My name is Nathalie van der Woord-Smith. I am the instructor and owner of the Equestrian Learning Center LLC.
I have successfully completed a 4-year education in animal sciences in my country of origin (The Netherlands). This included a 2-year specialization in management & education, as well as several internships, which among others, were at a riding stables; a petting zoo and a wildlife park. At the wildlife park I had the privilege to work with Prezwalski horses (the last surviving subspecies of wild horses).
Jennifer Gracin Photography, Prattville AL
After graduation I accepted a full-time position as an animal technician at a breeding facility. For the last 15 years of my employment with this company I held the position of supervisor and in this capacity I was transferred to Alabama in 2006. When the facility in Alabama closed they retained my services for almost a year, to help write a company training manual for global use.
Knowing that my time with the company was coming to an end I picked up a few lessons and discovered my passion for teaching students of all ages the joys of horseback riding. There is just nothing more rewarding to me, than to see a student “get it” and to see them progress with each lesson. It was only natural to make the switch to full time instructor and to have my own place in the end.
Other relevant experiences and achievements
- 12 years as a volunteer horse camp counselor for the YMCA in the Netherlands.
- Successfully completed the OSHA 10-hour General Industry Safety and Health course.
The internship at the riding stables resulted in my addiction to horses. I was about 19 yrs when I started taking lessons and began fostering a horse (picture on the right). Taking lessons in the Netherlands almost always means learning to ride English dressage (and jumping), as there are only a handful of western stables in the country. The English hunter/jumper style that is so popular here in the US, is not practiced in the Netherlands.
Learning to ride was not easy for me, the feeling of losing control and being at the mercy of this big, powerful, amazing animal was terrifying. However, I stuck with it and as I gained experience & control my confidence increased. When I became a horse owner I continued to take weekly lessons and started to do a lot of trail riding. Early on it was clear that the official dressage competitions where not for me (too much waiting and not enough action). Exceptions were made for the occasional competitions held at our own riding club.
In 1999 I did my first weekend trail ride in France and was instantly hooked. Many more followed, including a spectacular week trekking through the Pyrenees mountains as well as a cattle drive in Montana.
In 2004 I was introduced to endurance (long distance at speed). What started out as a means to ride different trails quickly became a competitive passion. If I had not moved to Alabama in 2006 I would still be competing. Unfortunately there are not many endurance competitions in this area, maybe one of these days there will be an opportunity for me to resume competing.
In Alabama I learned about barrel racing. The combination of speed control with precision steering and balance is fun. Eventhough barrel racing will never be my favorite, I do feel that it is a great training exercise for every kind of student.
Out of all the different western disciplines, it is the western dressage that I personally enjoy the most.