Saturday, February 28, 2009

To Listen is to Hear

Annemiek commented on the journal entry titled, A Dialogue With the Universe, that she and her daughter, Jennifer, are reading a book together within which the main character is able to converse with plants and animals. Jennifer has not come into a place in her life where it seems impossible that humans can hear plants and animals talk and thankfully Annemiek isn't the type of mother to discourage such thinking, rather, Annemiek says, " I think instead of telling our kids that such things are nonsense, we should encourage them to listen."

I think Jennifer is very fortunate to have you for a mother, Annemiek! I was very moved by your comment and it made me desire to share some more thoughts on this subject.

It may seem that to say we humans are in constant dialogue with the universe, giving and receiving messages and having the capacity to communicate with plants, animals and the elements is an absolutely "Disneyesque", the pure fantasy of deluded child-minded individuals. Surely this is one perception held and well-guarded by many educated and non-educated people, but there are other opinions and scientific explorations that have found that the universe is indeed communicating with us.

In 1973, The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird was published by Harper & Row. On the back cover the preview for the books says this,
"Exploring the world of plants and their relation to mankind as revealed by the latest discoveries of scientists, The Secret Life of Plants includes remarkable information about plants as lie detectors and plants as ecological sentinels; it describes their ability to adapt to human wishes, their response to music, their curative powers, and their ability to communicate with man."
Here is a random sampling of some of the things I highlighted when I read the book:

"At the beginning of the twentieth century a gifted Viennese biologist with the Gallic name of Raoul Francé put forth the idea, shocking to contemporary natural philosophers, that the plants move their bodies as freely, easily, and gracefully as the most skilled animal or human, and that the only reason we don't appreciate the fact is that plants do so at a much slower pace than humans...Plants, says Francé, are capable of 'intent': they can stretch toward, or seek out, what they want in ways as mysterious as the most fantastic creations of romance."

I'm thinking just now of those intentful, beautifully-green shoots of grass already pushing up out of the ground while under three feet of snow. Are the grasses and the horses and me sharing the same intent, that of wanting the grass to grow again?

"Adults, according to Vogel, are much less successful than children, which leads him to surmise that many scientists are not going to be able to repeat his or Backster's experiments in laboratories. 'If they approach the experimentation in a mechanistic way,' says Vogel, 'and don't enter into mutual communication with their plants and treat them as friends, they will fail. It is essential to have an open mind that eliminates all preconceptions before beginning experiments.'"
Sentient rocks enchanted by the sun, last summer at Ravenseyrie

"Fechner introduced Nanna, or the Soul-Life of Plants with the concept that believing whether plants have a soul or not changes one's whole insight into nature. If man admitted to an omnipresent, all-knowing, and almighty god who bestowed animation on all things, then nothing in the world could be excluded from this munificence, neither plant nor stone nor crystal nor wave. Why would universal spirit, he asked, sit less firmly in nature than in human beings, and not be as much in command of nature's power as it is of human bodies?"

For myself, since childhood, it has always been so pleasant a thing to think that when I am out walking the land, the rocks, the grasses, the trees, the breeze brushing my face are all fellow beings equally observing me as I observe them--all of us appreciating the day as it has dawned, each with his and her own thoughts about this particular moment in time. I have never felt alone, probably because of this inexplicable belief in the "bestowed animation on all things" by the "Great Creator" or "Original Essence", or "God". This sense of being co-related to all that is around me has served to make me more mindful of my actions, my intentions and my internal dialogue, all which I believe are "viewed" and "read" by the creatures, plants and elements I share my world with.
The conscious plant people known as Boneset or Eupatorium perfoliatum, provide a favorite "ward off cold" remedy. Kevin and I are thankful to have Boneset growing on the beach at Ravenseyrie.

Luther Standing Bear has said: "From Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, there came a great unifying force that flowed in and through all things -- the flowers of the plains, blowing wind, rocks, trees, birds, animals -- and was the same force that had been breathed into the first man. Thus all things were Kindred, and were brought together by the same Great Mystery."

In his book, The Lost Language of Plants, Stephen Harrod Buhner outlines why it is possible for us to communicate with the world around us:

--At the center of all things is spirit. In other words, there is a central underlying unifying force in the Universe that is sacred.

