Just Be Yourself

I have been witnessing Klaus Hempfling for a little over five years now, through his books, DVD’s and website http://hempfling.com/   I find him to be a remarkable teacher, and one who is most closely aligned with the Alderlore Experiment. Alderlore’s tag line “To Know the Horse is to Recognize Your Self” suggests a kind of developmental progress, from engaging the situation that the horse brings to you, to engaging the self to which the horse has carried you in the process. The underlying theme is that the horse is always carrying us forward to our own destiny– which is our most fundamental self- our authentic core which is the life-force. Similarly, we can follow Klaus as he moves from  horse to self to life-force, each turn like the turn of the dharma wheel, both a circle and a spiral. Here is his latest short clip – just put up on the web. I hope you enjoy it and absorb the energy and enthusiasm it offers.

The Rider has NO RIGHT to the Horse’s Head!

This is something I say and write over and over again:

The Rider has No Right to the Horse’s Head!

Recently I have been asked by Kim over at enlightenedhorsemanship.net to expound on this in my own post. So here goes.

I believe that a person has no right to a horse’s head. The tendency for people to focus on the horse’s head, rather than on his body and feet, is engrained in both horsepeople and non-horsepeople alike. In workshops on liberty training, I teach the importance of precise body language. When trying to move the horse in one direction or another, too many people concentrate on the horse’s head — waving their hands at the horse’s nose and face, instead of thinking about how the horse’s body needs to move, and using your own body expressively in a manner that communicates this.

When riding, the situation becomes more exasperated, since too many people (like myself) have learned the wrong kind of “equitation.”  There is too much talk about getting the right “look” at the poll, instead of understanding what the horse needs to be doing with his body. To me this is the same as  as if  a trainer had seen beautiful ballet at the theatre, and then began teaching ballet by using bungi cords suspended from the rafters to teach students how to achieve the rising and swirling of the head. The cause and the effect are mixed up. The ballerina’s head rises and swirls as an effect of what her legs and body are doing.

Similarly, head carriage in a high-schooled horse, should be an effect of proper conditioning and training of the horse’s feet, back, and body. This is the teaching that the student requires:

Setting the head with the bit, reins, and other technologies, and forcing the horse into a frame, quickly injures the horse’s neck, back, and spirit. The work is painful and disheartening to the horse. The result is a fictionalized illusion of classical dressage — however many points the student amasses at the shows.

What then is the relationship between the horse’s legs and his head carriage in early schooling? On the lunge, the trainer helps developi the horse’s balance at the various gates, primarily by focussing on the inside hind leg and driving the momentum from that leg through the loins, back and forehand. The stronger and more supple the horse becomes, the more the inside hind leg tracks forward in a balanced way, liberating the forehand to take a long, low stride. As the stride develops power, impulsion and freedom (the opposite of forced frame) — the loin actually travels up from under the horse– and therefore, the poll rises freely.

The horse’s enthusiasm for the work is developed through cultivating his balance and freedom!

At the trot it illustrates like this:  (train yourself to watch the inside hind leg- which is the one “closest” to you – as it travels more and more forward, liberating the forehand, and allowing the head to rise naturally):

Here is an excellent video of Klaus Hempfling and his stallion over time, developing carriage through body language.

Few of us have the talent to work exclusively with a horse this way. We rely on bits and other aids — being as soft as possible to communicate to the horse what to do with his feet. The inside rein works in rhythm with the inside hind leg, to create impulsion. At the rising trot, the rider rises in sync with the inside hind leg pushinc off and coming forward — to liberate the leg to come underneath. The horse is worked at a extended pace, and reaches for the bit as if it were in front of him. Working with a horse this way, you can feel him trying to find the “sweet spot” — that place of rhythm and balance which eludes the young horse. When the horse finds the “sweet spot”, it all comes together in a very liberating feeling. It produces joy in the horse and rider.

Here is a picture of my stallion, Khemancho at liberty. This is a nice trot for a young, unschooled horse. The second picture shows his natural classic carriage – as he brings his loins right up underneath himself.

Extended Trot

Natural Carriage

Under saddle it’s much more difficult for him, since he is still learning, and I am starting over myself hopefully with “Beginner’s Mind.”

Finally, here is a slideshow of Klaus and another stallion, that demonstrates the development of carriage. Watch for that inside hind leg, and see how the horse composes himself over time. This is exceptional for any horse to achieve. Why so many people burden their horse with the expectation of quick results, facilitated by an illusion based on force…. is a really good question.

Liberate yourself – set your horse free!

