WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY?
What makes you happy, makes you love life and enjoy it for what it gives you? Over the last couple of years, I have been giving serious consideration to how to live life, and what it is that makes me happy and, conversely, what makes me feel uncomfortable, stressed and not my best.
My name is Johanna Stiernstedt. I'm Swedish, and since the beginning of October, I've been living in Spain working with horses – my big love – at La Donaira.
I think that many of us are tempted to make a change in life when we get the feeling that something is not right or good for us, but also that most of us are afraid of changes and of not knowing what’s around the corner. This has been bothering me for some years. It took time to figure out what was wrong and where to go, but once that was clear, I did it: I jumped to something completely new without knowing what it will give me.
So here's the start of my story, let's see where it goes!
I was born in 1966, in Knivsta, Sweden and grew up in the country, surrounded by horses at our family farm. I rode my first pony, Raija, a dark brown Shetland pony at the age of three, and ever since then, horses have been a very important part of my life. As a teenager, I did show-jumping, turned to dressage, and then trained as a stable manager in Flyinge (Lund) before working within the profession for six years in Ireland, England, Denmark and Germany. I have competed at events, but that’s not the primary goal for me. I’m happiest when simply experiencing nature from horseback, enjoying the company of horses and the feeling of mutual trust.
I had my first 'life turn' just before turning 30. I left my four-legged friends for a 4-year master's degree at Umeå University, studying environmental health and science. Afterwards, I worked as a quality manager in the food production industry for 20 years, living first in Malmö, then Stockholm.
During those years of city living, I missed the peacefulness that's important to me. But sometimes you just keep going, partly because you think it’s right and partly because you're afraid of leaving security, salary, nice apartment, holidays at resorts and the designer wardrobe a steady career can give you.
Until that is, you reach the point when thoughts about changing direction walk in, take hold of your brain and just don’t leave! And when your body starts to tell you 'take some care of me! Be kinder! I need a rest!' – and not just a temporary rest like a weekend, but something more sustainable.
So I made some changes. I got a nice job as head of quality within our Nordic Farmer Cooperation, moved out from Stockholm and, after 20 years, started riding again. I bought a lovely 7-year-old mare called Topless and, after work, used to go out to the stable, and up in the saddle. It gave me some time to breathe again, but I was still working long days, weekends and travelling a lot for work, and still, something was missing: my roots – space, air, quietness, more horses.
I wanted to get off the road I was stuck on, but I didn't know how to do it, and I didn't have the courage.
Until I read about La Donaira, a place where you could practice dressage and hacking with Lusitanos while staying in a lovely-looking place. I booked a weekend in June, and had the strangest feeling that this was The Place; it was as if I was going on a date and about to meet the man of my dreams. And when I arrived, it was love at first sight! I’m probably crazy, but that's how it was: some people find their other half, and I found La Donaira.
I couldn't get Andalucia out of my mind afterwards. The experience had given me hope for the future, of finding happiness again and getting back to the real Johanna. I returned for another week in August, and while there, asked about the possibility of work. I was told I could come back on October 1 for a six month’s trial!
In the space of eight weeks, I gave notice to my employer, sold my mare (the hard bit), apartment and belongings; tried to learn some Spanish (didn’t succeed too well); said bye-bye to family and friends and flew to Malaga on a one-way ticket. A bit scary for a 51-year-old lady, yes, but I felt so happy.
I've now been here three weeks, learning how the stables are managed at La Donaira, riding, discovering the natural surroundings, grooming the horses, practising Spanish, enjoying myself, and figuring out how daily life works in the neighbouring village, El Gastor.
I am probably an odd addition, speaking poor Spanish (I'm trying!) with the locals. I called my neighbour 'Antonia' for two weeks until, after helping me out when I got a power-cut in the house one evening, she told me, kindly, “My name is not Antonia. It's Carmina”. I don't think she minded her new name too much. Antonio, in La Posada (El Gastor), where I have most of my evening meals, is a lovely, warmhearted man, serving and chatting with the locals, and always giving me the feeling of coming home to his family's kitchen when I walk in the door at the end of the day.
So far, so good. I'll let you know how it goes,
Johanna (or as I'm called here, Juana) [pictured right]