Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Brief Comparison of Spilker and Hempfling

June, one of the reader's of the Journal of Ravenseyrie, has been immersing herself in learning a new way of interacting with horses. Like many of us, June has found herself marvelously impacted by the work of Imke Spilker as presented in her book EMPOWERED HORSES. The teachings of Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling are also providing June with much to think about and prompting her to explore different means of "coming together" with her own horses.

In a few recent comments to other Journal of Ravenseyrie entries, June has recognized that the concept of "dominance" in the horse/human relationship brings up some differences between the way Imke Spilker relates with horses and the way Mr. Hempfling does.
Within Imke Spilker's work, the notion of dominance is not addressed in the manner which it is in Mr. Hempfling's work perhaps because Imke Spilker's approach is not based on domination but on shared leadership. In Imke's world there is no fixed individual in control, rather horse and human cede control back and forth to suit the quality of the moment.
Imke writes,
We will stop when our horse says: "No!" We will let it all go, try another way, or do something else. We will not force our horse to do it our way. Rather, we will find the path our horse wants to travel and walk it with him. We ask him for his permission, we discuss things, and above all we listen. "Okay, Toppur. Pardon me. I did not mean it like that." We reflect on the matter once more--pause--and then I make a renewed attempt. Now Toppur does what I request!

In this aspect it may be that Ms. Spilker's interactions with horses favor feminine qualities as a means of motivating a horse to become master of himself on the road to self-actualization. The role of the human is built on deference to the horse, and it becomes the job of the human to identify what motivates the horse and initiate ways which assist the horse in developing his own awareness of his inherent potential. Horse and human work as a team, as friends on a common goal, a goal that the horse comes to choose for himself and we join them as a supportive mentor, offering suggestions, ideas and creative advice rather than demands, corrections and punishments. In Imke Spilker's work the cultivation of non-linear perception also leads to identifying, nurturing and trusting our instincts and intuitive powers which then makes it possible to completely harmonize with our horses in a mutual understanding that transcends our apparent species differentia.
Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling's work is extraordinary, beautiful and inspiring and I find little about it that makes me uncomfortable. My feeling is that Mr. Hempfling's work is much more influenced by masculine traits. In his book, What Horses Reveal, Mr. Hempfling relays how strongly he identifies with his forefathers "the Celts, the Vikings, the Teutons, the Goths and the Cimbrians", so it does not surprise me the emphasis he places on the concept of dominance in his work, but he isn't dominating via violent force as was the way of his forefathers. The way Mr. Hempfling goes about demonstrating his dominance over his horse is more a reflection of his own domination of his inner self (so that he isn't acting out of fear, anger, or a desire to be powerful himself) demonstrating to the horse that he is a competent leader--he just confidently and deftly uses his intent and body language to stimulate the horse to move. (This is much like Carolyn Resnick's third "ritual" Taking Territory) Mr. Hempfling also feels horses and humans are part of an ongoing mythological process of learning to control our darker sides, and it is in this juxtaposition that he looks upon horse/human interactions. My impression is that his means of training are flexible but yet exist more in a linear, human directed path which is much more serious, keenly structured, less play oriented and maybe a little limiting by the devotion to patriarchal notions of chivalry.
Both Imke Spilker and Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling discuss the importance of recognizing we humans are a part of nature, just as the horses are, and we need to be inwardly and outwardly authentic in our beingness...they each do this differently based on the way they view their heritage as humans.

It's no secret that of the two influences, I feel a greater kinship with Imke than with Klaus, mostly because of the things she says about egalitarianism between horse and human, shared leadership and the "inner language" that we can become part of. These are things that I have been pursuing with my horses and I've felt immense gratification with the way they respond. I also recognize that the very notion of sharing leadership boggles the minds of those still bound by the dynamics of traditional horsemanship.

For some reason, it seems many people are under the impression that to indulge a horse's preferences sometimes over our own, means that we have forfeited our own right to say "no" and our own right to experience "respect" which automatically leads to the horse taking over, running us over and abusing our good nature in a thousand bullish ways. Here we have a topic to discuss in a future journal entry, with personal examples to share.
Thank you June for providing questions that provoked me to briefly compare Klaus Ferdinand Hempling's work with Imke Spilker's on the subject of dominance. Overall, I don't think the two are necessarily far apart on things. I will quote a segment of Hempfling's book What Horses Reveal to illustrate:

Does the horse walk behind me or do I walk ahead of the horse?

