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Trainer of Young Horses: Training Should Never Be an Assault

Anne Søndergaard is the owner of Rock The Pony. Photo: Kunddahl Graphic & Photography

(Article originally written in Danish by Majbritt Jacobsen)

When breaking in a horse, it is crucial to be attentive. One should maintain patience and stay within what the horse can handle, ensuring the experience does not become too overwhelming. Anne Søndergaard, the proud owner of Rock The Pony – Horses for the win, located in the beautiful surroundings near Aarup on the Danish island Funen, shares her insight.

"Imagine being picked up by four strong Russians who take you to an unfamiliar place. You don't know the language, what they want, or what they expect from you. How would you feel?"

Anne Søndergaard tilts her head and answers the question herself.

"Obviously, you would feel scared and insecure – and in many ways, that's how our young horses feel when we send them for breaking. They are introduced to a new place with new stablemates and new people. They have no idea what awaits them. Yet, many expect the horse to be nearly broken in three weeks later," she explains.

Anne Søndergaard emphasizes the importance of allowing ample time for breaking in horses. Photo: Kunddahl Graphic & Photography

"Many horses can be broken in a few weeks if they are well-prepared from home. If they are used to being touched, have had their teeth cared for, and have built trust with people. But some need more time for the breaking to be a good experience."

Anne Søndergaard has been riding other people's horses since she was 12 years old. Since then, she has worked as a rider in several stables – including Olsen Dressage, Stutteri Brandtofte, Copenhorses, Stutteri Nørregaard, and Stutteri Hønnerup. She has completed many hundreds of breakings, and over the years, Anne has managed to develop her approach to the young horses, making the transition from colt to riding horse easier to digest.

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Anne Søndergaard believes it is important to remember that it is us, not the horse, that has ambitions. Photo: Kunddahl Graphic & Photography


Anne Søndergaard's special approach has made her a popular choice when the more sensitive horses need breaking. Even the shy horses and those with girth issues and other challenges are well represented in Rock The Pony's stable. But if you ask Anne Søndergaard herself, training a happy and content riding horse is not so complicated.

"It's fundamentally about being aware of the horse's signals and not pushing it before it's ready. It can be a difficult balance, but it's important to hurry slowly," she explains.

"A horse that is anxious cannot learn anything. You need to create a foundation of trust, so you have something to build on – and only then can you move on to teaching it the most important signals. In this way, I also slightly oppose the traditional method, where the horse is pushed forward as soon as it has a rider on its back. I prefer that it learns the basic signals first – and then the forward drive can follow."

Basic signals must be learned before considering progression, according to Anne Søndergaard from Rock The Pony. Photo: Kunddahl Graphic & Photography


When Anne Søndergaard takes on a so-called problem horse, it is often because the rider has not been attentive enough to the horse's signals.

"When we buy a horse, we already have a project in mind for it. We have dreams, hopes, and expectations for what it will become. But we must remember, the horse doesn't have a project. And if we want something, we need to do it on the horse's terms."

Anne Søndergaard finds herself right between two worlds. She is a dressage rider with ambitions of competing, high scores, and red ribbons, yet she also has an eye for horsemanship. These are two niches within equestrian sports that often clash.

"It might seem as if dressage and horsemanship are opposites, but they are not. The tone can become quite sharp, but it's foolish when things are framed that way. In reality, we can all learn a lot from each other if we try to see things positively instead of pointing out each other's weaknesses. Everyone makes mistakes, but as long as you keep practicing, you're on the right path. And ultimately, the goal is to be with the horses in the best possible way," observes Anne Søndergaard, who finds it not at all strange that, as a die-hard dressage enthusiast, she chooses a sheepskin saddle when breaking horses.

"People often ask about that, but I've always been very experimental by nature, and I choose the solution that works. When dealing with the more special horses, you need to think outside the box. And I keep getting smarter and learning new things. That's actually one of the best parts of this job," she asserts.

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Anne Søndergaard originally trained as a schoolteacher but has a great love for horses. Photo: Kunddahl Graphic & Photography


Anne Søndergaard has been the owner of Rock The Pony since October 2019. She is originally trained as a schoolteacher, but the horses continued to draw her in, and eventually, she and her partner Patrick Dorgan realized it was time for her to have her own riding boots under her own table. And they managed to find a wonderful place surrounded by forest, lake, and open fields.

"Patrick is a musician and grew up in the urban areas, so for him, this is something entirely different, but it's going wonderfully. The only problem was just that there was no stable," Anne Søndergaard smiles. Their first thought was to build a stable themselves. But now that the construction is complete, Anne Søndergaard freely admits that building a stable is not so easy, especially if you have big ambitions.

"I had saved up a million kroner (danish currency), so I thought it would be okay. But when the stable was finished, it had cost double. That certainly caused a bit of sweat on the brow. But better that than compromise on quality," she says.

Since Anne Søndergaard first opened the stable door, she has had a waiting list. Photo: Kunddahl Graphic & Photography

And when you step into the stable, it is clear that no compromises were made on anything. The stable houses nine large stalls, the wide stable aisle is paved with rustic tiles, skylights ensure natural light for most of the day, and at each end, a large gate with large window sections offers a fantastic view of the fields and riding arena. The only big item left on Anne Søndergaard's wish list is an indoor riding arena.

"I've been riding all winter, and it can be tough sometimes, but that's just how it is. When the weather has been really bad, I've ridden four horses, gone down to change into dry clothes, and then ridden the rest. For me, puddles and wind are just part of the package, but it's no secret that I really want an indoor riding arena. But first, some money needs to be earned," she concludes.

Anne Søndergaard has a dream job. Photo: Kunddahl Graphic & Photography


When Anne Søndergaard first opened the stable door, all the stalls were booked, and she has had a waiting list ever since. This naturally provides some peace of mind when you have literally bet all your savings.

"I was fortunate that there were customers right from the start, and it's really nice when you've quit your steady job and suddenly depend on whether there are enough customers in the shop," she explains.

"We've really bet everything on this, but it's also my dream job. I just love doing what I do. Every day brings new challenges, and I learn new things every time a new horse comes into the stable."

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