Riding without emotions


Sometimes ideas float through space and settle in different minds at the same time. This makes something happen, people start talking about it, and impressions, thoughts become topics of discussion, awareness is created and a new reality is established.

One of these ideas is “riding without emotions”.

It is a key lesson in order to ride really well. In my opinion riding without emotions means to discard of all negative feelings during a training session. To notice that which does not work well, but to react to it without emotions. Meaning: to not get annoyed, to not get angry, to not get impatient. Not with the horse and not with myself. Staying completely in the present moment.

So riding without emotions does not at all stand for “riding insensitively”.

On the contrary. Because only if I am able to free myself from such emotions can I be fair and sensitive.

I do not remain with an unpleasant feeling that makes me act more harshly than the situation would require.

I do not remain with a negative spiral of thoughts that disconnects me from feeling.

I do not allow myself to be goverened by negative thoughts with the result that I do not even notice anymore what my horse is up to beneath me.
I stay in the here and now. I am attentive. I take in without judging. It certainly does not mean that I simply allow the horse to do whatever it wants. I categorize and react. I watch out for every opportunity to be able to give positive support, to praise, to be happy.

Yet neither am I artificially ecstatic, which could warp my ability to notice what is just as much.

She who remains relaxed and joyful allows little room for negative thoughts. Negative thoughts are inner monologues like these for example:

„But he was able to do this last week already”
„Why on earth is he so stuck now”
„My inner hand is too strong again, I have to let go faster! When will I ever be able to do this!”

Instead: Lower your expectations, if something does not work.

Oh, how easily said, when exactly this is so darn difficult.

Even if your head is willing – your gut has to follow suit. It simply cannot remain upset about having to downgrade. And here we are again: being gracious. Towards oneself. Towards the horse. Riding with affection. With all technical consistency.

Because all the ambition and the demands on the horse and oneself are just obstacles on the way to being successful together. They even obstruct the goal. To raise your own awareness can be helpful in getting rid of negative thoughts. Take a free walk on a lose rein whenever you catch yourself thinking such thoughts. If you don’t succeed immediately in switching off the negative thoughts: don’t get upset. Be patient and be certain: you will be able to do it. It’s just a matter of time.

By the way, I was taught to ride without emotions the hard way. By a horse, not a person. A young mare who so consistently punished me every time I was not in the moment and with her, but entangled in an emotion, that I had no choice but to learn it. At first to simply stay in the saddle. Later to have her fine and motivated. I am very grateful to her for this lesson.

Thanks to Cavallo, this is a sponsored post. 

Head&Tail: Niklas Bschorer

Image: Bschorer Family

Image: Bschorer Family

He is regarded as one of the biggest up-and-coming eventing talents: Niklas Bschorer, born 1994. If you ever get a chance to watch him – do it! I have rarely seen such a fine and relaxed training than the one Niklas Bschorer showed at the FEI European Championships in Aachen 2015. When we conducted the interview for Kopf & Zahl (head and tails), Niklas Bschorer had just finished a morning of training in England and was hanging out a little in a relaxed walk. 


He has lived in England for five years. “Originally I wanted to stay with Chris Bartle for just one year, like a kind of school exchange, but then that spell turned into something a bit longer.”


years old is newcomer horse Call Me Tiger. He is very attached, and not without a reason: “My mother hand-fed him, because he lost his mother at birth.”


His biggest success so far was taking ninth place in Luhmühlen this year.


minutes is the distance from his current British home in Marlborough to Mark Todd’s stable, which is where he’s headed for jumping training every week.


The twelfth jump at Badminton 2015 was not his thing: his horse stopped and Niklas brachiated back into the saddle from mid-air with such aplomb that this series of images became infamous.


He switched from dressage to eventing when he was 14: “Until then my parents, both veterinarians and dressage riders, had been my trainers.”


Niklas was 17 years old when he sat the British A-levels. Since then all he’s done was riding – “but soon I will study medicine in Germany.”


square meters is the size of his apartment close to the stable where he rents boxes for his four horses.

I have been writing the column “Kopf & Zahl” (literally: heads & tails) for Reiter Revue International since 2012.  I reveal a little more here – nice as it is to read a short interview, there are so very many additional nice things still to tell! 

About memories – and what they can do for you 

There is a little trick that can be very effective in riding.

