I have always found any sport that involves an animal to be rather spurious. First of all, who is the athlete? It seems the one with the four legs is getting the short end of the deal in the partnership. And then when money is involved, it seems all the more likely that the animal is going to come off second best. If thousands of people are going to bet their hard-earned cash on a horse, in the hope of never again having to work a day in their lives, then there will, surely, be horse owners hoping to have the right horse on the track, even if it means injecting a substance or two, legal or otherwise, into the animal. And so it is that I have never really taken to horse riding. I feel too sorry for the horse, the horse senses I am clueless, and so does its very best – and usually with some success – to get me off its back.
Today, though, I learnt a few lessons about horses, their riders and a very different way of thinking about riding and training. Veronika Buhl, a light-as-a-feather sprite with a lilting voice and open, smiling face, who looks as if she should be flitting across a stage with the other sylphs, ran a Pro-Horse Clinic in Wellington.
There was no kicking, no shouting, no whipping … just the lightest touch. The rider guides the horse through a slight transfer of weight: just by dropping a shoulder or by looking in a direction. Veronika’s fingers barely touch the horse as she guides it into position.
These riders take time and effort to train and grow to know themselves, as well as their horses. They speak of a ‘journey’, rather than of training, and they are there to grow, rather than compete. There is no ego, only a passion for the animal and the activity of horseriding.
Shooting was challenging … phew! The clinic was conducted indoors, in a large grey building, on brown sand, with only a smidgen of diffused light straining to make its way through an opening along the top of the walls. High ISO (about 2500 to 3200) and a wide aperture (either f/4 or f/5.6, depending on the lens) helped me to get shutter speeds of about 1/80th to 1/250th. I was worried about the depth of field, especially with the 400 mm, but more concerned about motion blur, so my focus was on trying to achieve the fastest shutter speed that the available light would allow.
My reward was when the doors opened, and I could play with the light falling in from the bright summer’s day outside …
I am still no expert, and I’ve not been convinced to saddle up yet, but I am very curious to see more of the work that these amazing people do.