--All matter is made from this substance. In other words, the sacred manifests itself in physical form.

--Because all matter is made from the sacred, all things possess a soul, a sacred intelligence or

--Because human beings are generated out of this same substance it is possible for human beings to communicate with the soul or intelligence in plants and all other matter and for those intelligences to communicate with human beings.

--Human beings emerged later on Earth and are the offspring of the plants. Because we are their offspring, their children, plants will help us whenever we are in need if we ask them.

--Human beings were ignorant when they arrived here and the powers of Earth and the various intelligences in all things began to teach them how to be human. This is still true. It is not possible for new generations to become human without this communication or teaching from the natural world.

--Parts of Earth can manifest more or less sacredness, just like human beings. A human being can never know when some part of Earth might begin expressing deep levels of sacredness or begin talking to him. Therefore it is important to cultivate attentiveness of mind.

--Human beings are only one of the many life-forms of Earth, neither more or less important than the others. Failure to remember this can be catastrophic for individuals, nations, and peoples. The other life in the Universe can and will become vengeful if treated with disrespect by human beings.

"This outline," writes Buhner, "in a very rough way, represents, perhaps, the oldest epistemology of humankind and was present in most historical cultures on Earth."

This old-style study of knowledge and beliefs has surely been usurped almost worldwide by the technological revolution and mechanistic perception of the "what" and "how" and "why" of things. In thinking ourselves separate from the rest of things in the universe humans no longer cultivate a concept of mindfulness and respect, rather, many humans believe that they are superior to all else and therefore all else is here to be manipulated, altered, destroyed, etc. in service to mankind. (I don't see the race of humans being overall more happy and fulfilled for all the exploitation of nature we've perpetuated.)

There are those, however who have had experiences which show that we do not have to dominate nature in order to have our needs met. (Let's remember Imke Spilker and Alexander Nevzorov's discoveries that friendship and play and equal respect make for better relations with horses.) This dialogue with the universe is not something that only certain Native American or indigenous people believe in. Buhner writes, "Many scientists have remarked with surprise that Luther Burbank, George Washington Carver, and even the Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock all have said that it was the plants who told them what to do, who revealed their mysteries to them. The only requirement, they commented, was that they had to care for them, to treat them with respect, to have a feeling for the organism."

Eliot Cowan writes this in his book, Plant Spirit Medicine:
"The teachings of plants come in many forms. The spirit may give you a classroom-style lecture. If so, listen intently so as to remember every detail. More often the transmission comes in a non-verbal form. You may find yourself being swept into an exotic adventure. You may simply find that you experience intense emotions. In every case the key is to remain attentive. Once you ask your question, whatever happens is part of the answer."

Again and again, the impression made upon me by so many of these authors is that we humans are not separate from, nor superior to Nature, and that when we approach the things in nature with mindful attentiveness, humble hearts and open minds, we are greeted with helpful nurturing responses from forms of intelligence that seem absolutely appreciative of our finally cultivating a true "feeling" for them. It's this way with the horses and dogs and cats and geese at Ravenseyrie, and surely with all that surrounds us here.

I contrast this with some of the things Rudolf Steiner has written in his book, An Outline of Esoteric Science:

"Plants exist in a continuous state of sleep. If we do not judge these things accurately, it is easy to fall into the error of crediting plants with a consciousness similar to what animals and humans have in the waking state."

"The fourth element that supersensible cognition ascribes to our human makeup has nothing in common with the manifest work that surrounds us. It is what distinguishes us from our fellow creatures and makes us the crown of creation, of the created world that belongs to us at least temporarily."

"Falling into the error of ascribing memory to animals is even easier than ascribing consciousness to plants. It is natural to think of memory when a dog recognizes its owners after perhaps not having seen them for a long time. In reality, however, this recognition is not based on memory but on something totally different. The dog feels a certain attraction for its owners, which proceeds from their very being. This gives the dog pleasure when its owners are present. Each time they are again present after an absence, the dog's pleasure recurs. Memory, however, is only present when a being not only feels its experiences in the present but also retains those of the past. Even if we acknowledge this, we might still fall into the error of thinking that the dog remembers. We could say, for instance, that since the dog grieves when its owners leave, it retains a memory of them. This, too, is an incorrect assessment of the situation. Through sharing life with its owners, the dog comes to need their presence and thus feels their absence in the same what that it feels hunger. If we do not make such distinctions, life's true circumstances will not become clear to us."

