Text and Photo: Anneli Westlund
Was it that people sometimes did not understand what you did Frédéric, this gentle way?
Frédéric: I think people before did not believe that you can work a horse in a gentle way because they thought that you have to get submission from the horse, must make them understand and obey. People were accustomed to being strict against horses, no thought of whether the horse could be interested or not and for the most part, the horse does not have any interest when your goals are “do it, do it”. And people in equestrian sport were usually hard to the horses to get them to do what they wanted them to do.
And when I arrived at Magali, we wanted to prove to people that you can train a horse with more respect and good energy and if we just trained a horse to say yes, yes I can try it for you, so it was hard for people to understand that this was possible. As when Magali did the contest with Dao in Grand Prix, a horse she trained herself in this way.
But people were skeptical and wanted to see how we trained. And we needed to prove that the horses can express joy and beauty and be happy and relaxed. Now they have no doubts when they see horses as Lazlo, they feel he is happy, he has no stress and enjoy the relationship. And then we can ask for many things and he does his best with joy, which is very different.
We have worked hard to tell people that yes, we can do it, we can train the horse in a better way with more respect. That’s what we try to explain to people, just listen to the horse and try to see what it needs.
And try not to work for what it does but for the way it does it. Like the canter, if the horse does it with excitement in the body and the ears like this, the horse shows that there is no interest, it suffers and is not happy with it. As opposed to a free way to move and act on. So now it’s not so much about dressage but more about interacting with horses.
What do you look for in the horse, notice and observe in the horse and build interaction in the dressage Magali?
Magali: I observe the horse and through the body I see the way the horse needs to be worked on. More relaxation, more stretching. I see my work more like being osteopath than a rider. The more I remove the tension of the horse, The more I improve its body, the more the horse’s mind is open to work, happy to work, the more the horse has the ability to improve the difficult movements. The body is soft and the body is ready. Mind and body are related.
During the shows in Liberty, is it a mixture of choreography and improvisation of what the horses offers?
Frédéric: Yes you have a schedule in the head and you have music more or less on what you want to do but I like to let the horses express themselves. I do not want them to be blocked or too fixated. I like that the horses is allowed to run and come back, so they take the time they want.
I like the way we can improvise things and I feel if the horse wants to do more or less so it depends on how it feels and what it wants to do. And sometimes we have to follow the music so it is a bit clearer but for the most part it is freedom.
So if the horse shows that it wants to do something else and leaves you, you invite it just to come back or?
Frédéric: for the most part, for example, it often happens with Pebus, my Friesean. Sometimes he needs to run and I feel he is excited so I say: “Ok, let ́s go”, so sometimes he runs for himself and I wait so the others usually stay with me.
Sometimes the others run with him too, I run with them and it is big party and when they become tired and think it is enough, then I stop and they come back to me. For the way… I don’t want them to be with me, I create the harmony to be happy to be together.
Sometimes with Lazlo, I push him off and says, “Ok go, go, go” and pretty soon he wants to come back to me and says, “Hey we have to play together”. The way we work and the way we create this relationship is much stronger than really good training, because it’s not just training.
You train your horse but somewhere, the relationship is based on self-confidence and the joy of being together. So that’s why they come back every time to me. If they go away, it’s okay, I don’t care about it if they want to run. But they never go to the gate and wait for it to open.
Do they find it fun to do shows or is it difficult for them to adapt? Do they become nervous? How do you keep them calm?
Magali: We know them well and they know that when we go somewhere else it is always under good conditions so they have no stress and are happy to be there and they are happy to be loaded on the truck. They are not as happy at home therefore for them it’s party and new adventures to travel and make shows.
Frédéric: We have stallions and they enjoy it.
During the course you spoke very much about the significance of the space/distance between man and horse. Is it your first lesson so to speak?
Frédéric: Yes that is the first step. In front of a horse, even more if it is a stallion, you first want to make sure that it is respectful to your place, your space, because if the horse is not not, you must first establish it, that it is clear. Because if it has no respect for distance, it has no respect for you and it does not trust you. So distance is for me the first step we have to fix first.
The mare only accepts the foal to be close when it is young but when it gets older, the mare starts pushing it off a bit more to establish the perfect distance. All horses know their place and they all work so. Everyone is respectful otherwise they will be pushed away.
So it was interesting earlier when we studied the herd how the mother pushed off the others and said: “Ok, let’s go Now”. She decided to go and pushed only with the nose and the others: “Ok, we Go”. So it’s nice to see how it works with horses and it’s hard to see that with people it doesn’t work so well, I mean, people get pushed by horses because we don’t do as horses do naturally in the herd. That is what we must do and the experience we must have.
Have you Magali noticed any change in the dressage world in recent years, that it has become softer, that people are more open to a more gentle way?
Magali: I think people may be talking about a more gentle way but… At a really high level, they surely love their horses but I think the training is hard and strong. There is no change to it, people are open and want something else but when they have chosen a direction it is so difficult to change and take a different direction. It changes, but in very small increments.
Frédéric: But it’s interesting because now it feels like some professional people are a bit more interested in our work, like Ingrid Klimke in Germany who is a fan of our work, and we of hers, have realized that the relationship is very important. She installs this kind of change but it is slow. There are few people like her who are open.
What have you learnt for lessons of the horses, for example from Templado who was a difficult horse, a little dangerous?
Frédéric: Hm, yes he was dangerous because he was hyperactive, reactive but not dangerous in the mind, the mind was fresh but he was afraid and when he was afraid he was not only a little afraid, he was ready to break everything around him. Overreacted and panicked. It was hard. I don’t know how many times he stamped on my feet because he exploded. It was hard and a very difficult trial to be with him.
We were young at this time as trainers and we felt we could train all the horses but with him it wasn’t. He taught us to be more patient, to be more attentive and then we must read him because he never wanted to do anything if we did not take the time to explain correctly. And at the end of his life we felt that we were so well interconnected and it was interesting for he had learned us a kind of intuition.
When we saw him we knew “OK today we can do the show so let’s do it”. One day, when we toured Europe he wanted to go home. He was ill at this time and wanted to die at home. We weren’t sure but we had the same feeling at exactly the same time and moment and we knew that tomorrow we had to go home with him. So at the end of his life he was so clear in the way he communicated with us all the information.
Magali: I think we were more open at this time because we were more mature and when we were young we tried to understand him and did our best and did it well I think, but after several years I have the feeling that we were more open to receive the information and everything was clear.
He looked at us and gave us messages very clearly: “I want it, I don’t want it” etc. It was helpful for the older horses we have now, because we have the way to read off quite clearly and quickly when the horses want something or do not like anything and there are probably not so many people with that experience, and this was because of Templado.
Frédéric: And I think that in the beginning it was clear to him that we can not train him unless we try to understand him first. So it changed the way to be much, because we were very respectful with our horses and tried our best but it wasn’t clear enough that we first had to read the horse. “Ok, should we do this? Are you happy with this? No not happy, OK then we forget it OK? “.
It was the first horse that trained us that way so we realized we weren’t trainers anymore. He was our trainer. And it was a strong experience especially when you are 20 years old because then you think that you know everything and then you realize that the horse will explain the life for you! Throughout the trip we had with Templado , It was full of adventure and strong experiences. We went through amazing things with this horse!
- Copyright: Anneli Westlund 2017
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