The time between Christmas and New Year has always been a special time for me. The old year is not quite over and the new year hasn’t begun yet. It’s a sort of ‘in between’. As every year, I use these still, almost magical days to reflect on my past year and ask myself, “where do I go from here?”
This year brought one of the biggest changes in my life so far: I decided to work with horses professionally. The wish to do so already came up at the end of the last year, but it took me until June to fully embrace it and bring up the courage to say it out loud. My friends and family had known already for some time that the path I had chosen didn’t make me happy, and I have to thank them for reminding me of who I really am and where my passion lies.
I remember the exact day in June on which I made the decision: it was the day after I had visited Bent Branderup in Toreby, Denmark, and had watched his open training. I walked the beautiful Danish countryside and made little jumps in the air, I was this happy about having finally made up my mind. The sun shone and the endless wheat fields looked like a golden-green sea with the wind making tiny waves.
The wish to work with horses is not a new one for me. Already as a child, I was fascinated by horses and always tried to spend time with them. As I grew older and took lessons, my enthusiasm got little dents here and there, until it finally vanished entirely in my twenties. I witnessed too much violence against horses by people who actually said that this is the way things have to be done around horses. I saw horses being beaten, spurred, I saw bloody mouths and their exhausted eyes. I saw children who used their horses to satisfy their ambitions and to let out their frustrations. I did not want to be a part of this. For a while I thought about a horse-related education, but then I would have had to deal with all this abuse on a daily basis.
I felt the same way about the kind of riding that I was taught. I never understood the logic of pulling in the front and kicking in the back, and of course you might call it ‘soft contact to the horse’s mouth’ and a ‘leg aid’, but in fact that’s what most people I saw were doing, words didn’t change that. How can you think that you’re having a soft hand when you can’t even ride without gloves because you’re going to get blisters? There is a huge hypocrisy at work in the horse world. People say they love horses and they’d do anything for them, but very often that love turns into brutality as soon as the horse shows some unwanted behaviour.
Eventually, my passion for horses caught up with me (click here to read the story of how I finally bought my horse Nazir). For a short while, I took up the kind of riding I was taught in my youth, but this time I felt even more terrible about it. I looked into Nazir’s eyes and I didn’t like my reflection in them. I had to embark on a quest to find a better way for us! I wanted a kind of riding that would benefit the horse physically and mentally, make it more flexible and build up good muscles. It had to be completely logical, and the horse’s opinion should be taken seriously. I wanted a real partnership, a dance, in which one and one makes more than two, and I wanted my horse to be happy to train, to crave it, to greet me at the gate with these glittering eyes. I looked here and there, but it turned out that my standards are indeed very high.
When I came across Bent Branderup and his Academic Art or Riding, it was like an epiphany. Finally, I had found the harmony, lightness, fairness, and logic that I was looking for. I read his books and watched online videos, bought online courses. However, I still mixed in the occasional old habits and sometimes a “why won’t you just do as I say?” came through. It actually took me nearly a whole year to get rid of some of my old training habits. After my training with Maruis Schneider last Monday (read about it here), I was, again, so convinced of the academic art of riding, that I made another decision. From now on, I will follow this kind of riding entirely, no more peeping around. All I need is there, all the methods, concerning horsemanship, groundwork, handwork, lunging, training the seat, riding. It’s time to focus and start to learn the craft. In other words, I’m becoming a student again and I’m trying to learn the art of riding that our forefathers still knew, the kind of dressage that was made to keep the horse healthy until old age, that didn’t care about winning ribbons.
I believe in doing one thing and doing it right. Too much looking around can sometimes add more confusion than do any good. Taking the best out of everything just doesn’t work for me anymore, so I will throw out some old luggage and truly start my journey in the academic art of riding, now.
I’d love to share my journey with you, so please tell me sometimes what you think! And I wish you and your horses all the best for the new year and that you may also find your way, if you haven’t done it already. Last but not least, I have to thank my Nazir for being so patient, for enduring all my new ideas, for forgiving all my mistakes, and for giving me a new chance every day 😉