I am Michelle, 31 years old, work in an office during the day and am an adamant country girl outside office hours. Dora is my almost six year old haflinger mare. She’s my little princess – including the attitude – but she has a heart of gold and loves to work and play.
How did Dora come into your life?
Dora has been in my life for almost three years now. When my last horse and I turned out to be anything but a match, I thought ‘I am going to find myself a new horse or I’ll probably stop riding altogether’. I set out to find a cob type horse and visited many of those. I was absolutely sure I wanted a mare, and I wanted one that was between five and eight years old, so that I could start working with her immediately. Obviously, if you do the maths, that was not the outcome of my search.
Dora was the thirteenth horse I saw during my search. She was three years old and had just been backed at her breeder’s. I saw her photo online and I just had to visit her. When I arrived this scrawny young horse was in the stables. I asked to work her at liberty. After a few minutes of communicating with her in the pen, she came up to me and pressed her head against my shoulder. Then and there, I was sold. I rode her, she was medically checked by my vet, and a few days later she was at our yard.
How long have you been riding?
I have been riding since I was six years old. Funny story: I started out with a haflinger mare back then. After years of different types and breeds, I am ‘back at square one’.
When and where do you ride?
I ride at the livery yard where Dora and I board. Because I muck out my stable by myself, I am there basically every day. I don’t ride every day though, mind you, we do lots and lots of liberty work and in hand dressage and Dora has plenty of days off as well.
A fresh mind is not just important for us humans, I strongly believe that.
How did you start riding?
I started riding at a riding school, after having nagged my parents’ brains out. I think I was around three years old when I started telling my mom I wanted to ride. They managed to put it on hold until I could swim properly – they somehow knew I would not be interested in swimming at all anymore once I started riding. Plus, riding schools in Holland have a minimum age of six or seven years old. I did sit on a few ponies before I turned six though: if someone had one available, I just had to get on.
What you and Dora currently working on?
Dora and I have been working on balance since day one. I want every horse I ride to become physically and mentally stronger through the work we do, so we put a lot of time and energy into balance of all kinds.
Currently, we are working on many dressage exercises, with a focus on travers over the last weeks. I have to remind myself not to forget what we have previously practised though, so we also work on leg yields, shoulder in, circles etcetera.
What do you love about riding?
I love how it requires you to clear your mind and be in the moment. Your horse doesn’t care if you had a busy day at work. Frankly, your horse might become a little upset if you bring your work stress to the yard. (This is why I usually start by mucking out, releases any frustrations I might have before I start working with my horse.)
The other thing I absolutely love about horses – not just riding them – is the amazing connection you can have with them. When my car rolls into the yard parking lot, Dora lifts her head. When I walk towards her field and whistle, she comes walking towards me. When I have limited time and just want to give her a quick cuddle and a treat, she is really upset that she can’t come with me to play, work or be groomed.
What you would you like to be doing in the future with Dora and do you have any goals?
I would love for Dora and I to be able to do canter pirouettes, but what we have set as our ultimate goal, is to be able to ride a correct piaffe. Yes, apparently, I like to aim high – it’s not the average goal for the owner of a cob type horse.
Have you ever had to deal with nerves in riding?
I still do, actually! I used to like to ride outside in the woods. But with my previous horse, Lex, there were some incidents that led to me not necessarily liking that anymore. The worst ones were when he stormed off after being spooked by trains on the track and when he almost ran into traffic. I managed to turn him away from traffic just in time.
Even worst was when he got spooked by cows in a field. I though it’d be wise to get off and guide him past the cows. That didn’t quite work out. Lex ran into my friend’s horse, Lex’s bridle broke, so I had to let go. My friend had no other choice but to let her horse go to, for everyone’s safety. The two horses bolted, ran through our entire village. Mine ran over an elderly gentleman. My friend’s horse ran through people’s gardens… When we finally found the horses they had split up: hers had several deep wound to the legs, mine was completely tied up and in shock. It took a lot of time and lots of medical treatment to get him back to health.
A few months later Lex and I still had daily struggles – we had had them from day one, really – and one day he pulled my arm so hard it popped out of its socket. That was the day my last bit of trust in him was gone, and I eventually sold him. He is in a good home now, don’t worry.
So, even today, with Dora, who is nothing like Lex was, I am still scared of hacking out, especially on my own.
The Final Furlong – Eight Quick Questions
Who would be your dream horse to ride?
I’d love to ride a classically trained Lipizzaner or a fully trained French Camargue horse.
Who is your equestrian hero?
Hero is quite a strong word, but looking at today’s riders, I can really appreciate the work of for instance Uta Graf and Ingrid Klimke. From ‘days gone by’ I love watching footage of Nuno Oliveira.
If you could invite five people to dinner who would they be?
I’d like to get the three above together, and I would love to add both my trainers to that mix. We could have such an inspiring dinner. Who knows what that might lead to?
What’s your favourite colour horse?
I am partial to what many dread: I absolutely love chestnut mares. But I also strongly believe a good horse does not have a colour and would never pass on a horse because of its colour. I would pass on them because of faulty character or faulty conformation in a heartbeat though.
And your favourite horse event?
For me, that has to be the ‘Horseman Days’. It’s an event in Holland with lots of ‘different’ disciplines: working equitation, team penning, western trail riding and ranch riding and so much more.
Anything Italian or Greek will do, please!
Favourite way to relax
I love talking the dog on walks when we have nice weather.
I will obviously walk him in rain too, but we both dislike rain, so that’s not a way to relax.
Other than that, I can really enjoy cuddling up on the sofa with said dog, a cup of tea or hot chocolate and a good book or lovely movie. Also, I really enjoy cooking and baking, so sometimes, when I don’t want to sit still or go out, I will head to the kitchen and create things.
I adore The Phantom of the Opera. The one with Gerard Butler in it – I mean, what’s not to love. Most musicals with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music in it I can watch over and over again but this one is definitely my favourite.