How to turn a donkey into a unicorn…
A horse that changes your life – for me that is Franela, an Ortega daughter. An absolutely pathetic sentence, it could be from “Ostwind”. But when I look at it, this animal has had quite a lot of influence on my life decisions. And that was the story:
In 2014, I wanted to fulfil my dream of spending a few weeks in Spain. As a self-employed journalist, I could afford this freedom – so I looked for a couple of stories to write up and sell to magazines. After spending a week with a German expatriate in Andalusia (a renowned Knabstrupper breeder, by the way), I was drawn further to Segovia to Leonie’s farm. We had agreed beforehand that I would live at the stud for four weeks, help with the horses and see what articles I could offer German riding magazines about her and the horses afterwards. I arrived in the dark, had – as usual – left too late and was also stuck in a traffic jam for ages. Leonie welcomed me warmly in her living room with a cold beer. We immediately talked like old school friends and of course a lot about horses. I told her about Quentin, my big, black Oldenburg gelding that I had to retire with damaged tendons. “My next horse will be a mare one day. And a grey horse – I’ve always wanted that,” I enthused. “I’ll show you one tomorrow,” Leonie said. We had a drink and went to bed.
The next day: Behind my caravan was a small paddock with four young mares. One of them was Franela. In my imagination a proud, magnificent, white fairytale figure – in reality I was greeted by a small grey donkey. I admit it, it was not love at first sight. But during the four weeks of my stay, I was able to break in the little horse together with Leonie and get to know it better, and what can I say, it was just fun. Such a clever little thing. Always trying, a little shy and just so sweet. In the evening, after work was done and a well-deserved shower, all I had to do was walk around the corner. One whistle and “my” pony came to me. That was beautiful. I still have to smile when I think back on it.
In the truest sense of the word, a snap idea?
Towards the end of the four weeks, it became more and more concrete: Should I really buy Franela? That wasn’t planned at all, after all I still had the pensioner horse with my parents and I wasn’t exactly swimming in money either. Then I got a call from my tax advisor: “Mrs. Rüschhoff, I have good news, you will get your money back. This amount exactly matched the sum I was short of for the purchase. Coincidence? I called my friend who lived in Berlin at the time and asked him for his opinion. He didn’t understand that the decision to buy a horse in Hamburg would also affect him. Not yet. A fun fiesta at the farm and a few shots of schnapps later, the time had come: I said yes – how exciting!
Bad start with a fall
A few weeks later, Franela was brought to Hamburg. We looked for a stable south of the Elbe, which I could reach easily from the city. After a few weeks of getting used to the horse, I got into the saddle for the first time – walking worked, trotting worked – but she didn’t like cantering. Come on, you could do all that already, I thought, and demanded it. And bang, I flew through the air and landed very roughly on the ground. This event shook me deeply, because I had always felt so safe on her. After that I was absolutely unsure: a horse is a horse, isn’t it? Now I became painfully aware that a Lusitano ticks differently than an Oldenburg. It was really bad, I was so sad and desperate that I even thought of selling. Then Sophie came into my life. A young, easy-going woman – fearless and absolutely clueless. She became my riding partner and was soon riding Franela bareback and only with a halter, while I had to cover my eyes with tension. But lo and behold, the pony was sweet and had fun again. We continued together, but this time at her pace.
“Pippi-Langstrumpf”-life with business idea
Sophie and I became friends, which quickly led to the desire to go riding together. A second horse was needed, and “by chance” our riding instructor had an idea. And so Perle completed our quartet, a Lusitano Knabstrupper mare, optically almost identical to Franela. We leased a meadow in the village for our two girls so that they didn’t have to stand separately in the box and we could manage the grazing in a Lusitano-friendly way. Actually only a summer solution. Yes, actually. Because one meadow became a second, a third, a fourth. A small riding arena followed, an open stable with a trail and we bought more horses (after all, two is not a herd). The place for the people also became more and more beautiful – more and more often we spent our time around the campfire in front of our construction trailer, drank beer, forged ideas. “This is so beautiful, we have to make more of it,” we thought. And because we are luckily both doers rather than dreamers, we launched a small start-up around Franela and the other horses. Today, companies like Beiersdorf and Bertelsmann come to “Einhorn Coaching” (www.einhorn-coaching.de) for coaching on communication and teamwork. Horse-supported, of course. Franela is great at it, as if she had never done anything else. The snarling dragon that she usually likes to let hang out has a break then. She is very gentle and gets involved with the people. A real coaching professional.
With a happy ending, of course
Oh yes, and the boyfriend? That’s right – there was someone else. When he realised that he couldn’t do much against the horses (once a horse girl, always a horse girl), he bravely quit his permanent job in Berlin and moved with me to a village with 800 inhabitants. Now we live less than 500 metres from the pony meadow and have a little daughter. Her godmother? Sophie, of course.
So looking back, I can say that Franela has influenced where I live, my relationship, my friendships and my job. And last but not least, myself: I have never had to question and reflect on myself as much as I did with her. I have learned to look more closely, to be more empathetic, to respect the needs of my counterpart, to sometimes take a step back, not to want too much, but also to be courageous. And I know today that riding has absolutely nothing to do with “now close your legs and assert yourself”. I’m ashamed to say that I used to see it that way. But sometimes donkeys need a little help to become unicorns.