This is the simple question. What would you make of the following very unusual thought. What if I do not bring the horse onto my path and lead him, but, rather, I simply put myself on the horse's path and walk two metres ahead of him? Am I leading the horse? Or, am I simply walking his path a few steps in front of him?
Again and again during my encounters with unfamiliar horses, I let them follow my hand as though they are being hypnotized. The pictures show that. But what if, in fact, I am actually following the head of the horse, only I am a second in advance of the horse's movement? That seems totally absurd, but that is, in a specific, exaggerated way, exactly what happens. I put myself in a world at one with the horses, as the shepherd is at one with the sheep. In my case there is a comparable interplay: leading and being led blend into a shared experience. I lead the horse, the horse leads me, and we are both led in that place and time. Only in that way can what seems to be impossible occur. We are simply on a shared path. We each reveal ourselves. --Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling


Máire said...

Dear Lynne,

I recently came across your blog as I googled "Imke Spilker". You see, I have read Empowered Horses (courtesy of Amazon who e-mailed me based on previous purchases - thank you Amazon!). I have been blown away by that book and cannot get it out of my head. I recommended it to a friend as "similar in a way to Hempfling but without the alpha male". She had to purchase her own copy as I am not even lending mine.

It is quite something and I find my mind divided sometimes. You see I am a very average leisure rider. I have at home here a dominant cob and a very shy pony. I ride Ben, my cob, in trec events and he certainly enjoys it. I would always have had lessons from traditional horse people who would say I must be the leader at all times, show him who is boss, etc. So the idea of giving Ben choices was challenging.

But here is a good story: one sunny day, shortly after first reading Empowered Horses, I brought my tack up to the paddock. I went to Ben with the headcollar but he turned his head sharply away. He did not move away and previously I would have reached for his head. This time I didn't and he then moved away. I felt so disappointed but was determined to give him his choice. So I decided to skip out the track (I have a track system here) but keep the headcollar over my shoulder in case he should change his mind. I came across him looking over the back gate. I said hi and kept moving on when he came up behind me, took the headcollar in his teeth and looked at me. Wasn't that fantastic? I held it out, he put his nose into it. We had a lovely ride that day.

I do struggle with the approach. I find it hard to motivate him, apart from food, just occasionally we have had fun playing "bet you can't catch me" - which happens to be my youngest daughter's favourite game. He also can be quite bullying with the little pony and I think he has quite a few trust issues the more I get to know him.

Anyway, well done on your blog. I have browsed through some of it and really enjoyed what I have read.

Best wishes,


eva said...

Lynne, those ears!!!! I love that picture. Who is it?

This is my all-time favorite quote from Klaus Hempfling where he contemplates the mystery of moving together in unison and complete harmony. Things flow and the beings are part of this flow, subordinate to the dynamic of togetherness. And I think it is indicative of the inherent difficulties of talking about that state when you think about it in the terms we habitually look at things. Separate beings with their own wills and agendas. How do we ever come together?

I like your take on the comparison between Hempfling and Spilker as feminine/masculine. That seems certainly the case, but I agree there are interesting similarities.

One phrase that stuck in my mind from reading Dancing with Horses years ago was this: "Our work with horses must always be beautiful." If this was the only directive we had and stuck to it always, a new kind of horse/human relationship would have to emerge, don't you think?

Máire, when Ben sharply turned his head to elude the halter, he meant it! That gesture is so universal and yet how many times do we chose to ignore it? Regarding motivation: When I think of myself, my motivation atrophies the more decisions are being taken away from me. Automated motions take over, my soul buries itself in food, lazy distractions, hoping to hibernate for better days to come. Many of the horses I see at my barn are the exact mirror images of their persons...

