Thursday, February 26, 2009


When I was seventeen, I used to ride a horse called Viking. This was in a riding school setting and this horse was by far the best dressage horse on the property. However, he was virtually impossible to ride, as he would pretty much by default and without a single warning break into long sporadic bucking sprees which in turn (by default as well) would send his rider flying. (Note by author: Riding school life in Europe in the eighties was “a bit” on the wild side…)

After several of the more experienced riders had been dumped, it was my turn to try to stay on.
Have I mentioned that if you tell me I can’t do something, I sure as hell with show you I can?

In any case, it turned out I had a talent; Viking could not buck me off, no matter how hard he tried. Rodeo was my calling! My riding teacher was overjoyed; finally there was a rider who could “show the piece of shit horse” who was who. I was given a very long dressage whip and told to hit him hard if he started bucking and continue until he stopped (or I came off, whichever came first). Can you believe I actually felt honored??

So… for weeks Viking tried to dump me and all the while as we charged around the arena, I proceeded to beat the living crap out of the poor horse. And I hit him hard, as hard as I possibly could, because more than anything else, I wanted to do exactly what my riding teacher, whom I secretly idolized, told me to do.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all just rodeo with Viking and me; there were some good moments in between, excellent moments even. In fact, this horse was the first horse to really teach me something meaningful about dressage. Yes, he would buck like a demon, but after about ten enormous leaps and ten matching whacks from my whip, he would let it go and turn into the dressage equivalent of a Ferrari.

Looking back at all that, it still amazes me that nobody, not a single person (me included), took a moment to question WHY this horse was acting out like it was. The first (and only) solution, was to beat the bad behavior out of him, because – it was bad, wasn’t it?
Now how would that work if we were talking for instance about a child, instead of a horse? Let’s see… imagine if your five yr old child kept wetting his bed every night. Would you take a stick at him and beat him until he stopped?
I didn’t think so.

These particular events still haunt me, maybe because I am finding it hard to forgive myself for what happened or maybe because in the midst of it all, I never had the chance to thank Viking for everything he taught me. I am not proud of my seventeen year old self, but I think I did learn something: I have never taken a whip at a horse like that since.


PS. Later, Viking was sold and apparently he continued his bronco show where ever he went.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Angry Rider

”In a controversy, the instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for the truth and have begun striving for ourselves.”
- Abraham J.Heschel

I am ashamed to admit, that I have, in the past, lost my temper while sitting on a horse. Not only once or twice, but several times. I want to believe I never was what I now call “The Angry Rider”, but I certainly was an unpredictable one, from the horse’s point of view. I have hit a horse with a whip out of frustration; I have yanked at a horse’s mouth because I was angry at myself. I am not proud of what I have done.

Anger is very closely linked to expectation; when we don’t get what we expect, we get angry. When we get angry, we start looking for someone else to blame. And how conveniently the horse is right there, not doing what we want it to do, not performing the way we had planned, and most importantly – not talking back at us. What an easy target for anger...

If you see someone hitting their child in the supermarket, do you walk by without even thinking about it twice or are you horrified by the act? Do you intervene? What about when someone is hitting their dog? Yet people hit their horses every day, some just a little bit, a smack-smack-smack to keep the trot going down the long side of the arena and some really hard, with serious intent. All this happens in competition warm up arenas, in riding schools where our children ride (and witness such acts), in private barns where people train their horses. And it is accepted widely as a normal practice: it is alright to get angry at a horse.

Sadly, not a week goes by that I don’t see someone getting mad at their horse, usually because “the stupid animal” is not getting what the human wants. Pretty unfair, especially when it is easy to see that the human is not exactly being clear about what is wanted. Bringing anger to the table when you are trying to communicate, especially across species, never brought about anything good.

Me on the other hand, I am no longer angry. I have a plethora of emotions when I’m with horses, but anger is not one of them. Frustration? Yes. Sadness? Yes. Joy? Yes. Humbleness? Yes. It’s all there, because I am human and us humans, we have all the emotions, don’t we? But anger? No, not for quite a while. Now I know that if things go wrong when I am with a horse, I have only more to learn.

And learning never hurt anyone.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Metal in the Mouth?

Last summer I had an epiphany the size of Saturn. Seriously, it was huge.

It was June and I had been riding a mare called Little Love since the previous fall. I only rode her once or twice a week then, but I also gave lessons to her owner on a weekly basis. Things had been going very well, both rider and horse had made progress, but every time I rode the horse, I had this nagging feeling that something was not quite right.

