…or trying to. Having gone from being a boy who was bullied for riding ponies to becoming an extremely successful rider and public figure with a huge following on social media, it’s quite a balancing act being Swedish Carl Hedin these days. But he is doing a great job. Malgré Tout Media met him recently at Jönköping Horse Show for a talk about the different aspects of his life and career: From signing his first book “Hästpojken” (Horseboy), and having his picture taken with any kid who asks, to focusing on his riding in the arena and training at home and most importantly staying 100 % true to who he is. A guy who loves horses.
Finding the right balance
” Sometimes I might fly a bit high,” Carl explains with reference to the special thanks to his friends at the end of his book. They are there for him through thick and thin.
” It’s really good that I have amazing people around me, who can help me keep my feet on the ground. It is especially important when you are in a flow like I am right now, with everything happening. It is a tough balance because you want to try new things and experience things. And for me, I also want to give back and convey my message to people. So, when you get to a position where people are listening to what you have to say, there is a risk of losing your grounding a little bit. So, then you have to go from here,” Carl explains by reaching forward with his hands. “And then pull back a bit. It is almost like riding. You need to find the right balance between riding forward but not having the horse run off with you. “[adrotate group=”16″]
When the timing is right
As supposed to many other athletes who spend time getting to the top of their sport, then start a family, have children, and so on, and then write a book about their life, Carl’s book is coming out at a different time in his life and career. And the fact is, he was very reluctant to write it.
“I started getting contacted by publishing houses already two years ago. They thought that I had an interesting story. And would I like to do a book? But I did not feel at the time that I had anything I wanted to say. I am young, what do you want me to say? I did not want to become just another influencer writing a book because that’s what you are supposed to do. So, I just said, no, no, no – to the 4-5 different companies who asked me. Some wanted to do a training book, others more a story about riding and so on.
Anyway. At some point a mother of a young boy wrote to me on Instagram. Her son was having a lot of trouble in school because his classmates thought that his interest in horses was a girly thing. That riding was a girl sport, that it was not cool to like horses. But her son had such a great passion for horses and riding, and every day when he came home from school, he would check my updates on Instagram, and he would say: What that guy does is so cool,” Carl explains.
“That same morning, I had just had a meeting with Bonnier publishing house and told them no, I am not going to do a book. End of story. But then I just got this kind of epiphany, and I thought, okay now I have something. Something that is much more than what had been suggested to me. I felt that I had something I would like to share and talk about. Also, something that I really had not touch upon on Instagram, because it is just not the right frame for it.”
Becoming a brave adult
One thing that drives many people not the least riders, is being inspired by other. Maybe in the way that the young boy was inspired by Carl’s profile on Instagram, maybe from watching amazing people do what they do best. As for Carl, his own inspiration comes from all kinds of thing, not necessarily connected to horses.
” I find inspiration everywhere and see things in so many different places and people. For example I can look at Usain Bolt, Cathrine Dufour or Peder Fredricson and think, oh I would like to try and do this. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I have the courage to try things that are out of the box. For example, I am doing a clothing line with Maya Delorez (Swedish equestrian clothing brand), and I think Cargo pants are really cool. Breeches for men are kind of boring and I felt it would be cool if we could have them be a bit chunkier. Alright, then let us do that. I am not afraid to try new things.
“I feel like I have always trusted in myself, and often think, that if it does not go according to plan, then it is just going to go another way.”
Do you consider yourself brave?
” Yes, I think so. Which is probably why I am sitting with this book already now, because I have never been afraid to fail. But I will say this. When it comes to the horses and being brave, I do notice as I get older at a show like this for example. If I see some horses getting a little tensed, my 19-year-old self would have just thought, no big deal, come on, move along now. But now, I tend to think, oh, no I can see what might happen here and over there. So, I am thinking, okay maybe I am actually about to grow up. Become an adult now.
And I think that is kind of cool. That I have come to a place where I am more aware of things. I still love young horses and starting them under saddle, but I do not feel I have to be so brave about it anymore. It is part of the things that I try to train and work on with the horses. To not get into these potentially dangerous situations. But like I write in the book – sometimes it does happen,” Carl adds with a mischievous smile.
