#22 Dressage In Hand with Josepha Guillaume
Josepha Guillaume is an international horse trainer and instructor, and author of the book Dressage In Hand.
Based in Belgium, Josepha comes from a solid classical dressage background, but has been working mostly with injured and traumatized horses for the last 20 years. The art of keeping horses healthy and happy, or bringing them back to health and happiness, no matter what happened to them, has become her specialty and her life’s work.
On this podcast episode, we discuss things like dressage in hand, collection vs. contra collection, body language and breathing, how we can give our horses the best life, and so much more.
This transcript was created by an AI and has not been proofread.
This transcript was created by AI and has not been proofread
[SPEAKER 1]Welcome to the Equestrian Connection podcast from wehorse, the online riding academy. My name’s Danielle Kroll, and I’m your host. On this week’s episode, we’re talking with Josepha Guillaume, international horse trainer and instructor, and author of her book, Dressage in Hand. Based in Belgium, Josepha comes from a solid classical dressage background, but has been working mostly with injured and traumatized horses for the last 20 years. The art of keeping horses healthy and happy, or bringing them back to health and happiness, no matter what happened to them, has become her specialty and her life’s work. I have been reading her book and it’s so insightful. I can’t wait for this conversation. Join me to learn from Josefa and discuss things like dressage in hand, body language, and what horses want us to know. Let’s go. Yes, if I’m so glad that you’re on the podcast today, I have been reading your book. And honestly, it’s it’s been taking me a little while to to fully read the book because there is so much detail and interesting concepts and aha moments that I I sometimes when I’m reading it, I have to stop and put it down to let myself absorb. what it is that I’ve been reading and I just love it and I’m so excited to talk to you today. So welcome to the podcast and thank you for being here.
[SPEAKER 2]Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here and I’m so happy to talk to you. And yeah, thank you for having me.
[SPEAKER 1]I’m honored. Awesome. So let’s dive right in and we’ll go back to the beginning. How did you get into horses and what were your first few years like as an equestrian?
[SPEAKER 2]Myla never had a chance, actually, because my grandfather was a horse person. And he would always take me when I was a baby everywhere where there were horses. His friends had horses. So I always saw horse faces above my… What do you call it? My stroller.
[SPEAKER 1]Right, yes.
[SPEAKER 2]Yeah, he never gave me a chance. Since my first memories are actually of horses. So yeah, I’ve always been, as long as I can remember, a horse person. One of my first words was horse, actually, even before I said the words. So yeah, that’s how it happened. I don’t know if it is something in your DNA or if my grandfather is a foal or maybe a mix, but that’s how it happened.
[SPEAKER 1]Mm hmm. And now what were your first few years like? Like as you did you have ponies? Did you get into competing? What did that look like for you?
[SPEAKER 2]Well, I grew up with my grandparents and they lived they were retired and lived on a small pension, so we didn’t have money for for our own horses. But luckily, I lived in a village where there were these carnival people that had a large field where they had ponies that sort of bred themselves and took care of themselves and I was allowed to do whatever I wanted with those ponies because I would then, without knowing, broke these ponies to be able to be ridden for the kids in the carnival. I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have a bridle. I didn’t have a saddle. I remember fashioning bridles out of a scarf or rope or something. That’s how I was able to just be with the horses and not have any influence from outside and just do my own thing. And then later on, when I was, I think, 11, I was finally able to go to a rewriting school and learn how to properly, properly ride. Yeah. Competition. I did that sometimes, but it didn’t really interest me to be honest. I did it more to have a day with my horse than being interested in the competition. So I never was really a competition rider. It never really interested me that much.
[SPEAKER 1]Mm-hmm. And now, at what point throughout your journey did you start to look at in-hand training? Was that something that you just, it was instilled in you in the beginning and that’s how you worked with horses or was there sort of a turning point that you thought, I think I need to get off and let’s start here? Are you interested in learning more about dressage in hand, groundwork, and horsemanship? Do you want to advance your riding and overall skills but don’t have access to the ideal resources in your area? Does the idea of learning about horse training whenever and wherever and at a price that won’t break your horse bank sound appealing to you? Check out WeHorse.com to access over 150 online courses with top trainers from around the world. We have courses on everything from dressage to groundwork to show jumping to bodywork. And as a member, you get access to everything in our WeHorse library to watch whenever you want. And we also have an app, which means you can download a course or video to watch without wifi. Perfect for those days at the Byron when you want a quick dose of training inspiration before your ride or training session. So what are you waiting for? Go to WeHorse.com and check out our free seven day trial to access our WeHorse library and see if it’s a good fit for you. We can’t wait to see you in there. And now back to the episode.