It is called visualization. Before your ride, during your ride.

(However, you have to be willing to play along; to search your memory, to look for really good images in your head and to take the time to look more closely.)

It starts very simply:

Remember a moment in the saddle when everything fell into place. Everything was easy. You got it and you suddenly knew: this is how it should be.

How was that? The first time you felt what it means when the horse opens its withers? Or when your horse smoothly jumped a change of leg on a straight line? Or how did that one lesson go when you heard the advice to shift your hand a little bit to the outside? 

When something clicked inside your head and there was a new sensitivity in your riding?

Which moment was that for you? Which was the moment that once delighted you? Search your memory.

Try to create an exact picture of every second inside your head once again.

Follow that feeling. Close your eyes and dive into it once more. Really sense it. The first smooth change of leg – what exactly was that like? You cantered through this corner, waited for the second track and changed it, gave the new command to canter, pressed the new inner hip forward – and tadaa! There it was.

Take exactly those personal highlights with you today. Once you arrive at the stable pause for a minute. Bring up that feeling. When you get into the saddle and start to walk switch on your inner slow-mo function. What exactly was that like? And then just ride. Without expecting anything from yourself or your horse. Find out what the image can do for you.

About recognizing the real McCoy

Foal night. (Just delivered, there are still hay-nets in the stall. They are very dangerous for foals and definitely have no place in a stall for foals, nor in a foaling stall!)

Breeding, buying a weaned foal, buying an untrained horse – my old girl is getting on in years and I often find myself pondering about these options. I am clear about taking on the training myself, and equally clear about all the advantages and disadvantages of the different constellations. So it’s a battle between head and heart. This is why I thought it so refreshing when a fellow rider told me about her two-year-old during a trail ride a few days ago; with almost a sigh she exclaimed from the bottom of her heart: “A foal of one’s own is the most beautiful thing!” In this context you need to know that she is not a dreamer. She picked a very good surrogate mare. She is somebody who knows the scene, who can judge horses, who knows her numbers. All in all pretty rational. And this is exactly why I liked it: there was sooo much longing in her sentence.

Question is: how do the pros do this? Choosing their youngsters? I am always over the moon when I can ask people these things thanks to my job, people who are really in the know. So: here they are, the answers of professionals in the areas of dressage, jumping, eventing and the Icelandic horse sport.

How to identify a good horse
Well, this is how it can go: Icelandic horse trainer Rosl Rößner was supposed to put a price tag on a breeder’s herd of young horses. She did the ground work with the young horses for three days. She fell in love with one of them herself, one that had a particularly strong character and a great presence. „Foolishly I had quoted the breeder a pretty high price for the horse, he himself had estimated the young mare at a lower price,” she says and to this day thinks this is funny. But she was already won over and she bought the two-year-old herself. She has never regretted the purchase: „She wasn’t a simple horse, but she was impressive. The mare became German champion and is a superb sport horse,” the trainer says. This predisposition for gait is something she likes to see in young horses when running loose, “at least a few steps of Toelt in transitions”. It would be important especially for recreational riders: “He’d be on the safe side and training wouldn’t take forever, until the horse knows the Toelt!”

British dressage star Carl Hester pays special attention to a good hindleg:

„People who buy a good dressage horse are above all looking for a good pair of hindlegs”

the professional rider told in an interview with British magazine Horse&Rider. One should pay much less heed to the trot everyone always focusses on so much: “Walking and cantering are things you can buy as predispositions. Only the trot can be developed in training.” The Brit, who turned the two top horses Valegro and Uthopia into what they are now, likes buying two-year-olds. At this point in time good quality is still really affordable and you can’t be sure whether the horses will participate in a Grand Prix sometime in the future, even if you buy four-year-olds.

With his jumping horses Toni Hassmann also watches out for “three good basic gaits, that’s half the battle in having them jump well!” It is important to him to feel what it’s like to jump the horse when in the saddle: “Often you can feel the potential better in the saddle than you are able to see it from above.”

Getting it right the second time around
Sometimes even professionals need a second chance to see true potential. Cotopaxi is the horse in Toni Hassmann’s stable he predicts the biggest career for. However, when he rode him for the first time, as one of three horses for sale, he did not choose him, but bought a different horse. The lady who later bought Cotopaxi put him up in Toni Hassmann’s stable later. Yet he only discovered Cotopaxi’s hidden potential during the first tournament: “That’s where it felt as if he had flipped a switch. Much sharper and very different with regard of the jumping sequence!”

