This story begins, appropriately with Story, a Hannoverian (a German horse named after the Hannover region in Germany) on which a young Canadian equestrian with big dreams was honing her dressage skills in the summer of 2006.
Monica Houweling was 13 years old that summer in British Columbia, when she was introduced to Dirk Stroda's PeakPerformance Mental Coaching†, featuring some of HeartMath's techniques. Like all riders, Monica knew her success depended on building a bond with her horse and she discovered a powerful technique to achieve that.
The PeakPerformance program helped her learn how "to build a strong, trustful relationship … by maintaining balance and coherence," Monica wrote of her experience. "I learned that when I kept myself balanced, Story felt more comfortable with me and he wanted to be around me more. In the beginning stages of learning how to balance myself, I used (HeartMath's) Heart Lock-In to improve that balance."
Monica related the story of her moment of breakthrough:
"One day after I had spent some time in the Heart Lock-In, I decided to go out to Story's field and see how he would react to my balance and coherence. As I neared his field, I could see that the horses sensed something different about me. All of a sudden they all came over towards me and wanted to be around me. I guess the horses liked my balance and could feel content around me. This was a very touching moment for me because I realized how much we can affect our horses' behavior and attitude by just staying coherent. This was one of those necessary situations that confirmed that locking-in and staying coherent does indeed make a difference."
To be fair, the first signs of Monica's future path were evident at a much earlier age, she told the nonprofit group British Columbia Young Riders Dressage. She said she was 2 years old when she became "a horse fanatic" and persuaded her parents to allow her to first sit on a horse.
"By the time I was four years old I was allowed to trot and canter," Monica said, and she was already dreaming of bigger things. She got her first pony when she was 8 and they were off and practicing dressage in no time.
Though she had formed a strong relationship with Story and loved him, he was holding her back, Monica was told, so began training with a Dutch warmblood gelding.
"At first I was literally frightened of my new horse, Stentano," Monica said. "All I could think of was, 'He is so tall, his feet are so big and I feel so little.' It took me awhile to find the courage to trust him. Fortunately, I remembered that staying balanced and coherent would help … build a strong, trustworthy relationship." Winning championships at every Federation Equestre International event she entered, Monica now was living her early dreams. While she and Stentano were training to qualify for Canada's National Youth Championships, to be held in Alberta in September 2007, Monica shared her written thoughts with the HeartMath Institute:
"After experiencing this balance and coherence for myself, I certainly do realize how helpful it is to understand Dirk Stroda's PeakPerformance," she said. "It's not called PeakPerformance for nothing! I strongly believe this way of controlling your balance and coherence is useful for anyone. … I believe everyone can learn from this program how to control yourself and maintain a balanced and coherent level throughout life. I have been able to apply this skill that I have learned to all aspects of my life. A big area where being balanced helps is with my schoolwork. I put so much effort into school, sometimes I go crazy and this is when I look towards the PeakPerformance to keep me calm and balanced."
So, to bring the story of the exuberant little girl who couldn't wait to get on a horse to a close — for now — on Feb. 9, 2008, a national awards banquet was held. Among others honored by Equine Canada was the Canadian Federation Equestre International's national children's champion of 2007: Monica Houweling.
† Dirk Stroda founded CanCore Consulting Group in Kelowna, British Columbia and is a liscensed 1 on 1 HeartMath Provider. He has been coaching high performance athletes for the last 25 years and is currently coaching world-class athletes, Olympic athletes and World Champions in North America and Europe. You can contact Dirk Stroda at firstname.lastname@example.org.