[SPEAKER 2]Well, it was always familiar to me throughout my youth because my grandfather was a very huge fan of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna and they show their work in hand there all the time. And it’s also the way how they and other classical riding schools in Europe prepare a horse for riding and keep it as an extra way of training the horse to keep the horse healthy and responsive and so forth. To me, this was always part of equestrianism. I never really thought about it as something special or as just something normal. And then when I was young, I think around 14, I helped the local owner of the riding school where I was with, as they say, breaking in horses. We called it, in our language, we would call it make them adapted to the saddle and rider. That’s what we called it. And we would always start with walking the horse in hand, letting them getting to know the reins. And then we would start with the work on the lunch first, teach them everything. And then we would very slowly start with the saddle and the rider. So for me, it was always normal to do things in hand. Also, when we had a young horse, we want to accustom the horse to the traffic. Then we would walk the horse in hand. through the traffic, you know, if you wanted to get them accustomed to a new environment, we would just walk the horse in hand. So to me, that was always a normal part of equestrianism. However, when I started to professionally work with rehabbing horses who suffered physical or mental problems, horses that couldn’t be ridden in any way, working in hand would be the solution to remedy these problems logically. At that point, it became my speciality. Because of me working mostly with horses that couldn’t be ridden and had problems, and me rescuing horses like that myself instead of buying good, healthy horses, I was more next to the horses than I was in the saddle eventually. I really became this, you know, foot soldier. But at the same time, I was working six to eight horses a day for decades.
[SPEAKER 1]Wow. And now what inspired you to write the book? Because it’s one thing to practice. It’s another thing to think, I need to write a book on this. What inspired you to create such a a full book, and we’ll get into what I mean by full a little bit later, but what inspired you to write the book Dressage in Hand?
[SPEAKER 2]That I feel like this is what horses need people to know. It worked so well. Everything that is in the book has worked so well for hundreds of horses. for people that had a horse that had problems and that couldn’t be resolved, not by a vet, not by other trainers, regular training. And yeah, I had so many success stories with this complete way of working based on what is specie-appropriate to horses that I thought I can’t get this round fast enough. I can’t teach everybody, even though I have given this information through my instructor school. But this needs to reach every horse person in the world to benefit from, to have the horse benefit from. And I truly think, I know that if horses would write a book, it would be a lot like that.
[SPEAKER 1]And now, why and how do you think practicing dressage in hand can help horses?
[SPEAKER 2]Well, first of all, a horse is not made to be ridden. It’s not a natural thing to do. So I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but I say when you do it, you have to make sure that your horse’s mind and body is properly prepared to withstand having a rider on regularly and over a period of years or a lifetime. And massage in hand is a way to help your horse with that. You can prepare your horse’s body to be ridden safely and to enjoy the riding. And next to that, it really expands on the relationship you have with your horse. So it’s also not just for the safety of the horse, but also for the safety of the rider. Because if you have a good relationship together, you’re much more safe on your horse’s back. Your horse will respond to you. Your horse will take care of you. And your horse will, in situations where you would normally just react purely instinctual, first turn to you and say, what are we going to do about this? And that are these few seconds that could save you from really having a bad fall, which nobody really enjoys, I think. Yes, it’s for the safety of the horse, to make sure that your horse can carry you without sustaining injuries to his body. Which riding can… Horses can really get harmed if they’re ridden in a way that doesn’t support their biological way of moving. So dressage in hand, is a tool to make sure that the horse’s body is able to withstand riding and even become more healthy and more powerful than it would be without. It’s also a species-appropriate way to make up for the movement and the playful movement feral horses would have. They play together to strengthen their body, to supple their body. So dressage in hand is a way to duplicate that and a species-appropriate way to have your horse work on his own body, in fact, to make it more healthy, more powerful, more subtle, like a fitness type of training for humans, I would say.
[SPEAKER 1]I’ve gone back and I’m currently practicing in handwork with my horses, and I’ve been following your book step by step, thinking, OK, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right. And I’ve been, like I said, following it step by step. I’m tempted to want to jump ahead, but I’ve been starting at the beginning and my horses. They’re almost looking at me in this way, like, oh, you’re listening to me. And it’s, it’s just been the neatest experience. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wouldn’t trade it for all the writing I could handle. I’m just absolutely loving doing in handwork right now with them. And I think they’re getting a lot out of it too. Um, so my next question for you, I’m going to jump ahead a little bit and the questions that I had written down, because when I had said a little bit earlier. that your book is so full. I truly mean that it’s not just talking about in-hand work. It’s not just laying out the exercises that you can do. You truly lay a foundation for AIDS and body language, which we will discuss as one of the AIDS. You talk about nutrition and hoof care and the horse as a well-rounded species that we’re here to take care of. And what made you want to include all of that information in the book? Because you could have just written strictly exercises, but you included so much more, which would have been a lot of work for you. So what made you want to include all that extra detail?