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This is not magic!
If you are following Carl’s work and his journey, you have most certainly met many of the horses that he works with on a daily basis. But what does he look for in horse? What is a Carl Hedin horse like?
” Intelligent. And then I like a horse with lots of energy and sensitivity. I like my horses to be curious towards people and to show an interest in what I try to communicate. It is okay for them to be a little hot, but not crazy hot. I love horses, that are like me,” Carl explains, but no, he does not consider himself a kind of horse whisperer.
“No, not at all! And sometimes I get really nervous when people say, oh, it is magic, what I do.”
“Oh, but your riding, you have such a special style! No, there is nothing special about it. It is classical German riding. Inside leg to outside rein. That is still the way to do it. Of course, there are things I try to do a bit differently, for instance when it comes to behavioral training. That was something I missed a lot when I started riding as a kid.
We learned a lot about how to sit and how to use your aids, but there really was not much talk about how horses learn different things. And I find that really interesting and try to do my own mix. It is a combination of positive reinforcement and the classical riding with pressure and release. I think it is amazing to see how things have changed over the years.
Just look at the Olympics. The top 4-5 riders are such a tribute to fine riding. And it has nothing to do with magic or tricks. It is ordinary riding, just a little better than before. It is softer with a better understanding of the horse. So, when I look at that, I am sure that dressage in general is on the right track. I might wish for it to be a little less conservative because that would speed up the process. Men I am sure we are on the right track.”
For the love of dressage
As much as Carl loves dressage now, it was not where he started off. To begin with he was building jumping courses at home, and it was not until the age of 10-12, when his mother insisted, that he try dressage, that Carl experienced the sensation every rider is looking for. The feeling that the horse understands how it can benefit from listening to its rider and following the guidance. That feeling of becoming one with the horse.
” Dressage is really cool,” Carl says now, many years later.
“We can teach the horses things, tricks if you like. Like with a dog. And if we do it well, it becomes really beautiful to watch. Almost telepathic. And the other thing about dressage that I find cool is that you can practice for example a halt for a month and then go from a 5 in your test to an 8. So, it is easy to measure progress. When I was younger, I got attracted to that feeling of being able to follow the progress. That if I really practiced then it would make a difference. So, I believe that this is what helped spark my interest in dressage,” Carl explains and adds:
” I think that anybody who does dressage, work with dressage of any kind, when you get to that feeling where you realize that you have the horse’s full attention, that is amazing.”
Writing a book also means that you get to reflect on your life and look into what should be part of the story. As Carl explains it was a challenging process deciding on which experiences would best describe how he has become who he is today. And one that stood out was the time he spent in Denmark with legendary rider and educator Hasse Hoffmann.
“The older I get, the more I understand how much I have taken with me from my time with Hasse, but at first it did not feel like that much,” Carl says with a laugh.
“Now I know there are many things. And when I wrote the book, it was really like that: Oh wow, what he did is what I want to do with horses. Of course, I don’t know if it had happened anyway because I simply think it’s the right way to do it anyway. But with many of the things that Hasse did, I am not quite sure if he knew at the moment, that he was very much at the forefront with his view on horses and how to adapt their lives in a holistic manner.
So, in choosing for the book, I wanted the readers to think: Okay, that’s why he does this. And I could just feel that Hasse was important to that understanding.”[adrotate group=”16″]
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Loving the spotlight – and yet…
In Sweden where Carl is born and raised there is an unofficial law called the Law of Jante (original Janteloven). Its social code dictates emphasis on collective accomplishments and well-being, and disdains focus on individual achievements. It is an underlying Scandinavian philosophy principle that applies across Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland.
Basically, it comes down to this: Don’t ever think you are better than the rest. Don’t strive for greatness either. So how does that play into Carl Hedin’s comet-like career, reaching for the stars and not being afraid to put himself out there? Does he ever think about it?
” Well, it’s funny that you mention it, because a lot of people tend to think that I must love being in the spotlight. And I kind of do in some cases.”
