I’ve been influenced by the principles of how Monty Roberts changed the way cowboys start horses (vs. breaking them in by force) and fascinated by the body language of horses ever since I was little.
I greatly enjoy Caroline Rider’s and Heather Nelson’s youtube videos to see how others work with horses at liberty or under saddle in a horse-friendly way. I am in awe with the old masters of baroque dressage, Master Nuno Oliviera is someone I’d travel back in time to have a cup of tea with.
I cheer own famous show jumpers that choose to compete bitless and I cannot take my eyes off of Charlotte Dujardin and her evidently harmonious communication with Valegro.
I had the great fortune of learning from fantastic trainers in my youth, such as Tobias Bachl and Hans-Peter Konle (show jumping) or Hermann de Reuver (as he used to call it “dressage for show jumpers”), but the greatest teacher of them all remains my old boy: Wesley.
I encourage my students and fellow horse-lovers to do the same: listen to your horses and learn from them! They are the best teachers for horsemanship and horseback riding.
About Wesley and our journey together
One of my old tournament companions, my mum’s price-winning Hannoveranian had just spend two years on a pensioner’s meadow, enjoying life with his herd buddies. He was skinny, with bad hooves and arthritic – not the muscular athlete I used to know.
We decided to move him once last time anyway, closer to me, so I would have a horse to go trail-riding with for another year or so.
Well, it’s been two years now and boy, has that horse made a comeback since taking him out of retirement! He still wins every race on the corn fields, on good days we ride challenging dressage manoeuvres (slightly adapted to an old horse’s agility) and our walkies together always bring me peace and joy.
More recently, we’ve been doing liberty work together, which the old boy greatly enjoys, and practising some tricks to keep him fit. Well, to be honest, with a giant like Wesley – liberty training keeps me pretty fit, too!
The teachings of an “old” horse
Working with an old and wise horse whose age and physical constitution I often have to take into consideration when training together has fundamentally changed my view of how to work with horses.
I no longer believe that a horse has to “function” like you are taught when training for classic equestrian sports. It’s much more a matter of being a true, fair and reliable partner to your horse – and when a horse then decides to be with you at liberty or go with your request of doing a difficult dressage move of its own free will, it’s the most gratifying experience you can wish for.
I promised my old boy he’d never have to wear a bit again after reading up about the nerve system in a horse’s head and understanding how brutal and unnecessary a metal bit in his mouth really is. Yes, he does take off when racing another horse on a field, but then the Pellham bit he used to have didn’t avoid that either.
And when not in racing mode he has the softest mouth and reacts to a feather’s touch.
So, we got rid of the bit and I learned that a well-trained horse with whom you have a real bond with will accept whatever you decide to ride them with. Our transition phase to a Dr. Cook bitless bridle was about 20 minutes. Some goes for riding him with a neck rope only.
I am very grateful to share this part of a horse’s life when time goes a bit slower, nothing “has to work” anymore in dressage training, when walking together is just as good a trail riding when it’s muddy and slippery and when you’ve known each other for so long that communication seems effortless. After each lesson with a young horse, it’s just a relief to spend time with him. He’s my quiet place, a great therapist and a patient teacher!