News & Views

At Work and At Leisure, Part VII: Horseback Riding

12 August 2020

In the seventh “At Work and at Leisure” interview, Managing Associate Helen talks about her passion for horses and horseback riding.

What is your hobby and the story behind it?

The short answer is that I am a horseback rider. I am interested in all kinds of matters related to training horses, everything from specific dressage movements to more general issues around gaining trust and building a foundation for things to come.

I started to ride for the same reasons as many kids do; I was six years old at the time and took occasional lessons at a variety of riding schools. I probably would have quit riding as a teenager, had I not encountered certain challenging horses which reignited the spark I initially had felt for these animals.

When I was in my early 20s, I stumbled across a horse which had not had the best start in life. I showed him to my dressage trainer, who spent three hours trying to just touch the horse, but the horse was not having it and spent the same three hours freaking out. After this, my trainer turned to me and said “I will only say one thing: If you can train this horse, there is nothing you can’t train”.

The reasonable thing to do would probably have been to walk away and take up a different hobby. But I like a challenge, so I bought the horse.  I trusted that his issues were mostly related to fear, and that if I could resolve that, the dressage movements would follow. More than fifteen years later, I still own that horse. Other horses have come and gone – most notably a young stallion which I bought when he was ten months old and owned and trained until he turned seven years – but this is the one horse I will never sell.

I am interested in progressing the training and developing my horses, but I do not have any interest in competing. Competition can be one way to measure development, but with horses such as mine, the most important development milestones are not included in competition classes. There is no competition class for when a horse which used to run away from you suddenly comes towards you.

What is the best thing about your hobby?

It forces you to be in the present moment and focus on what you are doing right now instead of what you did yesterday or may be doing tomorrow. When everything works out, the feeling of being perfectly aligned with a horse through the slightest of aids is like nothing else.

What kind of skills or qualities has your hobby helped you improve?

- Training horses is not linear. You often end up taking take one step forward, then three steps back. Resilience is key.

- Planning ahead and being patient; I need this young horse to simply shift his weight a certain way, and it will not look like much, but this is the foundation for a much more complex dressage movement which will follow years down the line.

- Dressage is a form of non-verbal communication from one species to another; the slighter the aids are, the better the movements will become. Focus and attention to detail makes or breaks what you are trying to achieve.

What does your hobby say about you?

I often say that training challenging horses appeals to me for the exact same reason as dispute resolution does. It is a matter of working with what you’ve got. When I initially meet a horse or get briefed on a dispute, it never starts with a clean slate. Things have happened in the past which now need to be resolved, and my task is to find the best way forward. Wishing things had gone differently before will not help – instead, you need to figure out how to best play the hand you have been dealt.

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