times for it to become a habit. There is so much time involved in training horses and I am amazed at just how much sheer dedication you need to get results. I think I would be out there doing it for about 10 mins before I was looking for the next task to move on to. Not Mark. He works and works on it. Moving her this way and that, asking her, reminding her; then she gets it right and he’ll stop everything and just sit on her, swinging his legs and stroking her mane. The message is clear.  Then they go again.

I watch and scrutinize through my camera lens. There are so many subtle things going on; so many perfect timings that have to be made. No one talks in these early rides. Everyone concentrates – John’s mare, Mark, myself. To spend so much time working on such specific things reaches a level of intensity that I find fascinating.

“She is not confident going to the right. If she is offered a loose rein whilst she is going to the right, she will always turn her head left. And when you pick up the right rein to make her look/bend right, she finds it quite difficult.  The bend will fix when she decides to look and commit to her right.  I want her to look and to commit to that direction.  She needs to switch her brain from the left to the right and that is going to take a lot of time and a lot of little repetitions and rewards.”

The turns also get more controlled. Mark is no longer riding her and giving her a free head, he is guiding her. He turns her one way, then the other, then stops her. She listens and follows, obviously understanding and obviously less stressed by it.

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The back up  – two handed rein pressure – is much better. Remember, this is only the 3rd ride.


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Time for a change. Mark rides her out of the round yard & into the next one. Straight away, she reaches for the space and humps up a bit. Mark uses one rein to bring her back to him and then carries on walking her around a bit before taking her into the big yard.  We hold our breath as Mark steadies her. She wants to go – we all sense that.  Mark keeps her turning, keeps her attention on him and doesn’t seem fazed at all. He calmly takes her back through the gates and into the round yard before getting off and on again.

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“Hopefully when we come back in 10 days, the ground will be less slippery and the rest of her education can be spent outside of the yards on our property.”