By Tafra Donberger
Photos by Lori Ovanessian
Teaching has always come naturally to Caroline Hoffman, whose innate ability to share her talents in dressage started early — as early as her own developmental years learning how to ride in Sweden, where she was born and raised.
At Säby Riding Academy, 10-year-old Caroline participated in the program with younger riders, which allowed for her to have extra time in the saddle. Her natural love of teaching continued into college, when she came to the United States to attend Averett University as part of their equestrian team. She established Caroline Hoffman Dressage shortly after college and now, at Lionheart Ranch in Agoura Hills, California, she drives a successful program that incorporates the love of animals with fundamental basics and a special body awareness program to train students to be the best they can be.
Developing Her Program
Caroline’s journey started with an early love of horses. She was only 4 when she first climbed aboard a pony at Skansen, an open-air museum and zoo in Stockholm, Sweden. At 5, she was taking lessons at Säby, where the love for horses was developed alongside the responsibility of caring for and working with the horses.
Her first pony, Little C, was known for being difficult at the sale barn where she had been working, but Caroline felt a connection with him. When the pony came up for sale, she worked to purchase him. “He was quite difficult,” Caroline recalled. “I learned responsibility and a lot of feel for the horse. You had to be very tactful with him.” Her earliest coach, Karin Öhman, introduced Caroline to dressage with Little C, and as she approached college, she knew she wanted to continue in equine sports.
She found what she needed at Avarett — a combination of an equestrian and business program so she could double major. “In the program, you learned everything from nutrition to anatomy. To graduate, you had to ride a certain level in three-day eventing,” Caroline said. The school also allowed its students to participate in starting and training the young horses, and while there, she began teaching private lessons.
“Teaching comes naturally to me,” Caroline said. “Sharing knowledge and educating my students and horses in dressage is what gives me purpose and makes me happy!”
Even as a well-established teacher, she never quit pursuing more knowledge for herself, training with Volker Brommann, Morten Thompson, Christine Traurig and Sabine Schut-Kery, who is a close friend and mentor.
“She’s so kind,” Sabine said. “She is incredible that way. She’s very positive and she looks at everything in a positive way. It’s her personality that makes her such a good teacher, combined with her knowledge.”
Besides her love of teaching, Caroline is a competitive person. Her first pet, a guinea pig, led her to owning rabbits and participating in competitive rabbit jumping (“It’s big in Sweden!” she said). That later led to showing both horses and dogs competitively, though the canines fell away after college as she pursued her dressage goals.
One of her most memorable early mounts was Markant, with whom she attained her USDF gold medal and showed at the Grand Prix level. “He’s like a white unicorn,” Caroline said with a laugh. “He wasn’t the easiest, but he was a horse that impacted my life.”
After Markant came Distinguido Trujillo, a PRE stallion owned by Marcelino del Real, whom Caroline calls her “heart horse.” “Distinguido has a charismatic, regal presence,” she explained. “You have to earn his trust and respect. Once you have that, he’ll do anything for you! He’s schooling at the Prix St. Georges level, and I believe he will be a very competitive FEI horse.” Also in her barn is Maximus ARM, another PRE stallion owned by Raul Armendariz. Once the show schedules return to normal, Caroline plans to begin competing with him.
Caroline recently revived her interest in showing dogs, returning successfully to the show ring with her Toy Fox Terrier GCH CH Ultra Quest Walk On Top, who took Best of Breed at Westminster in 2017. King Louie, as Caroline calls him, has earned many titles with Caroline at the leash.
Though vastly different creatures, Caroline finds that showing dogs is similar to showing horses in that it rests in the ability to perform together, using your skills in communication to adjust to what happens in the ring.
“To do that successfully, you have to have a great bond and working relationship,” she said. “Obviously showing horses is much more physical and tiring, and in many ways harder than showing dogs. The reward of doing well at a show is amazing, but the day-to-day riding and training brings so much happiness!”
Mind and Body
In addition to her skills in the saddle and in a dog’s show pen, Caroline is also a certified Gyrotonic® instructor. “Practicing the Gyrotonic® Method taught me how to connect with my body in a way where I can articulate each body part and move it without resistance,” she explained. “Learning to move this way has been invaluable in my riding.”
With a basis in the principles of yoga, dance, tai chi and swimming, the Gyrotonic® method increases freedom of movement and agility, and Caroline has experienced its benefits for herself and her students. “My clients that practice Gyrotonic® are often able to improve their riding faster, since they aren’t spending as much time fixing a problem they have with their seat or applying an aid,” she said. “Using the breath, the work teaches you how to connect your body, mind and spirit through very specific movements. The goal is to connect all parts of you, and in doing so, a very natural and deep form of focus occurs.”
Loving Iberian Breeds
Caroline has found a niche in taking the Iberian breeds like Andalusians, Lusitano and PRE to the higher levels in dressage, though she accepts all breeds into her program. But as many of the horses she’s been successful with — as in multiple Andalusian World Cup overall dressage championships — are Iberian breeds, you could say she has a fondness for them.
“I really feel a connection with them,” Caroline said. “They’re really special horses, really smart and sensitive. They learn fast, they’re mostly level-headed. They invite that connection with them, are athletic and comfortable to ride. And they’re gorgeous on top of it!”
While most dressage arenas are dominated with warmbloods, Caroline enjoys bringing the Iberian breeds into the open dressage arenas, with the goal to take her mounts into the CDI rings.
“Horses are my number one passion,” Caroline said. “I’ve been lucky to have been able to develop that passion into my career!”
For more information, visit www.carolinehoffmandressage.com/ and @carolinehoffmandressage
Photos by Lori Ovanessian, simpleefocused.com, @simplee.focused
Photo shoot at Patigoniaproperties
patigoniaproperties.com and Steve Vai’s Recording studio, the Harmony Hut.
Makeup by Victor Castillo, @makeittoglow and hair by Frank Diaz, @frankd322