Step Back; Collect; Allow Forward

Greetings from snowy Sweden!  I’m enjoying a few quiet days with my family before heading north to teach clinics this coming week. I hope 2013 has started well for all of you.

Snow 2013

The beginning of each new year can bring forth a mixture of feelings – excitement and apprehension for what is to come, of course, but maybe also sadness for things which have passed or ambitions not yet achieved. If it seems that we’ve been stuck in a routine or maybe not made the progress we had hoped to make, it’s a luxury to look back over a full year and see that in fact the many little steps and experiences along the way have added up to much more than it previously seemed.

For many of us, horses play a central role – whether consciously or unconsciously – in how we feel about where we are in our lives and the sorts of people we want to be.  Some of us have a simple goal to canter across fields in a state of unbridled freedom; many create a social life and important friendships around their horses; some may seek a philosophy of how we should train and ride which becomes a whole way of life in many ways.

When we have invested so much of ourselves into our relationship with our horses, it is all too easy to become frustrated or disillusioned with the progress we perceive we are – or perhaps are not – making.  And it’s very easy to put our focus on the horse at these times.  There is a huge industry dedicated to telling us how best to correct our horse’s faults and ensure we achieve our goals. But of course the ambitions we have and our failure to achieve them are of our own making – our horses are just being themselves. In my view it’s very important to reflect on our own personal development and to try to understand our motivations for the goals we set ourselves.

It’s not easy to do this.  When our horses seem to want to do the opposite of what we know is good for them, it’s hard to take a breath and reflect on exactly why we’re getting so annoyed about it!  But it’s a worthwhile thing to do – it helps us to understand what we really want from the relationship, what simple pleasure it brings and where our own mental and physical boundaries (and possibilities) lie.

Of course frustration is not wholly a bad thing – it shows we care. It shows that we strive to do more than our mind and body allow us to at any given time. Or perhaps that limitations of weather, work commitments, finances and so on are holding us back.

For some of my dear friends and clients, 2012 brought big life changes. Some became horse owners. Some took the leap to import a horse from Portugal. Some even became horse owners for the first time.  Of course there are huge practical implications of taking such a step – not least the commitment of our finances and time – and many people are put off by the obstacles, even though it is their dream. But for those who make the leap, there is romance and excitement and fear, because… perhaps… they will be able to grasp the opportunities that this horse will bring to their lives.

And when we invest so much of ourselves, we can also learn a great deal about ourselves.  It’s as easy as falling off a horse to feel crushed by the realisation that we might never be the next Charlotte Dujardin, or even the rider we thought we were.

Horse ownership can magnify these feelings.  Everything can seem so much more significant when we are responsible for the horse we ride. But it is important to see our horsemanship as a journey.  And the journey is made up of many small steps.  Each individual step is of little consequence, but small steps add up to make surprising progress over time.

For those who have taken steps into horse ownership, it’s important to bear in mind that it’s a big change for your horse too.  Changes in culture, climate, environment, routine and so on take some getting used to.  Along the way you will inevitably question at times whether it is all worth it. But there will be those glimpses of what you had dreamed of too.  And at those times – whether you’re lying face-down in the dirt, or taking off your boots after a beautiful ride across the hills – pause for a while to think about how far horses have helped you to come, rather than how far away you still are.

Two become one… Cheque’s tale.

I’m sure many of you will remember Cheque. As a three year old he was the first horse to join me in my new adventure at Quinta do Brejo. Soon after he turned four a visitor from Sweden fell in love with him and decided to change her life by becoming a horse owner.  Her decision was (after spending many years away from riding) taken with the heart, but even then there was no denying that they suited each other very well. And after only a short time back in the saddle for the rider, and a short time under saddle for the horse – a lovely and fitting partnership started to develop.

Cheque, PSL Lusitano and Charlotte Wittbom, Summer 2012

Cheque, PSL Lusitano and Charlotte Wittbom, Summer 2012

Now another year of schooling and maturing has passed and it is getting close to the day when Cheque will make the trip to Sweden and his lovely new home. The year has prepared both horse and owner for what will soon take place – both mentally and practically. After some initial fears about the task she had let herself in for, Cheque’s new owner has taken an active part in her new horse’s development, visiting us at Quinto do Brejo regularly and making all the right preparations at home.

Cheque, PSL Lusitano and Charlotte Wittbom, Summer 2012

Cheque has been a joy to train. His confidence, balance, temperament and movement have combined to make a very capable young horse, whose potential his owner can soon continue to realise.  In the same way, Cheque’s owner has also developed her riding, her way with horses and her mindset as the trainer and guardian of a beautiful Lusitano.

The next few images show some glimpses of the journey Cheque and his owner have taken together, from their first meeting, through their training sessions together over the last year (including just last week). I hope you enjoy them….

Cheque, PSL Lusitano and her owner, Summer 2011

Cheque and his owner, Summer 2011

Cheque, PSL Lusitano and his owner, April 2012

Cheque and his owner, April 2012

Cheque, PSL Lusitano and his owner, Summer 2012

Cheque and his owner, Summer 2012

Schooling our Lusitano, Vip

The other day we welcomed a group of professional photographers to Quinta do Brejo, who observed how we train our horses.  We recorded this video which we thought you might like to see.  Afterwards there was a dinner with Fado (traditional Portuguese music)… a lovely evening.

The video shows Charlotte riding and schooling our Lusitano, Vip, in a way that is very typical for their work together. Each schooling session is different, working with what Charlotte feels the horse needs at that time – they can be short or longer in duration, work on particular movements or simply on the horse’s gymnastic deveopment. Particular problems may also present themselves during the session, such as stiffness, which Charlotte can then work to improve.

Meet Cheque, our young Lusitano

This is Cheque, the 4 year old Lusitano Stallion I’ve been training in our new home – Quinta do Brejo. Having said farewell to Morgado Lusitano, how wonderful it is to be opening a new chapter of my life and career where Maestro Nuno Oliveira lived and schooled his horses.

At this stage Cheque is only four months into his training, and 6 weeks after being backed for the first time. In Portugal – and according to the classical  principles – horses are normally left until around three years old before any kind of handling takes place. Training is then at a slow pace, sympathetic to the horse’s physical and mental development.