THE DRAMA OF THE DUTCH NATURE RESERVE OOSTVAARDERSPLASSEN
ANNEMIEKE AND CYNTHIA, TWO WOMEN WITH GUTS AND DETERMINATION!
Do I yet again have to write a blog about the Dutch 'wilderness' project Oostvaardersplassen, after my two previous Dutch blogs about the same subject? Yes, I think so, more than 3000 animals starved to death, or shot during the process of starvation, during this winter, is horrendous and completely unacceptable. This after years of overpopulation through cruel management of a few ecologists who, under supervision of ecologist Frans Vera, dreamed up a plan to recreate ‘wilderness’ on 56 squared kilometers of wet polderland, which failed its purpose for agriculture.
Do I always agree with how everyone wants to solve it? No, but I am allowed my own opinion.
Do I find Annemieke and Cynthia two cool women with a lot of guts and determination? Yes, absolutely.
Do I think that wild ponies should be petted? No, they are wild and should remain so.
Do I think that the charity and Facebook page ‘Annemieke and Cynthia’ have achieved a lot? Yes, respect.
COMMITMENT AND GRIT
I think that through their Facebook page 'Cynthia and Annemieke', and through their efforts and endless commitment, the Netherlands, including the people who have other hobbies than horse riding, has finally woken up. Nobody is anymore able to ignore the drama of the Oostvaardersplassen. Annemieke and Cynthia really have gone ‘the whole hog’ to get national, even international attention.
I see it on my timeline from all kinds of countries. Germany, England, America and Italy, just to name a few.
SILENT MARCH AND CROSSES
Yet another demonstration with slow-moving and honking cars and a 'silent march' at the local council with even a man on his knees begging for change. A minute of silence with flowers and crosses at the Oostvaardersplassen. Extreme? Yes. Tasteless? To be honest, those crosses and a minute's silence belong to something completely different for me, but that probably has to do with my age. Effective? Yes.
It is also an extreme and more than tasteless situation, there in the Oostvaarderplassen. So, you can expect that kind of an emotional reaction, even if it is not your type of reaction.
123,000 SIGNATURES TO THE DUTCH GOVERNMENT
This is also the opinion of Dutch biologist Patrick van Veen, who today offers his petition for a policy change in this so-called 'wilderness' with no fewer than 123,000 signatures to the Dutch government in The Hague. He would not participate in those demonstrations himself, he says in a local newspaper, but he does understand the reaction of the protesters. The fact that he actually mentions them, perhaps not their names but certainly their actions, says enough about how broad the range of the charity ‘Annemieke and Cynthia’ has become.
Because of this biologist with his ‘quiet diplomacy’, 123,000 signatures have now arrived in The Hague. Not someone from the horse world - very important, because the non-horse-loving people sometimes see us as a weird breed- but someone who understands people like Annemieke, Cynthia and their 50,000 followers, and that is what it's all about. It is really on the move, this protest. It is finally starting to become an unstoppable and a growing wave, which is what is so badly needed to halt this gruesome project.
Maybe our Dutch Minister Carola Schouten, who has done absolutely nothing, will finally stop looking the other way.
THE GRASS IS GETTING GREENER, THE URGENCY EVEN GREATER
And Annemieke and Cynthia are right. Especially now, now that the green on the Oostvaardersplassen is breaking through again and the urgency seems to be less, we have got to continue. Because with this management it will happen again, and again, and again...
Meanwhile, and with perfect timing, the media campaign has begun, and all followers and generous donors can now actually see the results of their pennies.
An advertisement in one of the bigger national newspapers and soon a commercial on TV.
THE LAST SHOT
The last shot is probably not yet fired, but there is movement. And much of that due to the huge amount of work from Annemieke and Cynthia. So, hats off and keep up the good work!
Oh, and by the way, the more followers, the better, even though we may not always agree together, together we are a lot stronger and that is what it's all about right now.
So, join the Facebook page ‘Annemieke en Cynthia’. Sign the petition of Patrick van Veen which is on my timeline and help the Netherlands to soon be able to face the rest of the world without feeling deeply ashamed of themselves. Thanks to all who care.
