Lucie Votypkova - NHE Representative in Czech Republic
It has been many years since horses came to my life. Everyday I could see horses at a nearby stable on my way to school. When I was 10 years old, I often stopped at the fence and tried to attract them with grass to have an opportunity to touch them. I felt so honored when they let me touch them in exchange for grass. They were not like my cat that welcomed me every day and desired scratching all the time. The horses were not very interested in humans and I was not able to find out why. But I was amazed by their beauty and something drew me to them. When I was about 13 year old I decided to become a member of the stable and care for the horses there. I was a little different than the other girls because the desire to ride was not the thing that attracted me. The most beautiful thing for me was (and still is) grooming the horse. I still remember how much I enjoyed it and how blessed and honored I felt when I had the privilege to do it. But it seemed that some horses preferred not to be groomed at all.
Since I have never been a typical horse person, I did not fit into stable society and their approach towards horses (that they are property) always hurt me and I left the world of horses. Horses stayed in my heart but I did not want to visit any stable where horses were used and where I was not able to have any real relationship with them. A lot of people at the stable were telling me that the horses loved them or me and that they loved being ridden, but somehow I was not able to feel it in the same way; it seemed to me more like their fantasy.
Many years have passed and I missed horses a lot. I studied at university and decided that maybe I could visit a local horse shelter and care about unwanted horses. But it was not much better: again the horses did not care for humans much, did not love being ridden, did not love training; and the same people who convinced me that I was wrong said that the horses loved it. It seemed that maybe something was wrong with me. I started thinking that I had zero natural talent for horses; it seemed so mystical - as if someone needed a natural gift to understand horses and to be their friend. I did not want to be part of the usual horse world but I did not want to leave horses again.
I decided to find my unicorn. My Maaike is a beautiful Friesian mare. I even do not know how it happened: I bought the opposite of what I was searching for – an old cheap gelding without any pedigree. I wanted to see some Friesians after I had visited another horse for sale, because the importer of Friesians lived near and was a friend of my friend who was helping me buy a horse. I fell in love with her immediately, I can’t explain why, I simply felt that I could not live without her, that this horse was my black unicorn. I gave a deposit the same day and I invited her into my life. I had no idea how much she would change my life.
I felt a big responsibility for her and big pressure to do everything right. She was a perfect equestrian horse without any "bad habits". She was an angel under saddle but on the very first day I realized that this perfect riding horse showed some weird behavior from time to time and I started to have doubts about what the words “well-trained horse” meant. Our first day was not very successful: I was not able to catch her - she refused to be with me and did not like anything I offered her. To avoid hurting my darling due to my limited experience and novice knowledge I thought I should have listened to the experienced horse people . I was determined to work hard according to their advice; I wanted to make up for my lack of natural talent to be a good horse owner. But I could not have been mistaken more.
To be a good owner I engaged a Natural horsemanship trainer, watched videos, read about bits, rider seat, collection, types of bridles. But it did not bring me her love and she did not seem happy. By the time our relationship seemed to me more like slavery than friendship or partnership, I started to understand the necessity of these tools and I felt bad when I used them. But no one showed me a better way and they repeated again and again the same sentence "I have to be the leader for my horse". Problem was always in me, I had to punish my horse because I was not a good enough dominant leader and the horse was trying to obtain my leadership position. To be a dominant leader I often hid my true self from Maaike.
After some time I felt sick and tired of being a dominant leader all the time and continually reminding Maaike that she was under me in hierarchy and she had to listen. I was searching on the Internet and I found the Nevzorov Haute École pages. I already had seen Alexander Nevzorov in YouTube videos and I admired how his horses were alive and playful. No other trainer had such horses. After several months under Natural Horsemanship and several years of experiences with resistant horses who are not interested in humans and training, I felt that I missed so much their horse spirit. I wanted the shining eyes of his horses. I wanted Maaike to be happy and I had to face the fact that she was not happy.
