I went to the Birkenhof with the expectation that I would learn the one thing that I least expected to learn and that certainly came to pass. It was the most difficult decision of my life so far to go to Ralf and Sandra. At the time, it meant defying…

…my parents massively and had the consequences of them first being outraged and then not wanting to talk to me and breaking off any contact, as well as cutting me off financially after blackmailing didn’t work. It was already impossible for my family to accept that I would be going to Ralf and Sandra for 6 weeks as was originally planned, but even harder for them to accept that I then discontinued my studies at University and decided to go the path of becoming a Parelli Professional. This is so very far removed from their world and life they had planned for me.

I know my decision hurt them deeply at the time and I hope that one day they can come to understand it. I simply couldn’t take it any longer. I spent every minute I could spare studying Natural Horsemanship and playing with horses. I spent nights and weeks watching videos, taking notes and practicing.

I still have Chemistry lecture notes with Horsenality scribbles on the side. When it came close to a deadline at Uni I would hunker down and study like crazy, whilst it pained me that I could not go see the horses as much as I wanted to and could not watch as many Parelli videos as I would have liked. Once the deadline was over, I immediately went to see the horses and would spend hours after exams just sitting on the meadow with them or going for a trail ride. It’s hard being so torn in two every day all day.

I thought I owed it to my parents to finish any sort of University degree, but at some point I realised that I was heading in a direction that I did not want to go in just to please them. Whilst doing that, I was completely neglecting myself and as a result was quite unhappy and unfulfilled. I used to tell myself that this would all be over after I finished Uni and that I could go to the Parelli University then.

My parents have very different belief systems compared to mine and I always longed for their attention and approval, as every child does. That made it the hardest decision of my life, because I knew there would be a lot of disapproval to put it very politely.

It’s hard to dive into the unknown and uncertain like that. They had cut off my allowance, I had basically no money saved up and had no idea how I was going to finance my six weeks with Ralf and Sandra and keep paying my bills. Once I decided I was going to stay there, I had even less ideas and more panic on how to finance that! However, I knew I had to go. There was something inside that said now or never! So I packed my stuff, bought a train ticket with the last money I had, packed a few clothes and some food my friend gave me as a care package and off I went into uncertainty.

I got to the Birkenhof and threw myself into physical labour to somehow try to deal with the turmoil of emotions and feeling like I had lost my family. I still remember owners of horses telling me a month or so later that their impression of me when I first got there was that I was simply a machine that just kept going and going. I shared my situation with Ralf and Sandra and once the decision was made that I would stay and somehow find my way, things got a little easier and I got happier.

I will be forever grateful to Ralf and Sandra for giving me the feedback that becoming a Parelli Professional is entirely possible, giving me the opportunity to go my own way and for the support in doing so.

So my expectation of learning what I least expected to learn came to pass. I learned to be true to myself, stand up for myself and the life I want to lead and most importantly to listen to my gut and respect my thresholds. This meant learning to say no directly to someone else, which is an incredibly hard thing to do when you have grown up in Asia! This concept was reiterated often during the six months I spent with Ralf and Sandra, not just in this situation with my parents.

Of course I was able to advance my Horsemanship to a whole new level, but much more than that I learned a lot about myself, especially to trust myself more and that I will not die from standing up for myself. People only treat you the way they do, because you let them. It was a hard thing to swallow and even harder to learn to insist upon a certain standard of how you want to be treated as a person. The biggest lesson I learned here was to really believe that I am good enough just the way I am and to say no to people who don’t respect my integrity and limits. It is so very empowering, to learn that lesson! 🙂

Now on to what it means to be a working student for Ralf and Sandra.

Here is a short video Louisa Friedle made whilst we were both working students for Ralf and Sandra. It includes chores and some fun times we had! 😀

My Horsemanship Stats from the Birkenhof

Colt Starts: 2 with a total of 74 hours

Re-Starts: 7 with a total of 266 hours

Other horses: 9 with a total of 173 hours

Total Horsemanship hours logged: 513 within 6 months

Teaching Hours: 99
(These include anything from assisting Ralf or Sandra in Horsemanship courses or lessons, assisting in personal development seminars, teaching the Kids Club, or teaching other working students.)

Regular/Expected Tasks

  • mucking out paddocks and pastures
  • bringing horses for Ralf and Sandra up from pastures and brushing them throughout the day
  • turning horses out again after the day was done
  • prepping horses and all equipment for any demos, trips, etc.
  • clean house and yards
  • prepare and clean rooms for guests
  • gardening
  • office work that included anything from instructor tracking, answering the phone and emails, managing Facebook, to writing and publishing course texts, organising Harley Tours, creating & marketing theory seminars including content, flyers, power point presentations, etc.
  • playing with and riding the re-starts and colt starts that were present at the time
  • creating, organising and teaching the Kids Club (a personal highlight of my time there!)

Occasional Tasks

  • assisting Ralf in personal development seminars for non-horsemanship people
  • assisting Ralf in Parelli Courses
  • helping out at expos such as Americana

Awesome things I got to be a part of

Met Blue and Daylight, two amazing horses who I bonded with quite intensely. These two high tempered  ladies taught me more than all the other horses I got to spend time with whilst at the Birkenhof. To read more about my time with Blue go HERE and to read more about my time with Daylight go HERE.

Met a bunch of incredibly interesting people and built some life-long relationships! From a nuclear physicist, CEOs of big companies, celebrities, to other working students who are now cherished friends, kids who joined the kids club and continuously were the highlight of my week and plenty more.

I very much fell in love with my Kids Club. They are awesome little kids and so natural with the horses.

Attended a full-time two week Summer Camp with the re-starts, colt start and levels horse.

Got to audit several of Ralf’s & Sandra’s lessons with Mitja Hinzpeter, a very successful competitor in the World Cup for Working Equitation and a great teacher!

Got to audit a dressage lesson with Dr. Ritter, who has an incredible feel for Horsenality without knowing the term.

Memorable lessons I learned from Ralf

To know and respect my personal thresholds mentally, emotionally and physically!

The four levels are to teach humans. When you are training horses the checklist becomes your goal. Often enough, however, you will have to take different paths to get to those goals. Sometimes doing higher level tasks in order to achieve lower level tasks with that horse.

To become a much better and more confident rider when it comes to a little speed or the odd bit of bucking and rearing.

To stay confident and a leader whilst being on an unconfident horse.

What it means to ride with focus.

Memorable lessons I learned from Sandra

What it means to have, play and ride with willpower.

How to better read horses and deduce their Horsenality. In particular when it comes to Introverts who move their feet A LOT, but do so due to learned behaviour.

That things are often not as black and white as we might want them to be.

To aim higher, sooner in my Horsemanship journey.

She has this amazing way of instilling confidence and relaxation in you when she teaches. I hope one day I can instil that in my students as good as she can.

That I am a Left-Brain Extrovert, not a Right Brain Extrovert!!! 😛

I am excited to start my next working student position in Ireland with Chris** & Sarah** Brady and this time focusing even more on advancing my Horsemanship.




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