Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An Article by Imke Spilker

After careful consideration, my friend, Kris, and Imke Spilker have decided that it would be a nice treat for readers of the Journal of Ravenseyrie to have opportunity to read in full the article I quoted from in the entry titled, More on Empowered Horses. (Click here for the first entry on the Empowered Horses book.) The article you'll be reading today was first published in the October 1997 issue of Freizeit im Sattel. We are ever closer (days?) to receiving ordered copies of the Trafalgar Square edition of Empowered Horses. In the meantime, thanks to the thoughtful generosity of Imke and Kris, we can sample a bit of how Imke relates with horses through this dated, yet timeless article. Thank you, Kris and Imke, for this opportunity! (If readers would like to discuss this article, I'd be happy to open up our comments section for this, please feel free to leave your impressions, questions, etc.)

How communication develops body awareness

The Horse Too is Allowed to Say “No”
by Imke Spilker
Translated by Kristina McCormack

In keeping horses, the trend is unmistakable: we give our horses more freedom because we have learned that it does them good. We give them an open stall or a paddock, and, with others of their kind, they can decide when and why and where to go, in which activities around them they will participate and whether they would rather withdraw. In the project:
Communicating With Horses Imke Spilker carries this principle of free choice over into the foundation-building ground work. The horses may always decide whether and how they would like to participate. Does that sound strange? Read on to discover how and why this works, and how it affects horses and people.

Anyone who has worked intensively with animals over a long period of time notices that they have a very good sense for what is right for them. So why is it that this realization is so totally ignored when it comes to the training and physical development of horses? Why do we have to force them to do what is good for them, or should be, according to human conviction? I want to be with horses, to experience things together, and to do something for them to help them in their physical development. Our horses here know that. When they see us coming (carrying tack, for example) they all gather at the entrance to the fenced-in but always open riding arena, fighting to see who gets to go first. Their participation happens entirely of their own free will – they can at any time leave the arena via an exit passage that is never closed off. The horses are fascinated by this kind of work, as we are. No one gives them instructions about what has to be done – they have equal rights. Instead of the orders or demands of a strict hierarchy, they are met with fun, acknowledgment, and empowerment. So there are no “lazy” horses – because someone who comes of his own free will and works out of his own interest in the subject is highly motivated. How does this happen?

What benefits, motivates
You begin with those things that a horse clearly likes and finds pleasant, food for example, or scratching. I observe a horse very closely and think about how I can do a little something to make him happy. That can vary widely – for example, some horses view treats as bribery. And, no horse will piaffe in exchange for snacks. In the end the only motivation is that the horses realize that it is good for them to work this way. It helps them and they are possessed by the good feelings that ensue. Then it is more likely that you will have to temper their enthusiasm because they simply do not want to stop working (for those situations we have a consolation prize?).

Lord and Master, or Friend?
Horses must be dominated, according to conventional wisdom. When that does not happen, chaos ensues and a human being is hopelessly at the mercy of his horse. This is a macho-myth that is very helpful to people of a certain psychological profile. But, for others it is not. Many people have become very insecure because of this myth – simply because they actually like their horses. For them, questions like this arise: Do I have to enforce my will, even though I may be the one making a mistake? Must I be lord and master when I would rather be friend? May I be affectionate with my horse, may I let him nuzzle and “groom” me? Many people do not feel right autocratically laying claim to the “alpha” position. They are sensitive to the arrogance that lies behind this, they sense the ignorance – and the danger that ensues from such behavior…For these people the position of the horse in our project is more fitting. Kim, for example, has been part of the project for a couple of years. He was one of those Haflingers that everyone saw as too stupid, too lazy, too clumsy, stubborn...and he was handled accordingly. Kim believed this himself. He became white eyed, high headed, pulled people down, and tumbled off an embankment…just what you’d expect from a mixture of mountain draft with Arabian bloodlines. But he is actually not like that (no horse is), and today he knows it. He has come to very precisely know his strengths, his body’s power, and his hindquarters, and he carries himself even into piaffe like an Iberian. Playfully he unfolds his power, perfectly masters his body, and knows exactly what he is doing. In the photo (below) Kim has, through looks and gentle nudges, invited the person, whom he likes and has known for a while, to come into the arena and play with him. For the person this is all still relatively new, but he joins in the running simply because Kim has invited him. They are having great fun, experiencing unconditional trust and perfect harmony with one another. At the same time, Kim indicates with his “listening within” ear position that he is very much in himself, focused on his own body. His transformation into a sensitive and supple athlete is based on the increased trust in himself.

How lightly the rather massive Kim moves on his hindquarters – a bending of the haunches that he perfected on his own. He has become very agile, and very aware of his body.

A moment of quiet intimacy: when things become too wild for a person the horses sense it immediately and contain themselves.

Intuition, Not Rigid Methods
No one here just tacks up and leaps onto a horse’s back, rather we first come together with the horse on the ground, on the same level. Riding without the horse first clearly inviting, does not interest us. How the work proceeds depends entirely on the horse. There are no recipes, and it can be different each time, because both horse and person are individuals who are constantly changing. Our basic requirement is to be open when we approach the horse, and to like him exactly as he is. It is shocking how rarely one encounters that liking in practice, particularly among “professionals.” Bad intentions are attributed to the horses, they are handled as though they are deliberately dangerous, everything becomes an issue of respect, which is beaten in, and in the end one arrives at what the horses already have in excess: fear. Our inner attitude toward the horse is enormously important. We have all had the experience of someone treating us unjustly and with great mistrust. At some point we actually behave just as expected, confirming the prejudgment in retrospect. This influence can be positive, too. We can empower each other in our positive qualities. That is actually what we do with the horses here, or they with us…depending on the point of view. That is why the horses gladly participate in the work, why they come by to show themselves off, present their physical talents and develop them further. Fitness and physical development are quintessentially in their self-interest. Horses have only their bodies with which to express themselves, and they do that with enthusiasm.

