Ellen Kok

Photographer and Writer
 
A Very Personal Animal
Location: New Hampshire, USA
Nationality: Netherlands
Biography: Ellen Kok is a photographer and writer from the Netherlands, who combines photo essays with written stories. She builds long-lasting relationships with her subjects, often following them for years. Her photography is based on trust and intimacy.... MORE
Public Story
A Very Personal Animal
Copyright Ellen Kok 2022
Updated Mar 2021
Location The Netherlands
Topics Animals, Documentary, Girls and Horses, Photography, Teens, The Netherlands, Youth
Stroking, brushing, adoring, riding—horses do have an amazing appeal to girls. Between the ages of playing with dolls and having crushes on boys, they devote themselves completely to those huge four-leggeds.

In the afternoon, after school, you see them biking through the Dutch polder. There can be no mistake: this is a horse girl. Wearing riding boots, blond hair bound in a ponytail under a black riding cap and on the bicycle rack a plastic case with grooming gear: brushes, combs and the indispensable horse hoof pick. On her way to riding school De Morgenstond (Early Morning Time) in Woerden, De Polderruiters (The Polder Riders) in Vlist, De Uiterwaardse (The Water Meadow) in Oudewater or Het Weidepad (The Meadow Path) in Linschoten. But you can also meet them in the city. Between two rows of houses in downtown Amsterdam they ride in the outdoor ring of De Hollandsche Manege (Holland Riding School).

Why they are so attracted to horses, they still struggle to explain when they are between the ages of 6 and 16. But when you ask horse girls who are already grown up, and often don’t ride anymore, about that adolescent love, strong memories resurface.

Lara (30): “Even now when I smell the scent of a horse’s sweat and hide, I get butterflies in my stomach. Kind of a mixture of excitement and fear of those huge animals, that you somehow have to be able to master. In the beginning I was afraid that the horse would bite my butt while I was brushing it. But once you get over that, you relax and everything is much more fun. Suddenly you have a loyal, unconditional friend. You are often so intensely uncertain about yourself at that age, but with an animal like a horse, you can be at ease. A horse is a very personal animal. When it accepts you, that’s an enormous boost to your self-esteem. You also learn to ride better when you get to know a horse through and through. To form a unity with this kind of creature is extremely rewarding.”

Alexandra (42): “They say it's good for your psychological development—breaking the bond with your mother and moving on to horses. But why is it then that you mostly see girls in riding schools and hardly any boys? Don't they feel the need to sever the link with their mother? A horse is a combination of force and energy and an enormous amount of sensitivity. That is what attracted me so much. Horses also have that free will to surrender, no other animal is so willing. It's instinctual, wanting to follow the leader; ultimately they are herd animals. At home and at school you are controlled by parents, and teachers, and rules, but with horses, you are the leader.”
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A Very Personal Animal by Ellen Kok
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