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Lynne - I think the idea of masculine/feminine applies aptly to Hempfling and Spilker. I find it artificial when I try to "be" Hempfling. I find it much easier to adopt an attitude similar to a mother trying to persuade her toddler to put on his shoes. The horses don't seem to mind. However, Hempfling has freed me up to feel that (especially with my Sergeants) it's ok to kind of "be in charge" a bit. I don't know if you remember me saying before that when I gave George (fka Buddy) a lot of liberty, he and I kind of had awkward gaps in the conversation, and you said that he would become communicative? I find that it works well with him if I come with a rather specific agenda. But that it's ok to listen to him and adjust/change that agenda. On those terms he communicates very well. It was cool when we were working on changing direction in the round pen. He already knew turning toward the fence, and when we changed to learning turning toward the center, he knew I was asking him something different, and he really slowed down and paid attention and tried to figure out what I was asking. When he got it immediately, I jumped for joy and then sat down, whereupon he came into the center, and we were done for the day, and I turned him out in the big arena where there is lots of yummy clover.

I know exactly what you mean about being "rational"! But when I think "oh well, sometimes you have to be little bit bossy and controlling" and let that influence my behaviour, I nearly always regret it (e.g. trimming the yearling's feet - there was a "good reason" to do that, but still ....).

Here's something which happened last week - the stable hand was about to medicate a 4 year old thoroughbred mare at our barn. He'd never handled her, and he asked me if I'd do it. She is a very strong character. I had to give her two doses of oral medication, and I could tell she wasn't happy about it. She pulled back, but instead of holding her head, I asked her to come back to me, showed her the dispenser, kept the rope loose and "expected" her to keep her head still voluntarily so I could give her the medicine. Which she did.

Here's something you might like. It's a series of photos, including some of a leopard seal, who tried to take care of the photographer by bringing him penguins to eat. She was a completely wild seal who'd never met the photographer before, but after a lengthy aggression display, decided he was harmless and tried to communicate with him via feeding him:


Anonymous said...

I love your story about Encantara!


Lynne Gerard said...

Máire wrote,
>>I recommended it to a friend as "similar in a way to Hempfling but without the alpha male"<<

First, Máire, I want to thank you for taking the time to leave such a good comment here in the Journal of Ravenseyrie. It's so good to know that Kris McCormack's efforts with the translation to English and Trafalgar's willingness to publish it have brought Empowered Horses to a brand new audience.

The description you gave your friend could equally apply to Alexander Nevzorov. If you haven't checked out his website yet, you can find a link to it in the side bar of this blog.

Máire your experience with your horse, Ben, and the head collar is very much in the spirit of Carolyn Resnick, in fact I quote something similar from her in today's blog entry.

I'm sure you will find that the true willing participation of your horses is an addictive thing, and the more you test it out, the less inclined you are to go about doing things with them where they don't have a clear say in whether they want to accompany you or not.

I wish you great explorations!

Eva wrote:
>>One phrase that stuck in my mind from reading Dancing with Horses years ago was this: "Our work with horses must always be beautiful." If this was the only directive we had and stuck to it always, a new kind of horse/human relationship would have to emerge, don't you think?<<

Yes. I absolutely agree. There are the photos in that book on page 24 & 25 where he is has put the young stallion in the steer pen and then lets him loose to run up against the pressure of the halter as a means to get the dominance issue accomplished right away. It doesn't strike me as at all congruent with his later means of establishing a dialogue in What Horses Reveal. The photos are anything but beautiful. I'm guessing he's evolved beyond that...

(The ears in the photo you like belong to Animado.)

June wrote:
>>but instead of holding her head, I asked her to come back to me, showed her the dispenser, kept the rope loose and "expected" her to keep her head still voluntarily so I could give her the medicine. Which she did.<<

Excellent. You'll be doing more and more of this type of interacting...but must be willing to honor the horse when the "no" remains definite and the horse desires to fight for the right to make you honor it. Down the road I have quite a tale to tell regarding Interessado and some medical attention that he needed.

I'll be sure to take a look at your link soon. I'm glad you enjoyed the "Touching Encantara" entry. Segura (Zorita's foal) has been equally reluctant to give and receive touching with humans. I wonder how long before she decides engage with me...I did get to touch her on the first and second day, but not since!

Máire said...