Self-responsibility Required
Taking responsibility for themselves is a quality that is thoroughly driven out of horses from their youth on. They are not allowed to have an opinion, rather, they are supposed to obey. The more naturally they grow up and are kept, the more familiar they will be with self-responsibility. The example of Ole, a young Norwegian gelding makes this clear. At first he is still shy, does not want to do anything wrong, is a bit afraid. This makes him heavy-headed like many horses of his type. But, after 15 minutes of “communication” he begins to feel strong and self-confident. His movements become rhythmic and powerful and graceful. How? He was given no task to do, but discovered, through the human being, that he is doing nothing wrong and that the person finds him good. Through this sort of affirmation and acknowledgement a horse continuously develops himself further and the level of his work continuously rises. The horse offers exercises of his own accord even to the level of high school once he has gotten that far. Ole would rarely move as he does on the photo by himself. He needs us for that. In the work together, however, the development of the horses rapidly gains a surprising dynamic of it own.
Between these first two photos fifteen minutes passed which we spent together in the riding arena. Ole is here for the first time, and shy and insecure at the beginning. He gains more self-confidence just from the praise and affirmation of the human being, and it is mirrored immediately in the way he carries himself.
Icelandic stallion Toppur shows us how something like this looks at a much higher level. His measured rhythmic jumps in an uphill canter show a baroque exercise. The Galopade demands a very focused use of his haunches. Toppur masters this demanding exercise completely independently, without being disturbed with constant corrections. He remains wholly centered because he can keep his attention on himself instead of on the instructions of the human being.

Baroque elegance in Icelandic: Toppur is perfectly collected and balanced, totally focused on his body. Movement this expressive and in self-carriage is only possible because both horse and person desire it.

Help with Disabilities
This work in dialog is particularly suited to horses with physical or psychic(emotional/mental/spiritual) afflictions. “Untalented”, resigned, broken-down horses immediately sense the difference (unconditional acceptance from the human being) and quickly change for the positive as they internalize what they have learned and take it further. So, more and more they help and train themselves. It is admirable how deliberately and with how much energy handicapped horses in particular apply themselves. A physically damaged horse must always determine for himself the content and degree of difficulty of his exercise program. How else can I be sure that I am not over-facing or tormenting him?

Alternating Roles
To come to an understanding with communicative horses, the person must absolutely not be an “expert.” On the contrary, a “newbie” is more open, giving the horses space comes easier to him. The horses are happy to teach us and enjoy that role. A prerequisite is that the person has learned to pay attention to his partner, the horse, and respect his wishes. The horses sense whether or not a basis of mutuality exists. Once it is established, both parties can develop their sensitivity, to themselves and to the other. Intuitive understanding functions (only) in both directions. Naturally, we are asked whether this kind of interaction can become dangerous for the human being. Horses are by nature peaceful beings who do not make victims of weaker ones, and who scrupulously avoid deliberately hurting someone. Danger exists when the person applies pressure and force, and the horse can no longer retreat from the situation. A horse who has the possibility of walking away, whose needs for peace and space are respected, will harm no one. A game into which the horse is pressured is no longer one (even if the person is amused by it). On the other hand, without force or threat, even the most strenuous exercises can be playfully easy for the horse. One must learn to let go, and one must think from the horse’s perspective – that is all too gladly forgotten about. To me there is nothing safer than communicating with horses in this way -- anything else strikes me as too dangerous. I do not like battles because someone always has to lose. The message that comes across when we communicate with one another depends to a large degree on how we say something. That applies to communication with horses as well. A horse must be able to say “no” at any time and have the freedom to leave, and then we human beings must design our work in such away that the horse truly benefits by it.

In the conventional perception whips are negative to both people and horses – instruments for hitting and punishment. Horses connect them with certain experiences. That is why it can be so exciting for them to confront whips. A parallel example: It is fun for children to be thrown into the air… in part because of the threat of falling. But this is a game only as long the child himself wants the excitement and feels protected and safe. If his feelings are not precisely observed and respected, the game falls apart and becomes trauma. Our horses sometimes “conquer” the whips so thoroughly that we have a great deal of wear and tear – the whips are bitten, trampled, and crushed.

Once again, here are just a few links to where EMPOWERED HORSES by Imke Spilker can be purchased.
From the publisher
( says the book will be in stock on 17April09!)


Kris McCormack said...

Thank you, Lynne, for giving space in the Journal of Ravenseyrie to this article. I hope some readers will accept your invitation to give their comments and opinions.

And, I hope Amazon is right about the April 17th date. The last I heard from Trafalgar (only a few days ago) was that the shipment of books was due to land in Boston on April 20th. If the shipment isn't held up in customs, then I would expect to have my copies of the book in hand by the end of April...


Lynne Gerard said...

Kris, the impact of Imke Spilker's work on my life has been so important that I consider it a great honor to be able to publish the article here.

