Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Exploring Usability

In an earlier blog entry (where I was kindly given permission to republish an article by Imke Spilker which was translated into English by Kristina McCormack) a reader named "Nellie" left the following comment:

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.



Fada and Jerry

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)

The yearling Sorraia half-bred colts, Animado and Interessdo enjoy a game of chase

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)
Already showing such regal qualities for a yearling colt! Animado!!

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)

Zeus, Mistral and Animado

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.

Animado and Jerry in a highly spirited game


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.

Animado

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.


The half-Sorraia yearlings, Fada, Interessado and Animado

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.

The registered Thoroughbred gelding, Zeus


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.

Zeus and Mistral

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.

video
A few segments of Monday's frolic that I was able to get video footage of, in between taking photos

17 comments:

eva said...

Lynne,

When I look at Animando (fifth image from top) I am asking myself: what can a human possibly add to this being?

I would say as perfection and self-actualization increases, "usability" tends to decrease toward zero, no? so I think Hempfling's choice of words is not entirely happy. I wonder, Kris, if you remember what the German word was?

To the extent this being is still becoming it follows a trajectory of its own.

eva

Lynne Gerard said...

Eva,
In this photo, Animado, while looking spectacular, is not yet fully aware of how much more collected and powerful and expressive his body and inner being can be. He certainly has found the door way though!

To realize this heightened capacity, he will need to begin to bring his weight bearing hind leg further under his body, with an increase in his pelvic engagement, greater contraction of his abdominal muscles, increased rounding over the topline with even more lift of the withers between the shoulder blades, greater flexion in the poll and higher lift to his fore limbs. Precisely the type of overall consolidation of beingness that Altamiro has discovered by being a herd sire.

Kris McCormack said...

I agree with Lynne that there is work (as Lynne describes) for Animado to do to become fully collected. There is also the added element of consciousness -- which Imke discusses, but Hempfling to the best of my recollection does not. A horse is truly empowered when he can collect himself because he wants to, because he has become aware of how these movements make him feel, and not merely because of external stimuli like mares in season or competing stallions.

That, according to Spilker in Empowered Horses, is something a horse cannot get from other horses, but is something that his human friend can help him to achieve. It is a powerful way to find "freedom" in an unfree world.

The question I have is: Is this particular kind of consciousness/awareness as desirable to horses living in the wild or as Lynne's horses live -- in families, with a rich environment and stimulating social life? Its value to most captive horses is clear to me, but to horses who are not so firmly under humans' thumbs.... I don't know.

Kris McCormack said...

Oh, Eva, about your translation question. The word was "brauchbar" (and also "unbrauchbar") -- When KFH used quotes around a word, so did I, as in the example Lynne quoted. In talking about typical training systems, the word "usability" makes perfect sense. Those systems are all about "using" the horse.

There is, I think, more than one dimension to a horse being "usable." A horse with a terrific conformation might be deemed "brauchbar"/usable by someone evaluating him by his build alone. But it could well be that he is temperamentally completely unsuited for the work that is planned for him. Then he becomes "unbrauchbar"/unusable, at least for that particular work.

On an emotional and mental level I would agree with you that "as perfection and self-actualization increases, "usability" tends to decrease toward zero," but, on a purely superficial physical level, just the opposite is true. A horse that has mastered collection is stronger and more supple, much better able to carry a rider than ever before -- thus he would appear more "usable" to the practitioners of the traditional training systems to which Hempfling refers in Lynne's excerpt.

Best,
Kris

Lynne Gerard said...

Kris wrote:
"There is also the added element of consciousness -- which Imke discusses, but Hempfling to the best of my recollection does not."

In the August 2008 (Vol. 36) of the online Horses For LIFE magazine, Hempfling relays the following to editor Nadja King during an interview:

"So what I did with the horse was the first encounter which was one very quick minute changing of the horse. And then we were walking. And with this special horse, we had been doing this for 10 or 13 days. And nothing is happening. The horse is happier than before and the horse is close to me, but nothing was happening. But she [the horse's person.-lg] was recognizing that the horse was thinking and feeling. The horse seems, sometimes, even more tired. And then by day 14, poof, in one second, the horse started to dance.

