Bali’s Tropical ‘Horse Whisperer’

By webadmin on 10:33 pm Jul 12, 2012
Category Archive

Katrin Figge

Tucked away between Ubud and Kintamani on the island of Bali, and not known to many, lies a sanctuary for horses. Established and run by Serena Hitchcock, often referred to as “Bali’s horse whisperer,” the sanctuary provides a temporary home for horses that have been mistreated or traumatized.

Hitchcock , a soft-spoken woman originally from England, can look back at 36 years of training horses.

“I just loved horses, from the beginning,” she said. “My bedroom was covered with pictures of horses, all the walls and even the ceiling. Supposedly, I had a kidney defect, so for 10 years I was in and out of hospitals, and my mum didn’t allow me to ride until I was actually 10.”

But once Hitchcock took her first riding lesson there was no going back. After leaving school, she took a horse master and instructor exam with the British Horse Society, and over the years, Hitchcock did it all: dressage, show jumping, cross-country; basically every field of horsemanship there is.

“After working in all these different fields, I started to feel that something was missing between horse and rider,” she said. “I lost my passion to teach and train because it felt like something wasn’t connecting.”

Following another passion of hers, traveling, Hitchcock decided to go to India on the recommendation of friends. In the end, she stayed much longer than she had initially planned.

“I bought 11 horses and lived in the jungle for almost four years,” Hitchcock said. It was there, in the Himalayas, that she first learned a very different way of dealing with the horses.

“The horses never wear a bridle on their head because it’s dangerous if they carry a load,” she said. “I decided to let the horse do whatever he needed to do on the particular tracks through the mountain area. One horse is the lead horse and if you’re at the back and have 11 horses in front of you, you have to have a connection to the lead horse, whether you want him to go left, right or stop.”

The experience in India lay the foundation for Hitchcock’s changed perception on how to interact with horses. After a short stint back in England, Hitchcock went to Australia.

“Everywhere I go, I somehow end up with horses,” she said. “For some reason, we always find each other. In Australia, I was given a couple of horses to look after, and I lived in the rainforest.”

It was also in Australia that she met her mentor and trainer, Henri Gerard Bouzar — an encounter that would change her life.

“It was a surprise meeting at a supermarket,” she recalled. “My intuition told me that I had to speak to him. Within minutes, I recognized that what he was telling was that connection that I had felt was missing between horse and rider.”

Hitchcock studied with the Frenchman for three months but had to leave Australia when her visa ran out. That is how she ended up in Bali.

“I had no money, two kids, and a one-way ticket to England with a stopover in Bali,” she said. “I instantly liked Bali. I went all around the island, visited all the riding schools and asked for a job. Somebody on the north coast eventually asked me if I wanted to be a trekking guide.”

This was almost 14 years ago. Hitchcock had her own riding school for three and a half years in West Bali before starting to train and teach at the sanctuary.

Ever since Hitchcock set foot in Bali, she has rarely left the island, except for a handful of visits to Java and Singapore, and three years ago when she went back to England to visit her family and hold a seminar. “The first couple of days I felt like I was being in a movie,” Hitchcock recalled. “I was shocked, I couldn’t believe that all those people were actually speaking English.”

Back in Bali, Hitchcock invited Bouzar to come visit her on the island, so she could gain more knowledge from him about his method of working with horses, called “the missing link.”

“The actual training I am doing with horses is an old knowledge that has been lost for over 400 years. This method connects the horse and the rider together, so you become one,” Hitchcock explained.

The link between horse and rider comes through the right balance. The traditional way, which is taught to riders all over the world, and often includes kicking and whipping, makes the horse become off balance, as does the standard gear such as a bit, bridle, martingales and spurs.

All this equipment serves only one purpose: to let the human control the horse. But instead, it can cause lasting damage to a horse’s body and also his mind, since he is put under pressure and forced to do whatever the rider wants. It is the same “traditional” method that Hitchcock had learned in England.

“Imagine, 23 years of experience was out the window within 20 minutes when I met Henri,” she said, laughing.

The method that Hitchcock has since used when training horses lets her undo the damage and rebalance the horse. It is based on the chakra system, which can be applied to humans as well as animals, according to Hitchcock , and is about creating a direct channel from the horse to the rider and vice versa.

“When rebalancing a horse, automatically when you work through the body, all the tensions and trauma start from the mouth,” Hitchcock explained. “If the damage in the mouth is undone, the damage through the rest of the body will also disappear. When the horse is balanced physically, it will also work mentally and emotionally. The horse becomes much more relaxed, patient and obedient.”

Instead of using the standard equipment, Hitchcock only works with a soft, light bit, a saddle for riding and a bitless head collar for training. Other techniques include equine acupressure, shiatsu massage and natural medicine.

“If you use this method, the horse will give you anything you ask for,” Hitchcock said. “If you train a horse the traditional way for the Olympics, it can take six years, but with this method, if done correctly, you can do it within three months.”

But the most important thing for Hitchcock is to “free the horse from the barbaric treatment that it’s been receiving as long as we can remember. I want to give the horse back its honor.”

To make her method known to a wider audience, she has been working on a film with Bouzar that she hopes will find its way to YouTube soon. She is also planning to open an Academy of Artistic Equitation — the highest form of equestrian education — for both demonstrations and teaching. She wants to do so in honor of Bouzar, who resurrected this old knowledge.

“I would like to perfect it further and put it into a detailed, yet simple way, so everybody can understand,” she said.

Hitchcock is often asked to come look at horses that are deemed uncontrollable and dangerous. But even when she finds herself facing an unpredictable horse, she knows exactly what to do — there are certain ways to approach a frightened or aggressive horse without making him feel threatened, and it’s all in the body language.

“Instantly, I can take the most dangerous horse,” Hitchcock said. “Within 10 minutes, he’s got his head on my feet, saying ‘thank God, somebody finally understands.’ When the horses realize that I’m not forcing or threatening, they really like it, and their brain starts to wake up and they become so willing and try to prove themselves and help you.”

Hitchcock is well aware that she leads an usual, unconventional life, but wouldn’t want to have it any other way. “I was born to do this,” she said. 

For more information, contact Serena Hitchcock at 0812 3632984 or horsease@yahoo.co.uk