“But then there are situations where I find it difficult. For example, yesterday, we had a release party for my book. And I hate birthday parties and release parties because all I have to do is stand there, just because I exist. And then people are looking at me, but I haven’t done anything. So, I don’t like those situations where I am the center of attention, but I don’t feel like I have anything to say. But under different circumstances where I feel that I know something about a topic and feel that I have something to say about it, or I can show something with my horse, then I really like to be in the limelight.”
Below Carl is in the spotlight at Oslo Horse Show after doing a demo of his approach to dressage.
Never know what’s going to happen
So, if we were to ask Carl’s friends, they would probably not categorize him as being the quiet type, but also not the one who needs to be the center of attention all the time. Even though he really does like to flap his wings. Maybe a bit much sometimes.
“It’s probably natural when you’re the type of person I am. An extroverted person who wants to move on and wants to try new things, then you need to have that drive. It is very much my horses that keep me grounded. And the sport, which is also cool. I have a fantastic 7-year-old who has won so many competitions and I love that horse and he was really on his way to maybe not win but get to the top here in Jönköping. And during the warmup he is doing fantastic, but he ends up biting himself at the tip of his tongue. So, I wasn’t allowed to compete.
This is just one example of how you can feel that your confidence is all the way up here, and then you are reminded: That’s right Carl, you never know what’s going to happen. So, the sport, the horses and my friends help keep me grounded. I think it’s easier to lose yourself if you don’t have another world besides your public persona. I can have all the followers in the world, but when I enter the arena, it doesn’t matter,” says Carl, here seen in a post on his Instagram profile reading from his book to one of his star horses, Lucas.
The pros and cons of social media
Being a public figure with more than 340.000 followers on Instagram, and many, many people therefore being familiar with his face and his work with horses, one could think that Carl might have encountered some of the negative sides to social media. That fact however is, that yes, he acknowledges that it can be challenging, but on the overall he sees more positive than negative aspects.
” I was one of the first riders on social media. So, I had kind of a first mover advantage. And I feel that I can influence the atmosphere in the rider community in general. How people talk to each other, how I convey my own equestrian journey. So, I hope to inspire some of the up-and-coming riders, who don’t have as many followers.
And I still think that the positive coming with social media outweighs the negative. Especially in a sport which is very isolated from the normal world. Because many people don’t get in contact with horse, unless they go visit a farm or just get out of the cities in general. But with social media there is an opportunity to reach them, and I am hoping in that way to win some of them over into the equestrian sport in a kind of revolutionary way that we haven’t experienced before.”
Horses, sport, and pleasure
With Malgré Tout Media’s catchphrase being Horses, Sport and Pleasure, we are curious to know how it plays into Carl’s way of thinking. Does it resonate with him to work on bringing those three aspects together?
“To be a champion is not just to stand at the top of the podium. It is also to be a good human being towards your horses and to be a good friend at competitions. To have an eye and time for other things than competitions. I think this has something to do with my generation.
Some people might thing: Why should he ride at Oslo Horse Show and get to do a clinic, he has not even won a Grand Prix. Well first of all, I don’t choose to go to Oslo, I get invited, and I think it’s because I have the whole package which is more than just winning a competition, the medals and bows. That’s fine too. But I remember my mom once said to me, when I was around 19 and started to get the feeling that I really wanted to work with horses professionally. She said: I do not think you are going to win the Olympics Carl. You’re going to win a lot of other things, but not that.
I remember feeling: Honestly, Mom why would you say that? But for every year that passes, I understand her more and more. Because I see the people who have invested everything in that part of the sport, and they get on the podium with the medal, but I ask myself: Come Monday morning and you are back home, what is it that keeps you motivated?
So, the older I get, the more I see the sport just as a part of something much, much bigger. And I think that is so exciting because you always have to remember that we cannot control everything. So, you get lucky and find a really good horse, and then you have the opportunity to create a career with that individual horse, or with some more horses, but then some things happen.
I do not want to have just one thing that I am good at. Because if it doesn’t work out with that specific horse, or I do not feel motivated, I know that I am going to want more. And I know that no matter what happens I will have other things that interest me. Things that will get me up in the morning.”