"The horse somehow connected his own authenticity to his own roots and started to dance. She realized in that moment that it was not me who was doing something. It was not me who was provoking something. It was me who was playing the earth, the tree, the grass....whatever it would like to grow so it grows by itself. And this is what I try to explain to the people--trust in nature and trust your own horse. Just be yourself and try to connect with your horse as you said, like a child, and it will come by itself."

This tells me Klaus does recognize that the transformation of the horse is done on his own, consciously.

Here's another quote from him in the HFL article I put a link to in the original journal entry we are commenting on.

"In the first moment, the horse will start to blow up and eat the ground. And then you'll have weeks where the horse is falling inside of himself like a balloon and resting, big holiday: sleeping, eating, walking. The pressure is gone. And out of these weeks of allowing them to be lazy and allowing them to be themselves and finding themselves again, then they are starting to build up themselves with all their power."

Don't you think this indicates he recognizes that the true transformations are those the horse makes himself?

Lynne Gerard said...

Kris wrote:
"That, according to Spilker in Empowered Horses, is something a horse cannot get from other horses, but is something that his human friend can help him to achieve. It is a powerful way to find "freedom" in an unfree world."

Hmmm...I think horses can gain this sense of empowerment from other horses, but probably it doesn't happen so much within the domestic group settings that horses are put into by humans (those that are limited to rather banal, uninteresting, unchallenging environments and peculiar pairings of horses turned out together on small acreages).

When our horses play, I'm convinced that they recognize the effect their posturings have on the other horses they are gaming with, and over time, they "polish" their postures, enhancing them for greater effect--probably with the double reward of how good they feel showing off in these ways.

Certainly, Altamiro's empowerment occurred because of the effect his initial explorations of altering his energy and form were responded to by the rest of the horses. He then, in turn, practiced and pefected these various uses of form and energy which ultimately won him rulership of Ravenseyrie. Even now, he will leave the mares and go mingle with Mistral and his group to "practice" further the skills he's learned. Sometimes it is done in play and during those times Mistral's group responds in play. Other times it is done as a sort of reminder to them that he is in charge.

It's likely that when discovering how good certain postures and movements feel because a human has been able to create the right situation to allow the horse to make this discovery possible touches him (mentally) in a different place than posturing to impress another horse does, and would, I think, enhance the relationship between horse and human. This is why I feel conventional training, which employs restrictive (some call them guiding) aids to force a horse into a posture never can compare, because the horse, more often than not is oppressed by that type of "assistance" and not empowered. He doesn't connect the energy and form he's been coerced into using to liberation, self-actualization and heightened capacity for using his body to its fullest advantage--he connects it with being limited, restricted and more often than not feels pain from it as well...and it these are certainly not sensations that would prompt him to practice on his own.

Kris wrote:
"The question I have is: Is this particular kind of consciousness/awareness as desirable to horses living in the wild or as Lynne's horses live -- in families, with a rich environment and stimulating social life? Its value to most captive horses is clear to me, but to horses who are not so firmly under humans' thumbs.... I don't know."

It would be difficult to desire something we are not aware exists. I think perhaps in a setting like Ravenseyrie, horses are feeling a good degree of fulfillment and happiness, regardless of whether or not they have much of a relationship with humans, and if they don't know what they are missing, they don't miss it! But if they begin to get a sense of some possible enhancements to themselves by connecting with humans, then, they desire more.

Kris McCormack said...

Lynne wrote: "Don't you think this indicates he recognizes that the true transformations are those the horse makes himself?"

Yes, I think the quote you selected show that KFH recognizes (along with Spilker, et al) that true transformation comes from within the horse.