Top picture: the start of the media campaign in one of the dutch national newspapers.
Bottom: Annemieke and Cynthia at the fence where the animals wait in desperation for some food.
I FOUND A YOUNG HORSEMAN FROM CORNWALL IN GELDERLAND
ADAM ELLERY WILL BE THERE, DIRECTLY
When I moved to Cornwall, some thirty years ago, it took some doing to find a decent warmblood. If I saw one, its back was too long, the legs were crooked, or an ugly Roman nose was spoiling the good bits.
This has changed quite impressively in the last ten or so years and Adam Ellery is one of the horsemen in Cornwall who made that happen. I have known Adam for quite some time. Other than his talent as a trainer he was also known for stretching the word 'directly' into unknown territory.
Example, I once stood with my horsebox at a horse show somewhere in Devon, becoming quite worked up, wondering whether Adam would actually turn up to jump my horse in a class which had already started. Adam drove into the lorry park in a most relaxed way, just in time to do a quick pop over a practice jump, proceeding to do, of course, an impeccable clear round. What on earth was I worried about...
NOT AFRAID TO TAKE A RISK OR TWO
These days Adam is running his business Westcountry Sports Horses and very successfully indeed. His guts to look across borders and make contacts in my home country, the Netherlands, has helped him to not only buy, but also breed some very good stock. Also, nearly not a weekend passes without a great bunch of pictures and a write-up on Facebook about yet again a successful show, often with three or more horses.
And that is for someone who once seemed to mostly prefer to spend his time in the hunting field with a horse on a long rein no mean achievement. The fact that Adam doesn't mind taking a risk here and there seems to work in his advantage.
THE SCHENNINK YARD IN GELDERLAND
And then, just before my visit to my old stomping grounds in Gelderland, my friend Elze called to say that during her weekly training session in the yard of Henny Schennink she had met a young guy from Cornwall. His name was Harvey and he was the son of a pig farmer, show jumper. Well, I did not need long to work out whose son this was.
When I contacted Adam he told me that he knew Henny from having gone there to buy horses.
So, when I was there, I thought it would be fun to pay a visit to the Schennink yard and meet this young Cornishman. Hopefully useful for my blog for Dutch equine magazine the 'Hoefslag'.
Unfortunately, Henny himself was in Bulgaria for business and his partner, dressage rider Karin Petterson, was in India for clinics. But Henny was kind enough to not mind me visiting young Harvey who was holding the fort.
There are great plans for the Schennink yard. A facelift is on the agenda. When my friend and I drove up I did have to think of my old lorry, of which my husband always said, 'it only matters what's in it.'
Harvey just finished riding his first horse of the day and as he was getting the horse ready to bring back to its stable we chatted about what had brought him here.
‘THEY TREAT ME LIKE A SON’
All on his own this young lad, eighteen years old, was running the show there for a few days. The responsibility for some twenty horses. We chatted along as Harvey was saddling his next ride. He told me that he learned a lot and felt very much at home. 'They treat me like a son'.
Although he had to work hard, he was chuffed to bits that Henny trusted him sufficiently to keep the place going in his absence. Harvey felt he was in the Mecca of the horse world, with most horse shows within only an hour of driving distance. That in comparison to Cornwall where endless hours were spent behind the wheel in order to compete.
IN DAD'S SHADOW
Harvey is very happy with the amount of good horses he gets to ride. Possibly the chance to take part in Young Riders competitions. This was one of the reasons why it was good to leave Cornwall. 'I wouldn't consider myself shy of confidence, but I knew: if I stay at home I will never get the best horses. They go to my dad and I understand why, but that and wanting different experiences was a good reason to move here.'
Also, He learns a lot from Henny and with that a different approach which makes him more flexible in his training. 'Dad always says, you place the horse until two strides before the jump. after that it needs to learn to work it out for itself. Henny wants me to place them right up to the jump.' I recognized that immediately; Dutch style, this is how I was brought up.
Also his flatwork is going to another level. It was lovely to watch Harvey school his next horse, whereas he was still quietly continuing our conversation. How natural he worked on the inside track in nice straight lines, adding some circles and the odd leg yield here and there in a very natural and systematic way.