Reading Nevzorov Haute École pages and Alexander's opinions was like a slap in the face. I realized that I was a bad owner and a terrible friend and it hurt me so much. But no one who gave me lessons and advice acted any better than me. How is it possible that the whole world is wrong? Inside of my heart I knew that his words were not a lie and my anger towards him was only my anger towards my own stupidity. There was nothing wrong with me and especially with that little girl I used to be, the little girl who wanted nothing more than love from a horse and to touch his fur.
I still remember that moment when I wanted to play a game with Maaike as it was described on NHE web pages. I brought the ball and expected a great time but Maaike did nothing, she stayed like a statue without any interest in game. I tried so hard to attract her but no response. In that moment I realized my mistake. I wanted to be friend but I behaved like the master, master of my slave, not her friend because after all who would want to play with his slave master? I started to see the world from different view and to realize that I could never be a friend until I started to behave as a friend. I knew that there was no way back for me, this was what I owed that little girl I used to be and what I owed Maaike. We walked away from the classical horse world and have never turned back. I never regretted it.
That day started a beautiful journey where the relationship is the only thing that matters. I started listening to Maaike instead of making her listening to me. It is amazing what a horse can tell you if you give her a chance. She introduced me to the real horse world, showed me how horses are smart, clever, amazing and gentle animals and that most of the things that I heard from people about horses were lies. Maaike and I are a strange couple to many people: there is nothing in what we do that is the same as other horse people and we don’t do what horse people usually do.
People laughed at me from the start, said that NHE would never work and that I will only spoil Maaike. But Maaike did not turn into some super dominant horse who refused to listen to anything and totally disobeyed. Now a lot of people are asking me how I taught her backing and side walking on waving my hand or to assist in putting halter on her. I have no answer for them; there is not any method by which I teach Maaike these things that would work for them for sure. The same things that worked for us, may not work for others; every human and every horse are unique.
It was not a training method that did that miracle; it was the time when I was doing nothing with her except trying to find out what makes her happy and give this to her as much as possible. My horse is so different because I behave different. I concentrate more on encouraging her in communication with me and in learning from her rather than on the result. Having her really understand what I want to explain to her and her effort to understand me is much more important. I never see a mistake in her; she simply does as she is capable in the current moment with current knowledge and in given mood. If she does not understand or has no interest, I will try to find a way to be more interesting and understandable. Most of the time I am trying to listen to her and show her that I am able to learn too and I am letting her teach me what she feels is important.
I often tell people that no one can teach you about horse more than the horse, and no one can train a horse to love you. We put the equestrian sport part of our life in the past and I am trying to be that little girl and Maaike is trying to be that playful, proud, self-confident and majestic horse that she is meant to be. When I am telling people about my approach and NHE principles they like it; they like the idea to be a friend, not to punish the horse and to teach him so many things. But they want to live their same life - going to the stable, saddling a horse, have one hour ride and after dismount, put the horse back in a stall or a pasture and go home.
There is no way to live a typical equestrian life within NHE because these two things are mutually exclusive. This is not only about some principles; it is about not seeing the horse as our servant. A lot of people see mystery in Alexander Nevzorov and in NHE, but frankly I saw more mystery in the traditional equestrians’ methods. NHE is not a mystery, nor magic; you do not need a natural gift to make a horse love you and to give him a good life. The only thing you need is an open mind and the ability to see the world from his point of view.
In the end of my story I have to thank Alexander Nevzorov and Lydia Nevzorova for their bravery to speak the truth despite the retaliation of many people who do not like hearing it, for bearing all the stupid lies which offended people create about them, for being the voice of the horse and for their knowledge which they are sharing with anybody, wanting only one thing in exchange - open our mind’s eye and place the well-being of the horse first. Also my big thanks to my school mates and the NHE forum members who helped me understand and supported me when no one else believed in horse friendship. Without them I probably would have been lost or would not have had the bravery to stop listening to all the people around me, and start listening to my horse. And of course there is a special thanks to one lovely, wise, black mare who has never gave up herself despite her "good" training and definitely never gave up with me.