Rein, Rein, Go Away!

Photo by Ulrika Malm

Teaching clinics in different countries shows me that there are still cultural differences in this global age. In Portugal, a spot of rain or a cool breeze is reason enough to hide indoors. In Sweden – where I have been teaching clinics for much of the last month – temperatures of -22 degrees aren’t sufficient to deter clients from bringing their horse to a riding clinic. Then, in England – where I have been teaching this last week – clients come fully prepared for twelve months of weather in one day! But thankfully we have enjoyed beautiful early spring sunshine this time.

Photo by Ulrika Malm Photo by Maria Håkansson

Difficult weather conditions – whether extreme heat, sub-freezing cold or torrential rain – can get in the way of our enjoyment of riding and any training programme we may have planned. Our horses too can become frustrated if we can’t ride, work them or let them loose as usual. Then when we can take an opportunity to work with them, their stored up energy can make them difficult to handle.

Of course, having access to an indoor arena makes things easier, but when it is -22 degrees, it even freezes inside! In such circumstances, attempting concentrated work with a horse that just wants to run and buck is very difficult. The best thing is to accept the situation, ride when it is possible and work the horse in hand when the weather or ground conditions don’t allow riding.  If you can hack out, perhaps incorporate some leg yields, shoulder in, or other lateral work on a quiet road where it’s safe to do so.

Any kind of developmental work you can do is better then nothing at all, but if you can’t ride or train at all for a while – it’s ok: your horse won’t forget what you have been doing. In fact a break can help him to process things and mature, so that when you pick up training again he’ll be better prepared in his mind, if not in his body.

Thank you to my students and friends across Sweden and in Oxfordshire, where I had the pleasure to teach for the first time last weekend. It was a joy to move from the bleak Scandinavian winter to see snowdrops hopefully heralding the lengthening sunny days in England.  I’m looking forward to the next visit.

Thanks to Ulrika Malm and Maria Håkansson for the photographs from my clinics in Sweden.

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.

December Reflections

And so to December: the closing of the year. At this time, I – like many of you, I’m sure – often find myself reflecting on the achievements of the preceding months while looking forward to new plans for January. It has been a very rewarding and busy year at Quinta do Brejo so far – full with the coming and going of horses, guests and friends, both old and new. And beyond Portugal I’ve enjoyed developing my clinics in Sweden and the UK – there will be more of those next year, I’m happy to say.

My Swedish roots feel strong at this time of year: Even after all this time spent in Portugal, December for me means snow and mulled wine and log fires. And I know that many of my friends from the North are already enjoying beautiful winter landscapes and life-affirming cold!  But here in Portugal we can still enjoy some sun, which is not all bad, of course!

This month Swedish magazine ‘Kentaur’ have published a beautifully written article about Quinta do Brejo and our riding holidays – http://www.kentaurmagasin.se. In all good Swedish stores now!

Charlotte Wittbom clinic, Sweden -www.charlottewittbom.com

I’ve also just returned from another teaching trip to Sweden and I want to thank everyone for making these clinics so interesting and enjoyable. I love to revisit long-term students and see the progress they have made since the last time. Of course it’s always lovely and gratifying to welcome new students too!  Each introduces different horses, challenges, experiences and hopes, yet they are bound together by a common love of riding and desire to improve their horsemanship. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to share their journeys with them.  Above and below are some photos taken by Ulrika Malm from a recent clinic in Sweden.

Charlotte Wittbom clinic, Sweden -www.charlottewittbom.com

Arte Equestre

Recently we welcomed a new friend to Quinta do Brejo for a riding holiday. She revealed a wonderful talent to us that we would like to share with you…

Bailador, Lusitano stallion www.charlottewittbom.com

Quinta do Brejo - www.charlottewittbom.com

Diamante - www.charlottewittbom.com

Diamante with Charlotte Wittbom - www.charlottewittbom.com

Diamante with Charlotte Wittbom - www.charlottewittbom.com

Diamante with Charlotte Wittbom - www.charlottewittbom.com

Quinta do Brejo - www.charlottewittbom.com

Erus - www.charlottewittbom.com

www.charlottewittbom.com

Dante with Charlotte Wittbom - www.charlottewittbom.com

Dante at Quinta do Brejo www.charlottewittbom.com

Dante with Charlotte Wittbom - www.charlottewittbom.com

Quinta do Brejo - www.charlottewittbom.com

This series of photographs was taken by Ulrika Malm – a recent guest at Quinta do Brejo who works as a professional photographer. You can click on the images to enlarge them. And you can see more of her beautiful work at www.ulrikamalm.se.  Thank you to Ulrika for allowing us to share the images here.