My sense is there are a lot of silent reader's of the Journal of Ravenseyrie...some are "horse people" others just enjoy a glimpse of Manitoulin Island. While I would appreciate reader's impressions of the rather "outside-the-box" philosophy of horse/human relations Imke Spilker inspires, I'm not sure many folks will feel comfortable sharing comments and opinions. At the very least, this article shares a different viewpoint and sows a potent seed that may one day take root elsewhere.

I'm guessing Canada's receipt of these books from England will not be too far behind those sent to the U.S. I hope not!

Cheryl Jones said...

I find it fascinating that this article was first published back in 1997! What was I doing with horses in 1997? I was still telling them what to do, trying to "train" them to respond to my requests (demands???) When they didn't always "perform" the way I wanted, well that is just the way it was with horses. You had to show them who was boss or they would take advantage of you.

So, I cringe when I think back to the way I was brought up to be around horses and I cringe everytime I see that type of interaction take place around me.

The way to be with horses that Spilker presents in written form via this article and I'm sure with her book, gives me something concrete to share with people who will lend more credence to the written word than to my feeble efforts to describe how my attitude has changed towards all horses.

A busy friend asked me the other day to ride her horse for pay because she didn't have enough time due to a business deadlines. I offered to "play" with her horse, but would not "ride" him because we did not have a relationship and I had no idea if he even wanted to be ridden. You can imagine the startled response I received, but the good news is that it began a conversation about relating in a different way with horses.

The only way I've been able to get across my change in attitude towards all horses is that I view it in a similar way as any good human friendship. I would never force a human friend to act in a certain way or insist that they always do what I want to do whenever I say. I try to be with my horses in the same way. Get rid of the agenda, no expectations - just interacting as friends would when they think of a fun thing to do together.

The elements of how to be with horses that Spilker points out in this article resonate with complete truth based on my experiences with horses. Understanding what motivates, empowering the horse with the opportunity to say no, re-discovery of self-responsibility, the importance of play in our interactions and the idea that a relationship can be based on intuition and that expertise is not required.

In the article, Imke describes how the horses come running and all want to participate when an activity is to take place in the open arena. I love the fact that they can come and go as they please. Yesterday with Cam and Breeze (my two Arabians) was a perfect example of this in action here at my place. Lately I tend to focus more attention on one particular horse on alternating days. This is all dependant on daylight hours and what chores or work I have to do during the day. Yesterday was Cam's day and I was going to take him out on a trail hike. When I went into the pasture where they all live during the day, Cam came running down to me -
which he always does - but Breeze came running down also. She will often come, but usually ambles at her own queenly speed as compared to Cam who always gallops madly down the hill calling out as he approaches.

When I tried to halter Cam, Breeze squeezed herself right next to him putting herself between us and directly in line to slip her nose into the halter. I explained to her that she had been out yesterday and today was Cam's day but that I really appreciated that she wanted to
go out. I told her that I could take her out after I came back with Cam. So I got in-between them and again started to halter Cam. Breeze lifted her head way up over mine and carefully squeezed it in-between by arms and Cam's
head in attempt to get me to halter her instead. I really felt bad that she was so determined and again explained to her that I'd take her out later on. Cam, of course, is accepting of everything that goes on and stood by patiently waiting, knowing it was his turn and not about to give up his spot of being "horse of the day".

So, I definitely understand and experience what Imke is talking about. I guess I'm hoping that the book will provide additional discussion and
insight that might help me help my friends to discover what is possible in a different relationship with our horses.

Thanks so much for finding and posting this article. I, too, hope it generates additional discussion. It certainly has given me something concrete to discuss with my immediate circle of horsey friends.

take care all - cheryl

Lynne Gerard said...

Cheryl wrote: "The only way I've been able to get across my change in attitude towards all horses is that I view it in a similar way as any good human friendship. I would never force a human friend to act in a certain way or insist that they always do what I want to do whenever I say. I try to be with my horses in the same way. Get rid of the agenda, no expectations - just interacting as friends would when they think of a fun thing to do together."

Thank you for taking the time to write such an interesting commentary.

Your sense of nurturing the same type of friendship with your horses as what you have with your human friends is they way I have come to regard horse/human relationships, also. It's an excellent "check" to determine if what we would like to share with the horse is based on mutual free choice or if some form of coercive element has crept in. "How would I go about asking Kris to do this with me?" might be the notion that runs through my head when I want to approach my horse with something new.

It's a huge paradigm shift and I cannot say just when I came to realize that much of what I was doing with my horses (who I considered friends even in my past life) was more like a situation of a very kindly disposed slave owner or an indulgent parent.

Nurturing true friendship with our horses can only come from a place of egalitarianism.

I think, Cheryl, you will find Imke's book to take these notions to an exquisitely high level. Not only will it serve to validate the evolution in relationships you've had with your horses, it will also demonstrate the value of shared leadership & play as a means of exploring the psychological and physical capacities that facilitate enhanced health, intelligence, structural balance and expressive beauty, the hallmarks of Empowered Horses!

I hope you will drop in again to share your thoughts once you've had opportunity to read the book. Since you already have evolved your relationship with your horses to a very fine level of mutuality, I will be very interested to know what in Imke's book might speak to you most.

Thank you, again, for sharing your enjoyable comments here.

leah astrup said...

Hi Lynn,
Thank you so much for the article. I just recieved my book yesterday! I am so excited! I started reading right away. I feel like this is what I was hoping to get from NHE and never did. I have really appreiated Resnick, Hempfling, and now with Imke's book I feel I can put so much more together. Between your blog Lynn,and the one forum I still belong to I finally feel that I have a community of people who share these ideas and ways of being with horses, and no longer feel so alone.Thank you once again Lynn for sharing your life and experiances with us, it is very inspiring.


