Today's journal entry is a collaborative effort that requires a bit of an introduction.
Back in April of 2009, the Journal of Ravenseyrie was fortunate to be given permission to reprint The Horse Too is Allowed to Say “No” an article by Imke Spilker, author of Empowered Horses. More recently, a reader named Cyndi left several comments sharing her enthusiasm for Imke's writings along with a handful of questions, which quite naturally would be prompted by such a "radical" approach to horse/human relationships.
Within the comment section of that earlier journal entry, I provided my personal thoughts and answers for Cyndi--if you missed them, you can read by following the hyper-link for the article above.
Both this particular article and the Empowered Horses book were translated into English by my friend Kristina McCormack. Kris was kind enough to share Cyndi's queries with Imke Spilker, and together Kris and Imke generated a dialogue of their thoughts and perceptions which Cyndi's questions had sparked. It is our good fortune that these deep-thinking women have been willing to share their "answers" within today's journal entry.
As readers move through the thought-provoking text I hope you will enjoy some recent scenes from Ravenseyrie (where it is still very much wintertime).
Cyndi's Comments and Questions:
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 volatile...how 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.
When Lynne first drew my attention to Cyndi’s comments, she asked me if I would respond with an account of my own experiences with Khe-Ra and her hooves. Khe-Ra is a “volatile” young horse who had major issues about a number of things, including having a hoof held up. The simple everyday experience of having a hoof cleaned made her tense, fearful, and angry. Trimming was out of the question. As I wrote to Lynne, I hesitate to bring up how Khe-Ra and I dealt with this, because I do not want to imply that what we did -- and did not do -- was the "right answer" or even applicable to *any* other horse-human interaction. The answer, for me, to these kinds of questions is: there is no one right answer.
Yes, you are absolutely right! The answers to such questions are found first and foremost with the horses themselves. But in the book of the Empowered Horses there is also quite a bit about this. Actually, I wrote the book precisely because of these kinds of questions that Cyndi poses. Even the title “Empowered Horses” (“Selbstbewusste Pferde) is one -- my personal -- answer to our “problem” of volatile horses.” A horse that has become empowered, will no longer flee. He will “stand his ground.”
My own experience with the book of the Empowered Horses is that there is so much to be learned in its pages that it requires many readings, with close attention to the photos. Even now, every time I open it I find something new. Yet, Imke receives quite a bit of correspondence from readers who want something more. Having read the book once and been moved by it, they want to know what to *do* to put the principles of the Empowered Horses into practice. They want guidance, instructions, exercises. They want to watch Imke work with horses, so that they can learn from *her.* This desire, this “need” for answers from an expert seems perfectly natural. After all, how are we going to learn if not from someone who knows? We want to do the right thing for our horses, so we seek out what we think are the best possible experts with whom to study. The mistake we make is seeking out only human experts. We begin to learn when we realize that the real expert on this subject about which we are so passionate, the best possible teacher, is this horse standing next to us right now. We begin to really learn when we devote ourselves to “studying” with him.
In that spirit, what good does it actually do to relay stories of Passaro’s or El Paso’s farrier visits? Vets and farriers do not try to hurt horses, they do not want to harm them, do they? In all honesty, my feeling is that stories like this are not very useful -- they tend to bring people further away from their own horses. And it is their horses that this all should be about.
If I want to have a closer friendship with someone, do I go watch two other friends interacting with one another? And if I were silly enough to try that, what could I possibly learn about the person with whom I want to be friends?
Yes, exactly!. What kind of a person on a date would continually text other friends for suggestions and advice about what to say next?
I think we do this with horses because we’ve been taught lies -- for example, that horses are dangerous, stupid, need to be shown who is boss, etc. -- and that there is a “right” way to “handle” them. We want to learn that right way. And, it seems so much easier to follow a detailed “recipe” formulated by an expert, than to cultivate our own awareness and truly be in the moment -- moment after moment -- with a horse, listening to him with an open heart, responding intuitively. So, -- almost unconsciously -- we continually look for “one size fits all” instructions
There is no general rule or procedure for interacting with "volatile" horses, or any horses for that matter .... except maybe to LISTEN to them, to pay attention to what they're trying to tell us. That in itself is a huge undertaking, and worthy of all the energy and attention we can give.
