Written by Eclectic Horseman
1. How did you get involved with horses?
I saw my first horse when I was two years old and knew then what my passion was. I can’t explain this—it is just what I’ve always known. I was born the daughter of a fashion designer and grew up in Los Angeles. That’s about as far away from dirt and manure as you can get. My parents did not support my enthusiasm for riding, but I had an older sister who drove me to Griffith Park where I learned to ride by renting horses for an hour on the weekends.
Meanwhile, I saved a $5 allowance my grandfather sent each month, and when I was 16 bought my first horse (an Appaloosa) for $400. When I moved away from home at age 17, I could make my own choices and began teaching kids to ride hunt seat. It was truly the blind, leading the blind but I was so excited to finally be doing what I loved. It also allowed me to make my rent and work off my own lessons. This is the first time I received any real professional training. I have been learning ever since.
2. What one word describes your ideal horse-human relationship?
If I had to use one word, it would probably be “harmonious.” By this I don’t mean that everything has to go as planned in my day-to-day work with them. But I can learn to accept and “ride through” challenging moments and to not allow rough spots to undermine the value of my efforts to be a better communicator. If I am open to the horse, to learning, and to reassessing my own actions without blame to myself or the horse, then inevitably there is harmony in my day.
3. What are your current professional goals?
When I first began working with Tom Dorrance twelve years ago, very few dressage riders knew that his approach could be applied to FEI levels in their discipline as well as anywhere else. I felt it my mission to convince this particular population that such a thing was possible. Now I receive emails from all over the world from dressage and hunter/jumper riders hungry for a way to “train” and compete without sacrificing their horse’s well-being—that says a lot coming from advocates of a sport oftentimes overshadowed by mindless ambition and widespread use of force.
Now I have many professional goals which include writing a book, performing in dressage and establishing an experiential learning center which uses horsemanship as a means of self-discovery.
My daily goal is twofold: One is to first help students stop punishing themselves for their own limitations. This lessens their inability to take responsibility for their own actions—vital for the second goal which is to respect their horse as they would a good friend, and to apply that awareness and sensitivity from the most basic action to the most complex use of their aids. They are then open to learning what their horses need in order to maintain a sense of freedom and well-being, especially within the confinement of collected work. If this dynamic has taken place, a person will enjoy the day-to-day relationship with their partner as well as the process of achieving their individual goals.
4. Do you see yourself as part of a larger community of horse people, and if so, how do you fit into that community?
Fortunately, I work in a collaborative environment with other trainers, assistants and working students who are all enthusiastic about learning, sharing and helping each other. I am grateful to be surrounded by good people who are okay with not having all the answers and are interested in maintaining a supportive and creative working environment, each playing an important role in their area of interest. I also see myself as part of a community of everyday students, and students I meet in clinics. I learn as much from them as they do from me.
5. What horse-related product do you use that makes your life easier?
Duct tape! I cannot count the times a horse has pulled a shoe in the mud at the most inconvenient time, and duct tape, wrapped around a hoof, can mean the difference between working a horse that day or not.
6. What is the most important character trait for a great horseman to possess? Why?
I do not believe that there is one character trait—or what I like to call “qualities”—more important than another. To me the beauty of working with horses is what horses teach people about all the qualities we have forgotten, have lost sight of, or have a weakness in: softness; strength, humility; fortitude, openness; firmness, thinking; feeling, patience; steadfastness, perseverance; expectancy—to name a few. Each needs each other for balance and to enable us to develop our abilities in a way that’s appropriate to each unique situation at hand.
7. What do you get out of working with horses? What do you give?
From working with horses, I learn more about who I really am. I learn about what makes a good relationship and about life before my intellect gets in the way. I learn about love. My aim is to be present to the horse in a way that allows him to feel both secure and respectful in my presence. Each horse has an athletic potential which I encourage and work toward. But more fundamentally, horses naturally enjoy themselves and their work, whatever that happens to be, so I try not to get in the way of that.
8. Who is a favorite horse of all time?
My Thoroughbred gelding, Pan. He was the one who made it too difficult for me to continue on a path of blind ambition via mindless training “techniques”, and who forced me to reassess my life and then seek out a man named Tom Dorrance—who would then change my life with horses forever.
9. What horseman living or deceased would you most like to study with? Why?
Tom Dorrance. He not only has the greatest understanding of and compassion toward horses of anyone I’ve met, but the greatest understanding of and compassion toward people of anyone I’ve met. To me, that says it all.
10. What is a very memorable horse moment?
A time as a child when I leased a horse from the rent string for a week with a friend. I came out to the stable to find her combing out a long black tail that she had just washed. I hadn’t known that one could care for a horse in this way and learned then that being with horses can take many forms besides riding.
Terry Church is a dressage instructor in northern California and works with horses and riders of all ages. She was “classically trained” through the FEI levels in the United States and Germany and competes regularly. However, a number of years ago she came to recognize that, in spite of the lofty ideals written throughout every dressage manual, tension continued to be the predominant factor in the actual lives of most horses in training for competition in every discipline. With this awareness, synchronicity led her to a meeting with the great master horseman, Tom Dorrance, with whom she spent the next seven years relearning everything she thought she had known about horses, and about herself. Now her intention is to help riders become aware of the kind of relationship needed to gain full responsiveness and cooperation with their horses without force, extra equipment or manipulative devices, which she ultimately believes is the real meaning of dressage. Terry hopes that through cultivating harmonious relationships with horses, that people will experience a greater personal fulfillment and sense of purpose which they will pass on to others. She offers lessons, training and clinics. For more information please visit her web site at www.naturalsporthorse.com
This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.5