Photos by Kip Mistral
When Ellen Schuthof read one of my articles about Iberian horses and classical dressage, one of the first things she explained to me was how her passion for classical riding and the Spanish horse was inspired in a daydream. Then, with her characteristic generosity, she immediately invited me to visit her and her Andalusian horses in Holland and even travel with them to Denmark for a summer clinic.
Of course I had no choice but to go, so impressed was I by the long, ongoing Whos Who list of classical European trainers with whom she has studied. (In fact, only this year she rode at the Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre in Jerez, Spain, in a two-week technical course.) I was particularly fascinated because she had explained that throughout all her explorations, her quest has been to find gentle methods of handling and training a horse that condition him to be exquisitely light and flexible in the hand, whether on the ground or in the saddle. Everything she did was to win and keep the horses trust. And as I spent the first two weeks with Ellen and saw her with her Andalusian stallions, traveling and living with them, I saw for myself that the result of this sensitive handling of them is a kind of horse-human relationship of such reciprocal love, admiration and trust that it is unequalled in my observation. Her truly classical horsemanship is gaining great attention in Holland in the Iberian circles, and her unique rapport with horses has become my ideal.
As creative partners in our Reigning Artists publishing venture, international fashion and advertising photographer TC Reiner and I wanted to shoot Ellen and one of her Andalusian stallions for our Women and Stallions book and photographic project. TC and I converged with Ellen at her home and equestrian facility Stal El Paradiso in the countryside near Amsterdam this summer. Ellen chose the locations with great thought and even greater feeling.
I already knew that our first shoot location, the prestigious Hollandsche Manege in Amsterdam, has a great sentimental value to Ellen. The Manege was built as a private riding school in 1882 as a small copy of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Years ago, as a young girl growing up in Amsterdam, Ellen had kept her horses at the Manege and taken jumping and dressage lessons there. Yet, in her inner eye, in that hall she was performing high school dressage on a beautiful, baroque horse a white stallion. This fantasy - this dream - became a powerful metaphor in her equestrian life. Many adventures later, the grown-up Ellen has three magnificent pure Spanish stallions and trains other Spanish and Portuguese stallions for clients. She chose her very special stallion Pícaro to carry her on her journey back to the Manege, and Amsterdam, where her dream of the Spanish horse began.
On this, my third visit to Ellen and her husband Thom before TC joined us, I had enjoyed watching her preparing her beautiful clothing for the upcoming shoot. She already had a boutique French silk ruffled blouse, velvet and velour riding jackets, a brown wool greatcoat lined with cherry satin for cold weather, and multiple sets of beautiful breeches and tall boots. But I was not surprised to see, that late at night after I went to bed, she was working over her dressmakers dummy, cutting up a long black velvet dress, efficiently gauging, cutting and piecing black velvet together and trimming it with copper-colored ribbon, black lace and intricate antiqued buttons. In the early morning of the shoot at the Manege, I was earliest to rise in the sleeping house. As I tiptoed out to the kitchen to make my coffee, I saw that Ellens costume for her return to the Hollandsche Manege was at last finished and falling in folds from the dummys form. For me, it was better than Christmas. Early morning light illuminated the glowing velvet of an elegant short jacket with shawl collar and long sleeves, and a divided riding skirt tied at the waist to drape over breeches and tall boots. If you knew Ellen, this costume said everything about her and the richness of her vision.
And that day, Ellens young-girl dream of riding her own proud Spanish stallion in her childhood riding school came true as in her self-styled black velvet riding habit she rode once again into the Manege arena. Ellen had reserved the arena for two hours for the shoot so she and Pícaro were alone in it, and they seemed to float through the air together. The Amsterdam sun filtered down on them through the tall windows, and the arena, which has very good acoustics, was filled with the soft Spanish and classical music Ellen had brought to provide an accompaniment to their dance. Several people came in off the street, following the sound of music drifting outside the Manege and were watching the lovely sight of the woman and stallion dancing.
TC commented in a quiet moment that, while horses are certainly beautiful animals, rarely is a breed as photogenic as the Andalusian. It's like comparing a supermodel to the average person on the street, he said. Andalusians seem to be gifted from the start when it comes to being photographed. And Pícaro was such a star and a bit of a ham he immediately felt the gaze of the camera and took it upon himself that every time he would go by TC and his camera that he should rear, dozens of times, all on his own. I have never seen anything like it. Tears came to my eyes because it was so clear that Picaro was offering with all his heart to give everything he understood to give to Ellen, to lift her up and carry her, to take the two of them together to a new, beautiful place. If I had not seen it - as much as I believe in the potential of the horse-human relationship - I couldnt have imagined a horse would think of doing what he was trying to do for her. And the expressions on Ellens face smiling, laughing out loud, the joy, made me think of Ellens dream coming true. The fruit of Pícaros trust of her brought them full circle, together, to arrive back where Ellen had started so many years before.
I followed along behind Ellen, Pícaro and TC all day, trying to help and stay out of the way at the same time. Ellen wanted to go across the street to the Vondelpark, the most famous park in Amsterdam, where in the 1960s hippies lived and slept there during the days of flower power. In those days when she kept her horses at the Manege, she would ride along the bridle trail all the way around the park, among the flowers and trees. As we walked along the street toward the park, among the bicycles, Pícaro took everything in but was very quiet, which surprised me since normally he is so excitable. TC posed them on top of a bridge, and Pícaro stood there so proudly. Ellen told me later that she was almost overwhelmed by this feeling of being in the park again, but with Pícaro. She said it felt like it was their moment.
On the way home, we stopped at a part of the Forest of Holland where Ellen could ride Pícaro in a natural setting. She tried to ride him into a shallow waterway, but he would have none of it, so she took off her tall boots and in her bare feet led him into the water. He played and splashed in the water, and like most horses would was getting himself ready to roll with all his baroque tack on before she stopped him.
The next day we drove with Pícaro to Het Slot Zeist estate about an hour from Ellens house. This is an aristocratic 17th century mansion that is now open to the public for occasions such as weddings. As the day before in the Manege, when Pícaro would pass TCs camera, he leaped in the air, but he started doing an untrained version of the single courbette! He was getting more and more enthusiastic with the jumping so at one point it was getting hard to stop him. TC later commented that it was "interesting" having Ellen and the 1,000 pound Pícaro air-bound only a few feet away from the camera, but then he knew she was one of the best horsewomen in Europe. TC really caught their exuberance in this issues cover photo!
After we were home I asked Ellen if the places she took us to represented something typically Dutch to her. She told me that the locations where she took us told something about her. We could have been in Germany or France and she would have chosen the same kind of places. I adopted classical and baroque training methods years ago in search of the same values that the old masters had, she said. With the old buildings, we can be with something ancient, like being with an old soul. With the baroque horses such as the Andalusian, we are riding the same kind of horses used in those old times. I see the beauty that is already there in the old times, the old places and the old ways for myself, and I want to keep it alive in my life.
Horse Connection August 2006 issue online for our first article about
Contact Ellen Schuthof at www.stalparadiso.nl
Contact Kip Mistral at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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