I started riding in Sweden when I was 7 and trained in dressage, jumping and eventing. I started showing pony jumpers at age 11 and then moved on to showing warmbloods in both jumping and dressage.
I bought my first own horse when I was 14, a Swedish Warmblood mare, whom I had until she died at age 19. I trained and showed her successfully in jumping for many years and then switched over to dressage in the horse’s later years.
I moved to the States in 1995. While working as a veterinary technician, I rode and trained other peoples’ horses for four years before I bought my first Thoroughbred gelding. At the time that horse was very “green” and I managed to train him to do 4th level dressage and show 4’3” jumper courses.
I have trained most types of horses…different breeds, different sizes, different ages and all with their own history and background. Some have been warmbloods, some thoroughbreds, some ponies, some quarter horses and, of course, also crossbreeds of all different breeds. Back in Sweden there were mostly warmbloods, and those were the horses I grew up riding. When I came to the US, I was introduced to the many thoroughbreds over here and realized I had to re-program my riding technique a little bit, to fit the more sensitive and alert kind of horse as most thoroughbreds are. I found out that TBs are very smart and sensitive and most of them competitive and extremely eager to do well. On the negative side, when the horses come off the track, they can be very stressed, as all they ever knew was to race and some of them have not been taught much ground manners. It will take some time and readjusting to a life as a riding horse, and eventually show horse.
I have ridden “cocky” stallions, lazy and unmotivated warmbloods, opinionated youngsters, sour dressage horses and jumpers with a ruined confidence. The challenge, as I see it, is to CHANGE that… To be able to communicate with the horses, to understand them, to compromise, to challenge, to draw out of each individual horse, sometimes by tricking them into believing it was THEIR idea, the hidden talent, different as it may be.
As fun as the work is, the true reward, as a trainer, comes when the stallion behaves around other horses, to keep a safe environment, when the lazy warmblood is fit and happy and has a desire to work and excel, when the youngster becomes cooperative and slowly matures, when the dressage horse experiences the fun of working and starts dancing again, and when the jumper regains the trust in himself and his rider, when his self esteem is up again and he is ready for new challenges.
This is what I love to do and I also love to help horse owners achieve that bond with their horse and create harmony between rider and horse.
I base all my training on the dressage principles. Meaning, although I do not participate in a lot of dressage shows, I use the fundamentals of dressage in all my riding. I look at jumping as “dressage in between fences”. Before I even start jumping a horse under saddle, the horse needs to be “rideable” on the flat. Everything needs to work; “gas” and “breaks” need to be established, the horse needs to be “flexible” and carry itself, it needs to be able to lengthen and shorten its stride, it needs to not hang in the rider’s hand or lean in on the rider in turns, it needs to know flying lead changes and be alert and sensitive to the rider’s aids.
Of course, there are different degrees of obedience as well. The young horse might not have “everything together” yet, but can still start going to horse shows and show in lower classes to get experience, and then gradually improve the “in between fences” obedience.
I also use free jumping as a tool for evaluating potential jumpers, improve jumping techniques and give the young horse a chance to figure the whole “jumping thing” out without a rider on top. An added value of free jumping is, that once the horse gets used to it, they usually really enjoy it and look at it as their “play day” away from the normal working routine.
I try to keep my horses happy and motivated by doing a lot of different things with them, such as flatwork, jumping gymnastics and other exercises, jumping courses, going out for gallops and cross country jumping. I don’t believe in keeping horses locked up in their stalls, other than at night, so other than the training time, they spend their days in pasture.
The Swedish Riding School program is a little different than over here. Where I grew up riding, there were weekly group riding lessons. Every now and then, the group would not even ride, but instead have a lesson in horse care. Some of the different subjects taught on those “theory lessons” were feeding programs, grooming, first aid care, anatomy, tack care, preventative health care, memorizing of dressage tests, horse show rules, how to set distances between jumps etc.
The students would ride the same lesson horse for 4 weeks in a row. The first 3 times in flatwork, to get to know the horse well, and then the forth week there would be a jumping lesson. Then the students would ride another horse for another 4 weeks, always ending with a jumping lesson, and so on. Sometimes, when the weather was nice and the evenings got longer (spring, summer), the group would exchange one of the lessons for a trail ride and there would always be some fun galloping or cross country jumping involved…
The group that I was in at the riding school, would eventually excel to be the most advanced and would be asked to perform quadrilles and similar group performances in jumping, at various events in the area.
The same group of students would be the ones who got the opportunity to come to the barn on extremely COLD days, when the lesson program – out of safety (we all know horses tend to get a little crazy when the weather changes) – would shut down, and go out and gallop all the lesson horses in the snow!
I was lucky enough to become my riding instructor’s horse’s groom and on top of the weekly lessons, I also got to ride her horse several times per week and sometimes got private lessons. Furthermore, I went to many horse shows, as the groom, where I would watch, learn and start dreaming – of my own future show career. Over the years I would be the groom for two different instructors, the first one had a dressage horse and the second one had a show jumper (with lots of “blood” in her, meaning she was 50% Thoroughbred)
Eventually I would start going to horse shows myself, riding the lesson ponies. Once I got my own horse, I continued taking lessons on her, at the riding school. I moved to the States in 1995, and have since then been the assistant trainer for a huge equestrian facility in Dallas and also the head trainer of an equestrian center in San Antonio. I have shown all different kinds of horses at numerous horse shows in Texas, Colorado and Florida over the years.