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?
I don't know if Imke and Klaus have had any contact with each other, but their writings do appear to share some common elements of the evolved philosophy of horse/human relations. Nellie's query has prompted me to discuss some of the things Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling has written which I have found to be worth deeper consideration.
I'd like to use today's journal entry to share some further contemplation of the "usability" of horses. To break up the text, I am inserting photos taken on Monday during a high spirited frolic and dash that Mistral's group engaged in after an autumn rain shower.
In his book, What Horses Reveal (also translated with good feeling by Kristina McCormack from the original German to English), Klaus wrote about the superficiality of training horses to be used for specific human goals and training from a deeper relationship with horses where usefulness is not the goal, but, rather, the by-product.
If, for example, horses are given the most common types of training, of whatever kind and for whatever riding style, it can be assumed that the majority of these horses will later function pretty much in a certain way. Twenty, thirty, or more, percent of horses, however, will not achieve certain goals, or will for other reasons, perhaps because they rebel too much, be deemed 'unusable' in the end. This is virtually calculated into the equation, it is part of the horse-training business. What counts in this case, from the very beginning, is an animal's usefulness, and the tried and true methods that have a great probability of giving the anticipated results and value. This is not the way I operate, or think, but, in fairness, these methods must be given their due for the relative clarity and simplicity with which everything occurs. There are more or less clearly formulated methods, recognizable stops on the way, and standardized goals. If you are satisfied with that, then you, at least, will not too easily go astray.
For those of us who want to adhere to inner values it is not this desired external usefulness that counts the most. We must, however, be very careful because at this point some well-camouflaged lies of life, into whose fine web it is easy to fall, can arise. In the relationship I have with horses, there emerges from the foundation of deep trust an immediately visible effect, a visible 'usefulness' that is in fact very important. On the one hand, therefore, I say that the relationship and inner values are the important things, and that outward 'usefulness' should be disregarded but, on the other hand, I say that the outward transformation that springs from within, the 'effect', is so significant. This sort of 'usefulness' develops in a manner that is very different from that which is commonly known. All this appears to be contradictory but it is not. (pgs. 22-23)
Klaus then offers up exquisite "before and after" photos of the Spanish stallion Junque to illustrate his point and has written more detail on what he means:
With regard to the work that follows, I would like to begin with this example: all of these pictures speak of a deep inner connection between horse and man. That is the starting point, the path and the goal, all in one, and is the main purpose, the reason and the reward for my action. But the proof of the rightness of this path is also the physical, visible effect. It is the external appearance of the horse. And these connections are all too often forgotten, or not even noticed. Many people cannot, therefore, even imagine that outwardly visible successes come to be when your attention is directed completely and totally toward inner values, because, very often, these are not recognized by those who strive for inner qualities of whatever kind. But, my experience in this respect is that, if you strive for inner values, you are only genuinely doing that, and in the right way, if positive changes are also seen on the outside, for example in well-being, strength, energy, expression, form, and beauty. (pg. 24)
To make sure his readers are truly absorbing the meaning of his words he offers this passage:
Let me reiterate that I maintain, and all the pictures on these pages can unequivocally verify, that unbelievable 'miracles' on the outside are possible only when inner values and forms are developed. Only then can something develop externally without our doing anything that is specifically 'use' oriented. It grows as, for example, a thriving tree grows in size and magnificence. It happens all by itself when the conditions are right; and this book is about the conditions. (pg. 24)
This reminds me both of the approach Imke Spilker uses with her horse/human interactions and also the philosophy behind the "natural farming" espoused by Masanobu Fukuoka. If we provide the appropriate conditions, growth, empowerment, greater beauty and a concomitant "usefulness" are a by-product of honoring the natural essence of things and the human assisting/accompanying their inherent qualities leads them to fulfillment. The "usefulness" is ultimately beneficial first and foremost for the horse (or plant) itself and represents a self-actualization that creates the situation where achieving one's optimum potential is possible.
Do you provide your horse the right conditions for this self-actualized capacity for achieving his optimum potential, or have you "boxed" her into your human concept of what that optimum potential might? These questions I repeatedly ask myself.
In someways, for some of the horses and mules here at Ravenseyrie, I would say that living pretty much the way wild horses live has given them the chance to reach their optimum potential. For others, I get a sensation that they would like "more"...just what that "more" might be has me often in greater contemplation.
We can quote Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling again for some insight into what I am feeling. The following excerpts are from an interview/article published in the online magazine, Horses For LIFE, titled, How to Bring Happiness to Your Horses.
For sure, my approach to the horses is a very simple thing. If the horse does not want me to jump on him and ride him, I will not do it. The horse has to come to me and say "Please ride me because I like it. I'm more fresh after the ride than before. I'm healthier, stronger, and prouder when you have been riding me than before."
I would never do anything with the horse if the horse is suffering at all in any way and losing quality of life. So these are things I'm explaining to the jumpers and competition riders: as long as you're running through hundreds of competitions and the horses are going after them, then I'm with you. If you're pressuring the horse, if you're doing something where the horse is not prepared, then we're for sure running on different levels. To be sure, you can ask me things and I would like to give you answers and help you understand yourself and your horse or whatever, I'm not judging you. But please know that whatever I'm doing, my first intention and first approach is to be with the horse. We're not sitting in a rubber boat, that when you have a hole, you go out and buy a new one. We're dealing with living beings and whatever I'm doing is in the best interests of the individual horses.
Expanding on recognizing the individuality of horses and that what is in the best interest for one horse might not be the same for a different horse, Klaus says:
I have classified 26 characters in my book where the horses reveal [themselves]. If you have a winner, for example, and you're missing the opportunity for this horse to compete and make him win, then he will be sad. It's like having a sheepdog in your house and the sheepdog is lying around with no job to do. I used to be with sheep and living in the country. And the sheepdog was happy to be working eight hours a day with the sheep. In the morning he woke up for his job and was happy to have his job.
On the other hand, there are dogs which like to lie around on the sofa and be fed, and this is the pleasure and the meaning of this dog. So no limits, but the right approach, and always the best interests of the animal because we have the responsibility for them and enough knowledge and enough feeling to distinguish between different types of animals and to channel them into the right jobs.
I'd like to use our Thoroughbred gelding Zeus as an example of how important it is to discover the "right approach". Zeus' history is pretty sketchy, but I had been told that he was initially trained as a race horse but didn't make the cut because he was too slow. This may have been the truth, at least there is the telltale tattoo on the inside of his upper lip, but he hasn't seemed at all too slow here at Ravenseryie, and this is due to the different lifestyle he is part of here which provides him a much different motivation to "win" than the race course life was able to give him. Zeus really came alive living among a big group of horses and quickly took up the post of being Mistral's "right hand man" and there are many races he eagerly engages in, one of which you can view within the journal entry titled, Grulla Variations, A Racehorse in the Wilderness and Zorita Too. Here is an example of simply providing the right conditions which allow the horse to blossom all on his own.
For myself, the realm of competition is far too fraught with elements that cause even the most ardent devotee of the horse's best interests to "compromise" in ways that ultimately are not in the horse's best interest but, rather, serve the human ego. But I do think some horses thrive on competition, as our Zeus does. It swells my heart immensely to see this once skinny, beaten down, introverted, unsure horse find self-actualization through just being a horse living in the wilderness with his herd mates.
Do I see, also, in him the capacity for haute école? I certainly do...but I do not yet see the conditions being quite right to help him pursue this yet...though I have a feeling such conditions will reveal themselves in time, if I remain open to it myself.