TIME WILL TELL...
What will Harvey do next? Time will tell. For now, he is in the right place at the right time. For Henny Schennink this could be a perfect solution to run his yard at a different level. If Harvey takes after his father (possibly with a slightly better watch!) Henny has found the young man who is able to give is horses the training and education they need to be sold with confidence, which gives Henny more time and flexibility to focus on that side of the business.
For as long as Harvey feels he is appreciated for his efforts and gets the support and education he needs, he is in the right place at the right time.
THE 'ELLERY GRIN'
When I was ready to leave, I asked Harvey to wait for me to translate the Dutch blog for the Dutch website into English for my own site, rather than use Google Translate, because it does some funny things with language. ‘No, I understand, I tried that for my French exam in school’, he said with the typical 'Ellery grin' on his face.
Oh, and by the way, the trade is going both ways. Henny has also come to Cornwall to buy a horse of Adam; a Dutch horse…
Top picture: Adam Ellery on the mare Fairway. Breeding: Baldwin B (Burggraaf) x Faram (Aram)
Two middle pictures: Harvey holding the fort at the Schennink yard
Bottom: Harvey Ellery jumping an approved stallion (Quidam de Revel X Carentino)
TWO LEGS, ON AND OFF THE WALL AND A BROOM: MAARTEN VAN STEK IS COMING BACK!
WET, WET, WET AND SOME SNOW
Today is the first day of spring and a proper one! After the sodden land finally drying up from a wet autumn all the way through a long and even wetter winter, we were surprised by Arctic blizzards with tons of snow on the first day of March. Can it get any crazier? Yes, March was not done with us yet, we were in for another blast. I admire how most of my pupils and the rest of the horse world have managed to keep going. I wholeheartedly agree: it has not been easy!
It was therefore a welcome break to sit indoors and watch Maarten van Stek at work on my visit to Holland in January. Very uplifting and motivating and as always I came home with some fresh and inovative ideas. Particularly Maarten's novel way of explaining complex things which makes it all of a sudden very 'uncomplex'.
I watched Maarten ride two horses. His wonderful William, who was then just coming back in the groove after a break and has recently done his first Inter II again; inching closer by the day to their Grand Prix debut.
After that Maarten rode a lovely horse belonging to an equally lovely rider who injured her back, which was another joy to watch. Talking to Feline confirmed something that I already knew. How lucky we are to have the chance to get Maarten across the pond for a few days!
Not only is Maarten in great demand as an instructor, he also has recently started to work together with the young and very talented rider Steve van der Woude. It looks like their aspirations to form a solid team which is capable of training horses of all ages and levels in a most thoughtful and caring way.Their philosophy is all about 'slow is good', rather than overlooking what the horse is actually able to give at that moment in its life.
This is also a great opportunity for owners whose horses are recovering from an injury through a thoroughly designed and personalized rehabilitation program.
TWO LEGS, ON THE WALL AND OFF THE WALL...AND A BROOM!
The lesson with Bianca Zinger and her enthusiastic Friesian horse Kay was right up my alley. Not long before that I had had an exchange with Maarten about the often forgotten importance of the outside leg for a blog I wanted to write for Dutch equine magazine the 'Hoefslag'.
'Two legs' and 'on the wall, off the wall' were the expressions that were repeated regularly. With so much information available on social media, often banging on about riding from the inside leg into the outside rein, it is extremely important to be reminded that we also need the outside leg. For too many riders riding on the inside track is challenging because the emphasis is on the inside leg with the fence doing the rest and that is not helpful in the slightest to achieve a balanced horse which moves on 'line zero', another one of Maarten's great expressions.
The broom in order to explain the balance of the horse was so typically inventive for his way of explaining; a real 'Maarten special' and one I hope he will use on his next visit.
MAARTEN IS COMING IN MAY
The day ended with a lovely meal (thank you, Marc!) and so it was time to make a plan. The clinics in the two previous years have been a huge success and so I am only too pleased to organize the third one. The dates are Wednesday May 9th, Thursday May 10th and Saturday May 12th. £80 per session. Again in the lovely indoor school at Derowennek near Bodmin, owned by Vic Hunt. You can contact me, Liz Barclay, through this website or through Messenger.
