Northern Maine Riding Adventures hosts pair of European instructors

By Stuart Hedstrom 
Staff Writer

    DOVER-FOXCROFT — Attendees of a recent multiple-day session at Northern Maine Riding Adventures had the opportunity to “Journey into the Horse’s World” with an international perspective as a pair of instructors from Europe joined stable owner Judy Cross. Cross and Piet Nibbelink, from the Netherlands, and Sarah Jane Clarke, who is originally from England and moved to Spain at the age of 18, had previously taught together in Finland, but the three were instructing at the same time in the Western Hemisphere for the first time Oct. 11-13.

ne-horsehoof-dc-po-42Observer photos/Stuart Hedstrom

    MEET AND GREET — Northern Maine Riding Adventures in Dover-Foxcroft hosted “Journey into the Horse’s World” Oct. 11-13 with stable owner Judy Cross joined by Piet Nibbelink (pictured) from the Netherlands and Sarah Jane Clarke, who grew up in England and now lives in Spain. On the afternoon of Oct. 11 Nibbelink showed the over one dozen session participants some of his skills by showing how he can establish a relationship with a horse, having just met this Tennessee walking horse for the very first time.


    During the late morning of Saturday, Oct. 11 the over one dozen attendees, some who came with their horses and others who opted to audit “Journey into the Horse’s World”, gathered in a circle in the facility’s indoor riding area to share their reasons for taking part. The comments ranged from wanting to be able to try new riding methods to another who survived childhood abuse by dreaming of one day having their own horse.
    “The horse is a big teacher to understand who you are,” Nibbelink, who has worked with Cross and Clarke for about a decade, said after the participants all shared.
    Cross, Nibbelink and Clarke each have different focuses for “Journey into the Horse’s World” — the rider’s body, the horse’s body on the ground and the horse’s body respectively —  and on Oct. 11 Nibbelink lead the day’s program.
    Before the group got up from the circle, Clarke shared some of her background by saying she grew up in the British equestrian system but moved after being drawn by Spanish horses. “One thing I think horses always give us is honesty,” she said, saying the journey between the equine and person is continual. “Horses bring us out as better people.”
    “Why do I take so much time with this?,” Nibbelink asked. He then said horses can show a person who they are. “We shared some very deep emotions and if you want to be with a horse you can do this.”
    Nibbelink continued, “It’s all about our state of mind and how can we influence our state of mind?” He then had the group stand in a circle and asked everyone to close their eyes.
    “Make an image of the room,” Nibbelink said, describing some of the details of the surroundings. “How does it feel inside when I say go for a walk? Is it dangerous, what could go wrong?
    “If you are with a horse it is the art of being here and now. If you are worrying about being hurt you are not worrying about the here and now, you are worrying about the future. This is my challenge, enjoy all the things that could happen instead of being afraid of them.”
    Nibbelink had roped off a portion of the riding area as the participants were asked to walk with their eyes shut. There were a few bumps into the rope and into each other but no harm resulted from the instructions.
    “This is just a strong example of your state of mind,” Nibbelink said, saying the walkers may have thought they did something terrible by coming into contact with someone else. “This is why we do these exercises, so you can experience this. You are worrying about the near future, what could go wrong.
    “In a few moments you are going to go for a walk again, but in here you are all old friends and you will greet each other as such,” he said. The “Journey into the Horse’s World” attendees this time exchanged hugs and handshakes if they walked into the space of another.
    Nibbelink said the group was the same as before “so what changed — your state of mind.”
    He said, “When I meet a horse for the first time it is like meeting an old friend.” Nibbelink said body language depends greatly on state of mind and “if you are tense the horse is tense and with tension there is always danger. That is why we do these exercises, to get rid of the tension.”
    The walking with eyes closed exercise comes from the fact “we are so relying on what we see that we neglect our other senses,” Nibbelink said. “If you are worrying about bumping there is no space left in your brain for all the other signals.”
    With their eyes still closed, the participants were then asked to find the chairs they were sitting in earlier. A rope was removed as they then had to walk to the side of the riding area and try to pick out their seat from all the others. “This is practicing staying in the here and now,” as nearly every chair was successfully located.
    After a lunch break, Nibbelink showed his skills with horses as one session attendee brought her Tennessee walking horse inside. The instructor had never met the horse before, whose owner said was about 16 years old and she had for four years after rescuing the animal had been a broodmare and can be fearful of men.
    In a roped off area the horse galloped over the dirt as Nibbelink would walk and then stand in place, with the equine continuing and not noticing him. “Everybody has personal space, you are inviting them into your personal space,” Nibbelink said as he got the horse to come to him and began to caress the animal’s head and body and whisper in its ears.
    After a few minutes the horse began to follow Nibbelink, who would stop and then continue focusing on the horse. Eventually he got the horse to let him lift up each of its hooves, one at a time, as Nibbelink later said he had asked the horse if he could do this and said “thank you” four separate times when putting the hoof back on the dirt.

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