[SPEAKER 2]Because even if you are the best trainer in the world, if your horse is lacking nutrition or movement in his free time, or stands on four different hooves, or has his shoes on, which prevent him from having a good hoof mechanism, or has an infection in the body. All these things. Has a saddle that doesn’t fit well, or a bridle that doesn’t fit well, or his teeth are not looked after. He doesn’t have enough roughage or forage to eat, which makes, for instance, stomach ulcers. I mean, there are so many things that can go wrong and you will never get a 100% functioning horse and you will never get the result you’re looking for. And you will never have a completely healthy, happy, functioning horse if you don’t work on everything. So I know many trainers that they are good trainers, but they miss that the saddle is pinching or that the roof angles are not OK, or that the horse lives in a horse box for 24 hours a day and never gets out and doesn’t have any friends or doesn’t have enough hay or that there is a disease like PSSM or some other endocrine disease. But if the trainer doesn’t see that, then all the good training will not make a difference. The same, there are people that are chiropractors for horses and they do very good work, but if they don’t see that the horse lives in a box and stands for 24 hours, or if they don’t see that the training the horse goes through is harmful, or if they don’t see that, again, the horse has a pinching saddle or stands on four different roofs, for instance, or maybe gets very sugary grass or very sugary, starchy food, no matter how many times the chiropractor will come, the problem will not be fixed. It will only be a temporary relief for the horse. So in order to get it right, you have to make sure that everything is done right. And what is right? It’s just looking at what is a basic horse? What does a basic horse need? What is specie appropriate? And if you do that right, then you will get good results and healthy and happy horses. The same way as you would never feed chicken food to a fish, for instance, or think to have humans only eat dry kibble or something. You have to do what works for the species, for the individual, what works best, how we have been evolving for millions of years, that is the way it will work now. Actually, it’s very simple when you think about it. You just have to take care that the basic things an individual has evolved on for millions of years, if you take care of that, that the individual has that, then you have the best chance of a healthy, thriving individual. And this is, we’re fully lacking the world at the moment, to be honest. We are not taking care of them in a specie-appropriate manner. This is what has to change. And I hope that my book will play a part in that.
[SPEAKER 1]I completely agree with you. And I I do see that your book will play a part in that. We just need to get it in the hands of so many other people. But there and that’s why I said I just I feel like I would be reading it and then I’d have to set it down and I can’t go any further because I just need to absorb the information and then I pick it up again later. But I can’t keep reading because I don’t want to miss that very important thing that you had just said. So I need to let it absorb. And and I just think that it’s a very important book and I can’t thank you enough for writing it. Thank you. And so in your book, you list body language as the first and most important aid. Can you talk about like why it’s important for equestrians to be aware of their body language and to understand what each movement and posture could mean to their horse?
[SPEAKER 2]Yes, of course. Most people know that horses talk through body language and all of them, as you know, as sort of laying the ear flat and all that sort of thing. But what they don’t realize is that horses also respond to the body language of other species, such as humans, for instance. And so when you’re with your horse all the time and you’re moving, you’re always talking to your horse, always. And horses will respond to that. So, for instance, what I often see is someone wants a horse to move forward, but they stand in front of the horse and they sort of push their body towards the horse. But they are saying to the horse, come to watch me. And then the horse doesn’t want to do it. And they get angry with the horse. But actually, the horse is responding to your body language in his language. So as we are always moving and always sending out information to the horse, that happens anyway, is it not then a good idea to know what the translations of our movements are towards the horse and then use that to set up a two-way communication between the horse and us. If you do that, everything will be like 100% more easy, safer, and you will be more happy, the horse will be more happy. And it’s actually not that complicated once you figure it out. And I’m surprised to this day that Somehow, I seem to be the only one that has the translation between horses and humans in that very simple and subtle language that they respond to. And I get messages from all over the world constantly, people saying, you just told me that the horses are like, wow, you can actually understand me now and you can listen to me and that they are very interested in their training and they want to do more of it. And what people also don’t realize is that the movements we see as dressage, you know, shoulder in and so forth, yielding, that these are actually the words and the sentences that horses say to each other. So we want these exercises when we do competition, but we also want them if you want to build a healthy body. So by mirroring our body in this sort of movements, with this movement, so you have any conversation and you’re building a relationship and your horse is working on bettering his body. So it’s like three strikes and one. Yeah, why wouldn’t you do that? I mean, it’s easy, it’s fun, and it only has advantages for both horse and human. So a lot of people say that you never read, hear, or see anything about that, while in the meantime, it’s so simple.
[SPEAKER 1]And it is fun. I think there’s a bit of a misconception thinking, oh, anything in hand is boring and slow. And I just want to get on and ride, you know. But I have an absolute blast when I’m working in hand with my horses. And like I said, I feel like they’re having a lot of fun too. And there’s just something so rewarding about the idea that my horse and I can communicate when I’m standing on the ground next to it, versus in order for me to get my horse to do that, I have to get on its back and, you know, and move it physically or something. There’s just something that’s so rewarding about having that shared conversation and communication that makes it even more fun.
[SPEAKER 2]Yes, yes, it does. Absolutely. And it’s so fun because you can see your horse’s expression and you can look him in the eyes, which in a sense, also promotes a sort of equality between the two. And yeah, and when you’re having fun, your horse sees that too. And yeah, it’s just, it really becomes this kind of playful dance between the two of you, which has no comparison to riding. And I’m not saying I never ride or I don’t like to ride, but yeah, me too. I have to say there’s nothing like the dressage in hand with a horse that really responds to it and really wants to further that and to, you know, when they offer you new exercises and you see how proud they are and how much fun they are having and how they are feeling like, oh, this is really good for my body, I feel so powerful, I feel so supple. Yeah, there’s nothing like it and I know that to most people it is very, very addictive I hear of many people that tell me I put the saddle on and I’m just going to do a little bit of massage in hand to warm up. And then I’m an hour in and there’s no time to ride anymore. And actually, I don’t care. Yes.
