Town & Country (UK)
WHISPERS & PIROUETTES
Dressage is a sport known for its grace and elegance, but the rider and trainer Linnéa Aarflot also believes in its power to heal horses. By Catriona Gray
How the dressage expert Linnéa Aarflot mixes sport and spirituality
Any spectator can appreciate the drama of showjumping or the excitement of racing, but dressage is a subtler sport. To an outsider, the rules can seem incomprehensible – much like figure skating, a horse traces a pattern around an area, with each carefully controlled movement marked for style and accuracy. ‘I see dressage as an art form,’ says Linnéa Aarflot, a Swedish rider and trainer who is based at Spring Hill stables in East Sussex. ‘You can never get it absolutely perfect – there is always room for development. I do a lot of yoga, and dressage is a very similar thing, but for horses. You make them dance and, done correctly, it can be very beneficial to them. You get them into alignment, eliminate tension and strengthen their muscles.’
With her mane of pale blonde hair and Scandinavian good looks, you can see why Aarflot has become a poster girl for the sport, competing and training horses internationally (as well as acting as a ‘friend of the brand’ for Longines, the luxury-watch company known for its support of all things equestrian).
Aarflot grew up in urban Stockholm, but was always a keen rider, and at 18, got a loan to buy her first horse, Mick, with whom she competed in dressage competitions both in Sweden and abroad. After Mick’s death, she decided to take a break from the equestrian world, instead moving to New York to work as a magazine designer, but she soon found herself escaping from the city and seeking out horses at every opportunity. Her particular talent for calming temperamental steeds was recognised one Fourth of July weekend in the Hamptons, when she visited America’s oldest ranch and persuaded the sceptical cowboys to give her a trial.
Having mended the ways of a particularly dangerous rescue horse, she began spending as much time as she could at the ranch, finally leaving her city job to work there full time. It was a learning curve for her in retraining damaged equines – she even managed to rehabilitate a number of NYPD horses, against seemingly impossible odds. She then did stints at two Olympic dressage yards, before relocating to this country to set up on her own.
‘In England, the riding industry is huge, so it’s an exciting place to be,’ she says. ‘Also, the weather is a lot better here than in Sweden – it’s much colder and darker over there.’ The large, red-brick yard at Spring Hill is owned by Sune and Emily Hansen, two renowned Grand Prix dressage riders who settled in this bucolic part of the South East several years ago. They lease space and stables to Aarflot, providing her with state-of-the-art facilities from which to run her business, where she trains riders and their mounts, conducts workshops and continues to compete on the international dressage circuit.
It’s an intensive schedule – she typically rides about six horses a day, often travelling to different yards to work with her various clients. She also returns home to Sweden once a month to teach classes there, as well as catching up with her family and friends. Yet, despite the gruelling timetable, Aarflot is remarkably serene, perhaps thanks to her fondness for meditation and reiki, and her regimented diet – she doesn’t touch dairy, lactose or sugar. ‘I’m very sensitive to my environment and my surroundings,’ she says, as she sips a herbal tea in the yard’s spacious tack-room. ‘I think that might be why I can help problem horses – they are far more affected by energy and emotions than humans.’ In equestrian circles, ‘horse-whisperers’ such as Monty Roberts are revered by many for their abilities to transform an unhappy, troubled animal into one that’s calm and balanced. What’s so unusual about Aarflot is her focus upon dressage – its discipline and control acts as an additional layer of training, teaching the horse to be relaxed and receptive both physically and mentally.
With summer approaching, Aarflot’s calendar is becoming even busier as the competition circuit gets underway. Her role with Longines means that she is also navigating the British Season, including visiting Ascot on Ladies’ Day for the first time last year. ‘It was such a surprise,’ she says, laughing. ‘There’s nothing like it in Sweden. So many of the women were wearing hats and were dressed up like cupcakes. But I got into it very quickly – I dressed up as a cupcake too and joined the party.’ For details of Linnéa Aarflot’s training, visit www.the-equestrian.net.