When we heard that our friend and self described travel junkie, good food addict and Arabian horse lover, Jennifer Sharp, was quitting her job in journalism at The Star Phoenix to move to Spain this August to train horses, we had to know more. There's something special about horses. Is it because they're big, powerful animals with a highly sensitive awareness and personality to boot? Is it all that Black Beauty we read when we were little? Why do we feel so drawn to them (or to move to Spain for them)? Come out to River's Edge Stables with us to chat with Jenn (and Charley) about love and adventure. Jenn's friend Nicole Mercereau was kind enough to let Jenn ride and compete with her beloved boy, Charley, this summer.
All photos provided by Desiree Martin.
It was one of those "it-might-storm-tonight" evenings and Jenn and Charley spent some time together riding around the pen. They'd just finished competing in an Arabian show horse competition on the previous weekend, so Charley was still "camera-ready" as Jenn had spent a great deal of time grooming him: brushing him, polishing his coat and hooves, oiling his nose, braiding his tail. He sounds pretty high maintenance, but dang, he looked good!
The History of Dressage: Dressage is often likened to figure skating, ballet or gymnastics on horseback. The word "dressage" comes from the French word meaning "training." The practice of dressage traces its origins as far back as ancient Greece, where Greek soldiers and philosophers alike used humane and systematic training practices to train their horses for battle and to improve the beauty of their horses under saddle. Later, dressage was used on the medieval battlefields of Europe and as a form of art and entertainment in the courts of Renaissance nobility. Cavalry officers in the modern military also practiced dressage as recently as the 1940's. From these traditions, we get our modern dressage competitions.
What is dressage? Dressage is the systematic development of horse and rider, resulting in a balanced, harmonious team. In its most basic stages dressage helps the horse and rider communicate with each other and develop balance, strength, flexibility and accuracy. For this reason, riders with different backgrounds and competitive goals - jumping, eventing and barrel racing - often use dressage as a way of creating a pleasant, athletic mount and improving the horse's performance.
At its highest levels, dressage improves the horse's ability to use his body, producing a horse that is light and balanced and seems to float effortlessly through the arena. The communication between horse and rider becomes so subtle that the horse seems to be performing on its own without any input from the rider. As horse and rider become more proficient in dressage, they begin to perform the more spectacular movements, such as the collected and extended gaits, lateral movements (where the horse travels sideways and diagonally) and collected work such as the pirouettes, passages and piaffe (where the horse trots in place). The Lippizan Stallions of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna demonstrate the "haute ecole" or highest degree of training in dressage with their famous "airs above the ground."
- See more at: http://www.equine.unh.edu/dressage#sthash.aGf76f23.dpuf
According to Jenn, horses are a lot like people, children in particular. They are constantly pushing boundaries and are very sensitive to emotions and energy. It the horse is out of line, it's important to be patient, tell him what he needs to do and move on. It's not helpful at all to hold a grudge. Yep, that sounds like people. What's a little different is their visual plane: horses have a very broad peripheral spectrum of vision, but can't see right in front of them! That's partly why they get spooked easily.
Want to know the metaphysical reason we're so drawn to horses? They actually make us feel better. Jenn told us that there are several research studies going on right now to prove it, and this is why horses are used in therapy and with people with disabilities.
As someone who researchers and studies pretty much everything in which I'm interested, I looked for a bit of evidence and found this:
Recent studies conducted by the Institute of HeartMath provide a clue to explain the bidirectional “healing” that happens when we are near horses. According to researchers, the heart has a larger electromagnetic field and higher level of intelligence than the brain: A magnetometer can measure the heart’s energy field radiating up to 8 to 10 feet around the human body. While this is certainly significant it is perhaps more impressive that the electromagnetic field projected by the horse’s heart is five times larger than the human one (imagine a sphere-shaped field that completely surrounds you). The horse’s electromagnetic field is also stronger than ours and can actually directly influence our own heart rhythm!
Horses are also likely to have what science has identified as a “coherent” heart rhythm (heart rate pattern) which explains why we may “feel better” when we are around them. . . .studies have found that a coherent heart pattern or HRV is a robust measure of well-being and consistent with emotional states of calm and joy–that is, we exhibit such patterns when we feel positive emotions.
A coherent heart pattern is indicative of a system that can recover and adjust to stressful situations very efficiently. Often times, we only need to be in a horses presence to feel a sense of wellness and peace. In fact, research shows that people experience many physiological benefits while interacting with horses, including lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased levels of beta-endorphins (neurotransmitters that serve as pain suppressors), decreased stress levels, reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension and anxiety, improved social functioning; and increased feelings of empowerment, trust, patience and self-efficacy.” - From Habitat for Horses
And now we just can't wait any longer...we need to know how Jenn decided to leave a stable job in a city with her family and friends, to embark on a grand adventure, following her passion, around the world. We ask her to tell us more and here's a summary of our conversation (my apologies for any inaccuracies, Jenn...these are notes from my iPhone):
SB: How did you come to the decision to go to Spain to train horses?
JS: I started working with horses when I was very young, I grew up with them. I ride 4-5 times a week for 2-3 hours at the time. But I didn't think that working with horses was a viable career option, I only saw it as a hobby. So I went to university and studied journalism, was a freelance writer for a while and have been full time at The Star Phoenix for the last five years and I really love my work and everyone I work with. I've also been working an extra one or two evening and weekend jobs (at some of the most delicious restaurants in Saskatoon) for the last three years and saving money to make this trip happen. I'm a free spirit but it obviously wasn't a spontaneous decision. I've been planning and saving for years. It's really hard to leave my job but you have to take some risks and go after your dreams. I've wanted to do this for as long as I can remember. When I get to Spain I'll be working with a new friend I met on Facebook to breed horses, train top level dressage horses and sell them internationally. This kind of opportunity doesn't exist in Saskatchewan.
SB: I really admire and feel inspired by you, Jenn. Do you have any advice for people who are feeling called to go on an adventure because of a love or passion for something?
JS: People get stuck and comfortable and it's scary to break out of the norm and sometimes a little fear is a good thing. I know that I don't want to wake up when I'm 50 or 60 and say "I wish I would have done that". It must be harder for people to do that who have children, but there are options. I have friends who home-school their kids and take them on the road with them. A year ago I started wondering if I'd ever be able to make this work. I got scared of all the details. But the best thing to do is to jump in and see if you can swim. It's like going to a new city for the first time. It's so overwhelming at first but in a short time, it becomes the new normal. Everybody's reality is different. You don't have to pick up and move around the world to go on an adventure. An adventure could be starting a new business; there are so many entrepreneurs in Saskatchewan, it's inspiring.
Jenn says that if anyone is interested in learning more about horses, there are many great barns around Saskatoon that teach beginner lessons. Start there. Don't leap in and buy a horse, it's a huge commitment and one that requires certainty over impulse. And it could be the beginning of a beautiful lifelong love with horses, so enjoy.
Let's all wish Jenn the very best with her adventures in Spain, she leaves in August. Write her a message in the comments box below, and if you feel like it, tell us about your next adventure.
PS - Keep us posted, Jenn! We'll be following you on Twitter @JennKSharp.
Susan & Desiree
All photos by Desiree Martin Photography