If we make such distinctions, as these Steiner (and most other scientists) would have us make, we for sure will not be able to perceive the messages the universe desires us to hear. I suppose when it comes down to it, that which we chose to discern will determine that which will be revealed.

For myself, I find the cultivation of the perception that the universe is alive, conscious and appreciates a good dialogue with the humans (which are one manifestation of creation) is a perception that is filled with great beauty, and overflows with marvelous possibilities for learning--in addition to a sense of belonging, which keeps one from never feeling alone.

Quickly now to close, both Annemiek and Eva had questions about our marble statue of St. Melangell. Annemiek asked what she was leaning upon. It is an over-turned iron garden rake, Annemiek.
And Eva wondered what she was guarding there at the top of our stairs to the basement, and did we not think she might not appreciate being displayed outside. My mother-in-law kept this statue inside a small greenhouse. The statue is two separate pieces that fit together at the waist and portions here at this juncture, as well as down near her feet have a chalky, flakey quality to the stone...which makes me worry that she is not well made or properly finished for outdoor display. So she stands guard over the saddles and bridles which have grown dull and dusty from lack of use.

Besides, a slightly worn-away cement figure of Venus has claimed the north deck:
and on the west deck, another patron saint of animals, St. Francis, has taken up residence:

I'm on the lookout for just the right slightly-worn (meaning affordable!) statue that will fit nicely as guardian over my wilderness manege...and if I find one, it will have to be stout enough to withstand the rubbing a horse or mule or Whitetail deer might give it.

May each of us become more that we might hear the universe talking.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Dialogue With the Universe

We are in constant dialogue with the universe. Maybe we don't realize it, but throughout every moment of our lives, we are giving and receiving messages. Mostly, our upbringing and manner of living in the modern world has had the effect of rendering us oblivious and indifferent to such dialogues. We are ignorantly rude to the world around us, being far more addicted to consumerism-saturated aspirations than liberated by our degrees of wealth and "easy" living.

People no longer tread over the bare earth. Their hands have drawn away from the grasses and flowers, they do not gaze up to the heavens, their ears are deaf to the songs of birds, their noses are rendered insensitive by exhaust fumes, and their tongues have forgotten the simple tastes of nature. All five senses have grown isolated from nature. --Masanobu Fukuoka

As we speed over the landscape in automobiles and plop in front of our televisions for long hours of mind-numbing escapism, what might the trees and grasses and birds and wind and rocks think of our manner of living?

I think they are affronted by our insolence. I think they are also amazingly forgiving of our ignorance...and I think they sing songs on our behalf, hoping one day we will hear their voices and come out of unexamined habitual behaviors, joining them in composing new songs.

Communication with the plant and animal people begins with the realization that we are not superior but equal to the plants and animals. In fact, we should begin to understand that in most cases we rank below them in our basic ability to survive. --Tom Brown, Jr.

I have caught myself reaching for the "fast forward" button on my life since my last entry here in the Journal of Ravenseyrie. It's the harshness of this year's winter that has served to prompt me to such disrespect of the present state of is-ness...(even as I type this another "winter storm" is in the forecast, with snow, high winds and deep-freeze temperatures beginning this evening and into tomorrow). But I have caught myself in the rude act of ridiculous resistance to what is, and I've retracted my desire to shut my eyes tight and wish for immediate spring. There would be much of value I would miss if I skipped parts of my life. I almost didn't realize to wish away the rest of winter was petulant and selfish...I hope the rocks and birds will forgive me for my weakness and complaints.

As Tom Brown, Jr. has noted, the plant and animal people are far superior in their survival capacities than I am. And I daresay they are never indifferent to the dialogue of the universe, rather, are always knowingly engaged in this magical, natural, essential two-way communication.