Maarten already put up a post last month and so we are filling up fast!
Top picture: Maarten with William doing a demo on the big Event Festival in Holland a beautiful sunny day.
Bottom: Bianca Zinger with Indalo-Keimpe, in short Kay.
BACK TO THE PAST WITH TWO REINS ON THE SNAFFLE
OLYMPIC RIDER AND COACH TINEKE BARTELS REMEMBERS…
Some time ago, Dutch Olympic rider and coach Tineke Bartels remembered in an article the time we used to have to ride with two reins on the snaffle as a preparation for riding with the double bridle. It was standard at the riding clubs when I was growing up.
That is how it was done. We were not allowed a double bridle until we were able to keep these two reins at the correct length as if they were connected to the bradoon and the curb.
It is a very innocent practice which makes the life for the horse far more fun, rather than being hassled around with two messy hands and a frustrated rider.
‘Thoombs doown!’ was the favourite phrase of one of our instructors, which made us all go in hysterics. Hence I never forgot.
‘Thumbs down’ is the only way to keep the control over the length of your reins and when you haven’t mastered this it will show as soon as the double goes into the mouth of your horse. It will become an uncomfortable handbrake with your horse having no choice other than to go on the forehand.
THE DOUBLE IS AN ART
It is the dream of every aspiring dressage rider. Throughout history, the double bridle is connected to the higher level of dressage and correctly used it looks beautiful.
It is an art, where the bradoon gives the horse the contact it needs with the curb kept slightly longer. On the other hand, it is a terrible weapon when in the wrong hands, literally.
It needs a pair of experienced hands and should only be used when the horse is ready for it. Balanced, for the leg and relaxing comfortably through all the exercises in a snaffle. Certainly not when a horse is heavy in the mouth as a measure to achieve the desired lightness.
HONEST AND ETHOUSIASTIC
I am very lucky to have a great bunch of pupils, some of them having been with me for well over twenty years, who are committed and show every lesson they have done their homework. Some are very comfortable riding in a double, others are still dreaming of it and waiting patiently for themselves and their horse to be ready.
KEEN AND GREEDY
One of those riders is Liz Bailey with her horse George who is not ready for the double yet, but Liz is keen and greedy in the nicest kind of way. She has worked very hard on her home-bred gelding, after a rough start with not a whole lot of trust left in each other. George has finally succumbed to accepting the leg and is happy in his work, with Liz now realizing what little information he actually needs to do his job properly.
They are very comfortable at producing a decent Novice test, whereas during our lessons we play with a bit of shoulder-in and the baby half-pass. Also, George has taken a liking to the flying changes, after a very well-established counter canter.
A WASTE OF TIME
However, this rider is still struggling at times to make her downward transitions uphill. It would be a terrible waste of time to now take that beautiful double bridle, which is waiting in the tack room, off the wall.
Chances are George would revert right back to being behind the bit. The last thing we want after all the work we’ve done.
Just in time for Tineke Bartels to remind me in an article about the two reins on the snaffle. The perfect way for Liz to feel that she is working towards her dream.
Also, it is a reality check. Liz soon found out that keeping the curb consistently a tad longer was not at all easy, even when George went well. As soon as he had a bit of a difficult moment both reins were tight again.
A COMFORTABLE TRANSITION TO DEVELOP FEEL
Knowing Liz, it won’t take her long to get it right. It is now part of her regular homework. I do not mention it during the lesson if it is not quite right. It would become frustrating and we would not achieve anything else. We just go about our usual business and it is not until the end of the lesson when I tell her whether she has improved with her 'double'.
I am convinced that by the time George is ready Liz is capable to make it a comfortable transition for him. She will possibly have the curb rein a bit long. Not a problem, from there she can safely develop her feel.
Tineke Bartels, together with her daughter Imke, also an Olympic rider, are the trainers and coaches at Academy Bartels at the beautiful Culitsrode estate in the Netherlands.