Lynne Gerard said...

I'm thankful that Kris and Imke decided to place the publication of the English translation of "The Horse Too is Allowed to Say 'No'" here. It is so ahead of its time! And I'm so glad you have received your copy of EMPOWERED HORSES already and began your reading of it right away.

I'm sure you will appreciate, as I do, that the content of the book reveals not just a kindred spirit of someone who has come to interact with horses in an evolved way, but that there is also a remarkably coherent and simple showcasing of the principles of classical dressage. As an artist, I'm especially moved by Imke Spilker's many references to the horses development as an expression of artistic creativity.

Leah (and anyone else who is reading EMPOWERED HORSES) if you would be willing to write up a brief review of the book and post it to the website, I think this will help potential buyers in selecting this book for purchase.

Thank you for your kind words, Leah, and for sharing your thoughts in this blog.

Anonymous said...

I have been playing with my horse for quite some time now, I started reading on the art of natural dressage forum and started seeing everything in a different way. I have a wonderful horse that is always one step ahead of me. I started Parelli, but saw the spark in him go away, we got it back with playing in freedom and after reading parts of Imke's German book I was delighted that an English version was coming out, I have already read it twice and now gave it to a friend to read. I am looking forward to the future, where my smart little Beau can teach me so much more than I could ever imagine...
I just wish there were more people around me that think the same...
Barbara from Belgium

Lynne Gerard said...

Thank you for finding the Journal of Ravenseyrie and for leaving your comments regarding how beneficial Imke's book has been to help the spark return to your "smart little Beau".

It is difficult to find yourself rather alone in this world of evolved horsemanship, but I think more and more people are yearning for something more than a push-button-horse...are desiring a closer relationship than what is typically possible with horses that are trained by dominance oriented "methods".

Even here, in this obscure blog you can feel now that your are not alone.

I hope your friend feels as inspired by Imke's book as you have been.

Thank you for your comments!

June said...

I skimmed through Imke Spilker's book in Borders the other day, and I plan to buy it a.s.a.p.! I'm really looking forward to trying out some of the ideas, which really resonate with past experiences, although I never quite thought it through. For example, I was given a 22-year old mare with arthritis. We started work very gradually, just at the walk, and I would let her quit as soon as she decided she'd had enough. As time went by she was able to work longer and longer, and she would ask to quit after a longer and longer time, never "taking advantage" of the fact that she knew I'd let her quit as soon as she wanted. An interesting point Spilker makes is that horses resent being asked to do things without a purpose - I'm working with a previously aggressive horse who guards his shoulder and doesn't like to be asked to move it over. However, today, while grooming him, I noticed that he was very willing to yield his shoulder in order to make room for me to groom his other side. Also, Spilker points out that we should do work with the aim of helping the horse feel better. If I point out to this horse that he is stiff in the withers and blocked in the shoulder and that he'll feel better if he relaxes in that area so that he can move his shoulder over, then he becomes mildly interested and doesn't resent being asked to yield his shoulder. More dominant horses notice his resistance, and they usually pick his shoulder to bite or kick. We were thinking we should follow the other horses' lead, but hmmm ... ?

Lynne Gerard said...

I enjoyed reading your comments and how you are learning to look at relations with horses has a snowball effect, with innumerable benefits and great feelings of closeness unlike anything I've known before.

Stop by again, after you've read EMPOWERED HORSES and leave your impressions, there are lots of us who would love to know how Imke's book is being received.

Thank you for leaving your comments, June.

Anonymous said...

Hi again. I now have the book. I'm trying to figure out how to play with Buddy, the horse I've been working with. He's a 6 year old Appendix QH and was extremely agressive when his present owner (I may be the next owner!) got him. He likes people but his previous owner had let him bully her. Yesterday he and I wandered around the arena and mostly he ate grass on the other side of the fence. He also enjoyed emptying the contents of the hoof-trimming bucket. We found an activity we could do together - if he pulled up some grass with roots attached, I could hold the roots and he could snip of the grass at the base. I think we were both a bit bored! He likes it if I shuffle my feet in the stone dust and make a funny noise. Last week I threw things and ran after them, and he cottoned on but thought it was a bit silly. I think he needs to realize he's no longer a "bad boy" and can be a bit bolder. Later, watering some other horses a 2-year old filly I've also been working with came over and presented herself to me very expectantly. I petted her a bit, but I think she was disappointed not to be taken to the arena. She first came to me with her "baby" face, but when it became clear I wasn't taking her out, she put on her "grownup" face and only wanted me to scratch her butt. I felt really bad afterwards I didn't take her out. This is all new territory!!!

- June

Anonymous said...

Sorry, didn't mean to post as "Anonymous." But I can't figure out what I did before.

Anonymous said...

I went back the next day and took the filly out. Taking a leaf out of Imke Spilker's book, I put the halter on her without a lead rope and invited her to come with me, which sure enough she did with alacrity. We hung out in the arena for a while. It was hot, and mostly she wanted to eat, but she kept her sweet baby face the whole time. Took Buddy out too, and he played with the brushes and ate a lot and made a few sour faces at me. But instead of chasing him, I walked off harumph, whereupon he wondered what was up and looked after me quizzically. I discovered that his shoulder that he doesn't like to move, he doesn't mind at all if you throw your whole weight against it and go kerflop onto him. Is this how this works? You get reeeally bored and start doing silly things to see what will happen? This is going to take months!!!! Actually, reading more of Spilker, I think the filly knows how to communicate, but Buddy hasn't thought much about it yet.
- June

Lynne Gerard said...

