Since I can remember I’ve been in a serious love relationship with horses. It was at the tender age of two when I first sat on a pony and as you may be able to tell by looking at the faded Polaroid picture below, I was feeling right at home.
“That… is… quite… a special… feeling… .” I have no idea who either of these two lovely women are but the one holding the gorgeous pony looks very friendly. I would like to think that the woman in the background was intuitively sensing that pure magic was about to happen, right in front of her very eyes. Well manifested, unknown Picture Bomber!
When I was 9, I arduously wrote up a contract on pink writing paper, outlining in detail the terms and conditions for my Papa, entailing him to gift me with a horse one day (as in sooner rather than later). Charmed and impressed by my initiative, he signed it — under the condition that “the time has to be right”, and not before I would be at least 16 years old.
It was a tough stipulation. Waiting a minimum of at least 7 years for your ultimate dream to come true feels like an eternity, especially when you are a child living entirely in the present moment, but he and I never forgot about our “legal” arrangement [even though he won’t stick to it after all; I pissed him off too much].
I learned to ride on the moody German island Sylt and explored a variety of styles over the years to follow: vaulting, modern dressage, classical dressage, Western riding in Montana. Even my loving, endlessly compassionate Mama had to serve as my horsey when I was 4 years old. For a good while, I had convinced her to carry me on her back on all fours to my bedroom every evening, from the kitchen all the way upstairs to my room at the end of a long hallway. There she was, exhausted from her day of being The Ultimate SuperMama (TUSM), crawling along with a delirious brat shouting Schneller, Mama! (Faster, Mom!) on top of her—all the while holding the flannel belt of my bathroom robe between her teeth, for that “realistic” riding feel (I was just a stupid kid after all). Regrettably, my Dad never took any pictures of her horsing me around and the evidence in form of a photograph can forever be hidden from the world. But hey, I can still draw it for you!
“Yeeha, Mum! Move your arse, chop, chop!!” Back in the day, aeons ago, I could be very impatient. I still am sometimes, when my (chosen) limiting beliefs kick in and as a result I feel threatened in my personal reality.
But even though my Mama did a marvellous job, nothing was more important, more crucial to me than to simply be with horses. Discovering each other together and creating a tender bond. Yes, I enjoyed riding… but then, did I really? Under what circumstances?
You see, when I grew up it was still the norm that qualified riding instructors in established horse clubs would yell at both the riders and the horses, and physical and mental violations towards equines were standard. Be it that you’d be told to “show the horse who is boss” with a smack of the whip to speed up a lazy horse, a good kick in the side, or simply a painful yank at the reins that would make horses throw up their heads up in agony. Sometimes those teachers would just come over and kick the horse from the ground — I’ve seen it happen many times.
To this day I feel ashamed to have at times followed such instructions, and I straight away felt awful about it, disgusted even, by myself. I mean it. If I hesitated or dared to question such an approach I was ridiculed because I was “too sensitive”. I was foretold that a horse would never respect me if I tried to be gentle all the time.
The prediction—has it come true? Has wee Eva simply been delusional and terribly naïve? Would horses only respect and love her if and once they are being physically abused by her? Not in my experience! Eat that, mean, scared and confused horse people!
It was a real dilemma for me. On the one hand, I wanted to be close to horses. My parents supported my deep affection for these mystical creatures as best as they could by driving me from stable to stable, sometimes long drives away from home or simply by not bothering that I was out and about all day until nightfall with my bicycle.
On the other hand, it was even more frustrating to be around horses without having the opportunity to just get to know them. They weren’t mine, so unless I paid for a riding lesson I had no business being around them in the minds of the yard owners or people who paid for the horse’s livery (which I can fully understand—I also don’t want strangers to approach my own horses without asking first, for a number of reasons).
The solution seemed to be to loan a horse, which means (for those who come from the non-equestrian world) to pay in order to ride the horse of somebody else x amounts of time per week. It may also include mucking out or other responsibilities. I was intrigued by the idea but the reality — in my personal experience — was again far too limiting for my liking.
For example, if I wanted to get to know and work with the horse from the ground first and take my time doing it, or take it for walks in the woods, the owner would feel cheated because I wasn’t doing what I was “supposed” to do: exercise the horse from the saddle for an hour. On top of that, many equestrians still doubt your horsemanship if you find spending time doing groundwork with a horse just as important, or at times even more fulfilling than riding. So sooner or later I always dropped out with a heavy heart because I felt I wasn’t doing the horse or myself a favour by just using it like a machine.
This is what I’ve yearned for all those years—moments like these (here with my youngest, Artax) where you can feel as if time is non-existent. We are sharing a tender moment, and nothing else could be added to make the experience any more.
Now, times have changed and are changing all the time, and I sincerely believe for the better. Riders and horse lovers everywhere are starting to question many tried and tested methods and turn to ways of understanding their horse’s nature in order to connect with it.
This blog is about my own journey—a journey of truth, my truth, especially when I’m with my four horses. It’s not always smooth sailing and challenges will always be in store. The key for me is to always strive to find a way towards establishing a partnership with my horses that is based on respect, trust, and joy.
So far I have been exploring positive reinforcement (aka “Clicker Training”), Natural Horsemanship and liberty training and have drawn some conclusions, but let me start from the beginning. A few months ago when my four beautiful and spirited Pura Raza Española stallions arrived on our Hacienda in the Spanish mountains…