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Interview Julia Dittrich, Horsemanager

Anne Breitenstein | Thursday September 20th, 2018

Julia and I spoke about trail riding from the perspective of a yogi and horse-manager. Both aren’t too far apart from each other.

What exactly is your job as a horse-manager?

As a horse manager I deal a lot with ethology, the behavior of animals and humans. But my main focus is on the horse in its natural environment.

How does a horse behave in its natural environment?

Most of us have known horses only as kept and domesticated animals. I wanted to study where and how wild horses live together. That’s when I realized that the life of wild horses is completely different from the life of domesticated horses.

What sparked your interest in ethology?

In riding lessons, we are often told to spur our horse and use more pressure if things aren’t going as we want. People start to get impatient and frustrated with their horse. That was never the way for me. That’s why I’ve got more and more interested in ethical behavior. What are we actually asking of the animals: “I am human, you are an animal, I have bought you and I feed you, so do what I want.” I started totally revolting against that idea.

How has ethology changed your way of communicating with a horse?

I moved to Italy and learned from a natural horseman. He focuses on behavior and communication of the horses. His own communication was very respectful. From him I have learned that both humans and animals contribute to communication and that it is about listening.

You practise yoga regularly. Does that affect your work?

Yes absolutely. After I’ve left Italy, I went travelling the world for two years, without being around horses. Instead, I focused on yoga and meditation. Upon my return, I realized that I could potentially combine the approach of Natural Horsemanship and my newfound mindfulness. This allowed me to communicate with the horses on a completely different level. Above all, I was able to perceive what the horse tells about me and not just what I tell the horse.

How can each of us communicate with a horse on a mindfull level?

I think every one of us can feel that when one is being more open about it. When I start a ride with fixed goals and expectations, I limit myself to these expectations. Letting things happen is the key. When I work with a horse, everything happens organically. Of course I make plans. But maybe the horse tells me something completely different and then I have to get involved, rethink and do something new.

What can we learn by listening to the horse?

We can learn from the horses to be more open for change and to let go of expectations. We can learn to feel more and to turn off our thoughts. Especially on trail rides, where you are surrounded by nature. Try riding in silence and don’t talk, just listen and feel. On trail rides, we can reconnect with ourselves, with nature and with the animals. There is neither pressure nor competition, just nature and joy.

 Is trail riding a way to reconnect with nature? 

Yes, exactly, here you can forget everything, all worries and fears. Only the moment is important. This is also shown by the animals. Neither the future nor the past is important to them. Being mindful is something the animals can do and we have forgotten. If I manage to connect with my horse, we can make joint decisions.

How do you bring yoga and mindfulness into your riding?

I started doing yoga on long rides. I mean, yoga on the horse. That does not mean that I’m making a down-dog on horseback. Instead I start focusing on my posture while riding. Similar to how one can observe breathing, I watch my seat and posture. How do I sit? What do my hips do, what do my legs do, what do my shoulders do? I used to just sit on the horse. I would have been just me and the horse would have been the horse.

Today I feel for the middle of my spine. As soon as I have found the middle of my spine, it becomes the connection between my head, my sitbones, the saddle and the horse. This allows me to become one with the horse. It has something very meditative and yoga taught me that. It allows me to connect with myself and later on with the horse. Because the animals are always open to connect. That’s why many people say they can do better with animals than with humans.

What do you recommend to every trail rider?

Start your ride with an intention. Maybe you want to discover something in yourself, or let go of something that bothered you. Or maybe you just don’t want to do anything, then that’s okay too.

What are your plans for the future?

I have learned that everything always changes. At the moment I am working in Romania on a horseriding farm (www.equus-silvania.com). Here I train and work daily with horse and man. But I am a traveler. So let’s see where it takes me. I could imagine opening a retreat for yoga, meditation and horse-holidays.

Do you dream of a long trail ride?

Mongolia! It is important for me to find a place where people are still in contact with nature, like here in Romania. Here in rural Romania, nature communicates more than in densely populated areas. Here nature can still heal.

Thank you Julia!

The interview was conducted by Anne, 14.09.2018

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