Relearning to Listen
My love of horses
My love of horses began in the Australian bush. I learnt to ride by balancing bareback. My
trusty stockhorse, Pirate, skating along narrow wallaby trails that cut through the jagged
mountain sides. I gripped with all my might to his mane – knowing with a firm hold that I
could push my limits without fear.
Pirate taught me how to follow cattle tracks out of the dense scrub. How to always find my
way home. He taught me how to keep my eyes peeled for snakes in the long grass. He taught
me to keep my leg position stable with spurs on (I learnt that one the hard way).
I learnt to love horses with the steady, slow rise and fall of breath and the repetitive squeak of
grass being picked.
Horses taught me steely determination in our frequent, thundering races up to the milksheds.
Hearts pounding, eyes fixed to the finish line, with the taste of victory in my mouth.
My time with horses led to my first overseas travel to work in the Netherlands with an
international dressage stable.
It was what I had always dreamed of; but the life of a working-pupil was more work than my
imagined reality. I remember pushing through those days with callouses on my hands and
feet, with aching muscles and browning skin.
The horses were my demanding customers, spoilt toddlers to whom I was the au pair. Our
riding was always done in the arena and the productivity-business-savvy mindset seemed to
infiltrate even the most basic of my horse interactions.
“You want him to shoot forward! Like a rocket off your leg! That’s it! Now collect! Collect!
I would end each ride dripping with sweat, my brain swimming with instruction, with
technique and with a persistent nagging that I was supposed to be loving this. That this was
I began to think I had truly grown out of my horsey phase. That I was wrong about what my
future would hold, maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a professional rider.
I returned home – and although I had learnt an immeasurable amount about horses, (and
myself) I felt like I had put the horse dream to bed.
I moved to the city to study, and my only remaining interactions with horses were brief.
Due to COVID-19 I ended up spending several weeks in lockdown on my parents farm. I had
no job or study to do, and in many ways, I felt like a younger version of myself. I didn’t feel
the pressure to “use” my time effectively, to be proactive and result driven. Because of this, I
decided, I would ride again.
I walked down to the tree lined, creek-side paddock with the four bays lazing in the shade
away from the brilliant winter sun. Pirate looked over at me, the same nonchalant expression
on his face as always, his back leg cocked lazily.
I slid the halter over his nose, tied it as a makeshift bridle and pulled myself up onto his dusty
back, with somewhat more difficulty than I remembered.
We made our way up the ridge. Being bareback for the first time in years made me focus on
the sideways, swaying rhythm of the walk – And after all this time, I felt what my instructor
was trying to tell me about the way the feet fall and when to give aids. We were effortlessly
in tune, without even trying.
We eased into a canter. Pirate naturally chose the best way up the mountain. His ears
flickered back as I shifted my seat to cut beneath the ridge line and wrap around the back of
the peak. Momentarily, the sun was blocked from view as we flew through the shadowed,
swaying grass. We pivoted around for the final climb, I crouched low to his neck and laced
my fingers in his mane. My hands – bigger now, his mane, speckled with grey and thinner
The sun spread like a glorious bird taking flight before us. We stopped at the top of the
mountain. Both of us breathing hard. On my face, a gleeful smile that I couldn’t remove. I
laughed out loud. I heartily patted Pirate’s neck.
A piece of me that had been conditioned, trained, shaped and almost distinguished began to
Somehow, I had lost the connection.
Somehow, I had forgotten that a horse is not an athlete in the same way as his rider.
A horse is an athlete in the way he breathes, the way he turns and leaps and in the way he
covers the ground. I had forgotten that the horse already knows everything he needs to do.
It was me that was confused, asking the wrong questions. Asking the horse to be my therapist
and life coach. All I needed to ask him, was if he would allow me to be present with him in
this moment. If he would teach me how to listen again.
The art of Dressage
The art of Dressage is about so much more than perfect technique, exemplar breeding and a
structured training program. At the heart of all truly successful riders is the ability to show up
each day, ready to listen. Holding respect and awe for the power, strength, and beauty of
horses. The things that first captured our hearts and imaginations. Stripping it back to this
core appreciation is an act of humility that allows the horse and rider to communicate in an
effective partnership and overcome the inevitable challenges of training.
From downunder, Brooke