When life hands you lemons you’re supposed to make lemonade right? But what about when it hands you Great Big Bulldozer Lemons? Then what? Today I want to tell you about someone who got smacked down by the Bulldozer Lemons and just came right back up. His name is Eddo Hoekstra. Before the lemons landed Eddo was a Grand Prix dressage rider and competitor. The lemons crushed some of his dreams but not all. Eddo now coaches other riders and helps them achieve their equestrian dreams. He travels all over the USA and Canada giving clinics to riders of all ages and stages.
“I like to see the pretty pictures,” he says. “When I see horse and rider in harmony these are the pretty pictures. When I can help a horse and rider to achieve this that is what motivates me. I don’t like to spend time in airports but that’s how I get to see happy horses and build skills for the riders to do it themselves.”
It is not hard to understand why Eddo doesn’t like airports. In 2012 he had a Stage 7 stroke that affected the left side of his body. But he continued to ride. The following year he fell from his horse and broke his hip. Then as a side effect of a medication he had a subdural bleed on the left side of his brain The final lemon to whack him was a seizure. “I don’t know what happened. I woke up in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.” And now…?
“Now I am here talking with you,” he says with a smile as we sit over a hot chocolate and a coffee in a small café in Southern Ontario. I am lucky that Eddo has had a delay in getting his work visa for the USA this winter as it meant he had time to meet with me. Usually he would be travelling every other weekend to give a clinic and when he is not travelling he likes to be at home with his wife Tammy and five year old daughter Hanna.
Eddo was advised by the doctors to never ride again. He did not listen to that. “I’d rather fail trying than regret not trying,” he says. And he now rides twice a week on his retired, 25 year old, Grand Prix dressage horse Razzi. ” I can’t use my left leg or arm but I can give him clues and he can guess what I want. He likes his job now. I’m lucky if I know where my left leg and arm are but Razzi thinks it’s a game. ” Here is Eddo competing with Razzi (Rasputin) before the lemons hit.
Eddo’s doctors and therapists thought he should get an electric wheelchair after his stroke but he had a different idea. Students from his clinics in the US and Canada raised money for a wheelchair but Eddo asked them if he could use the funds to get a farm utility vehicle instead. They agreed. “I chose one that I could get onto with practice. Then I could help the staff at my barn with getting the hay. I’m still using it. In the summer I can take it, drive to the corner of a hayfield, turn it toward the sun and eat my lunch. It makes me feel human.”
I met Eddo nineteen years ago. My daughter, Breanne, who was 10 at the time, had been to a week of riding camp and she pestered me relentlessly to find her somewhere to ride. I myself had not ridden for 30 years. We went to look at a couple of stables and I did not like the look of either of them. Then we saw Hoekstra Dressage. The barn was well managed and the staff told us Eddo was strict and had done his formal training in Germany where he had achieved his Bereiter qualification. A friend had told me this was the equivalent of horse riding university so I took it seriously. I signed Breanne up for lessons.
It was marvelous. He had a school horse that would slow down or stop the minute a little rider started to loose balance. Eddo had Breanne ride one day in a saddle and the next day with just a vaulting surcingle. He had her play games; timing her as she rode from one side of the arena to the other. She learned how to vault off and to vault on the little schoolie horse.
Within a year we had a 17 year old Appendix Quarter Horse, Tradie, for Breanne and I was riding two days a week. Here are two photos of Breanne having a lesson with Eddo on Tradie. Eddo is demonstrating a movement to Breanne and you will notice he has Breanne riding without stirrups!
I was shocked when I learned Eddo had suffered a stroke. When it happened I was no longer spending the summer in Eddo’s neighbourhood so I was not seeing him on a regular basis. But on social media I learned of the fundraising campaigns. I got one of the t-shirts that a group in Texas had made specially for their fundraiser. It said:
“Create more . Control less.”
I thought I knew what that meant. Intellectually I did know but it took me another two years and riding Biasini to fully realize what that phrase meant.
I will be dedicating a second post to Eddo in which I will be passing on to you some of the remarkable wisdom he gives his students. Words to live by and to ride by.