Eva, what you say about motivation is so true. Ben struck me as a very 'used' horse when I got him: used for his reliability and solidness with no choices given to him. He was quite switched off, had a sour expression but would do anything for food. Now, he still loves food of course, but his face has really opened up in expression. I resonate with the horse that June descibes in that he does like me to know my own mind, even if he wants to say no to it. At present, I am initiating our conversations, mostly, and he responds most when I am very centered in myself, he needs no prompting then to respect my space.

Lynn, I have been reading Carolyn Resnick's blog for a while. I have decided in these dark evenings when I go up to feed hay etc to sit for thirty minutes, a chance for me to come to stillness after the day and also for me to see if Ben will come to see me as less of a threat. At present, he spends the first ten minutes or so busily bossing Rosie (the shy little pony). Ben's bossiness brings up an urge in me to boss him back and it is interesting to sit with that and watch it melt away. Fascinating stuff.

Anonymous said...

ok we have to hear the story about Interessado and the medical attention now!!!


Kris McCormack said...

I had meant to tell you how much I love the "ears" photo... but somehow I did not get to post on a timely basis.

Anyway, I LOVE that photo! :-)

As you know, I have always seen much underlying commonality among Hempfling, Spilker, Resnick, and Nevzorov -- commonality these folks probably would not immediately find with one another.

Anyway, they have all profoundly influenced the course of my own journey with horses and I am glad to have had a hand in making Hempfling's and Spilker's work available to English language readers.

It seems to me that Hempfling, in Dancing With Horses, gives us some very good pointers to help us understand horses and become more aware of our bodies and actions. (Though, to this day I wish I could have gotten away with using a word other than "dominance". Even though that's an accurate translation of what he writes, his meaning is more akin to "power of character" or "charisma" --). In "What Horses Reveal" he takes us further inward, making clear the old adage: "the horse is your mirror." Hempfling's books helped me to better understand Carolyn Resnick's work, and her work, coupled with Nevzorov's, helped me to fully appreciate Spilker's work.

As I said, I suspect that these folks would not think they had much in common with one another... but I think if they were to talk to each other's horses, they would find the pathways of communication startling open and "familiar."


June said...

I agree, Kris - the key thing that KFH seems to have is some kind of Svengali-like charisma. Clearly I do not have this quality!!! However, I'm hoping we can get by with some kind of substitute qualities!

There was an article in Equus (Nov. '09) (which I bought because I couldn't resist the perfect "Dandy" and "Friend" illustrated therein) about the work of Magali Delgado and Frederic Pignon, who do a liberty act with stallions - interesting similarities to KFH et al.

Maire - I'd be very interested in hearing about your continued relationship and work with Ben. I am very much feeling my way, and there aren't any people around here I can talk to. With George, I don't feel there's a danger of his reverting to his over-aggressiveness. Reading KFH's account of The Sergeant gives me confidence that his aggression resulted from a feeling of alienation and confusion rather than being allowed to "get away with" stuff. George's last owner acted the alpha horse with him (and admittedly caused his behaviour to improve 100%) but I'm trying not to go that route - I'm trying to be polite and interactive. On the other hand, it's important not to be intimidated by his occasional sour look or pinned ears. If he says "I don't like that," I say, "Big deal, we'll do something else and then try again." He's leading nicer. He was forging ahead of me, and when he does that, I call him back to me in a circle, and he seems to be getting the idea and acting more kindof cooperative...... Work In Progress!!!!

On the topic of pressure - a trainer friend of mine who's into Lyons (and doesn't he say it "works" on "any" horse?) was round-penning her stallion. He ended up charging her, and she sold him. Looking at it now, it's clear she must have been over-pressuring him.


June said...

The work is a journey is it not? And Kris, you're so right to pick out the adage "The horse is your mirror." Ouch!

Kris McCormack said...

Ooooof. I wish we could edit our comments. I meant to write "startlingly" familiar...

June, I'm guessing the Equus article mentioned this, but in case they did not...
Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado were the founders of the show "Cavalia"... an "equine extravaganza" very widely seen and highly regarded in the U.S. and Canada.

These two founding starts left the show about a year ago, and are being replaced by one of Frederic's brothers, and Magali's sister.

