The adventurer who loved horses

“Of course I have fallen off a lot and that’s a good thing, because I was told you have to fall off at least one hundred times before you’re truly good. Which is exciting, as I only have 85 falls left.

By Therese Alhaug. Photos by Lena Saugen

As a well-known adventurer, journalist, editor and PR-advisor to the stars, the Norwegian Magnus S. Rønningen left the big city life to prioritise a life with horses on a farm-life in Jerez de la Frontera. His goal was to handle a horse like a native Indian. Coincidentally he might have made the world’s new hit TV-show.

Wearing jeans, a sweater and a vintage Rolex, we find him sitting in a rocking chair with a glass of local red wine in his hand. He used to be known for run-ins with the red carpet and champagne parties, but now he’s here to tell us about something more real. His first run in with a horse. The childhood love that never faded and his global hunt for the ultimate riding kick.

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I just love introducing people to this secretive world. It’s only two hours from Malaga, but a whole different country. So much history and adventure.
Magnus Rønningen

 

On the white walls dating back to 1590, close to a hundred deer antlers and six wild boars watch over us. The room is furnished is classic Spanish countryside fashion, with heavy wooden furniture and old leather chairs. This is where Magnus lives. In the middle of nowhere. Surrounding the farm are sunflower fields and farmland as far as the eye can see. The old hunting farm was built in the 16th century by the ancestors of horse legend Alfonso Lopez de Carrizosa. Carrizosa is Magnus’s coach and runs the stable ‘Alcantara Ecuestre’ just minutes away.

“Alfonso trains Olympic dressage riders from both England and Asia, but also beginners. His way with horses is reflective of how he handles people and the progress he inspires in his clients is just baffling. He is a very inspiring person – and always up for beer and a competition, Magnus says.

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Horses have always fascinated Rønningen. Growing up in the farmlands of Norway, horses were never far away, and the road to testing the Icelandic horses at the neighbouring farm was never far. The riding school however, he quit in merely 3 hours.

“I don’t like it when things move slowly. I need to see progress. Once I set my mind to something, it has to be done 100% and it has to happen fast. The gap between security oriented and girl dominated riding schools and his native American riding dream, was simply too big.

Magnus has always been ambitious and reluctant to rules. As a teenager, he worked for several national publications. As a 17-year-old he started his first magazine and during high school, he scored his first job in the capital Oslo, as the youngest reporter in the countries largest newspaper. A few years later, he the job as their West Coast correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

“I lived four years in LA. I took jumping lessons at LA equestrian school, but it was too stiff for me. It took four lessons before I was even allowed to walk over a small jump. Instead, I took up reining. That involved a lot more action, gallop, spins and sliding stops.

Magnus is intense and restless. He wants to live now and prefers everything to be a little extreme.

“I always end up on a horse, regardless of where I go or why. I got dumped by a girl once. And I had learned from the movies that the only thing that heals a wounded heart is boarding a plane or a boat and travel far away. So randomly I got on a plane to Cuba. In the horse capital of Trinidad, it was crawling with horses. Most of them very poorly treated tourist horses, so I offered the guide 200 dollars for the best horse they had there. The next morning there was 30 horses outside. I picked a horse named ‘Rapido,’ who used to be a racing horse. His name means ‘fast’ and it was absolutely incredible – we were flying over the fences and I was totally out of control – it was amazing.

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At the end of 2012, I reviewed the year past with my psychologist. It was a classic set-up, the ‘what is the point of living’-type of conversation. She asked when I had been happiest this year? Two things came up. One was being with my ex-girlfriend and the other was being on horseback.
Magnus Rønningen

 

On Magnus’s Instagram he is always on a horse but never wearing a helmet.

“I know it’s idiotic and selfish and all that. But I’m chasing a sense of freedom that you simply cannot get if you wear a helmet, it makes me feel trapped. Call me retarded, but I want to feel the wind in my hair! I’m also very vain, I have spent 30 years in fear of something ruining my hair, and a helmet is just not a very good look. Sorry.”

– So what made you completely devote yourself to horse riding?

“At the end of 2012, I reviewed the year past with my psychologist. It was a classic set-up, the ‘what is the point of living’-type of conversation. She asked when I had been happiest this year? Two things came up. One was being with my ex-girlfriend and the other was being on horseback, that trip to Botswana… I can’t even describe the feeling it gave me. So that lead me to the conclusion that next year I have to get back with my and ex and I need more horses in my life.

