The morning sun, Ida, the smell of coffee and cocoa cake present on both sides of the screen today (it was the sun, coffee and cocoa cake that we had agreed to be the decisive set of required conditions for the online interview for both of us). 10 month-old Ronja – Ida’s daughter – and her singing and dancing input, Nietzsche the cat on the couch, dogs Mefisto and Lasse. Undisturbed 1.5 hours of stories from both professional and personal daily life with animals.
Ida, you started working with horses professionally at university, where you studied zoorehabilitation and assistance services with animals. You have a qualification course of the Czech Hipporehabilitation Society. This year you will complete your studies of occupational therapy at Jan Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem. In 2016, you founded the Jupiter non-profit organisation in Řevnice (10 km from Prague), which offers its clients hipporehabilitation services. Have you had a close relationship with animals since you were a child?
Yes. Recently, I remembered how, at the age of 6, I stole all the kitchen pots from my mother and buried them in the garden so that I would have a place to keep frogs.
I also picked up dung beetles instead of blueberries and then carried them to the dry toilet because I thought they would do well there. So I was an animal collector. I had that typical need to have them, to own them. I’m trying to break out of it now and give animals as much freedom as possible. At the same time, nowadays you are perceived as a person who does not look after his/her animals. People have the impression that when animals do what they want, it’s wrong.
When clients with handicap come to you, do horses treat them differently? How?
Definitely yes. Horses mainly behave according to the intention you come with. If someone comes to them thinking: ”I’ll tame you and you will obey,” then the horses will give him a hard time, thinking: “No way!” But when someone as innocent and happy as a child comes, the horse also behaves “respectably” – offering the healing energy he has.
So when a person with a handicap comes, are the horses kind to him?
Yes, but when children with autism come, for example, they are sometimes very scared and scream, then the horses also start to be afraid and “scream”. They take on the emotions and react.
How then does such a meeting work in real life? Are you the guide who mediates the situation between them? What comes next? It sounds like a rather chaotic situation: children screaming, horses screaming…
A horse has “its” human, the guide. The horse always has the opportunity to lean on that person. Along with its human guide, the horse has to bear and go through the situation. The child also has his/ her therapist and they too are slowly going through the process together.
It is therefore primarily a horse-client relationship, but at the same time both the horse and the client have “their” person who supports them. Relationship and cooperation of four beings.
Yes, a mixture of four. It is extremely difficult for horses. When children communicate unclearly or when it comes to adults who are under medication, the horse is confused. In order not to panic and to be able to remain in its healing energy, the horse needs someone who will support it. Horses react very strongly to the presence of psychotropic drugs.
In a recent interview, you said that trust between a horse and a human is crucial. How can there be trust between you two in therapy when the horse has previous negative experience with humans? Most of your horses have come with experiences with previous owners…
There can’t be (trust). You have to change that. (Laughter)
So when a horse that has previous experience with people comes to you, you start from the beginning, building the trust from scratch.
Yes of course. It starts with the fact that we have neither whips nor bridles: no coercive means.
Can every horse practice hipporehabilitation?
Certainly not, so it is said. I think most horses can, under the right guidance. Training of some horses can last many years. For instance, we’ve had Carla for three years now and it looks like she won’t be able to start working until this year. It really depends on the psyche of the animal. But strictly speaking, for hippotherapy (physiotherapy method) it is necessary for the horse to have 100% great gait, i.e. walking without defects. Of course, not every horse can do that: for example it is not for a lame horse.
But then there’s hipporehabilitation, where it’s primarily about the psyche, not walking, and in the end any horse can do that. In my opinion, the rule here is that “the therapist must be a little traumatised himself in order to be a good therapist.”
What is your dream at this moment, a long-term vision for Jupiter? What would you like to achieve as a hippotherapist in your organisation?
I want all those pastures to be ours. (Laughter) Personally, I try not to live in fear, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty. I want a lot, really a lot of space for my horses. It’s unusual, but I want this for them, because I perceive that they have a hard job and I wish them as much opportunity as possible to relax. And my horses recharge by running on these large pastures and living as naturally as possible. Unfortunately, we are only renting the pastures. I would like to have the security for my horses that at least this piece of land is “theirs.”