Once again, the semi-wild horse keeping environment here at Ravenseyrie has provided me with deeper meaning of our inter-connectedness. With the landscape once again under a covering of deep snow, Kevin and I have strapped back on the snowshoes for going about certain necessary tasks that take us away from the plowed or trod-and-packed areas. As is my habit during such times, I take the pups out for their daily walks, but instead of walking, I put on my cross-country skis, and together we follow the horse trails in search of fresh air, exercise and whatever else might be revealed during such an outing.

The other day I was able to link up with one of Kevin's well-pressed trails from an excursion he took with the toboggan to fetch dead timber for our trusty Jotul wood stove, which has kept us so wonderfully warm all winter. The sun caught on the many-faceted snow particles over the fields like so many diamonds. I had to stop and take photos, though the camera couldn't quite capture the full essence. Tobbacco, who had gone on ahead of the rest of us, sat patiently on the trail waiting for me to finish snapping photos.

I had brought the camera along because now that the snow is deep again, the horses have gone back to pawing and digging to get to the grasses underneath. During the last brief melt we had, it didn't look to me like there was anything but soggy, faded, depleted and spent looking grass to be grazing upon, and I couldn't imagine why the horses would bother to expend so much effort digging for such sorrowful looking forage.

But since this last layer of deep snow, it seems some magic is at work...look! Green shoots! (Click on the image to enlarge and see the early gift the universe has given to the horses.)The song of the earth was heard by the horses (because they were tuned in and listening rather than moaning and groaning over more deep snowfall as I had been) and it told them that the awakening of the landscape was already underway!

The next day, I took the camera out with me again and took some photos of the horses:

The herd finishes up their breakfast hay up near the house.

Fada, Interessado, Ciente, Mistral and Zeus

Himself, purebred Sorraia stallion, Altamiro

After initially running off because I startled him , Altamiro became intensely curious in my picture taking and decided to offer me some poses.
Doll and Altamiro, coming in close for more intimate attention from the camera gal

And to close for today, I want to share photos I took yesterday of a piece of statuary that stands in the corner at the top of the stairs to our basement. This marble statue once belonged to my mother-in-law. I have named her St. Melangell after the legend of the Celtic patron saint of the hare and other animals. As I was coming up the stairs, my mind still focused on wanting to "fast forward" through these remaining days of winter, the sunlight happened to be falling on her exactly as you see here. Like an omen or affirmation, wouldn't you say? So mystical in its illumination of this patron saint of the animals here at Ravenseyrie...this beam of sun reveals a promise that the dialogue with the universe is an ever-evolving beautiful song suggesting things are "just right" and best experienced in the moment and not wished away.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mid-February Farrago

So what, you might be asking, is "farrago"? Of Latin origin, once referring to a mix of grain, it is now a word defined as a "medley", "hodge-podge" or "motley assortment of things"...which is what this particular journal entry is. I have no distinct theme to articulate, but rather will be jumping about from hodge to podge and begging your forgiveness for such disruptive behavior.

A few weeks ago, we had some powerful winds up here on the East Bluff--no new story with that, but this time instead of damaging trees in the interior of the forest as is typical, two medium-sized Cedars were bested along the edge of the north prairie, not too far from where I fashioned my woodland picadero/manege. This assault on the Cedars is visible even while looking out the windows of the house and has altered the otherwise pleasing flow of the bush-line.
I should have taken a close-up photo of the inside of these trees for always curious Jean to see. It's no wonder the wind toppled them, they are rotted and hollowed inside, which I was quite surprised to see, since they otherwise had seemed like robust, healthy trees, without even a small, round intrusive entry made by Pileated Woodpeckers. But the wind knew about the inside of these trees. Is this not one of the roles the wind plays, rummaging and routing about pruning back that which is weak and diseased and ill-structured?

The horses and mules took advantage of these felled trees and consumed virtually all of the foliage and nibbled at the bark as well. I have seen them eat Cedar leaf occasionally, but by the looks of this tree, occasionally had turned into a opportunistic feast!