The fact that a horse presents a whole lot differently at a tournament than at home is something national jumping trainer of the juniors and young riders Lars Meyer zu Bexten has also experienced: „You notice with the really very good horses that they crank it up by another ten, twenty percent during a tournament.” Their true talent often shows at the age of eight, nine years, when horses are introduced to three-star tests and the horse’s true attitude surfaces. Eventing rider Andreas Ostholt is of a similar opinion: „Whether a horse can and wants to do the utmost will only be noticeable once he has arrived at that point.”
Lars Meyer zu Bexten prefers to buy horses that are well into their fifth year. „In earlier days I bought very young horses only selected by their ability to loose jump; I don’t do that anymore,” he says. „That’s when you buy a piece of hope at the same time.” He wants to see at least a few small jumps under a rider. As unfortunately experience taught him that good loose jumping is no guarantee for good jumping under a rider. He watches out for rideability – because in case quality does not suffice for making it to the top after all, the offspring should at least become a good riding horse in the amateur field.

Andreas Ostholt shares an example of how it can be the right thing to believe in a horse: „Lady Lemon FRH was my first successful horse: she was supposed to go back to the breeder due to being unfit for sports. I saw her several times under different riders. Eel-like, shaky, but there was something. I was simply attracted to her. I can’t quite describe it, it was just an intuition. She truly gave her all for me and we both thrived together.”

A full tank
Eventing horses, more importantly than sporting horses, should have a good portion of thoroughbred in their documents. And eventing pro Andreas Ostholt watches out for this portion in the documents, but even before that in the looks: “I favor a degree of thoroughbred from either side, ideally 50%. Type is important for amateurs and youths. For seniors both things then count. Horses can look like true thoroughbreds, but when the documents show a lack of the actual blood line the tank is empty all of a sudden after ten or eleven minutes despite intensive training.” Additionally he also watches out for clear eyes and the willingness to work:

„I don’t mind a difficult horse, and I also don’t mind taking a mare. A smart horse by your side will stick with you come hell or high water.”

Correct leg positioning, movement and ability to jump are, of course, another given. He checks the degree of courage, something an eventing horse absolutely needs, by closely observing the horse when it encounters new situations, such as moving in unknown territory, when allowed to run loose or with unfamiliar jumps.
And what about charakter?
All professionals emphasize how important the young horse’s right attitude is to them. Carl Hester told British magazine Horse&Rider that, above all, he looks out for the right mix of temperament: “I want a hint of thoroughbred, a little alertness and eagerness without the craziness.”

Icelandic horses need some neck!
Icelandic horse trainer Rosl Rößner recommends attaching particular importance to three things when purchasing young Icelandic horses: a good upper neck line, a lot of natural Toelt and paying attention to the fact that the horse does not have a tendency to be in a disunited canter. “The good upper neck line ensures to an extent that later on the horse will not try and use the lower neck to push away the back”, the trainer says. “When running loose the horse is supposed to display as little disunited canter as possible, as oftentimes this is a sign in gaited horses that you will run into trouble when trotting, because the coordination between forehand and hindquarters is lacking in harmony.”

Golf instead of Ferrari
One more warning from the professional eventing rider: amateurs and younger riders need simple and reliable horses, “however, all too often people look for a three-star horse, which is only supposed to L gehen in the beginning”, says Andreas Ostholt. „ Usually three-star horses like to be challenged much more than these riders are able to do. So first drive a well-equipped golf that is easy to handle and then switch to a different model. If I can and wish to go at only 80 miles per hour I shouldn’t buy a Ferrari, even if I can afford one…”

Head & Tail: Uta Gräf

Uta Gräf with her Le Noir. Image: Inge Vogel

Uta Gräf with her Le Noir. Image: Inge Vogel

Clean a horse caked with mud and go ride (a Grand Prix): that’s her motto – and also the subheading of her movies and her book. The way Uta Gräf rides puts her in a class of her own. Just one example: I have rarely seen such a good giving of reins than here (check minute 0.42 on pferdiathek).