From there on the journey went to Mexico, Iceland, Russia, Colombia… Altogether around 10 countries. Before a chance, visit triggered his move to Jerez.

“I would love to have a better explanation when I am asked how I ended in Jerez, but I was laying hung-over in bed and I received a text message from my childhood friend Ane who wanted to go somewhere to warm to ride. I googled “luxury riding Spain” and through an English riding travel agency we ended up with Alfonso and Alcantara Ecuestre. The first thing I saw in the stable was the black stallion Impostor. He was the most beautiful thing I had seen, the closest thing to perfection in the horse world. When I rode him for the first time I discovered something new – how a horse is meant to be. Alfonso’s horses are so sensitive. I love to watch riders who control the horse without seemingly doing anything at all. Edward Gal is incredible at that. That is my goal – for the horse to perform perfectly –with as little help from the aids as possible.

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Starting out I was the guy who only used the reins to control the horse. You know, Silver Arrow always rode with his reigns high. Jiyhaaa’ for a long time that’s how I thought it was supposed to be…
Magnus Rønningen

Outside the window, it’s dark and quiet. It takes 15 minutes by car to the nearest streetlight. Except for the staff that lives one end of the farm, Magnus, and the no longer ex-girlfriend are alone. Yes, the girl he was missing back in 2012 became his wife after a spectacular wedding in Zanzibar earlier this year.

These days they are welcoming small groups from all over the world for exclusive horse retreats, some of them also mixing horse and yoga lessons as his wife is an accomplished yoga teacher.

“ Most clients are repeat customers. We also do high-end retreats for companies, families and groups of friends. I just love introducing people to this secretive world. It’s only two hours from Malaga, but a whole different country. So much history and adventure, and through Alfonso, we have access to amazing private farms and people – his family even owns the castle where Christopher Columbus lived the two last years before discovering America. It totally blows people’s mind – just like it blew mine.”

He continues:

“I feel privileged to be able live like this. I have been lucky to meet a guy like Alfonso that I have learned so much from. I am lucky to be able to do what I love. I am appreciative of the small things too. The first thing that really stood out to me when I came down here was the realization that Alfonso has way a better life than I had. He checks his e-mails twice a week, keeps a book where he notes down all his riding lessons. His work is outdoorsy and he relates to the horses where he learns things all the time. He is one of those people that have seen my world but choose his own – obviously the right choice.”

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I feel privileged to be able live like this. I have been lucky to meet a guy like Alfonso that I have learned so much from. I am lucky to be able to do what I love.
Magnus Rønningen

Magnus’s stable Alcantara Ecuestre is about a 15-minute drive from Jerez. The noble family came with King Alfonso X in 1260 to fight the Moors and have owned the farm for generations. Alfonso was born into this family who for centuries has been the focal point of horse breeding in Jerez.

“Riding here is amazing, best place, horses, and trainer I have ever had. The most sensitive horses are ridden using only the seat. All these are things I have had to learn. Starting out I was the guy who only used the reigns to control the horse. You know, Silver Arrow always rode with his reigns high.”

Magnus lifts his hands high to demonstrate:

“‘Jiyhaaa’ for a long time that’s how I thought it was supposed to be”.

Magnus is already glued to the saddle after three years of intense riding. The learning curve is steep. Last year we printed this story from his riding exploits in Rajasthan with horse personality Bonnie Dundlod.

“I’m the definition of a pragmatic and might not be the most sensitive person. But I have a talent for riding, I just love being on a horse. And it does force me to be more sensitive, I spend a lot of time trying to come on the same wavelength as the horse.

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The first thing that really stood out to me when I came down here was the realization that Alfonso has way a better life than I had. He is one of those people that have seen my world but choose his own – obviously the right choice.
Magnus Rønningen

 

Rønningen had plans to due away with 7 years worth of riding practice in one year. That’s why he had up to seven efficient riding lessons a day. Four horses before lunch and three after. He uses both an English and a Spanish saddle on approximately 10 different horses. He recently purchased one of them – Feriante.

“Feriante means ‘party-boy’, which he certainly lives up to. Ferriante is a lunatic, but teaches me to ride sensitively, we are soulmates after all. When I ride him I almost feel like the Silver Arrow.”

