On the Pony Farm, humans learn the yoga of horses.
Liberty was trained as a racehorse, but he didn't enjoy racing because the riders would mistreat him. One day he had a stroke of luck. A man came and took him home with him. But by now Liberty didn't like people: every time anyone came close, Liberty bared his teeth. So the man was scared and he neither rode nor beat him. After a while, Liberty was brought to the Pony Farm in Auroville. The new stablehand here was a woman called Lea.
Lea, from Belgium , had been living with her husband and children in Geneva . But her husband, an Indian from the Punjab, had had to face racism so frequently that he decided to go back to India . Lea decided to accompany him – but she didn't go to the Punjab . She was more interested in a place she knew only from a movie: Auroville.
Two suitcases and one vision
One picture from that movie stuck in her mind: it was of a man riding a horse bareback on a red road. This image so awakened her sense of freedom that she decided to begin a new life in Auroville. When she arrived with her daughters Mimi and Sara they had only two suitcases, but lots of ideas and fresh hope.
The man in the movie was Achilles, who ran the Auroville Pony farm together with his wife Gaya , until they gave it to Nicolette and went back to Germany . But soon Nicolette couldn't manage any more as there was hardly enough money to feed the twenty ponies and horses. Although it was a very tough time to become the caretaker of such a place, and they themselves had almost nothing, Lea and Sara decided to take it on. This was in 2001.
“Feeding horses is expensive,” Lea says, “so, you are always looking for money”. They came up with a novel concept. Since this is Auroville where the aspiration is to go beyond personal ownership, the idea was that every pony on the farm would be looked after by two people who would share the running costs and the training. If the caretakers leave, the ponies would stay and be looked after by others.
Each of the ponies and horses which Lea and Sara organized to buy (today the Pony Farm is in fact half a horse farm) has its own history. Like Liberty , many were beaten in the process of being trained as racehorses. “In India , many horses are not treated as emotional beings,” Sara says, “although, it is not only Indians who beat their horses. Almost all horse people do that.”
Sara and Lea say that trying to dominate horses results not only in unhappy horses, it also poisons the relationship between horses and people. So at the Pony Farm they decided they had to start by training the riders.
Speaking with horses instead of beating them
“Working with horses is just like yoga,” Lea says. “They are mirrors for our behaviour. Every problem one has with one's horse is a problem one has with oneself.”
They are inspired by the principles of Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling and Pat Parelli who teach methods to learn the language of horses. “This means learning to think like a horse, which is a long, hard work,” says Sara. Lea teaches the Hempfling method, while Sara is experimenting with Parelli's.
Riding is only the very last step of the process. For the first few months, Liberty 's new stablehands just walked with him, asking for his trust and confidence. They would make turns, stop, go on again, gradually giving him less and less signals. And it worked because he enjoyed learning something new, but most of all because he felt he was being respected as an individual. Though it is still a work in progress, today Liberty is calm and easy to ride.
This method gave Lea new courage because, in fact, she had often been doubtful that the Pony Farm concept would work. Almost all the caretakers are children, and they are often not able to take enough responsibility for their sometimes complicated protégés. And all the children, Lea complains, “are very busy with school, homework and their obligatory sports every day”. So, there is not much time and energy for them to work with all the ponies and horses properly.
But whenever she thought about giving up, something surprising happened. For example, she recently got a gift – a full course at a discount in the Hempfling methods. When she finishes it in September, she plans to offer a basic introduction in horse speech to Aurovilians as well as to guests (the Pony Farm has guest accommodation).
Meanwhile, the children are having their riding lesson with Mahi, one of the three young teachers on the Pony Farm. Barefoot, without saddle, they sit on their ponies, concentrating on stopping them from eating grass. “Push her, but carefully” Mahi encourages nine year old Monica. “Go on with your belly. Move yourself, and you'll see, she will go.”
And Lucky Lady moves. She is one of two new ponies and enjoys learning. But after a few metres she begins eating grass again. Like Sara said, it takes time.