roof tiles were blown off the roof during a storm. All the while Gräf was riding her Grand Prix horse Le Noir in the outside arena. Only when an employee rushed in and reported about the tiles did Gräf abandon her ride. She was so focussed that she had forgotten about the storm. Shortly after the kicking board came crashing down. Gräf’s comment: “Nothing can unnerve the black one.”


hours a day is the amount of time all horses in Gräf’s schooling stable in Rheinland-Pfalz are turned out. Without blanketing – it works, says Gräf, “it’s just as cold in our open barn as it is outside anyway.” Blankets are only out at night time, “too many of them got torn out on the pasture.”


times she went to dinner with her co-author, then her new book “Fine Riding on Motivated Horses” was finished. It’s even more impressive what the two of them have created: a bible of motivation.


the approximate number of horses she rode as an outside rider at various national championships, Gräf recounts. Her favorites were Lissaro van de Helle („so balanced and yet so alert”) and Fürst Fugger („so sensitive in a good way“). She gave both a 10.


centimeters are what Le Noir misses the most at the moment. It is the height of his best friend Löffel – a donkey. The stallion was allowed to play with him out at pasture. However, Löffel moved out, “soon we will try whether a pony can replace him”, says Uta Gräf.

I have been writing the column “Kopf & Zahl” (literally: heads & tails) for Reiter Revue international since 2012.  I reveal a little more here – nice as it is to read a short interview, there are so very many additional nice things still to tell! 

Head&Tail: Alizée Froment

French woman on a mission. Foto: A life with horses 

She participates internationally at Grand Prix dressage level and in addition to this leaves show spectators astounded by showing her competition horse with only a simple cord.


Her most well-known YouTube video „Grand Prix dressage Movements with a simple cord“ shows Alizée and her horse Mistral during their very first attempt at using only a simple cord, that was 2014. „You can see it in the video after the first pirouette: me grinning, because I didn’t know whether it would work already.”


stallions are her main actors: Lusitano Mistral and his son Sultan.


years is the time she spent riding internationally at Grand Prix level, “and then I thought about what else I could do.” No bit, no saddle – she had tried all that already. So: bye-bye to the remaining head piece.


At the European Championships 2013 in Arezzo Alizée Froment lead the French pony team to their best result so far: they took fifth place. „My pony riders are wonderful, they are a real team, they are happy about their rides and share the excitement with the others.“


months she traveled with her mother through India when she was a child and she spent another 6 months on the Virgin Islands.


years was the age when she switched from jumping to dressage.


hours per week is the time she spends in all kinds of countries to teach: Moscow, Lausanne, Malmö, Chicago, for example.


she presented Di Magic at the World Championships of Young Horses in Verden vor and won the second qualification. Di Magic took fifth place overall.

Photo: Marianne Schwöbel

Photo: Marianne Schwöbel

Boing! My heart almost leaps out of my chest

First tournament at the barn. In the evening someone asks me on the phone: “And did the child have fun?”

Well, as for me – I had great fun!!!

Oh, yeah, the child – hold on. I think so. A few years back, whenever I looked after the horse and the child was with me, the procedure was as follows:

+++“When can I ride?“+++“It’s been your turn for soooo long, Mom!” +++“Is it my turn already?“+++“It’s so booooring!“+++“So when is it my turn?”

(Above questions in an infinite loop)

OK, let’s finish up Prinz/Onkel/Mäxchen.

(20,30 minutes of walking, cleaning, discussing saddle pad colors)

„Now up you hop!“

(20, 30 SECONDS later)

„Mom, I’m done!“


No, I will not turn into a soccer mom. No, she doesn’t want to and that’s it. No problem, I am totally relaxed about this. (Hello – now I do have a girl and she doesn’t want to ride???)

Now we have this scenario:

„Can’t Fee be my horse?“ (disapproval.)

„But the next foal is mine, right?“ (disapproval.)

„I want to braid these all by myself“ (sure.)

„Can I do the rising trot again?“ (wait a second.)

„When do I get my own pony?“

(I am super-stoked about it, but I quickly set up a catalogue of conditions that can only be met within the next two years, something along the lines of “Always remember to clean out the rabbit cage without a reminder”).

And then, oh the delight:

„You know, maybe I’d rather have a big horse instead. Because then I could keep it forever, even when I grow bigger.” (That’s MY girl!)



This is OVER now. (Yeah, yeah, yippie yeah!)