Thuja occindentalis, arbor vitae, White Cedar, gi'jikan'jug, is very abundant here at Ravenseyrie and lately I've been feeling an intuitive pull to making some tea from its leaves. I haven't yet, but now that I've written about this "intuitive pull", I think it would be folly to continue to not do something about it.
I've been feeling slightly "off" for several weeks now--no cold or flu, but the sense that if a bug wanted to, it could settle in for an unwanted visit. Remembering the story of how the kind and generous native inhabitants showed the French explorers how to heal their scurvy by drinking Cedar tea, rich in vitamin C, it is more and more seeming to me that I would much better benefit from drinking Cedar tea versus popping synthetic tablets of vitamin C. In a book written by Frances Densmore (an excellent documenter of the Ojibway culture) titled, How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts we are told of Thuja occidentalis, "An extract prepared from the leafy young twigs has been recommended as a febrifuge, expectorant, and anthelmintic." So White Cedar reduces fever, clears the throat and lungs, and expels worms. Wow, all that, eh?

I wonder what it says that the horses stripped the tree nearly bare? Does eating Cedar leaf have the same effect as drinking an infusion of its tea? The Whitetail Deer feed upon it quite heavily over the winter and it seems to keep them in fine form. I might have thought it was they who defoliated these fallen trees so quickly, but the copious amounts of horse dung surround the area is rather suggestive there was a Cedar-leaf-eating-party had by equines.

I like to use the essential oil of Cedar in a special cleaning solution mix I make, and I put several drops of it in my bottle of "Show Sheen" to mask its otherwise perversely perfumed fragrance. The "Show Sheen" is a rather absurd thing for someone like me who fancies herself a "natural" gal, it is entirely a synthetic chemical liquid that makes the horses manes and tails slippery and easier to untangle, as well as putting a shine on the hair coat for those who are showing horses and want that high-gloss "look".
But much as I dislike its quirky chemical make-up, the stuff helps me loosen the twirls and knots those pesky wind-witches weave into manes, and without it I simply could not pull out the seemingly ever-present assortment of burrs the horses collect in their manes and tails. Dried Greater Burdock plants are still standing pert with their seed capsules ready to hitch a ride on anything that even lightly brushes up against them. I used to use baby oil to remove these burrs and it worked well, but it also has the habit of attracting far too much dirt, making the manes somewhat gummy and even more difficult to keep untangled. I shouldn't be so anal-minded about these burrs and tangles and knots--after all this is part of allowing the herd to live a semi-wild existence--but I cannot seem to help not try to keep their tresses loose and lovely not only makes it appear that they are neglected animals, but it interferes with their comfort and free use of their manes, forelocks and especially their tails.
We had a melt last week, and lost much of the snow. Then what was left froze, making travel difficult for the herd, though the dogs and us humans can get around pretty good. It feels quite liberating to be able to go for a long walk without having to strap on snow shoes. I did get in some good skiing in January and early February before the melt. Look, a bit of my old ski trail yet remains:It's nice, too, to see the colors at the "top of the world" along our northwest bluff-line here at Ravenseyrie:Like the intuitive urging to begin drinking Cedar leaf tea, I've also of late been especially moved by these subtle colors of February, especially those distant blues on the horizon and feel I am being prompted to make some paintings using these colors. And after that, I've been feeling niggled to paint rocks and lichen:The lichen (and in the woods the mosses) seem so alive this time of the year! Hardy souls they are! Just a bit of a thaw and they seem to glow with potency, resilience and promise. It's snowy rather lightly right now, with much heavier amounts to come this evening and tomorrow...all will be buried again, and spring is yet a ways off for us here on the island, but that brief thaw has invigorated me, just as it has the moss and lichen, and I too feel very resilient and filled with promise.

Oh, gee! One more thing I had wanted to share in this journal entry was the results I received back from the University of California, Davis from the color tests they did on hair root samples from Altamiro, Interessado, Fada and Animado...but I'm out of time. I'll have to post again tomorrow or the next day.

Thanks to all who of you who have taken the time to read through this "motley assortment of things."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Empowered Horses

(Click on book cover image to view it in a larger format)

I have been given permission to discuss in greater detail the work of a lovely German woman, Imke Spilker, as gifted to us in her book SELBSTBEWUSSTE PFERDE. It is with immense, heartfelt enthusiasm I share here that Empowered Horses / Learning Their Way, Through Independence, Self-Confidence and Creative Play has gone to press and is expected to be available for delivery in April! At long last, Kristina McCormack's English translation of this relationship-altering book is available, thanks to the foresight of the editors at Trafalgar Square in securing the rights to publish it.