[SPEAKER 1]So you talk about collection and contra-collection. And so I’m sure that a lot of our listeners are familiar with the term collection, or maybe what we generally think of as collection. But they may be unfamiliar with the term contra-collection, which I know was new to me. And now that I know it, I can’t unsee it. You know, you see horses and you’re like, OK, I see it. I see it. You see it everywhere, unfortunately. So contra-collection and horizontal balance. Can you explain what that is and then how dressage in hand can help reverse the effect of contra-collection?
[SPEAKER 2]Yes. So there is this common misconception that horses lean on their forehands naturally. And this is actually not true, because if natural horses were to do that, they would have been extinct a very long time ago because they would injure their front legs for leaning on them. And it would also always be too late if they were a predator and they needed to flee, which they do from putting weight on the hindquarters first, and then they have more power to get away fast. So it’s not true that horses naturally lean on their forehand. They do, however, or in other words to say, they are more heavy in the front because of the head and neck, but this is a different thing. So if you put rider weight on, then that weight gets added to the weight on the front leg. This is why people want collection. But horses, natural horses that have never been ridden or feral horses, they have what I call a horizontal balance. So they can move their weight to the front and they can move their weight to the back all the time. And they are constantly balancing that while they are standing, walking, playing, eating and whatever. So that’s a natural balance that horses have, with which they are a little bit more heavy in the front, but they don’t necessarily constantly lean in the front. So they’re constantly shifting their weight from the center of gravity to the back, to the front, wherever it’s needed at that moment. This is also how they communicate with each other, where they place the weight of the shoulders is important to what they are communicating to another horse. So they have to be able to put the weight in the hindquarters and to make that sort of horizontal balance where the shoulders and the hindquarters are in a sort of level position. And then sometimes they lean forward for whatever reason, maybe if they want to graze something or drink or also a playful thing. So this is a normal thing. What does happen, though, is if a horse gets ridden too young, for instance, before that the growth plates have closed in the back, usually before the age of three, four, even five. And I hear more and more that horses are ridden even with the age of two, which should never ever be done. Let me be clear about that. And if training is forced, for instance, so the head and neck is forced in a certain position, lower position or higher position, doesn’t even matter. so that the horse cannot balance himself because they have a neck, which is the balancing instrument for them, then the weight will ultimately go to the front legs. And if this is done over a period of time, the muscles will develop in that way, so that the horse will start to always lean on his front legs. The same way if we sit behind a desk all day or look at our iPhone all day, that our muscles will develop in that way. But if we are a dancer, for instance, you will see that a dancer has a very straight posture. The muscles will develop in that way. So the same goes for horses. So then you get these horses that after some time aren’t able to collect anymore. They cannot put their weight to the back. They cannot lift their shoulders anymore because the muscles are developed so that they are completely leaning on their front legs. And that is what I call front recollection. And what you see is a dropped thorax, a drop withers, a very heavily developed tricep area of the horse. And obviously the back and the upper neck and the hindquarters are less developed. And yeah, the horse is rendered in a sort of constantly unbalanced way of standing and going. And this will not go away by itself. You have to actively help a horse to come out of that shape, help the horse to move in a way that, again, develops the muscles in the correct way, supporting the horse so that he can make his weight horizontal, his balance horizontal, and put his weight in the back whenever he wants and needs to. And dressage in hand is the best way to do that because you don’t have to add the weight of the rider. So helping horses off the shoulder, out of contra-collecting is something I have been doing daily for the last 20 years or so. with hundreds and hundreds of horses. So it’s a really wide-scale problem at the moment.
[SPEAKER 1]Why do you think so many horses are affected by counter-collection?
[SPEAKER 2]The problem is that they are started too early and that they then are ridden forcefully and that they don’t have enough free movement to counteract the forced training. So say if a horse would live on a track or on a large piece of land in a herd, they would have moved freely and they have more chance of keeping their muscles developed in the correct way. But if the horses live in a box and the only way of training is how the human forces the training, then the muscles will 100% develop into the unbalanced way of going and the leaning on the forehand. And unfortunately, almost in all equestrian disciplines, we see that horses are trained on their forehead. So people force head positions, they sit too far to the front, and they don’t ask the horse to lift the shoulders. They are always just, for some reason, forcing head and neck down around And yeah, this is the way to get your horse injured, to get them to drop the thorax and to get them to go in a state of contra-collection, which ultimately will result in injury to the front legs, the back, the neck, the shoulders, the widows, but also the back legs, because they have to push the body mass forward instead of being able to suspends the weight by means of bending the hindquarters. And we see this a lot with horses that aren’t even that old yet, between seven and 12 years, the whole body is full with arthritis and all kinds of injury that stems from an unnatural way of moving, which would be normal for any species. If you do the same to humans or to a dog, they would have the same result. So yeah, mind-blowing why people are actually doing this. I mean, there’s no other animal in the world we force a head position to put reins on to force them in a head position or even put iron shoes on for that matter. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but I think the horse is the only one we think it’s necessary to do that to. And nobody really can explain to me why, but I can explain to you that the result is always harm to the horse. If that way of training and keeping the horse, this can be even weeks or months, but the harm will come, the injury will come.
