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The McLean Matrix

This article has appeared previously in Equestrian Life. To see what is in our latest issue, please click here.

2. My father Neil McLean riding Stormy Weather, Yarra Glen 1953

Andrew's father Neil McLean riding Stormy Weather, Yarra Glen 1953.


Australia needs more clans like the McLeans: Four generations passionate about animal welfare, training and horses. So when Dr Andrew McLean, the family linchpin, veteran horse and elephant trainer and founder of the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre talks, we should listen.


Photos supplied by the McLean family

Andrew McLean credits his love of animals with growing up on Tasmania’s King Island where the four McLean boys were surrounded by a family passionate about horses. Their grandfather was a successful showjumper (Andrew has a photo of him jumping 5’2” (1.57m) at the Roma show, with one arm up behind him), and both their parents hunted and competed successfully; their mother in the show ring, including Garryowens, and their father showjumping. It became an after-school tradition for the young boys to chase kangaroos on horseback and gallop along the beach  ?  a practice, however, that was only great fun for the three older brothers. Poor youngest brother Nigel used to pretend his horse had bucked him off  ?  instead he would dismount and walk home.  Further adding to his trauma was being thrown from one brother to another between galloping ponies when he was only four! It was no surprise when he quickly turned to fishing. Andrew’s older brother, Peter, became at 58 the second oldest jockey in Australia, while the other brother, Jonathan, qualified and competed in 3* events, and still trains, breaks in and teaches riding.


1. My grandfather Harold McLean on Lila at Roma show 1912

Andrew's grandfather Harold McLean on Lila at Roma Show, 1912.


Andrew met his wife, Manuela, at Pony Club camp, naturally enough, and they have been married for 35 years. Despite Andrew’s best efforts to steer his children away from the horse industry, even encouraging Alistair to pursue aeronautical engineering (he wanted all the children to have a fallback occupation), it was inevitable they would end up working in the equine area, and thankfully those fallback occupations haven’t been required. Currently, Andrew (founder), Manuela (as a coach), son Alistair (as director and head coach), Alistair’s partner, Rikke, (also a head coach), and daughter Sophie (responsible for online RTO), are all involved in the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre.  Oldest son Warwick runs a large dressage training school in Germany with 50 horses in work, and his wife was the Finnish Junior Dressage Champion.

So how does the family dynamic work in business? Andrew credits the family success in working together to the inherent closeness that comes from constant dialogue, and everyone being free to make their own choices and mistakes. Andrew is very conscious of not forcing his ideas onto other members of the family, and his children don’t feel compelled to follow his training advice. (And the reverse also applies  ? Andrew doesn’t always listen to his children’s advice!). And, of course, the family does still ride together, with Manuela, Sophie, Rikke and Andrew all competing together last year in a show-jumping competition. Perhaps Warwick decided to sit out that contest after being T-boned in the cross-country by his father at an earlier competition!


3. My mother - Betty McLean (Johnson) riding Bindi

Andrew's mother, Betty McLean (Johnson), riding her beloved Bindi; their pair were very successful in the show ring.


Andrew’s lifelong interest in animal psychology and equine behaviour led to his early desire to be a zoologist, which then progressed to studying the psychology of training. Curiosity in the academic side of training manifested in a PhD in Equine Cognition and Learning, and then in 2005 a group of like-minded equine individuals created the International Equitation Science Symposium. This conference has since published over 900 papers on a range of topics from horse training, welfare and the psychology of riders.

The move to the psychology of training, and horse training itself, was a natural progression, and no one seemed overly surprised in 2007 when Andrew was approached to apply his training techniques to elephants. In fact, he has written a manual for elephant training that he hopes will make his time in the jungle redundant (disease-carrying mosquitoes rather than the elephants themselves are the real worry). According to Andrew, the flexibility of learning theory means that once you know what you want an animal to do, and where the pressure signals will be on its body, it’s then a simple matter of applying the theory and reinforcing those behaviours. Who knows what animal will be the beneficiary of Andrew’s methods next!

6. Andrew on Woodmount Biggles 1996

Andrew on Woodmount Biggles, 1996.


Over his career, Andrew has noticed a definite change and trend, both in horses and riding techniques, and not always for the better. When he first started his behavioural clinics, horses were a lot duller, slower and less sensitive than they are now. He has also noticed the compromising of the Reiner Klimke principles, (which Andrew views as the best years for horses), with horses now being ridden deeper, more behind the vertical, and with ever-tightening nosebands and crankbands. Throughout this trend, the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre has always pursued a creed of softness, lightness and self carriage  ?  something Andrew believes should be rewarded in competitions. This can only occur when judges are better educated as to what they are rewarding, and in typical form practicing what he preaches, Andrew has developed a new judging scale incorporating these principles, but the FEI is yet to show any interest.


5. Sophie McLean on Da Lyla

Sophie McLean on Da Lyla.

Andrew’s quest for a return to the Klimke principles is a large driver behind the AEBC’s teaching. The Centre aims to teach the horse to recognise single cues, ultimately putting them all together, which, according to Andrew, results in riding becoming like a symphony with all the single notes coming together. The single cue concept stems from the idea that whenever animals are exposed to too many strong signals simultaneously, especially if those signals are opposing, they will only respond to the signal that has the higher feeling of reaction – i.e. something that may hurt it more. With the research showing that riders’ aids only work in the ‘swing phase’ (when the horse’s leg has left the ground), the single cues approach focuses on maximising this time by working with the horse’s natural diagonals. Because the left fore leg and right hind leg are connected, with the same obviously applying to the right fore and left hind, (Andrew likens this to a gear box), maximising this relationship becomes crucial. The pirouette is a great example of how a rider can influence each leg with separate aids, as the pirouette has elements of forward, shortening, turning and yielding. Andrew believes this training philosophy helps to reduce the conflict and confusion that often exists on competition day, with competitions not needing to be a miserable experience for the horse.


4. Warwick McLean on Allessandro, National chmps 2008

Warwick McLean riding Allessandro at the National Dressage Championships in 2008.

The McLeans are four generations of passionate believers in horses, horse welfare and improving training techniques. Let’s hope there are many more generations to come.







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