I have ordered several advanced copies (including one for you Nancy, and one for you Jean, as promised!)

Here are just a handful of places which already have the book available for pre-ordering:

If you go to the Amazon sites, they offer an excellent glimpse inside the book. In this first Journal of Ravenseyrie entry for February, I hope to give you a heightened feel for this book as well, as I quote from some of the passages I've highlighted in the working draft of the translation which Kris provided me quite some time ago.

Before I begin our virtual thumbing through Empowered Horses, I want to relay why I find this book to be so pivotal in my life, and why I am so keen to have others read and experience it for themselves.

Imke Spilker had an epiphany one day, when--like any other day--she went out to the pasture with the intent to ride her horse. Questions that many of us have begun to ask of ourselves plagued her that fateful day and instead of pushing such questions aside, she felt compelled to sit down and confront them head on. These are the questions she asked herself:

What gives you the right to do what you always do -- punish what you call disobedient -- try to control them -- lay claim to their bodies? What are you doing here? Why do you do that?

We humans have a long history with horses, throughout which we have been culturally shaped into believing that we must always assume leadership and be the dominant partner in our relationship with horses. Such perspectives at best profess to love and care for a horse like a parent tends to a child, and at worst, the assumed role of dominant being leads humans to perpetuate all manner of immoral assaults upon the horse and its liberty as equally as abhorrent as the history of slavery among humans.

Is there a different concept of the horse/human relationship possible--one that does not demean the horse by constantly treating it as an immature child or look upon it as chattel we own and can "use" as we see fit? And if the answer is "yes" how do we go about discovering this new way of being with horses?

My own epiphany was not something I can attribute to a single "pasture moment" like Imke Spilker's, rather mine has been a gradual reflecting upon these questions over years and allowing the answers to emerge through a myriad of mishaps, bumblings and overriding intuition that directed me towards influences that broke free from the pattern of old modes cultural shaping. All fine and good, this gradual epiphany, but I must say it rather left me feeling completely uncertain about how to proceed with carrying on with any form of "horse training" within this new mindset I'd flowered into. Empowered Horses not only provides all that is necessary to go exploring the deep, murky waters where the above questions live so that we can find inspiring, liberating answers, this book also reveals to us how to graft elements of classical horse training onto a relationship built upon "play".

In many ways, what Imke Spilker shares with us in this book is much like what I learned during my study of Nevzorov Haute Ecole (in fact her work along these lines predates his). While both approach the horse from a completely novel mindset and excel at assisting horses in developing authentic natural collection, Imke Spilker does so without finding it necessary to condemn others who may not yet be ready to change their way of thinking about horse/human relationships. Also, Imke Spilker's training is more horse-directed (as in Learning "Their" Way) than is that of Nevzorov Haute Ecole, the latter which imposes restrictions and specific rules which must be adhered to by both human and horse. With the wide-open landscape and semi-wild herd setting here at Ravenseyrie, Imke Spilker's approach to training is much more fitting and achievable for me and (in my opinion) more physically and mentally satisfying for the horses.

So, let's take a look at some of what Imke Spilker has written in Empowered Horses...

Considerations on the horse/human relationship

Horses are defenseless against the encroachment of human beings. To give them a sense of well being in our company, it is important that the relationship is structured so that horses do not feel oppressed by our might, but rather feel empowered by our presence.

If you want to learn to understand the nature of horses, you must approach them in a different way. If you want to have friendly conversations with them, you must meet them on an equal level. Only in that way will you be able to become part of their world, instead of coming as a conqueror, as one who wants to destroy.

A person who seeks to master horses will always resort to instruments of force. But one who understands that he is a guest in the horse' world realizes he has neither the right nor a reason to punish a horse, or to fight him. He does not issue commands, but rather makes an effort to learn something new with and from this animal, and to make his own presence as pleasant as possible to the horse. This basic politeness will change his behavior so radically that he will soon be accepted by the horses without reservation.