However, I think I'm talking about something slightly different, or perhaps, something more specific. I'm talking about the horse having conscious recognition of what I.S. calls the leaping off point, the point of power -- the spot where a horse has to place his feet in order to easily shift his weight rearward and lighten his forehand. In nature, collection is assumed "automatically" because of external stimuli like new horses coming into the environment, mares in season, etc. In the beginning of work with a human being, the stimuli are also external -- the whip following close to the hind feet, etc. But, the point of the work (for us humans) should be the "aha!" moment for the horse, where he realizes our purpose in asking him to circle, encouraging him to step under, etc. That is when he comes into his full power, when collection is no longer at the whim of external stimuli but solely in his control.

As I read that last Hempfling quote I get the sense he is referring to a transformation whereby a horse, previously uncommunicative or shutdown or sour, comes out of his "shell" and re-connects to himself, his person, and his environment. That transformation would have to take place before you could play together.... and serious work (leading toward the "aha moment" to which I referred) could come only after playing together had been "mastered." But, perhaps I am misreading that quote and/or missing something vital in the books.

Lynne Gerard said...

Kris wrote:
"As I read that last Hempfling quote I get the sense he is referring to a transformation whereby a horse, previously uncommunicative or shutdown or sour, comes out of his "shell" and re-connects to himself, his person, and his environment."

Yes, this is the context.

Kris wrote:
"But, the point of the work (for us humans) should be the "aha!" moment for the horse, where he realizes our purpose in asking him to circle, encouraging him to step under, etc. That is when he comes into his full power, when collection is no longer at the whim of external stimuli but solely in his control."

I see what you are getting at now, and why you felt that Hempfling hasn't discuss it. I get the feeling he must have surely done so, in one of his books and may go on a search for it--however, if you (as translator) don't recall him having done so, then I suppose he has not.

Anyhow, thank you for helping see the difference.

Janet Grant said...

Lynne, I have been reading your blog since the beginning and don't recall you having a discussion about the horse's feet. I am involved with the Paso Fino's, as you know, and they are very prone to founder. With your herd, do you ever have to trim their feet? Are their hooves in really good health because of the herd's constant movement? What percentage of their food are they getting from you in the form of hay and what are they getting from the land? I suppose my real question is what are we doing wrong! I think the Pasos have been bred in South America for 500 years, are recent immigrants, and don't tolerate our rich grass.

eva said...

Kris, and Lynne,

Whenever we humans look at a state of being, we can always see ways in which it can be perfected. Is Animando fully collected and aware of his powers? Is there nothing more he could develop? Of course not. This is all true what you are bringing to bear on this moment of life that expresses itself in these snapshots. But it is also true that in this moment of joyful/playful expression, there is perfect harmony between this being and the physical universe in the sense that the movement is in harmony with the surroundings, the mood, and what is required of precisely this moment.
Isn't it?

Lynne Gerard said...

Eva wrote:
"But it is also true that in this moment of joyful/playful expression, there is perfect harmony between this being and the physical universe in the sense that the movement is in harmony with the surroundings, the mood, and what is required of precisely this moment."

You are right to point this out, Eva...at the precise moment of the photo we are discussing, Animado is absolutely an expression of perfection, completely demonstrating that in the "now" of this particular time in his life he epitomizes self-actualization and fulfillment.

How thankful I am to have such a photo and your great observation to show how marvelous it is when all things come together as they should!

Anonymous said...

Oh gosh, thanks to y'all I too have now been exposed to Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling. I've been poring over "What Horses Reveal." I find the different "personality types" with their concomitant physical characteristics, to be fascinating. I've tried to avoid immediately categorizing the horses I know, but instead to just keep reading and trying to let it come in, as KFH suggests. Last night I became convinced that Buddy, now called George, about whom I've written on this site before, is a Sergeant. As he is about to come to live with us, I'm so glad to have this aid in understanding him, and it makes me feel good about him as a possible horse for my daughter, as she has very good clarity and leadership. It explains his previous aggression, and moments, still, when he flashes sudden annoyance. Interestingly, my friend who is giving him to us and who knows him very well, described him to me in terms very similar to KFH's description of the Sergeant. This characterization of him as a horse who "wants to be told what to do" was at odds, to me at the time, with Spilker's aim of allowing the horse to express himself. But now I feel confident to give him direction without feeling guilty!

