Laurence Welten: Horseriding as a way toward oneself

Photography : Photokiff - Text : Elisabeth Grosdhomme
BAT - Laurence et Joost Welten

It is the story of a lonely teenager, a bit of a rebel, short-tempered, who becomes friends with a wild horse. It takes her six months to get to stroke him, three more months to get a halter around its neck.  Then, without the money to buy a saddle or even a net, she rides him bareback, with one single resource to guide the animal: mastering her own body to the point of being able to communicate her will through a simple impulsion from the legs or a change in the balance of her bust.

Such a beginning explains what follows. Where others practice horse-riding as a way of parading or as entertainment, and ride a horse as they would a motorcycle, Laurence Welten makes it a spiritual journey, a demanding work on herself to establish a link with the other.

She perfectly masters official horse-riding, more formal, often more violent towards the animal, having passed every degree and diploma of horse-riding institutions, and kept her rank in the competitions that make the life of riders. But the way she practices riding, the one she now tries to share with others, is something else: merging the wills of two free beings, creating an exchange between the animal that brings its strength to man, and the rider that, in return, offers protection, makes it possible for the horse to jump overwhelming obstacles, go through circles of fire and jump into the unknown. But for that exchange to work, riders need to be at peace with themselves, to have overcome their own fears, otherwise the horse will feel it and reflect it by refusing to jump over an obstacle.

After years spent training and grooming horses here and there, Laurence Welten founded her own stud farm six years ago, with the help from Joost, her husband. She welcomes and brings back to life numerous animals that others thought were lost for horse-riding: too unpredictable, too dangerous, too vicious, too wobbly. Riding them day in, day out in her own sensitive but firm way, she re-establishes their balance, restores the relationship with their rider. Rebuilding such complicity, built through shared confidence and freedom, is the greatest joy that her work brings to her.

When she’s not on a horse, Laurence Welten is on stage, in an amateur theatre group. Outsiders might see two very different types of activities there, but she actually perceives a continuum between the two: indeed, when actors play the role given to them by the director (which is often the opposite of what they are in everyday life), they explore feelings and sides of themselves that they didn’t know they had. On stage or on a saddle, same thing: it’s all about finding your own truth to open up to others.

For the future, Laurence Welten has a dream: she wants this approach to horse-riding, which she has proven to be viable at the small scale of her farm, to be extended to ten, twenty, a hundred other stud farms in France; she wants horse-riding to get back to being an ethical code and a way of life, not an entertainment for spoilt children or adults looking for a thrill.

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