Togetherness is the foundation from which everything else proceeds. Togetherness - not hierarchy - puts us on the same level. Togetherness is the prerequisite for influencing each other from within the depths of our beings.

A horse's desires should count just as much as ours do, at least if we are talking about partnership and friendship. I do not enjoy feeling like a slave overseer among my horses. And we cannot be speaking of genuine unity if I must coerce them into it. Let us turn the question around: Would you have fun at something to which you were forcefully dragged? Why even consider applying this pressure to my horse or myself? These days no one and nothing demands that we must ride. Instead of forcing my horse, I will sit in the grass and play with my dog, or think of something else to do.

Freedom - this feeling comes from within and so can hardly be identified by external trappings. A halter or a bridle can mean to my horse, "Oh no! I'm going to be annoyed again' or "Great! Now we'll finally get going! I've waited all day for you!" We must know how our horse is feeling and how he perceives a situation or thing before we can characterize him as "free". How does the horse feel as he is doing whatever-it-is? Can he find a way out? Does he have a choice, a genuine alternative?

Considerations on developing a new dialogue

Free space is what creates the possibility of a true dialog. The horse can leave or he can come, he can say "yes" or "no". We want the horse to sense his freedom, to feel it to realize it...the horse may, should and must be able to decide for himself freely, because it is only from a freely made decision that our very special kind of relationship can grow. We want to share pride, joy and time together with the horse, not force ourselves upon him.

There are many different ways to get a horse to comply with our wishes. What distinguishes them is the attitude and feelings of the participants. How is my horse doing with this? Why am I doing what I am doing? Does this action have anything to do with my horse, any meaning in the good sense of the word? Meaningless actions on the part of the person are a sure way to quickly lose a horse's motivation. Who among us enjoys being ordered around?

Recognizing the value of play

It is here, in the balance of the relationship between man and horse, that we find the beginnings of play. The equality of the partners is the basic requirement for fairness - the same opportunities and rights for all players. Our playing can be truly carefree only when things are fair.

If a person truly wants to play with a horse and relate to him as a partner, he must adhere to rules the two of them have both agreed upon. Otherwise the horse remains a plaything, a toy which the person merely uses to play out his own game.

Playing lets us grow closer because it overcomes differences - even when they are as great as between man and horse...Play removes the distance between us and lets us become one. We get a glimpse into the other's world of thoughts - even if the other is an animal - because play conquers even the boundaries between species.

Considerations on playful work

Working together, working 'with', a horse is something different. I do not have an ideal form in mind into which I will try to mold my horse. After all, this is a living being standing here with me, not lifeless "material" that can and my be worked on as I please. The art of horsemanship as I understand it can only be an art dedicated to horses and must serve them, instead of human ambition, performance, or the entertainment of the masses. What we want is for a good enough connection to exist between person and horse so that understanding and harmony rule. We want a hierarchy-free, joyful atmosphere - the same atmosphere that exists when we play together. Only under these conditions can I offer a horse something new: aids that are truly helpful, and working with him, not on him. "Is there something you would like to improve? Are you perhaps not feeling well there?" From play we draw forth the energy and the self-confidence to confront such sore points. A horse needs courage for this, even perhaps, enthusiasm.
There is much that I have to leave for you to read from the book itself, these are just a few of the many incredible insights contained in this book. Also, I have run out of time and am not able to highlight some of the exercises Imke Spilker has learned from the horses which facilitate greater freedom, proud and lofty balance and the joy of expression, and anyhow, these things are better viewed in the book with the benefit of the excellent and detailed photos she shares of how her horses came to develop these exercises and the changes they have brought to the horses way of movement and pleasure in "working".

First we learn from this book how to change ourselves, and from that we learn from the horses how best to proceed into new ways of interaction, better ways of developing communication which lead to explorations of better carriage and movement...all throughout which we are guided and measured by the horses' responses, as Imke notes, "The nicest thing about this work is that we finally have a pure, incorruptible standard for evaluating the quality of our actions: our horse's approval. His enthusiasm grows, he becomes more and more madly eager to move, to collect, he takes over the arena...all showing me that my work cannot be so very wrong."

This is the gift of learning "their" way, this is the splendor of Empowered Horses!