Inspired by his different riding experiences and his love for Jerez he recently made headline news in Norway with his new tv-show “Det Store Spranget” which roughly translates to “The Big Jump”. At the end of August, it premiers primetime Fridays on Norway’s biggest channel.

“We aim for it to become an international format and already have a lot of international interest. Norway is maybe the country on earth where the least people care about horses, so if we can sell it there we can sell it anywhere.”

The concept is as simply, as it’s genius: Six fathers take on their life’s biggest challenge when they travel with their horse riding daughters to legendary trainer Alfonso Lopez de Carrizosa in Jerez de la Frontera, the horse capital of Spain. To succeed, the fathers need to let their fears go and allow their daughters to lead the way in 8 different horse-disciplines. For the love of their daughters, they must sacrifice blood, sweat, and tears to become the greatest rider. Which daughter will lead her father to victory?

“It really turned out amazing, the unique relationship between father and daughter and between horse and human really comes through the screen. And the good thing with horses on tv – it can never be boring!”

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Feriante means ‘party boy’, which he certainly lives up to. Ferriante is a lunatic, but teaches me to ride sensitively, we are soulmates after all. When I ride him I almost feel like the Silver Arrow.
Magnus Rønningen

-What is it about horses that fascinate you?

“Have you ever seen an Arabic foal run – it is one of the most wonderful things in the world. Churchill said it best “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man”. I feel like a king when I’m riding, and at the same time incredibly humble. It’s a living creature that I can never fully control and I am constantly learning.”

A few years back Magnus came across a picture of a friend jumping over a huge log on a riding safari in Africa. Not long after he was on a plane to Macatoo in Botswana on yet another horse adventure. Amongst lions and elephants, he experienced his so-far biggest adrenaline rush on a horseback.

“I got a crash course in riding… or dying…call it what you want. I had seen in a hunting documentary how dangerous the big one-ton bulls are, so we found a herd and drove them like cows in the savannah. I was scared to death but realized I had never been happier. It was amazing! Their horses were retired Namibian racing horses and so hard in the hand that at one point I had to ride in a circle for 5 minutes to stop it. After three days in the saddle, my butt was so sore that it was bleeding. That week taught me more riding than all my other lessons combined. It forced me to be humble and recognise how little I actually knew.”

It also taught him how fragile life can be.

“I got this idea that I wanted to ride up next to a giraffe and slap it on the butt. My friend had his Go-Pro on, and it seemed like a fun thing to do. So there I was racing up next to a giraffe going probably 50-55 kilometers an hour – and it kicks – the whole giant leg stretched out in an attempt to kill me. The hoof was maybe 10 centimeters from my head. The guide, when he finally caught up with us, said I would have been dead on the spot, apparently, giraffes can be very precise with their kicks and are known to kill lions that way. At least it would have been a legendary way to go…haha.”

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The first thing I saw in the stable was the black stallion Impostor. He was the most beautiful thing I had seen, the closest thing to perfection in the horse world. When I rode him for the first time I discovered something new – how a horse is meant to be. Alfonso’s horses are so sensitive.
Magnus Rønningen

Today, Magnus is far more knowledgeable. He rides a range of horses every week and wants to become a good rider.

“No, no – a great rider,” he quickly adds.

Magnus is still a busy man. Everywhere fourth week he flies home for meetings with clients. It’s a tight schedule. Tomorrow he ventures off on an expedition to Kingdom of Lo in Nepal, and when he returns they have a wedding in Cairo to attend. And then it’s back to Oslo for more meetings. He has been speaking non-stop for an hour, all about finding the kick in life, finding happiness and feeling free.

“When I ride out of the stable and watch my head from knocking into the doorframe, which Alfonso has told me around 300 hundred times to be careful about, I feel happy. Everything looks different on a horseback. Prettier in a way. To start a gallop up a hill, that gives me a true sense of freedom. When it’s only me and the horse that’s when I’m ultimately insanely pleased. I love it. If my life was over now, at least I have fulfilled my childhood dreams.

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Therese Stub Alhaug
Therese Stub Alhaug

Editor

Therese is the editor of Equilife, and is truly dedicated to equestrian sports and horses. She started riding as a little girl, and enjoys her free time with her two horses back home. Portrait interview is her favorite topic, as it has the gift to inspire others through peoples stories, knowledge, training and general life-philosophy, and certainly, their lives with horses.

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