Everything depends... on the horse, the person, the relationship between them,the situation, the individual moment, and countless other variables.
Nevertheless, most humans want certainties and methods and other humans to whom they can attach themselves.
But how can I expect a horse to believe in me more than he believes in other horses, when I myself listen more to others of my own kind, when I more readily give them my trust, than my horse -- who is actually what this is all about!?
Aren’t we humans silly? Just look at what we do, over and over again -- we want to know how our horse feels, what he is thinking, how we can help him feel better, move better, how we can be a better friend to him .... and instead of asking him, spending time with him, entering into a real dialog with him, we seek out another human -- one who likely does not know this horse at all, has never even laid eyes on him.
We study with this person, we hang on his every word, we watch him interact with other horses and we strive to do our best to do what he does. We work so hard to be good students. We follow instructions to the letter. And, in the end, what have we learned?
Mostly, we’ve learned to deny our own feelings, instinct, and intuition -- yet these qualities are precisely what we need to “hear” and understand the horses in our lives. We’ve learned to shut out our horse. By studying the human experts, learning their formulas and methods, diligently imitating them -- we make ourselves blind and deaf in our interactions with horses. We forsake the living reality of here and now and cling to the abstract -- someone else’s words and gestures.
When we have spent a lifetime learning to deny our feelings and intuition, being told to rely on them sounds just plain crazy... and frightening. We don’t trust ourselves. (No wonder, when we’ve always been taught that some expert knows better.) We don’t trust Horse. . We only trust other human beings.
And we call horses herd-bound.
So, basically, Imke’s answer to these kinds of questions is: “Ask the expert, the real expert! Go to your horse!”
Which brings up one more question, namely: If we should learn primarily from interaction with our horses rather than from other human beings , why then do you (Imke) give seminars and lessons? Why do you even teach?
Your horse is and will always be the best expert to ask, even when you
come to a clinic with me. My task there is to transmit and translate. If someone comes just to observe, “to see how it is done,” I will gently explain that "it" cannot be learned by watching me, and I will send him home to his horse.
We can begin to understand only when we have completely moved out of the observer
perspective and engage with the horse ourselves. Interaction with the horse is the path to understanding.
It is true that sometimes a person stands in front of his horse, absolutely clueless -- and the horse is just as clueless regarding the human. In that situation, I try to “open the gate" so that the two of them can come together.
Sometimes the horse-human pair has a history together, a great deal of accumulated “baggage” over which they stumble again and again. But the fundamental problem, the essential difficulty in the horse- human relationship is actually that horses are too nice to us. They will do almost anything for us. Give a human a hoof and he'll take the whole horse. We human beings do not notice that we do this, or, if we do, we have no idea what to do about it.
My teaching is for people who envision their horses empowered, who want to help them become more powerful. If you want to see me for the sake of seeing Imke Spilker, I will gladly say “hello” to you and we can chat for a while. But that will not satisfy you. It cannot. That which is essential happens between you and your horse. As long as you do not realize that, there is nothing I can do.
On the other hand, if you are someone, who, in the company of horses, always asks yourself: “How do I fit-in here, what can I do with these creatures that will not harm them?” or, even better, “how can I, a human being, make myself useful to them?” -- if those are your questions, I have some suggestions for you!
How thankful I am to Cyndi for posing her good questions and for Kris McCormack and Imke Spilker for their provocative responses. Not too unlike a Zen koan, I think that the perceptions shared in this dialogue serve very well to lead us to meaningful personal realizations where our horses and our inner sense of what is appropriate in any given situation is spontaneously revealed, moment to moment precisely because we--horse and human--are more tuned into each other than anyone or anything else.
(Please click on image to see larger format)
Photos courtesy of K. McCormack