[SPEAKER 1]My hope is that it’s a lack of knowledge in the equestrian industry. It’s not that people are aware and choosing to still do, you know, forceful training and things like that. My hope is that it’s a lack of knowledge and that if we can continue to spread the knowledge, we’ll see a change. You know, I maybe that’s a little too optimistic, but it’s it’s my hope that, you know, we can take this knowledge that that people are like you are sharing and and spread it so that we’ll see a shift within the horse world, that forceful training starting so early, certain forms of equipment and way of lifestyle is is shifted.
[SPEAKER 2]And so I have the same hope.
[SPEAKER 1]Yeah. Yeah. You worked. I believe that I read that you worked as a fitness instructor and that you practice meditation. How do you I also. Ironically, I also worked as a fitness instructor and yoga teacher and I practice yoga and meditation. Yeah, so I am all about the benefits for equestrians. So how do you think these two things are important for working with horses?
[SPEAKER 2]Yes, I think actually that’s an important issue you brought up because I was a trainer of humans before I was a professional trainer of horses. I think that there I made the connection between the two that it is actually the same thing. And you wouldn’t put a human in draw reins or force him in a position. I mean, you explain to the human how to do the exercise right and why to do the exercise right. To me, therefore, there is no different way of doing it with horses. I also know that the rewarding system works best to motivate humans to work out because working out is hard. And also always have to listen to their objections. Is it just soreness because the exercise is new and heavy? Or are they injured? That is important to know. And if you don’t know these things, you won’t have many clients as a fitness trainer. If you injure your clients, you won’t have clients. Unfortunately for horses, they cannot choose their trainers and they cannot walk away if they get injured. So it’s even more important that they can tell you if something does not feel right. And it is even more important that you know which exercises they have to do and how they have to execute them in order for the exercises to be beneficial to them. Because, you know, we love horses. That’s what we say. So we want to keep them healthy. And so that’s also, I think, why my system, for lack of a better word, with horses is a lot like how I would train a human, you know, the different muscle groups, for instance, and then the way I would motivate them, like, you can do one more, do one more, just five more. Yes, that is great.
[SPEAKER 1]Very good. Good. Yes. Excellent.
[SPEAKER 2]You did it so great. It’s actually the same way. And horses really respond to that in the same way as humans do, because everybody likes a compliment and everybody likes to hear that they’re doing great. And everybody wants to be motivated that way. And of course, with horses, we give treats. We don’t necessarily do that with humans, but we can give them like points or something. It works the same way. The psychology behind it is the same way and the biology behind it is the same way. That is, I think, what heavily influenced my way of training with horses, is how I would train a human in the fitness way of training. And I see dressage in hand as a form of fitness for horses. The meditation I followed, both of these things are a long time ago when I was still young, by the way. And the meditation, I followed Buddhist meditation weekly for six years. And after that, the teacher signed the class over to me. So again, I did the leading meditations for almost a year. And how did that influence me is that if you connect to an animal, especially a horse, while you’re riding or while you’re training him, It almost feels like a sort of meditation, because you are in a sort of awareness and a sort of calmness that animals respond to. Research shows that animals have these brainwaves, which are normal to them, brainwaves they would use every day. Oh, my God.
[SPEAKER 1]That’s OK.
[SPEAKER 2]And humans have different brainwaves except for when they are meditating or praying. So when you want to interact with animals, especially horses, and you want to have them respond to you, these are the best brainwaves to function on. So when you know how to meditate, it’s far easier for you to go in that mental state or to those brainwaves. can control your breathing and you can control the way you feel, you can control your awareness around you. Yeah, it’s a much easier status point for you to start communicating and connecting with animals and of course, train them. And it is much safer if you are more aware of your body, of your breathing and everything around you. but the horse is responding to what you are responding to. So that was very helpful. And that is also why I chose to make breathing one of the aids that you can use to work with horses. They communicate with each other. Breathing is also an important part of how they communicate with each other. For instance, if with one horse, the breathing goes up, high or the breeding stops, then the other horses will know that there possibly is some form of danger and they will mirror that way of breeding to be able to just, you know, very fast go into a flight or fight. But if that horse that started it starts to breed low again and starts grazing again and goes back into a calm state, then the other horses will follow the same way. This you can use while working with your horse and when you’re breathing very heavily and high and or you’re keeping your breath in, you’re actually telling your horse that there’s danger. So if you can control your breathing and keep your breathing calm and quiet your body, not only are you more aware, you’re also telling your horse that all is safe.
