The book"Alchemy: Transform your Horse in Lightness" is available at Dorothy Brown's Fine Things, Shenandoah Animal Hospital, Four-Star Printing and the Cup & Crumpet. Copies are also available through Bertschinger directly at Classicus Farm by calling 459-8591. For more news about Classicus Farm, including a workshop scheduled for September, go online to www.classicusfarm.com.
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By Jessica Wiant -- firstname.lastname@example.org
EDINBURG -- Leave it to a former high school English teacher turned horse trainer to come up with such a fitting title for her book.
The alchemy in "Alchemy: Transform your Horse in Lightness" refers to the ancient notion of converting metal to gold. It's something like the transformation that takes place when one works with horses, according to Linda Bertschinger.
Sitting on a sofa in her home, a picture window looking onto the indoor horse arena and a cat napping by her side, she pointed to the differences between the cats that freely roam the farm and the 1,000-pound horses that she trains.
"The amazing thing is that they [the horses] allow us to do these things," she said. "Because of that we should have a lot of respect for them."
Bertschinger went to Strasburg High School and first chose the education field, returning to teach English there for several years, but she grew up with horses, as well, graduating from stick ponies to real ones and then the big guys as a teenager.
In her mid-30s, Bertschinger, now 51, took a huge leap of faith by packing up and moving to California for a year to study under the person who inspired her: trainer and author Dominique Barbier.
It was a decision that took some divine guidance, she said.
"I'm on my path of doing what I'm supposed to be doing," she said, even though there's been nothing easy about it.
She studied classical dressage in the Portuguese and French tradition with emphasis on another word in her book's title: lightness.
She traveled as a trainer for a time, and eventually leased the farm where she has lived and worked since 1999, on Chapman Landing Road in Edinburg. She calls it Classicus. There she has nine horses of her own -- many rescued, some used for when she's teaching -- along with several cats.
When Bertschinger returned to Virginia and embarked on her own training career, she continued her focus on lightness as the "upper echelon of what you would seek in training and riding," she said.
It isn't the top goal in all schools of horse training, she said, but it is something that any horse can benefit from. In fact, she works with all kinds of horses, who compete in different types of events, and even pleasure horses that don't compete at all.
Bertschinger describes lightness as a rider using minimal contact on the rein, with a horse that is balanced and collected and is connected mentally with the rider while performing movements.
"It's just an experience that is beautiful," she said.
And though the idea might sound lofty or frivolous, she said, she believes it's important to seek to raise yourself to a higher level, whether or not you reach it.
The work that Bertschinger does is often therapeutic, for both the horse and the rider.
Bertschinger says it is important to be sensitive to each horse's different background and personality because riding is a 50-50 partnership with the animal.
You cannot change the nature of a horse, she says, but you can attempt to modify its behavior.
But it isn't just the horse that is being transformed.
"I'm tempering the horses ... at the same time it's giving me that experience," she said. "Not only am I trying to perform alchemy, I hope to have alchemy performed on me."
At the same time, a horse is just like a person, you have to understand it and treat it according to its emotional issues, she said, and each one is different and has its baggage.
At Classicus, Bertschinger boards some horses, and keeps others while they are being trained. She sometimes hosts weekend workshops or has clients as overnight guests. She trains five days. The farm maintains a relaxed, rustic feel, and her training is more about helping a horse achieve balance as a whole than getting them ready for a specific discipline.
As for writing the book, it was an idea that she'd always had but was intimidated by.
Eventually, she said, "I decided maybe I did have something to say."
It took her two years to put the self-published book together. The result -- the copies she just received a couple of weeks ago -- she hopes will be both informative and inspirational.
The book outlines Bertschinger's teaching philosophy, along with practical pointers and lots of photographs. It also tells the stories behind some of her horses and how she trained them.
While the book does offer a lot of instruction, Bertschinger said she wanted it to have a coffee-table book appearance, too.
"The whole thing has been quite a journey," she said. "It's more beautiful than I had imagined."