Top Picture: Tineke Bartels
Bottom: Liz Bailey with George practicing two reins on a snaffle
YOGA, PILATES EN ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE, FITNESS WITH FEEL
DRESSAGE STARTS WITH YOU!
When we think of dressage our attention immediately goes towards training the horse. We want for it to move with balance, because we know that is one of the most important ingredients to achieve the desired results.
But how can a horse be well-balanced when 50 kilos of weight is not exactly in the middle or leaning too far forward or back? One hip is higher than the other or the shoulder blades are stuck out?
So, let's be honest...dressage starts with you!
My pupils Hazel Clewley and Liz Bailey, both extremely fit women, convinced me of joining a yoga class because I saw how their balance and position on their horse got very quickly much better from the moment they joined.
HEAVY WHEEL BARROWS AND RUGS
Especially when you're young it is easy to forget about body wear and tear. To underestimate the toll on muscles and joints, especially in the muddy autumn and winter. Wheel barrows are heavily loaded to avoid an extra trip to the muck heap and heavy rugs for in the stable and out in the field are thrown on many times a day.
FITNESS IS IN!
Fitness is in! Everyone knows about spinning, weights are lifted and marathons run. What a difference between some fourty years ago and now. The fitness development to help us grow old happy and healthy has taken such a flight in the last ten years or so.
It is very available and a wonderful development and for many the perfect option to work on weight loss and/or stamina. But when, as a rider, the rest of your day is also fairly physical, you may need to consider other options. You might need to work on suppleness and learn about engaging without tension. And it is not not cool, even when you are still really young, to join a Yoga or Pilates class.
After a relatively long recovery from a back injury from many years ago a friend suggested the Alexander Technique to me. A one-on-one method where you are retaught your body to sit, lift and bend -and all other kinds of banal movements- in a novel and uncomplicated way. We forget as we grow up and it causes endless damage.
What a shame, if had learned that before my injury my position as a rider would have been so much better early on and it would have made my riding so much more effortless and effective!
WHERE ARE MY SEAT BONES?
To be able to ride we think quickly about fitness and strength, but riders are often fit and strong because of their way of life. So, choosing an option of a work-out with a focus on balance and suppleness is probably a better plan.
The Alexander Technique has helped me tremendously to 'find' my seat bones. It has given me a body awareness of which I pick the fruits every single day.
It is called a technique because once you have learned how to use it you just do not forget and it stays with you forever. On days when my back is not very cooperative I can still function fairly normal because of it.
YOGA IS NOT BORING!
Having started yoga this spring has given me a very different view of what it entails. I thought it was a bit too vague for me, possibly a bit boring. How wrong I was!
If ever there is a way to work on your core strength it is yoga, this together with learning to breath from a lower part of your body. The perfect combination for the dressage rider where breathing correctly is so very much part of successful training. Think rhythm and transitions.
FITNESS WITH FEEL HELPS YOU AND YOUR HORSE
The exercise classes and/or techniques I have mentioned not only make you stronger but specifically focus on learning how to be strong without abusing your body. That not only helps you on your horse, but also with pushing your heavy wheel barrows (with a little less muck in it from now on!) or sitting behind a desk.
It is fitness with feel and when you take the time to feel and realize how it improves your own balance, you will be able to feel better what your horse needs to improve its balance.
WE ARE PLENTY TOUGH!
We learn everything about how to warm up our horse before the more difficult exercises and movements. We seldom think about our own warm-up and the negative effects because of it, especially on a cold day, on our horse.
Horse riders are a fairly tough breed. The sport demands a certain toughness. But especially because of that we should not forget to develop that other side of ourselves, learning to feel, and allow time and space for that.
It is not only our body which will benefit but also our horses. They will soon show you their appreciation during their training. And it is just so great when you are able to 'feel' that!
Top picture: Liz with George
Bottom: Hazel with Trundle
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About Liz Barclay
Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.
THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...
My book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...' with the subtitle 'A Personal Impression of the Development of the Gelderland Horse World' has been received with more enthusiasm than I possibly could have hoped for. Click here to contact me and I will send you a copy. £7.50 + postage, or click here to order from Amazon.