Cross Country Jumps

It’s been a while since my last post and there’s a lot to write about.  The biggest development is that I’ve moved myself and my little family – human, equine and canine – to be closer to my nearest and dearest ones in Sweden.  In some ways it’s the end of a very important era for me – starting with my education with Mestre Luis Valenca; the tours with Apassionata; working at Morgardo Lusitano and more recently developing my own business at Quinta do Brejo.  On the other hand I’m pleased to say that while Portugal will no longer be my home, it will still be one of my places of work.  I’ll be maintaining my relationship with Quinta do Brejo as a venue for regular courses and riding holidays, so it will still be possible to come and ride with me in Portugal. And I’ll continue to work with local breeders, of course.

But my day-to-day life will now continue in the North.  And I’m really looking forward to the challenges and opportunities this will bring.  To mark the closing of this particular chapter, though, I thought I would share a few glimpses of a typical working day at Quinta do Brejo.

The film shows horses in training and under development. The first is a horse we have used for giving lessons, who – before he came to us – was originally trained for traditional Portuguese mounted bullfighting, but was found not to suit the purpose. He has such a good heart and is very willing to work, but he has needed time to find his own balance and feel comfortable with a rider.

The darker grey horse, Cartuxo, is my own. He is a lovely strong horse with a very good mind. He was started quite late, and has taken some time to find balance as his physique has developed, but he’s really starting to show his potential now.

As you will see, our small 15×30 indoor arena is often busy with different riders and horses at different stages of development. But the work we do is essentially the same, regardless of size, age or experience. The little boy is practicing movements such as piaffe and passage on our own schoolmaster, Ulisses. You also see a man riding his mare.  I think Mestre Nuno Oliveira would be pleased to see his farm so full with activity and passion.

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

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

Moon Fox Spanish Mustang with Charlotte Wittbom

Over the Moon

And so with heavy hearts we have waved goodbye to Moon Fox, the Spanish Mustang mare we have had the pleasure of training here at Quinto do Brejo for the past four months.

Moon came to us as a five year old at the beginning of her schooling and has now rejoined her owner to continue her development into the very fine horse I know she will become. It has been a wonderful experience to work with such a beautiful strong mare and to know her unique characteristics as well as those she shares with her Lusitano cousins.  Every horse I come to know brings new experiences and new learning.

Spanish Mustang Mare 'Moon Fox'

At five years old, Moon’s musculature was already beginning to be well developed, but having lacked the gymnastic work that would often take place from around the fourth birthday, her physique was quite tight and inflexible.  We started then with a lot of work in hand to supple and free her in walk. This helped to build the right foundations for the balance and strength necessary for ridden work.

Moon Fox Spanish Mustang with Charlotte Wittbom

On the other hand, being five years old, Moon had the mental maturity to progress quickly with the ridden work. You will see from the photographs that we found we were able to introduce the double bridle relatively soon in her training. For a young horse at Moon’s stage of development, this is more helpful in encouraging and supporting flexions of the neck and the suppling work from the ground, than as an aid to collection (as the horse matures, there will be more potential for collection in ridden work).

Moon Fox Spanish Mustang with Charlotte Wittbom

The early photographs also show that Moon’s physiology gave her a tendancy to fall on to her forehand. Therefore we incorporated lots of exercises – such as rein-back from the ground – to encourage her to carry her weight more evenly.

Moon Fox Spanish Mustang with Charlotte Wittbom

By the end of her period of schooling with us, Moon had progressed very well through the basic lateral work and is beginning to find self-carriage in the more difficult lateral exercises such as haunches-in and half-pass.  She is very attentive to the seat and can be ridden with a very light hand, which shows that she has both the physical and mental maturity to enjoy her work at a higher level of training.

Moon Fox Spanish Mustang with Charlotte Wittbom and owner, Julie Ann Rees

I’ve had a lovely time training Moon and I wish all the best for her and her owner. They have the makings of a great partnership and I’m sure will have a wonderful journey together.

Spanish Mustang mare, Moon Fox and owner, Julie Ann Rees with Charlotte Wittbom

Equador, PSL Lusitano - www.charlottewittbom.com

Between the Poles via Equador

We have another new arrival at Quinta do Brejo: Equador.  He is a handsome 3 year old PSL Lusitano from the breeder, Quinta da Encosta. His movement is beautiful – we’re really looking forward to how he develops over the coming months.

We’re almost overflowing with riches now! Our stables at Quinta do Brejo are full with horses and there’s a wonderful vibrancy and productivity about the place. Very soon though we will bid a fond farewell to a few of our favourite horses as they reach the end of their training here and join their owners elsewhere. There’s always a bitter-sweet feeling when that day comes, but seeing how horses and their riders form a bond and go on to enjoy their life together makes up for any sadness we feel in saying goodbye.

Equador, PSL Lusitano - www.charlottewittbom.com

I’ve also had a busy time in Sweden giving a number of clinics. One thing I love about teaching clinics is the variety of work I find myself involved in.  I never quite know who and what I’ll be asked to work with and I need to improvise and work flexibly to help with the many different riders, horses, problems and opportunities I see. In these photographs, you’ll see we’re using pole work as an aid to improving the horse’s balance and strength. In particular we were working on developing the passage over poles. I think it’s very important, as well as enjoyable, to add as much variety to your schooling and riding as possible. Both you and the horse will benefit in lots of ways from the new challenges, but it’s also stimulating and fun.

Pole work to improve balance and strength www.charlottewittbom.com

Pole work to improve balance and strength www.charlottewittbom.com

Pole work to improve balance and strength www.charlottewittbom.com

Pole work to improve balance and strength www.charlottewittbom.com

Happy Easter

Wishing you all a very happy and peaceful Easter. It has been a wonderful weekend here, with warm, sunny weather. It’s made a very welcome change from the snow,  hail and rain that accompanied my recent clinics in Sweden. But nevertheless I want to thank all the participants for making those sessions so enjoyable despite the conditions. As usual there was a lot of enthusiasm, thirst for learning and warm friendship, which makes my work all the more satisfying.

Together with my Easter wishes I’ve also uploaded a small clip to show recent progress with Vip, our 10 year old Luistano. This time we’re working with greater collection as we progress to the higher school movements.