What a great thing you now have Imke's book to absorb as you step into a new world with your horses. I'm so glad you have come back to share your experiences with us.

Regarding Buddy and his tendency to bully:
I've had good success with this type of behavior to utterly ignore it in a sense. I do not reprimand or speak discouragingly, rather, I simply walk away or redirect attention elsewhere without giving energy to the unwanted behavior. You will find the stories of Passaro and Max especially helpful in further understand what I am writing about.

"Is this how this works? You get reeeally bored and start doing silly things to see what will happen? This is going to take months!!!!"

Yes! June, do "start doing silly things" and forget about time altogether. The linear mindset of setting goals along a time-line will only get in the way of developing an especially elegant relationship with your horses.

This new way of being with horses is not a recipe, or a map or a list of procedures (as you are beginning to discover), it is more like poetic free verse, or spontaneous painting--from your heart, your center. Most important is your "intent", what feeling do you carry inside when you are with your horse? Admiration? delight in her expressions? desire to discover what he wants to say and how to enable him to say it? It is an unfolding, living process that presents suggestions and paths to explore that are most often vastly different than any type of horsemanship training we have previously learned.

Once we begin to know our horses, really know them with exquisite perceptiveness, then our prior knowledge of classical exercises will be valuable tools to craft beneficial play/exercises which we suggest or our horses do.

Keep sharing your thoughts and experiences, June. In a few days, I will make a new blog entry prompted by your willingness to journey into fresh new territory.

Anonymous said...

More on Ella, the 2-year old 3/4 Connemara, 1/4 TB filly ... I took her out again 2 days ago. We were hanging out, and I thought I'd try picking up her feet. Her owner is a natural balance hoof trimmer, and I trim hoofs as well, so naturally we're very interested in picking up feet. Ella doesn't like to pick up her feet. When I tried to pick one of her hind feet, she resisted. Normally when a horse does that, I just kind of hold the foot in a certain way which says "Just relax, it's ok" and the horse will relax. But Ella resisted more, and when I didn't let go, she cow-kicked. Whereupon I punched her and yelled at her that that was a mean thing to do. She skittered off a few steps and then came walking very confidently up to me with the kindest most reassuring manner. After a few minutes' reflection, I realized it was ok to ask her to pick her foot up, and she didn't mind picking her foot up, but it wasn't ok for me to hold onto it. So I asked her to pick up her front foot (not "cued" her or put pressure on her foot in order to release it when she obeyed, but just touched gently, asking). After I walked along beside her for a few steps with my hand on her fetlock, she experimented a bit and found a way that was comfortable for her to give me her foot. But she couldn't figure out a way with her hind feet. And then when her owner came out, we discussed her possibly weak stifles, and we decided that her stifles probably make it really uncomfortable and difficult for her to pick up her hind foot and keep it up. What was amazing, though, was Ella's reaction to my reaction to her having kicked out - she so clearly came over to me to reassure me and to re-establish our connection. It was so confident and clear, and very different from the rather droopy-headed way a horse approaches to re-establish connection after having been pressured and chased - her head was high, and she was assertive. Her manner made me realize that she hadn't been acting "naughty" or "stubborn." This filly is a great communicator! So far, Buddy has not managed to get anything much through my thick head. His owner (who is very intuitive with horses)thinks he wants to be told what to do. But Imke seems to say - "Put aside your own agenda and wait to find out what the horse has on his agenda" so I'm hoping Buddy has some unplumbed depths that we haven't seen yet!!

Anonymous said...

More on Buddy: if you are bossy with him, he acts kindof puppy-ish - the way he is with the more dominant gelding he shares a pasture with. But since I've stopped pressuring him, he is much more tentative and aloof with me. But I figure that's ok - I don't need him to be friendly right now. I want to wait and see what comes out. I feel a bit tentative around his hindquarters, as if I don't really trust him not to kick. But I think he doesn't really trust me around his hindquarters. We don't know his early history. It does seem to build his confidence in some way if you get bossy and controlling with him. But I'm not sure that's the kind of confidence I want. What do you think, Lynne?
I had a short rope dangling from his halter so I could guide him without leading, and of course he would step on it while his nose was on the ground. It took him many times of "being caught" before he figured out to always move his foot off the rope before trying to lift his head. I think it helped his self-awareness, which Imke talks about.
He's not built downhill, but he moves downhill.
This Spilker stuff is awesome. I ain't never going back.
- June

Anonymous said...

Argh! I just realized! When I'm not bossy and controlling with Buddy, I'm more aloof and tentative with him! I find that when I'm not telling horses what to do, I feel sort of tongue-tied and don't know what to say, which I guess is a kind of receptiveness in way. Ella has the gift of being able to speak into that receptiveness, whereas right now Buddy is just as confused as I am.
- June

Anonymous said...

*in a way

Lynne Gerard said...

Hello June,
Your recent comments are interesting in how they demonstrate the difficulty of breaking old habits and adopting new ones.

This really is novel territory for most of us traditionally trained horse folks and a period of confusion and tentativeness is understandable.

I would really like to devote a complete journal entry to some of the things you've brought up in your comments, but I'm presently at my busiest time of the year with my studio/gallery and dare not steal too much computer time when I should be keeping my stock up.