How do you manage the physical demands of working around horses, in combination with motherhood?
In fact, it’s much easier for me now. There have been personnel changes for the better in Jupiter. I currently have a team of some great women. I only take care of the horses at weekends, so Jupiter works on its own most of the time (without my direct presence and physical work). And then when I go to horses, I’m glad I have some physical activity – kind of “an organic fitness centre” (laughs).
Penelope Smith, the animal communication mediator, says horses are one of the most abused pets. What do you say to that, can you agree?
I think so too. Actually, I don’t really understand why they’re with us at all. They are strong beings and they would not have to listen to us at all. Sometimes they seem to me as beings who came here to save us.
We humans tend to humanise animals. Dogs tolerate it much better than horses in my opinion.
A horse is a wild animal which needs to run free on pastures, and when people start humanising it, they lock it in a box for example. I personally call it “horses in a box.”
By “humanising” you mean human projections onto horses, such as “he needs a roof?”
Yes. He needs a roof. Then he definitely needs to be cleaned. We in Jupiter are constantly being reported for abusing horses because they have some mud on them. Meanwhile these horses don’t really mind, on the contrary. Some of them take mud baths.
In addition to the roof, a horse proper needs many ointments and several sets of different blankets and socks (ideally colour-matched). When it rains, he must not get out so as not to get wet, or he will get a raincoat and a winter jacket in winter. Some people put horses in a solarium – in luxury stables, horses actually have solariums.
It’s all against nature. When a horse comes from outside and is sweaty, it goes to take a shower – in the wild, such a horse would not take a shower, it would wallow in mud. Thus we completely deny horses their nature. Most people see a “nice clean stable,” the horses are locked in and looking outside. People from the outside think that the horses there are better cared for than our horses (in Jupiter) who are “dirty” and no one notices them all day long. But when you consider what horses inherently are in their essence, and how they live in the wild, it’s better for them not to be noticed! To have space, a meadow, access to water, trees for shade, but they don’t need all the extra things that people project on to them.
You cooperate on the training with Olda Novak, by the so-called “non-conflict training.”
Olda works on several levels, training with different groups of people. And his method, in short, is that he acts as the leading mare in the herd. And that mare leads the herd. Everyone loves her naturally, they want to be behind her, they want her to lead them, they want her to love them. In short, when the lead mare says “let’s parachute!” all the horses will go parachuting… That’s Olda’s principle. The horses then look for your presence and whatever you – the “lead mare” say will be done, they want to follow naturally.
So horse herds naturally have leading mares, not stallions.
Yes. The stallion creates energy, movement, pressure, “halo” effect… whereas the mare is simply there, she is the one who leads. She is confident, calm, the one who knows the direction, she does not need to be dominant or create conflicts.
Working with people is very psychologically demanding and exhausting, and you want to provide your horses with as many days of rest as possible: what would you wish for the Jupiter horses in this context?
During COVID restrictions, we had to switch to individual events only, where only one horse works at a time. It’s actually one horse with three people. He is in the minority there and that is difficult for him. In group therapies where, for example, 4 horses work simultaneously, the horses support each other. Going alone with people is actually the hardest thing for horses. Our three horses (Blesk, Lilka and Natanek) can now do that, the others are either learning or retired. So three horses out of six work. But I won’t give the other three away! Still we would benefit from one more working horse here, we have a place for it :).
Did your life with animals influence the way you now perceive departures, dying, death?
It’s been about 7 years since Faust, my first dog, left. I had him since I was 13. It was terrible for me. I was mad at him for not waiting for me (I wasn’t home when he died). In retrospect, I know I would have blamed him for dying. He had to die without me as I wouldn’t let him go.
So 7 years ago, I took death pretty dramatically. Nowadays, when an animal dies here, I take it as something that belongs to life. Our old horse Tomba died 3 years ago – we had to put him to sleep. It was winter, he lay down and wanted to leave slowly. All the employees who worked with him and the vet he knew were there. It was actually very touching, we all cried and he slowly stopped breathing.
What or who is a horse for you?
A gift from God, which is also the Hebrew meaning of the name NATHANIEL, the name I gave to my second horse.
Thank you for the interview.
20th April 2021