[SPEAKER 1]Absolutely. There’s something that it’s been quite interesting for me lately. So I moved my two horses home in July. And so prior to that, I’ve always had them at boarding stables where somebody else was taking care of them. I was just showing up, you know, once a day for a couple of hours riding or working with them. And and so now ever since July, having them at home, I’m the one that I’m their touch point for everything, you know, their food, their cleaning, their everything. And so we’ve really been able to build a much stronger bond this way. And so I live in a very forested area. So all around their paddocks are tons of woods and trees. And so sometimes we’ll hear like a squirrel or a bird or something like that rustling through the trees and they’ll suddenly stop breathing and they stare into the distance. And so I’ll go and let a big sigh out and they’ll go and go back to whatever they were doing. And they we’ve yeah, like we’ve really been able to tune into our breath. And it’s been a big I’ve I’ve always known the importance of the breath, but I’ve never noticed. how much they’re truly tuned in because they’re not even looking at me but, oh, I hear that she breathes so all must be well. I can take a breath and go back to my hay. So it’s been really cool to notice the breathing and how much that, like you had mentioned, that truly is an aid. Yes. And now you also have a school for riding instructors. What made you want to teach instructors
[SPEAKER 2]In 2011, I was teaching really all across the planet. I was taking in horses for training and I was teaching, teaching, teaching, teaching, teaching. And then I was so burned out for fear of saying no, because I wanted to help each and every horse. That really scared me. I really was so burned out and I couldn’t do much of anything anymore. And my husband then said, you know, what you should do is teach instructors. Because if you teach instructors, they can help. And the more instructors you teach, the more they can help people. And then you don’t have to, you know, kill yourself, like you’re doing now. And yeah, at the moment, I thought I can’t do yet another thing. But he said in replacement four, so I thought that wasn’t going to work. I already had taught trainers in South Africa, though, because they thought that it would be a good idea if I trained the instructors instead of just the pupils, which worked very well. And then my husband put up an internet page with my school. And within two days, we had 10 participants. And that’s how it started in 2012. So then I focused for several years, almost a decade, purely on training trainers. And that was a very, very good idea. I thank my husband for that, because now we have about 40 or 45 trainers that teach exactly what is in my book. And I don’t want to make copies of me. You know, I just want to add on to their unique perspective and experience. So they won’t do everything 100% the same as me, but they have the knowledge and they also are focused on the welfare of the horse first. So not the riders and not having as many pupils. No, they are focused on the horse welfare first and they have the knowledge to be able to place the horse welfare first. So I’m really happy about that. In 2019, though, the school went over to my best pupil, who was with me already then for, I think, 15 years. And she is running the school now for me because I needed some more time for myself and to be able to write books and get information via that way out. So I do still teach guest lessons at the school. They always feel like there’s some sort of celebrity guest or something. So I really enjoy that. But the school is now 100% in care of Sandy van de Gorberg, my best student.
[SPEAKER 1]Well, we’re very glad that you’re able to have the space and time to take this teaching that you have and send it out to the masses in the forms of books and then also educating instructors, like you had mentioned, that then they can share the information and then their students share the information. And, you know, it’s a trickle effect. So exactly.
[SPEAKER 1]So what is your hope for your work’s future? I know we talked a little bit about the hope for equestrians that we’ll have all this new knowledge, but what’s your hope for your work’s future and then also your hope for equestrians in general?
<p>[SPEAKER 2]Well, my hope is that this knowledge and knowledge like this becomes mainstream. And I’d rather have this yesterday than tomorrow. And, you know, humans are a lot like, you know, monkey see, monkey do. We do a lot of things because others do like that and we don’t really think about why we’re doing things the way we do. So the more this becomes mainstream, the more people will see this, the more people will hear about it, the more trainers and vets and scientists and anyone that has anything to do with horses talks about it and implements this, shows it, gives a good example, then again, we will have this ink spot or trickle effect to grow this out. But I also think that still today, even to little girls and little boys in barns that play with their ponies, they look towards role models mostly in high-up competitions, so the Olympics and the national and international competitions. And I think what we need to do, people like you and me, is somehow get the message across to our role models that it doesn’t have to interfere with their competition goals if their horses, for instance, have their own lives and live on a track. and that they can have a diet that is specie-appropriate and that they can have bare feet and all these things. And if they start doing it, then that will be the shortest route for everybody to do it. But as long as they keep them boxed up and have all sorts of special shoeing and do all sorts of their legs and don’t allow them to go out and play with their friends because they get injured, which ironically, not letting them go out with their friends each day is the way to get injured. And the way they are training horses is often the way to get injured. That would be the shortest route. I know that will be difficult. But I think what we need to do, those who are on the scientific side of things, we need to be working more together. And we need to sort of have one platform that gives out this information of specie-appropriate living, specie-appropriate feeding, track systems, which are the easiest way to have horses live safely in herd formation. And obviously specie-appropriate trainings, the pain phase scale, all these