How I Transformed my Riding
I was an equestrian like most of the recreational riders out there. I love my horses and would do anything to improve my horse’s wellbeing. I rode dressage, did show jumping, rode western and spent many days on horse back in the forests around my parents house when growing up. My biggest wish has always been to be in harmony with my horses. My young girls dream was (and still is) to canter bareback and bridle-less through fields of flowers. Each thought directly transferred into my horse. Being one with the magnificent creature underneath me. In these young girl dreams, my horses would love me and galop towards me as soon as they would see me approach the field.
But what I learned as a child while taking riding lessons and what I still see many people do to their horses today is opposite to this dream. We force, we fight, we tense, we get frustrated. In this blog post, I will share my personal story of transformation with you and give you an idea of how you can start your own transformation today.
My transformation started at a very young age, when I realized that my pony club lessons did not in any way resemble these young girls dreams. And that the instruction I was getting did not seem to bring me any closer to that dream either.
I thank my transformation to two very special horses, who both showed me that I had to start looking in other directions. My first own pony, the first one to point out to me that another approach was needed, was Beauty. A palomino welsh mare that my parents bought for me when I was 11 years old. Used in a blood bank, Beauty was skeptical of people, especially veterinarians and men. She would kick out at every sudden move and react hormonally to all pressure on her body. Any leg aid was met by a buck and squeal or by her peeing. When I trained with my special pony at the local pony club, my instructor told me to hit her harder with my whip each time she stopped, bucked or squealed. This led to more bucking, which led to more shouting from my instructor. At my question what hitting my resisting pony would bring me, I was told to ‘do as you are told’. Being a stubborn 13 year old by that time, I decided that this was not the way for me. I wanted to be friends with my pony! I went into western riding instead. Long reins must be friendlier then riding ‘on the bit’ so I thought. And most western riders I knew rode without a whip!
Also in western, I could not really find what I was looking for. But it opened the door to natural horsemanship. I read Klaus Ferdinand Hempflings book, trained 2 years with a very special horse whisperer in the Netherlands and there I got reconnected with my dream of being together with my pony in harmony. He would send me out on a hack by myself with one of his horses, bareback, bit-less and tell me not to come back in at least 3 hours. The horse would take me and show me the landscape. Another time, he put me on one of his rehabilitation horses without saddle, bridle or reins and told me to ride her only from the seat. When a door slammed shut somewhere in the stable, the horse experienced a traumatic flashback and bolted. What followed was one of the most scary rodeo rides of my life. With no tools to stop or steer, all I could do was keep my balance, breathe and stay up there until she calmed down. When she finally did, I realized that she was in no way afraid of me, and I had many more rides with her later. My confidence grew. I was lucky that I was exposed to information, trainers and experiences that taught me that my dream was not unrealistic. It was just not main-stream understood.
At age 17, I bought a second misunderstood mare, Aranka. Physically and mentally damaged, she was exactly the project I needed to ‘test’ my acquired horsemanship skills. Within a few months, most of her behavioral issues were solved. But I ran into physical issues I had no previous experience with. She was a star gazer with the beginning of kissing spines disease, she rushed all the time and could not canter. Basically we just went ‘buck-rear-buck-rear” through the forest. I met a great instructor who helped me to ride her in a ‘cowboy dressage’ way, which helped a bit, but I did not understand what I was doing or how to continue.
At the same time, at the natural horsemanship stable where I volunteered, I got involved in Centered Riding®. I learned to look at my own body and how to move with my horse. This brought me a lot of insights. I remember a huge lightbulb moment while I was hacking out with Aranka on a trail and all of a sudden I really experienced her belly swing and my legs moving left and right. She started to breathe and for the first time I felt her back actually moving underneath me!
But a horse with such physical issues needs more then a rider that can move her hips. It needs a rider that can help her transform her use of her self and improve her movements. And that is when I discovered the Academic Art of Riding by Bent Branderup®. Within 2 years of AAoR training, Aranka’s physical problems were solved. We could walk, trot and canter in a healthy, balanced way. And that was only the beginning! I discovered that with my unique combination of experiences, I could help many more horses and riders in their transformation.