So, I can only offer you a little insight into how I got myself through the transition period to a new way of relating to horses which is not at all based on bossy-ness, or punishment or specific agendas. Here is what I have done to create new habits and raise the level of my relations with horses (and all living things), I come to my horses in friendship. I would not force a friend to do anything, or answer their "no" to something I'm proposing by persisting in my behavior, or use physical or verbal punishment to relay my displeasure if they act out in a behavior that is unpleasant for me...if I wouldn't do this to a friend, I will also not do this to my horses.

I will share leadership, honor the "no" and perhaps ask my request again in a different way, always holding up the highest possible means of dialogue as possible.

When you can come to Buddy with a grounded sense of who you are and where you desire to fit into the world of horses, he will be steady and forthright in his communication. A horse like Buddy is sometimes the very best of teachers.

Once again, June, thank you for sharing your explorations and comments!

Anonymous said...

I have a new word - it's "spilkered"! It refers to someone who has been radicalized by coming into contact with Imke Spilker's ideas. I have been spilkered, and I don't know where it's leading me!!!

- June

Lynne Gerard said...

June, your latest comment prompted an entire journal entry which I posted today. Thank you for being such a good catalyst!

Anonymous said...

I know - I saw! And I think you're ideas about the original relationship are extremely interesting.
I lent the book to a friend. So far her reactions are interesting, and valid I think. She likes it, but with reservations. There seem to be two objections. One: "well, we all have to go to work, don't we?" Which I think is answered by Spilker's point that the horse's work is to find food, to sleep, to have babies, to protect the herd etc. The "work" we're expecting the horse to do is our work, not the horse's. Two: we all have experiences when we don't feel like doing something, but when we get up and get going, we find we enjoy it - isn't it like that with horses? This prompted by the horse who declined to accompany her out of the pasture, whereupon she resorted to John Lyons-esque taps until compliance was achieved. That's a harder point to answer perhaps. The horses I was working with this summer always came along with me willingly, but on returning home last week, my dear pony Chloe said "no thanks," so my bluff having been called, I took off the halter and let her go. My friend did, however, say that the book is making her more thoughtful.
I'm not going to be able to be 100% spilkered with my horses. I have daughters who want to be able to go to the barn, take out a horse and ride. But my own projects with them - round pen work with Chloe and teaching her to drive, teaching Gus to get off his forehand, etc. - are going to be put aside in favor of waiting to see what my equine friends have in mind. Maybe I'll be on foot for the rest of my life! We'll see.
I remember my first pony - he disliked me and was quite mean. I was clueless, and he knew he could put me on the ground or run home any time he wanted to. I was not trained then and didn't know how to be the boss - mostly I boo hoo-ed at him about how mean he was. However, as time went by, he decided to call a truce, and as more time went by, he decided I was his best buddy - and all without me figuring out how to be "herd leader" or anything like that. It got to where I trusted him enough to scramble ungracefully onto his back while he was free in the pasture. I'll never forget one time I did that - he spotted some sheep grazing on the far side of the field and took us off at a gallop, triumphantly scattering the flock before trotting smugly back to the gate. He never would have done that on his own - that was something he thought was fun to do with me on his back.

- June

Anonymous said...

I think there might be a danger of distorting Spilker's ideas into a more-subtle way of trying to get the horse to do what you want. The way parenting books suggest you coax a recalcitrant toddler to get dressed by offering, "Would you like to wear the red one or the blue one?" Whereas you are not offering the option of not wearing one at all.
Today I went back to play with Chloe. She is a little horse who, I believe, would be very quick to be aware of whether or not you were offering her genuine freedom or trying to manipulate. Again she declined to come out of the field with me, so I stayed to hang out with her, and she was quite sociable. Imke talks about horses copying each other and copying people. I've taught Chloe a trick where she spins around in a circle. At one point I started skipping in a large circle around her, and she responded by doing her spinning. When I went to leave, I took off her halter, and she followed me a bit, but didn't want to come all the way to the gate. This is a horse who is extremely intelligent, very honest - and who hates being told what to do. It will be interesting to see what unfolds as I try to convince her that I've given up the habit of telling her what to do! Of course, if she needs her hoofs trimmed or needs to see the vet, then I'll insist, but that's different I think.

- June

Anonymous said...

Today Chloe was in her stall when I got to the barn. My daughter took her horse out to ride, and so I put a halter and leadrope on Chloe, and we went along. Chloe was a barger and a shover, and I spent years figuring out how to make her walk nicely with her head level with my side, and although she will do it now, she always tries to creep ahead. I've realized that Chloe's great desire is to lead the charge. So today I said, "Go for it Chloe, you're the leader." So she led us around, marching down the trail a ways, checking out the tractor shed, into a couple of paddocks, having a good look. My daughter and horse followed along. And then I noticed that Chloe was keeping track of where I was and moderating her pace - not to keep her head level with my side, but to keep me level with her shoulder. I've always felt that horses are extremely cooperative animals - more so than dogs perhaps - but if we're always bossing them around, we don't uncover the extent of their cooperativeness.

- June

Lynne Gerard said...

Hi June,
I'm keeping track of your comments and will respond soon. It's been crazy busy here at Ravenseyrie and I'm short on computer time.

Thank you for continuing to share your experiences and musings, inspired by Imke Spilker's writings!

Anonymous said...