I'm interested in the "Origin" type. (My Chloe seems to be one of these.) KFH says "strictly speaking this horse is not a prey, a flight, animal anymore." Is this because a lot of these horses are of the native breed type, such as Icelandic or the British Mountain and Moorland breeds, which live in terrain unsuitable for rapid flight and in an environment lacking large predators?

Chloe, unlike George, feels it just wrong to be told what to do. She will be cooperative, but she still doesn't approve. Because of Spilker, I've already told her we've given up on telling her what to do. She likes me a lot better now! I love that KFH says that the person working with the Origin should be "striving for righteousness." That's what Chloe wants for sure!

When I was learning to identify poison ivy (coming as I do from a country which doesn't have it), I would at first stoop and itemize the different points: 3 leaflets, one with a longer stalk, slightly shiny, etc. ... But now that I know what it is, I can recognize it out of the corner of one eye - I see its personality or character as a whole. Once it came to me that George was a Sergeant, it seems that I could see a unifying character to his head which he shares with the horse in the illustration, even though in many ways they look different. Similarly with Chloe and the Origin illustrations.

I have a question for Kristina if she's listening. At the beginning of "The Origin" section, there is a mention of "the next character group, the Wanderer." But the next group is the Pilgrim. Are "Wanderer" and "Pilgrim" both translations of the same German word?

Lynne, have you thought about what personality types KFH would say your horses were? That downward sloping Sorraio muzzle is characteristic of some of the types - the Minister for example. In the above photos, Animado looks a lot like the illustration of the Minister.

By the way - anyone? - I ride a horse that I think might be a Prince, but "the Prince's profile is always a bit concave," and this guy's profile is not.

My family think I have gone quite batty.

June

Anonymous said...

Talking of dressage and "good use" and collection. Gus (the possible "Prince" I ride) is a long-bodied, short-legged, heavy horse (but very handsome!) who went very heavily on his forehand. He is learning to lighten and come back onto his hindquarters. He has gotten to where he will self-correct without any input from me. The other day out on the trail, he suddenly lightened and lifted his back, and as that happened, my pelvis which had, unbeknownst to me, tilted too far forward, was tilted upright and my seat found a better connection with his back - the student correcting the teacher!

June

p.s. I invented a new type for Gus - the "Winnie the Pooh." He is affable and kind and gregarious. He always likes to have "a little something." Sometimes he can be a little slow and stubborn, but in a very mannerly way. Sometimes he can get a little startled, but he soon calms down again. He has short limbs and is large around the middle, and is golden colored. He is not a "bear of very little brain," but I think he's quite happy to think of himself that way. Oh, and he likes to live in a cozy house, with a nice supply of little somethings coming his way regularly.

Kris McCormack said...

June wrote:
"I have a question for Kristina if she's listening. At the beginning of "The Origin" section, there is a mention of "the next character group, the Wanderer." But the next group is the Pilgrim. Are "Wanderer" and "Pilgrim" both translations of the same German word?"

June, as I recall, I used both "Wanderer" and "Pilgrim" for the name of that character type. During the editing process the decision was made to use "Pilgrim." It seems the reference to "the Wanderer" in the "Origin" chapter slipped by unnoticed. :-)

Best,
Kris

Anonymous said...

Can the North Wind ever be an "easy keeper" type?

June

Anonymous said...

Kristina - by the way, I forgot to say - what a lovely translation of "What Horses Reveal"!
June

Anonymous said...

I've been trying out KFH's way of leading horses. (Thank you, Youtube!) It's magical. It's like you're acting and telling the truth at the same time - the way you act with little children when you make an ordinary thing seem fun and exciting by your tone of voice and attitude.

If you kindly invited someone into your home and then harmed them in some way (like the witch in Hansel and Gretel), it would be an abomination. Similarly, if you invite a horse to come with you in that manner, you're then morally obliged to treat it as an honored guest.

June