scientific things we have to support what we are saying. This is important because science convinces people. And no matter how good your experience is for the last 30, 40 years, people think it’s anecdotal. So the science, and there’s more and more science which supports what we are saying. And that’s a very good thing. I’m very happy with that. We need to sort of bundle that and make sure it comes there wherever it’s needed. So for instance, I asked a lot of livery stables why they keep holding on to horse boxes and not putting horses on a track. And then I get things like, well, if I go over to a track system, then I have to pay 21% VAT, while if I keep them in boxes, it’s only 6%. So it’s also decision makers and lawmakers that have to have this information so that it becomes easier for library and equestrian facilities to make the transition. Often they want to, but they don’t see how because local counties and government are preventing them from that. So these are all sort of factors that come to play, which we have to sort of tackle. And we all have to sort of get on board on and agree on that that is what’s needed for our horses to just, you know, have their basic rights met as a species. And we can do this with zoo animals. Why can we not do it for our horses? Our horses that have built our society, we thank, we have so much to thank them for. Can we at least give them the basic species appropriate needs? That’s literally all horses would ask of us. and they would still give us all we want, they would be able to give more even. So, yeah, that would be that’s something I’m actually working on at the moment, trying to connect all sorts of contacts and lawmakers and influential people inside and outside the equestrian world. And yeah, I’m hoping that that way we can have a faster,</p><p>[SPEAKER 1]impact.</p><p>[SPEAKER 2]I love that.</p><p>[SPEAKER 1]This is just actually like a personal question. So speaking of the track system, I have my horses and they have multiple different paddocks and pastures depending on the weather. Some are sand with hay, some are grass. And I looked at doing the track system and some people listening may recognize it as it’s some people call it a pasture paradise where basically your horses are able to walk around a track and there’s food and different things along it to keep them moving and engaged rather than just standing around all day. Even if they’re in a paddock, if they’re standing at a hay box or something like that, they’re just standing at the hay all day. So I looked at doing it and I wasn’t sure how much space I would need. What is your recommendation for getting started with a track system? And do you forego like a wide open pasture altogether? Do you swap between? What is your information and advice there?</p><p>[SPEAKER 2]Yeah. Well, it’s individual choice, depending on your herd and your herd dynamics. If you have sometimes different horses coming in because you’re a livery, I would suggest that the track is about three to six meters wide, depending on the amount of horses, so that if horses were to start fighting, there will always be room for more horses to pass each other and to get away from each other. So a smaller track will evoke more movement from the horses, but you have to take into account that horses are safe. And I chose a track because horses can go round and round. And if you have a bully in there, the other horses can just move away from them like they would in nature. So you don’t have any corners to get caught in. And that is the way for me it works best because I have very difficult horses with difficult paths, antisocial and so forth. And I don’t just throw all horses together like that. I mean, that takes a lot of work beforehand. But yeah, that is for me the safest way to prevent injury and fights and all that kind of thing. And then there are many horses that get ill from our cultivated grass. So the most grass we use in the Western world is actually to fatten cows and to get milk, all that kind of stuff. It’s actually not a good nutrition for horses. So there are many horses that have endocrine diseases like Cushing and PSSM and so further. And the grass is often too starchy, too sugary. And that is what causes the inflammation in the body and causes all kinds of symptoms to develop. So for many horses, it’s safer to just be on a surface track where there is no or almost no grass and then just have hay And throughout the track, they can munch on 24 hours a day, which keeps them moving, but also make sure that they don’t get too much sugar and starch and carb intake. So that would be my two reasons for making the track system or the Paradise system mainstream, because this would just work for most horses and be the safest option. for most horses. Obviously, if you have horses that are good on uncultivated grass, yeah, by all means, put them a few hours in the pasture or days or, you know, everybody knows their horse best. But some horses, and especially horses that had laminitis in the past, it’s best to never let them on the grass ever again and just keep them with hay. and added minerals because that’s the safest for them.</p><p>[SPEAKER 1]I was also looking at it as a way to just keep them moving. So my two, I’ll put them out and I’ll open up the gate so they can go out in the bigger pasture and walk around. And they don’t, you know, they’ll just go and they’ll stand where they normally stand. And I’m thinking, OK, guys, we got to we got to get moving here because our weather can be so up and down that, you know, we’re not always in the ring and doing stuff throughout the day. And it would just be nice to keep them just moving more on their own. So yeah, I thought about it when I was setting up the paddocks. We may be rearranging things anyway, so I may take a good hard look at setting up a track system for my two.