More on the spilkering project: today I went to get Gus (barn owner's QH whom I've started riding) - he came along happily. I saddled up and took him into the arena. He plainly said (by politely but definitely moving out of position from the mounting block) that he'd rather I didn't get up, but I said oh please let me, and using only my words (!), persuaded him to stand on a loose rein by the mounting block for me, which he did cos he's a super-nice guy. We got three or four really nice moments (it's tricky because I'm using a bit and am trying to ride as if I didn't have one, but I can't afford a new bitless bridle yet). After 5 or 10 minutes, Gus said, "Hey, there's the gate - let's leave!" So we did, and we looked at a couple of things, and then he said, "Hey, let's go into the barn and quit!" And I said, "uh uh, your tack lives in the other barn, and I'm not carrying it back there from here." So we went to the other barn and were done for the day. I think he'll be happier and maybe let me ride for longer than 5 minutes when I get my bitless bridle, but we'll see.
My friend to whom I lent the book must feel I'm judging her (!) because she keeps saying things like, "We feel so much better when we make an effort and get some exercise, even if we didn't feel like it at first." Which of course is all absolutely true, but that's not exactly what Imke is saying, and I really want to understand what she's saying.
And today, if I'd insisted Gus stood by the mounting block, instead of just using my words, I wouldn't have seen how kind and polite he was to let me, even though he didn't really want to.
(Chloe still won't leave the field unless it's dinner time!)

- June

Anonymous said...

Day before yesterday was a repeat of the last outing with Gus. Yesterday we went on a trail ride with another horse. After he was untacked and bathed, he didn't want to leave the cool of the barn. In fact, he made it plain that he would like to go into somebody's stall and be served lunch there, with a nice nap to follow. As he had spent an hour with me in the hot sun, I figured the least I could do was hang out in the barn with him for a while. So we pottered around inside for about 1/2 hour or so until I finally insisted we had to go.


Anonymous said...

Yesterday Gus and I had a nice ride. But this morning when I went to get him, he planted his feet and said, "No, I want to eat grass." And so did Skipper his brother. So I left them be. When I went into the barn, the stable hand informed me that, whereas they're usually out grazing all night, last night they demanded to be let in and spent the night in their stalls with just a bit of hay. So no wonder they wanted to be left in peace to graze! I spent time with Chloe in the pasture - just hanging out and then working on asking her to release her neck and shoulder. (Kind of an Alexander lesson.) She was quite agreeable and when I took my hands off her, she'd even put her head back into my hands. She just reeeeally doesn't want to be out of the pasture except to come in to her stall for dinner with her friends.

Has it occurred to anyone else that all this spilkering has ramifications for the education of children? Imke Spilker is to horses what A.S. Neill (of Summerhill) was to children. As someone who "unschooled" their oldest three children and now has two in private school, the topic is dear to my heart.


Anonymous said...

I just bought the book Empowered Horses and I read it with great interest as it echoes within me. Thank you Imke for writing it for us. I was wondering if somehow Imke Spilker and Klaus Ferdiand Hempfling have crossed their ways at some stage?


Lynne Gerard said...

Dear Nellie,
I'm glad you obtained a cop of EMPOWERED HORSES and that it is resonating within you.

I don't know if Imke has any experiences with Klaus or not, but his work has also given me direction on this journey with horses, and I think we will find even more interesting things coming from him in the future.

Thank you for leaving your comment in the Journal of Ravenseyrie, Nellie and for being drawn to alternative ways of being with horses.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lynne

It is wonderful to see that more and more information and help is there to travel a journey with horses on a new ground.

You are a wonderful ambassador to help bring the information to the seeker in a loving non judgemental way. I congratulate you and thank you.

Best regards,


Cyndi said...

I saw Imke's book "Empowered Horses" for the first time yesterday in a book store. I browsed through it, but even that little bit was enough to captivate me. My husband is ordering the book for me tomorrow!!

I felt that the words that I read, as well as what I have read on this web page, were taken right out of my heart and my mind...almost bringing me to tears. I am not a natural leader, in the sense that most "natural horsemanship" trainers expect you to be. I am quiet, and possess a quiet inner strength. My heart was thrilled to read that this book may be easier for newbies like me than for experienced people.

I grew up on a farm and have loved horses for as long as I can remember. My uncle had horses at our farm, and my brother owned his own horse for a few years. I never had any fear of the horses, and when a filly was born, we grew up with her. I can remember hanging onto her neck with my arms and legs wrapped around her neck. She would just stand there! But the horses all left the farm by the time I was old enough to ride on my own.

After that, I rode horses whenever I had the chance, which became less and less as I got older. Twenty-five years, a husband and two children later, I was blessed with a horse of my own almost three years ago. She is much like me, and we've been told that we're perfect for each other. But I have found that as fond as I am of her, and love being with her, she doesn't always feel the same. I wanted to improve our relationship and have her as excited to see me as I always am to see her. I've taken "natural horsemanship" lessons, yet still felt that I had to act like a strong leader, but it didn't feel right, and I felt very fake and out of my element. My happiest times were when my mare and I just hung out together with no demands. And I felt terribly uncomfortable with "having" to cause her discomfort in order to get her to respond to what I've asked her to do. So I left that training method and discovered Hempfling. I have all three of his books, which I really enjoy. I KNEW there had to be a better way to have a relationship with my horse without using force and "making" her do what I want, and Hempfling showed me that such a way does exist. But I do find some of his ways hard to understand and put in action. I am not gifted like he is, so I don't "get" some of the things he talks about. Perhaps some of it was lost in translation. And then I discovered Imke's book yesterday. I feel like I have been on a long journey with my mare, and the further I go along, the more information there is being presented to me on what I am seeking!