I continued to study horsemanship, dedicated my masters degree to horse behavior for which I spent 5 months in Mongolia with the Przewalski horses. I continued my pursuit in Centered Riding® and the Academic Art of Riding by Bent Branderup®. I gained many positive results, both as an instructor with my certifications, as a trainer on a higher level and in my horse business. I ‘fixed’ horses that were given up. I was successful on a cognitive, theoretical and technical level. At that point in time, at the age of 25, I had 10 rescue horses of my own, owned my own stable and was expanding my business rapidly. I worked with a famous trainer who pushed me to develop more, be less passive, demand more of my horses and even advised me to sell all my rescue ‘fixed-up’ horses and buy one good one so I could leave a better business impression. I needed a ‘business card’ with the ‘X-factor’ if I was ever going to be more successful. She compared my rescue horses to organic apple juice. Very healthy, but not very attractive to look at. It was this remark, combined with the reaction af Aranka one day when I went into my paddock paradise to fetch her for a training session that really opened my eyes. In one of my phases of wanting too much, working too hard, trying to achieve the next phase on the training scale; the piaffe, my trainer told me that I should demand more from Aranka if I ever wanted to make it to the next level in the Academic Art of Riding. So I pushed her. Asking more collection each ride. And this one time, when I went out to get her, she did something she had never done before. When she saw me coming, she turned away from me in the paddock and walked away. This moment broke my heart. Why had I let my ambitions get so strong that I did not see my horse anymore? Had I not spent all these years of training and education to help my horses and to develop our relationship? How could I have been so stupid that I had not realized that I had made a wrong turn somewhere along the way? I blamed myself for having allowed external pressure to steer me away from my dreams. This experience, and my trainers ‘apple juice’ comment made me decide to choose for what I value most: the development of MY horses, to the best of THEIR abilities. And MY development to be the best trainer I can be, in MY definition of a what that means. Not by what the world expects it to be. Not by achieving the piaffe no matter what the cost. So I stopped training with this trainer and took a few months to just ‘be’ with Aranka and have fun. When I next rode for Bent Branderup, the grand master in the Academic Art of Riding, he gave me the biggest possible compliment; he had never seen us ride so nice together before. This was a huge confirmation for me to continue my own path and to do what feels right for me.
After all these experiences with training riders bodies, horses bodies and horse’s minds, the time had come to develop my own mind. I always thought that developing your mind meant to understand more, to read more, to be smarter. I held two masters degrees, one in science and one in education, and was raised in the academic world. For me, knowing more was automatically linked to ‘being better’. So in the case of knowledge “more is better” was my motto. It was Tom Nagel, the Zentherapy® people and my Zen teacher who have taught me that none of this is important. The importance lies in true awareness. In being in the now. Of experiencing your true nature. And this has nothing to do with intelligence, masters degrees, theory or technique. In fact, being so busy acquiring new knowledge and new techniques IN MY MIND, blocked me to really feel and see WHAT WAS THERE.
When I ride my horses nowadays, it may look as if I am not developing, because I repeat the same exercises instead of making daily steps to develop more. But what I am really doing is the hardest training I have ever done. To perfect the movement without judgement, to be in the now with my horse, to ENJOY every step. And to get to a different level INSIDE of me. And the great thing is that it still leads to a change on the outside. My horses are more relaxed, supple, balanced and happy than they have ever been. I feel more relaxed, supple, balanced and happy than I have ever been. Without all the endless technical training. Without me feeling guilty for not practicing enough, for not training harder. It teaches me to be without ego, and to connect to my horses from the purest and most simple way possible. And I have never felt so close to my dream. ]
My secret? That is the good thing! There is no secret! The only thing we need is a balance between the horse’s mind and body and the rider’s mind and body. With my experience in Centered Riding®, horse behavior, Academic Art of Riding, Zen and martial arts, I have come up with a step by step program that will transform not only your riding, but your relationship with your horse, your view on yourself and your performance.
This year, my first book will be published. This will be a collection of ideas, images and experiences that I gathered over the years and found helpful for my students to know. Also, I am busy building on the Rider Transformation Program. A program that combines both online support and practical lessons to improve your awareness and your skills in riding! Find out more
Is an accomplished rider, clinician and published author who combines her extensive knowledge in classical dressage, biomechanics, ethology, human anatomy and zen principles to guide riders on their journey to self-improvement. The goal: harmony & lightness in the cooperation between human and horse.