Magali Delgado has competed in dressage (and placed highly) at major European shows. Her "thing" was to show that the highest haute ecole standards could be adhered to even in a show like Cavalia. When I saw the show in 2005 (in Boston) I was not particularly moved by the ridden work (either the "dressage" or the trick riding), but FP's liberty work moved me to tears.

Trafalgar Square recently brought out their book (written by a third person, but in their voices), "Gallop to Freedom," in which their training principles are detailed. They came to their way of training through a stallion, Templado, bred by Magali's parents, who was returned to the farm as an embittered, angry youngster who could not stand to be given any orders whatsoever. Their training principles evolved out of their efforts to win Templado's trust and willing, enthusiastic participation in their performances. (By the way, one of the things that distinguished Cavalia from other equine shows was that if a horse did not want to perform on a given night, he did not have to. Another horse was brought in in his place.)

The six principles are:

To foster a more equal relationship, based on trust and respect in which horse and man learn from each other.

Never to adopt “standard” or inflexible methods of training but to recognize that each horse develops as an individual and reacts differently to the same stimulus.

To reduce stress as well as to become a safe, trusted “haven” for the horse.

Always to be patient and never push too fast or too insistently -- and on the other hand, no to allow the horse to get bored.

Never to use force or become angry.

6. To establish a more “natural” form of communication -- that is, to further new methods.

Anonymous said...


Hempfling himself describes a male and a female "way" to be with horses. (See his book "Frau und Pferd" - "Woman/Women and horse/s", 1999)

For men it´s the ultimate challenge to let go of all means of external power through an initiation to an experience of death. For women it´s "solely" to stay connected to her female origins.

Perhaps Kris McCormack will translate the following quotes for you? (She can surely do it a lot better than I) "Wo also liegt die ¨Gefahr¨ für die Frau? Ganz einfach: Wenn sie, wie und in welcher Form auch immer, versucht, mit dem Pferd einen (Ausbildungs-)Weg zu gehen." (page 379) "Was denn kann eine Frau mit Pferden tun? Nichts - nur sein! Und das in ihrer urweiblichsten, urfraulichsten Form: hingebend, beobachtend, begleitend." (page 394) "Geht also ¨Frau¨ zum Pferd, dann muss von Anbeginn an ihre Urintegrität, ihr Urfrausein sie leiten!" (page 396) "Und so ist jedes Hemmnis, jedes Hindernis, das mir als Mann ein Pferd entgegenbringt, ein Geschenk Gottes, ein Geschenk, das ich mit grosser Freude und grosser Dankbarkeit entgegennehmen darf! ... Die Hemmnisse der Pferde ist ihr Sinn! Die Widerstände der Pferde ist ihr Wesen!" (page 405) "Will also eine Frau mit einem Pferd sein, so genügt es für sie zu ¨wissen¨, wie sie sich vor den Übergriffen dieses ihr so gleichen ¨Erdenwesens¨ in verstehender, hingebender Form zu schützen vermag. Alles andere ist ja ohnehin das Ihre." (page 408) "Daher spreche ich auch von jenen wissenden, ahnenden, fühlenden Frauen, die sich einem Phänomen hingeben, das bislang noch zu jung war, als dass man es erkennen, begreifen und beschreiben konnte. Sie sind die ersten, sie sind die, die dem Augenaufschlag folgen ... " (page 416)

As I have heard, Imke had some contact with Hempfling many, many years ago (in the early 199.s). Apparently there was no understanding. As for her: She is not interested in Hempflings work (and comparing hers to his) and his male/female metaphysics. I have asked her this question nine years ago and she definitely didn´t like it at all!

Verónica-Punta Indio (Argentina)

Lynne Gerard said...

Norbert wrote: "For men it´s the ultimate challenge to let go of all means of external power through an initiation to an experience of death. For women it´s "solely" to stay connected to her female origins."

I have read such things before, and hoped to share some quotes from the books in my library, but haven't found where I'd read similar concepts, and do not presently have the time to give a proper search through the possibilities that come to mind. Perhaps in one of Marija Gimbutas' books (which I keep at my studio, not here at home)? However, I have also read that for many female shamans, a similar passage of initiation (metaphysical death, dismemberment, rebirth, empowerment) is undertaken...