A Flyinge Visit

Flyinge is a beautiful equestrian facility in the South of Sweden – one of the oldest national studs in the world and a centre of excellence for education and training. I was very happy to be invited there to give demonstration rides at the close of the Swedish National Dressage Championships.

Flyinge - www.charlottewittbom.com

It was a big honour and a little nerve-wracking to perform for my home crowd! But it was a lovely day. I rode two horses belonging to students of mine – the first a PRE (Pura Raca Espanhola) named Ares; the second, a warmblood named Tupack. We had only two days to prepare and to develop a good communication with the horses. Even though I have followed their progress during my visits to Sweden, we still needed to get in tune for performing in front of a big audience.

First it was a demonstration of classical riding in baroque costume, with a video backdrop of quotations and illustrations from Masters of horsemanship such as Gueriniere, Xenophon and Baucher. The objective was not to show any perfection of any kind but simply the beauty and artistry of classical horsemanship, which I hope came as a relief after the pressure of a high-level dressage competition.

Next, the warmblood Tupack and I demonstrated how the gymnastic exercises we use in classical dressage can be used in every day training to soften, supple and balance the horse and allow him to move in self carriage. It was nice to show how the classical approach – which is often associated with baroque horses – can be used just as effectively with warmbloods and other breeds.

Charlotte Wittbom at Flyinge

Finally, Ares – dressed in dramatic lights to show his outline in motion – and I entered a darkened arena to perform to music.  Our three performances took place within a one hour long show which included “Beridna Högvakten” and other very talented riders.

I want to thank everyone who helped me to prepare for the event and gave their support.  And thanks especially to Ares and Tupack and their owners – I couldn’t have asked them for more.  Here’s a little film from the evening event:

‘Poca favilla gran fiamma seconda’ (Dante)

Poca favilla gran fiamma seconda” – “A great flame follows a little spark”.  (Paradiso: Canto I; The Divine Comedy – Dante Alighieri)

Each day working with horses creates a small step forward. But these small steps create great strides over time. It’s often only when I look back over photographs of my journey with a horse that I can appreciate how far we have travelled.

This time I have had fun looking back on my work with Dante. In September last year, I wrote about his arrival at Quinta do Brejo. It will soon be a year since those words were written. Dante was then a spirited little horse with a funny short mane and a big personality.  He has matured into an elegant horse with deep intelligence behind his kind eyes. Here are some photos that will show you his progress. I hope you will enjoy them.

Dante with his breeder, September 2011 -  www.charlottewittbom.com

Dante, October 2011 - www.charlottewittbom.com

Dante, November 2011 - www.charlottewittbom.com

Dante, November 2011 - www.charlottewittbom.com

Dante, August 2012 - www.charlottewittbom.com

Dante August 2012 - www.charlottewittbom.com

Dante, August 2012 - www.charlottewittbom.com

Farewell to Marie and Vip

It’s the end of an era at Quinta do Brejo. We have said farewell to two of the most important members of our team – our working student from Canada, Marie-Philip and our beautiful 10 year old Lusitano, Vip.

Charlotte Wittbom riding Lusitano, 'Vip' at Quinta do Brejo - www.charlottewittbom.com

After a year and half of schooling with us, Vip is now continuing his journey elsewhere. He is a great personal favourite of mine and I know was very popular with the guests who rode him. I’m very grateful to Vip for the great pleasure it has been to school and ride him; the joy he gave to so many; the almost holy riding experiences he gave to some.  I know he has a special place in many hearts and I’m sure will continue to touch people throughout his life. At Quinto do Brejo we took a journey together through piaffe, passage, pirouettes, spanish trot, flying changes and levade and I could feel that he enjoyed it as I did. It is with tears in my eyes and much love in my heart that I wish him bon voyage.

Marie came to us last December and revealed a true passion for horses and dedication to learning the classical methods of training and riding. Working with horses and living in a completely different environment with a new language, different horses and a whole range of cultural differences is not at all easy but she made a big impact and became a valued member of our team.  She has made great progress with her riding and her way with horses and I’m sure will enjoy a wonderful career back in her native Canada. I wish her every success for the future.

Marie-Philip Couillard at Quinta do Brejo - www.charlottewittbom.com