Actually, in all honesty, the feeling was more like inadequacy. I felt like a failure every time I rode Little Love. For some unknown reason, I was unable to get the mare to truly relax while riding. She is a very fearful horse by nature and therefore often tense, but not only that, I always had a feeling we were in a fight. Even when I tried not to consent to an argument, she did her best to pull me in. Needless to say, I was starting to get frustrated.

I tried to understand what I was doing wrong; because I knew it had to be something I was doing wrong. (Note from author: At this point I already knew enough to realize that horses tend to react rather than act.) But whatever I tried, didn’t work. I was stumped.

Then, one beautifully sunny and warm day, D___, another student of mine came to the barn with a Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle. She had the bridle on loan for the day and was planning to try it on her horse who was uncomfortbale with contact and would toss his head.
The second I saw that bridle, I knew this was something I had to try on Little Love as well. I think my brain already had leapt way ahead of me, making the correct connections before I was aware of it myself.

The rest is history. When I got off Little Love after a twenty minute ride with the bitless bridle, I fell to my knees and cried like a baby. And just for the record, I don’t usually cry in public (or anywhere else). Then, I apologized to Little Love for not figuring it out earlier. After that I made a promise to NEVER put another bit in her mouth. And I haven’t to this day. She goes beautifully without.

And so do all the other horses I ride.


PS. Actually, I am starting to think we should probably not even use bridles. But that is something I’m still working towards on a personal level so for the time being, I promote bitless riding for everyone and their horses. We all have to start somewhere!
PS # 2 My friend D__’s horse also loved the bridle and she, too has been bitless since!
PS #3. I’m working on the crying as I do think it is good for me to be able to cry whenever I feel like it :-)

If you are interested in learning more about what a bit does to a horse, go to There are also plenty of other websites that promote this concept, you just have to find them.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


I called my first blog entry "Yesterday", not because I wanted to talk about something that happened yesterday, but because that's when I should have started this blog in the first place: long time ago aka yesterday.

This blog is about horses and people, literally. I'm not talking about a few specific people and their horses; what I mean is horses, as in the animal species, and people, as in the human race. Of course, I have to admit that this blog is also a bit about me personally (I am writing it, after all!) and my quest to find a way to be with horses.

Find a way to be with horses? What's there to find, you may ask; all you have to do is get a halter and put it on the horse's head, or grab a saddle and slap it on its back... it's not rocket science, right? Well, that's exactly what I used to think. I rode, trained, worked, competed with horses for over 30 years; I did it all from teaching children in a riding school up to competing internationally. I was there, right in the middle of it, doing my thing, bringing those horses and students along, setting goals and achieving them - with flying colors even. So what happened?

It's hard for me to pinpoint what started the shift, but somewhere in all that horse training and working and exercising and schooling, there suddenly was this little seed of an idea, so little that I really didn't even know it was there. Maybe it wasn't even a thought, it was more like an emotion, a tiny morsel of guilt perhaps, or doubt. Is this really the way I'm supposed to be doing all this horse stuff? Is this really what I want? Am I happy? Are these horses happy?

Maybe it was the fact that I had always been good with "difficult" cases and this encouraged me to think outside the box; maybe it was the fact that I was considered a "natural" when it came to riding and horses; or maybe it was a certain horse called Socks who finally was able to get through to me (after others had tried, unsuccessfully) Whatever it was, a shift started happening, and slowly, at snail pace, my thinking started to change - until... what had started as a little snowflake-sized thought up on top the hill had become this unstoppable snowball of ideas rolling down the side of the mountain. At that point, there was no turning back, as snowballs don't exactly roll uphill...

This blog is an attempt to make sense of the thoughts that are coming to me on a daily basis now. Should horses not have shoes? Should we stop using bits in horses' mouths? Does riding long periods of time harm horses? Do we have the right to claim superiority over any animal species? What is horse abuse? What kind of a relationship do I want to have with a horse? How can I be with a horse without doing what everyone else is doing i.e using force? How do I know what horses are thinking? etc etc

If you are a horse person and reading this, you know how loaded all those questions are. You may even be able to imagine how defensive any horse owner will get if confronted with such issues. We all want the best for our horse, right? Right???
This is not an attempt to rattle any cages although some cages will probably get rattled along the way. But I don't see that as a bad thing; change is always painful, at least in the beginning.
And I always try to believe people are doing what is best to their knowledge. Sometimes they just don't know enough, sometimes they don't even want to know. It's often easier that way.
I believe we are all on the same road, we are just all at different locations. Some people never make it very far, barely out the yard, some travel for miles, some go around the world. I hope to be one of the latter ones. If you feel the same, why not come along?