I really hope that this book gives ideas of where to start, as I have no personal support. I have to rely on the internet for that :o)

Lynne Gerard said...

Cyndi wrote:
"I've taken "natural horsemanship" lessons, yet still felt that I had to act like a strong leader, but it didn't feel right, and I felt very fake and out of my element. My happiest times were when my mare and I just hung out together with no demands. And I felt terribly uncomfortable with "having" to cause her discomfort in order to get her to respond to what I've asked her to do.

What a great feeling for you to find resonance with Hempfling and Spilker. What you have shared here (quoted above) is something I think many, many people feel with their horses. I know I certainly felt that way and am immensely gratified to learn that there are other ways to be with horses wherein we can be ourselves and not try to put on a scripted persona.

During those moments when you and your horse are just hanging out together and the feeling of togetherness is flowing unimpeded by notions of hierarchy and training agendas are precisely the time when you creatively introduce something new that you and your horse can go together...typically something completely novel that springs to mind intuitively. This is your springboard. You will read of many such spontaneous learning/training sessions in Imke Spilker's book Empowered Horses.

And, as you can see, having stumbled onto the Journal of are not alone on this path.

Feel free to write back with your thoughts once you've had chance to read the book. Your feedback is very meaningful.

Cyndi said...

Hi Lynne,
I finally finished "Empowered Horses", and plan to start re-reading it soon! I really enjoyed it, and found it to be quite inspirational. I would love to spend some time watching people like Imke, to better grasp what she does with her horses, as I am unsure about what I am doing, and I am a visual learner :o)

I do have questions. Some of the horses, like El Paso and Passaro, who were so did they do routine things like hoof trimming with these guys before their transformations? When it takes years to get some of these horses to this point, what do you do for vet visits and such?

It was interesting to study the body language of the horses during play. I can see from the pictures that my mare is often showing signs of playful pleasure. What about head tossing? Some would say that head tossing is a sign of irritation by the horse...or can it also be play? I suppose it would depend on what other parts of the body are doing, to interpret that properly.

I have heard that if you let your horse act out or do whatever it wants, that that can reinforce rude behaviour...for instance, a horse may learn that if he does a certain behaviour, people will back off. At what point does the horse start coming around?

I'm sorry for asking so many questions, but if I don't ask, then I won't know :o)

I highly recommend this book.

Lynne Gerard said...

It's really terrific you have come back to share your impressions of the book and bring forward some very excellent questions.

I have my own thoughts on how best to answer, of course, but since it is Imke's writings and experiences that have prompted your queries, Kris McCormack (the translator for the English version of the book) has graciously offered to present your questions to Imke. Whatever Imke decides to respond to, Kris will translate for us and I will work into a separate journal entry.

If a horse is violently objective to handling, it would be a rare instance that I would press the matter to the point of using force to achieve an agenda...and that agenda would have to be life threatening for me to cross the line.

I am fortunate that I am in a situation where the horses thrive without routine farrier or veterinary care and I can take whatever time is necessary to build up a trusting relationship between us.

This is not the case with those who are in public boarding situations, so one would have to tailor an approach that is the least invasive and work in partnership with the farrier and vet. It would be of utmost important to me to only use the services of caregivers who are willing to work with me and the horse and not against us, even if it means I have to pay for them to stay an entire day, or come back on a different day.

Horses that are mistrustful and volatile profit greatly from the empathetic intentions of their handlers, who are not there just to "get the job done" but work together to achieve a common goal.

Lynne Gerard said...

Cyndi wrote:
"What about head tossing? Some would say that head tossing is a sign of irritation by the horse...or can it also be play?"

"Some would say that head tossing is a sign of irritation by the horse...or can it also be play? I suppose it would depend on what other parts of the body are doing, to interpret that properly."

Though there have been countless books published designed to tell us what the various body postures and expressions used by horses mean, these are only as good general information and not something one builds a relationship upon. We learn to "feel" the horses intentions as much as they feel ours. When one lets go of "agenda" and engages with horses by mutual feeling, it becomes very easy to determine what is a playful reaction and what is a pissy one. And a horse should certainly be encouraged to feel it can express both joyfulness and irritation.

"I have heard that if you let your horse act out or do whatever it wants, that that can reinforce rude behaviour...for instance, a horse may learn that if he does a certain behaviour, people will back off. "

In my opinion, it is better to ignore rude behavior and creatively work towards a rechanneling of energies. I have never felt taken advantage of because I have let some presumed transgression go unpunished.

Much more to be said, Cyndi...which I will save for inclusion in a separate journal entry after Imke has had opportunity to weigh in.

Again, great questions and hopefully Imke will be in a position to share her own answers.

Cyndi said...

Thank you Lynne!

Wow, I feel so honored that you have taken the time to answer my questions and to ask Imke! I am speechless!

Looking forward to reading what Imke has to say...if she's able to.

I wish I had someone like you to keep my horse with. Being with like-minded people makes such a difference.


Lynne Gerard said...

Cyndi wrote:
"Looking forward to reading what Imke has to say...if she's able to."

Cyndi, Kris and Imke have offered up their thoughts, which I have just published in a journal entry today, titled: Ask the Expert.
Hope to catch up with you there...

Cyndi said...

Thanks, Lynne!

I'm headed over there right now!!

June said...

Lynne, you said above: "A horse like Buddy is sometimes the very best of teachers."

How right you were! I had absolutely no idea of all he was capable of teaching, and - moreover - willing to teach.