At any rate, I have been given translations to the excerpts you offered up from "Frau und Pferd" but upon the request that I not place them here in the blog.

What is it about reading Hempfling at times that is so off-putting? For me, not always, but frequently his mien possesses such aggrandizing confidence that he delivers his words as if they bear witness to the ultimate truth on many it is sometimes difficult to read him, especially when he aims to define women with that same unwavering confidence in what his life's journey has shown him.

While I absolutely agree that there is within women (likely due to our being the crucible of human life, via our wombs) a natural faculty which on the one hand renders us more vulnerable around horses, while on the other granting us a venue of access to them that is little utilized by men...I think elements of Hempfling's work demonstrate a learned capacity to sense/feel/perceive in a very nurturing, feminine way.

While the obvious biological differences between men and women are apparent, I think inherent behavior, instinct and predilections are shaped by social environment and conditioning and reinforced by media stereotyping. With the present overwhelming monopoly of dominator societies and patriarchal "leadership", we are lead to believe that perception by feeling, nurturing, shared-leadership, cooperative and non-acquisition oriented behaviors divide along male/female genders. And yet, we all know men who are "in touch with their feminine sides" and women who are more combative and lusty for power than men.

Where do we desire to apply our energies? Obviously females can adopt masculine tendencies and males can emulate feminine dyadic pairs. Where there is a flowing balance, there would be something edifying and beautiful, I should think.

"As I have heard, Imke had some contact with Hempfling many, many years ago (in the early 199.s). Apparently there was no understanding. As for her: She is not interested in Hempflings work (and comparing hers to his) and his male/female metaphysics. I have asked her this question nine years ago and she definitely didn´t like it at all!"

I have been making greeting cards since 1984, and have not studied the work of other greeting card creators since the very beginning. Occasionally I will see other cards and note casually what I might find appealing or repulsive about them, but I do not engage in any in depth study or comparison of them because I want to approach my own work as purely as possible. Perhaps it is the same for Imke Spilker? Rather than break things down, analyzing her work against others, she recognizes it is much more beneficial for her to go out to the field and be with the horses, interacting and learning from them rather than engaging in the type of pitter-patter over these things (like I often do, too frequently!)

The Horses' Advocate said...

What a wonderful conversation!

Lynne, what you say about greeting cards and studying (or not) the work of others is really interesting.

I get the impression that both Klaus and Imke have each found their inner truth.

How easy it is for us to subscribe to a method or 'a way', to over-theorise, over think, but to miss the inner guide that is our personal sense. Always if we can listen to the inner wisdom voice, or 'be', answers come.

It is surely easier to do this too, in situations without judgement - away from watching eyes. I was thinking of this today when out with a horse in the forest - letting her do what she wished, with the slightest suggestions from me. How much easier than at a busy barn, with people with conflicting views, limited time, and perhaps no quiet places, wild places to enjoy the sense of 'being'.

Letting go of ego, accepting the internal self - the feeling one, rather than the busy, thinking one, seems to be one of the keys to this golden lock. Gratitude to all who have shared their thoughts here.

Lynne Gerard said...

He or she who is "The Horse's Advocate" wrote:

"How easy it is for us to subscribe to a method or 'a way', to over-theorise, over think, but to miss the inner guide that is our personal sense. Always if we can listen to the inner wisdom voice, or 'be', answers come."

This is something I agree with completely, THA.

My experience is that academic study and theory are helpful and sometimes essential--but only when they do not become our measure of what "is" in regards to our horses. Most of us know horses are not mechanized apparatuses that must be programed and maintained according to a "user's manual", and yet we still can fall into the inappropriate habit of expecting these fine beings to think, feel and act according some prescribed description of what a horse is and what it is capable of.

Developing an equal-exchange relationship with our horses and continually evaluating our state of being and the horse's state of being with the most sincere and loving intent tends to provide a sense of "knowing" (the "inner wisdom" you mentioned) that is the ultimate guide on how to "be" with horses.

I feel this approach also has the added benefit of protecting us from misapplying another trainer's "method" which could put both horse and human in potentially dangerous situations.

Thank you THA for reading the Journal of Ravenseyrie and leaving such meaningful comments!

Thank you THA for leaving such meaningful comments.