Bruns, Ursula

Many thanks to Konstanze Allsopp, who has written this article for the site.

Although almost unknown here Ursula Bruns is one of the best-known authors in Germany of textbooks on keeping ponies at grass, and related subjects. She is also credited with saving an entire pony breed single-handedly from extinction - the Iceland Pony.

Born in 1922, she wrote her first fiction novel around 1950, which was published by the Herder Verlag and re-issued right up into the nineties, as it was so popular. It is called Hindernisse fuer Huberta (Show jumps for Huberta) and I don't think it was ever translated, because Ursula Bruns distanced herself from any competitive riding, show jumping and the official stance on FN-regulated competitive riding, and Hindernisse fuer Huberta deals with exactly that topic - a charming book about a girl who is given an Arab pony that her father promised her, if she wins a prize at prize giving day at school, and her trials and tribulations to get her pony to jump (extremely high for an Arab) and win the main show jumping competition at a show.

Around that time Ursula Bruns had become aware that the Iceland pony was fast becoming extinct. Modern sledge mobiles and other equipment were taking over the work of the Iceland pony which is well-known for having five gaits instead of a normal horse’s three. Specifically one gait, the ‘running walk’ helped Iceland ponies cross over marshes and ice floes without sinking into the ground as any other horse would. Modern machinery was able to do the same so the ponies were being sold off for dog meat.

Ursula Bruns travelled to Iceland and exported a herd of these ponies to Germany. She then wrote her second fiction novel Dick und Dalli und die Ponies, translated as The Snow Ponies (referring to the Iceland ponies, of course). It is a lovely story about two girls who live with their grandmother who breeds Shetland and Iceland ponies. Its popularity is so high it is still in print. In fact, a follow-up book of the girls of Immenhof (the name of the stud farm), Dick und Dalli und die Ponys: Ferien auf Immenhof (Holidays on the Immenhof) came out under her name in July 2008. Whether she really wrote it or a ghost writer was appointed so that the publisher could cash in on the success of the first book I don’t know. In this story a cousin comes to stay. He is not a gallant hero as the girls imagined, but a wimp, and the girls have to toughen him up.

The publication of the first book not only spawned a series of six ‘Immenhof’ Films but also made many more people aware of the plight of the Iceland pony and encouraged Germans to export these versatile, good-tempered ponies. It also helped change the attitude of the Icelandic people towards their most valuable export asset.

Today the Iceland pony is still the most popular pony breed in Germany, able to carry adults without the slightest problem although the ponies are rarely over 13.2 h.h. Ursula Bruns wrote numerous textbooks (around 40) concerned with their maintenance, care and how to ride them, especially how to ride the two extra gaits, the pass and the running walk. Later she branched out into other little-known breeds as well as western riding.

The Iceland pony, like many other horses and ponies, cannot tackle the high jumps demanded in German showjumping competitions (unaffiliated shows are illegal and affiliated showjumping classes start at 3"6' with a width of up to 6 feet.) Many people who enjoyed riding purely as a hobby had no ideal horse breed to do just that. The Iceland pony filled that gap.

Ursula Bruns also realised that there was no information available for people who only rode as a hobby and not in competitions and in 1959 launched the first magazine for hobby riders: the Pony Post, later renamed Freizeit im Sattel. It was and is THE benchmark magazine for hobby riders in Germany, packed with information on keeping horses at grass, innovations in the hobby rider world, and much more. Ursula Bruns wrote many of its articles and travelled around the world lecturing and teaching about her alternative way to ride and keep horses.

She also founded a riding school in Reken where she lived and taught many people what is known as the ‘light seat’. She invited famous equestrian experts like Linda Tellington-Jones and Jean-Claude Dysli and was the first to bring alternative methods of keeping and riding horses to the masses. Nowadays we are overwhelmed with alternative methods, of course, but she started this trend 40 years ago. With all this going on she had no time to write more fiction, which is a shame as her first two novels were charming and well-written books (I cannot comment on the third as I haven’t had a chance to read it yet).

Ursula Bruns was awarded the ‘Golden Bar with Diamonds’ by the IPZV, Islandpferde Reiter- und Zuechterverband (Iceland Pony Breeding Society) in 2005. She now lives in Spain and still rides every day.