</p><p>[SPEAKER 2]Yeah, yeah. When you start out, just put in those plastic poles and make a track like that. And when you find a way how it works, then you can make it more permanent. So in the beginning, it’s just, yeah, you have to just find out what works for the horses, what works for you, and tackle the problems as they come along until you have it the way you like it. I do think, however, if we were to do that and we work with rubber mats and all that sort of thing, you know, where the muddy season is, that is also much more sustainable than having all these concrete buildings where the horses are stabled in. Also, if we give our horses hay, usually it’s locally sourced, right? It’s from the farmer next door. That’s also very much sustainable than having constantly rice bran and soy and grain coming from other parts of the world brought in for our horses. So also on account of sustainability, biodiversity. If you have a track, sooner or later, you’re going to want plants and bushes and trees to accompany your track, which is also a good way for biodiversity. So I think this too can, you know, improve the horse world and help us keep our social license, as is talked about a lot. There are factors in play in government that want to sort of ban keeping horses and across tourism because it’s a bad footprint on the climate level. These are ways we can say to that kind of lobby, listen, what we are doing is actually very good for biodiversity. There’s also a viewpoint that I don’t think we equestrians think about, but we should, we should. And I know that the track just tackles just about every problem that is or could be in the future.</p><p>[SPEAKER 1]Yeah, I mean, I certainly hadn’t thought of that. So that has is very eye opening for me as well, a side of it that I hadn’t considered. So thank you for that. Yeah, I think I’m I’m going to look a little bit more seriously at this track system. Like I said, even like there’s there’s just so many different benefits to it. So we we ask our podcast guests for questions and they’re simple questions. They’re just meant to be quick and easy. And whenever you’re ready, we’ll start with the first one. So let me know if you’re good to go. OK, do you have a motto or a favorite saying?</p><p>[SPEAKER 2]Yes, always follow your heart.</p><p>[SPEAKER 1]I like it.</p><p>[SPEAKER 2]Always follow your intuition. What your belly is telling you, that is always the right thing.</p><p>[SPEAKER 1]Very true. Who has been the most influential person in your equestrian journey?</p><p>[SPEAKER 2]I have to say these are three persons or personas. The first one was my first horse and my childhood love, Jenny, that taught me how deeply a horse and human can love one another. The second one was my ex bullfighter horse, Jamie, who taught me about traumas and how to handle them. And the third one was my recently deceased Owen, who actually was the one that taught me about horses’ pride and how they want to develop. He was the one that I sort of developed the Equus Vinifersalis system with in order to help horses to, you know, help become the best person they can be physically and mentally. He was the one that founded the school together with me, and he was a huge influence on that. I’m very thankful for all his teachings, even though it wasn’t always easy to work with him. But he taught me so much.</p><p>[SPEAKER 1]Now, I know those listening can’t see, but is he that beautiful painting behind you?</p><p>[SPEAKER 2]Yes. Yes.</p><p>[SPEAKER 1]Yeah. That’s special. I like that. If you could give equestrians one piece of advice, what would it be?</p><p>[SPEAKER 2]Always look to what the horse actually is, and then you know what the horse actually needs. So always start from the basic. horse and think about the horse as not living with humans. Think about the horse as how a horse would be if humans weren’t on the planet. There lie all the answers for all your problems.</p><p>[SPEAKER 1]Please complete this sentence. For me, horses are everything. That’s the most common answer that our guests give. And it’s just it just goes to show that as equestrians, like we we truly pour our hearts and our souls into these horses. And they are such a willing species if if if we give it right back to them. So I can’t thank you enough for, as I mentioned, writing this book and for this interview. And is there anything else you’d like to add for our listeners?</p><p>[SPEAKER 2]Yes. Often when I say horses should be living on a track, people get angry at me and often people that have their horses in livery because they feel like they don’t deserve to have a horse because they aren’t able to have a horse at home and build a track. But they shouldn’t feel like that. What I would advise them is that they talk about it to other people and they talk to the yard owner and they keep looking for solutions. Don’t just accept the status quo is what I would actually say. Don’t accept the situation. Just keep looking for better for your horse. And don’t feel like you’re being attacked in any way. The only thing that the horse’s request from you is that you don’t give up or that you try to find a way that is better for your horse. That is all the horse ask and that’s all what I ask. Don’t feel like you’re being attacked because you’re not, you’re being aided here. You’re being handed helpful information. Use it, use it for your horse. You love your horse. So make sure that your horse has his basic needs met. Even though you cannot do it now, that doesn’t mean you cannot find a way in the future. Keep looking. The answer will come.</p><p>[SPEAKER 1]Where can people find you and how can they connect with you?</p><p>[SPEAKER 2]The easiest way, if you just go to dressageinhand.com and there you can find the books and the links to my Facebook page, all the other things I’m working on. So that’s the easiest way, actually.</p><p>[SPEAKER 1]OK, I’ll I’ll link that in our show notes that everybody can can check that out. And I just want to one more time plug the book. It’s called Dressage in Hand. And the subtitle is What Horses Want You to Know. And as someone who is currently reading it, I can’t recommend it enough. It is filled with information. And I hope everybody gets a chance to read it. So thank you so much for joining us. This was a wonderful episode, not only for those listening, but for myself as well. I really enjoyed it. And thank you so much.</p><p>[SPEAKER 2]Danielle, thank you for having me. Thank you for this opportunity. I really appreciate it. And it was lovely talking to you.</p><p>[SPEAKER 1]Thank you for listening to this episode of the Equestrian Connection podcast by wehorse. If you enjoyed this episode, it would mean the world to us if you could leave us a rating and review, as well as share us on social media. You can find us on Instagram at wehorse underscore USA, and check out our free seven-day trial on wehorse.com, where you can access over 175 courses with top trainers from around the world in a variety of topics and disciplines. Until next time, be kind to yourself, your horses, and others.</p>
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