The Dancer

I am having an extraordinary encounter with a Friesian gelding and his owner. Although he is lucky to have his current owner who is patient and loyal and concerned about his development, for some reason, life has not allowed his innermost nature to flourish and express his innermost joys. For some reason, the opposite has occurred– he had become tense, with all four limbs bracing independently, with an exaggerated tenseness in his neck; he had become frustrated and hard to reach, and although he clings to his owner for protection, his eradic behaviors — bracing, bolting, and jumping into her lap — had made him dangerous to her. He had been “pshychologized” as both fearful and dominant, and the truth is he did make one feel like he was trying to react with both fight and flight responses at the same time, which increased the incredible tension in him. Now that I know him better, overall there is a sense of complete lack of confidence. He does, however, have a good solid heart, and a tremendous strive to improve– although he lacks a sense of what direction “improvement” lies. Therefore, it is important, as will all horses, to build on his assets, rather than “attack” his defects directly. His assets are his heart, his will, and his general clinging to people he trusts.

This Friesian types in Klaus’ work as The Dancer.


Of The Dancer‘s nature, Klaus writes:

As a rule this type of horse is highly intelligent and cery creative, which means that he is not a beginner’s horse. This horse has a very friendly and sensitive nature. He is clinging, uncomplicated and loveable in his approach to human beings. Generally, the Dancer is curious, loves to move, and is very willing to work. Despite his appearance and the name I have given him, this horse often has problems with his gaits because of the weakness of his back. Naturally his gaits are far more expressive than those of other types. However, the truly relaxed, rhythmic, powerful, gracefull expressions in movement, which you associate with a dancer, are usually lacking.

Like Klaus’ Dancer, this Friesian has difficulty making strides that come from impusion through the back. This is probably the basic misunderstanding that has lead to this horse’s downfall– the unwillingness of trainers to design practices that accomodate the central conformational aspect of his nature. His naturally expressive and artistic gaits have given people the impression that he is something he is not, and to ignore the true assets on which this horse’s training should evolve– his inner nature. As with all horses, his training should always stem forth from true understanding and relationship.

The Dancer thus presents a challenge to conventional trainers. As Klaus writes:

The greatest weakenss of this beautiful and charming horse is his back. The horse … [can] seem to be hanging from two threads, namely, one at the croup and the other between the ears, and it is for this reason that the horse has his lightness, the expression of a dancer. Altogether, though, this horse has a weak constitution. In conformity with the line of his back, he tends to trail the hindquarters out behind, make himself ‘long’ and lets the delicate back sink down. Training this type of horse to become a riding horse presents a great challenge to the ability and experience of a person.

The Friesian I am working with, types perfectly with Klaus’ descriptions:

* the horse sometimes has difficulty getting along well with the herd… getting along better with humans
* it is especially with the tougher horse characters that this fine and thoughtful horse has problems, since because of his body weakness and his thereby undermined self-confidence, he does not assert himself as he should
* The other horses do not take him too seriuosly, and that can cause a Dancer to break down
* The horse … would bond bery closely with a pretty pony and protect him in a tender, motherly way.
* The croup of the Dancer is high, the neck is set on high, and the entire bearing is therefore upright and proud.

Which Person suits the Dancer?

A fine-spirited person with an inwardly sensitive and flexible nature, and an artistic talent and interest, would make a good partner for the Dancer. This horse does not need a consistent, continuous training schedule: as long as he feels understood and approved of, and feels the inner connection to people, he will have a happy and easy life’s path.

The Freisan in this case is fortunate to have found such an onwer!

Of the Freisian’s unofrtunate past, Klaus’s words sound emphatic and prophetic:

[Trainers] of a Dancer should never imagine that he can [reach the highest] High School levels. [Trainers] may easily make this mistake because the horse’s appearance indicates that he has greater ability and potential than is, in fact, there. The weak back and the weakness of the entire top line will prove to be a real problem. The horse will becomes stiff and tense up, he will withdraw into himself and lose all his charming playfulness, and only with great effort will he be drawn out of, and freed from, his not necessarily visible suffering.

Regarding the Path for the Dancer to becoming a Riding Horse, Klaus makes several crucial comments that pertain to this Freisian:

The main problem with the Dancer is that it is easy to overestimate him physically and underestimate his sensitivity.

Session should be kept short. He needs only the correct motivation in order to, in time, ‘dance’ his way into the qualities of a riding horse.

The Dancer is extraordinarily dependent upon praise. If this horse has done anything at all, even if it is only to have completed a little exercise correctly, you must acknowledge that with, at the very least, a kind word [since] his self-confidence is not very well established.

With moderate impulsion that should not be increased, the horse is guided through subtle aids into the correct bend. In this type of horse the forehand, back, loins and croup are often held in contraction– they do not swing loosely…

Under no circumstances should this horse be checked or restarined by the reins or our incorrect body positioning during the work, because then he hill fall even further onto the forehand, he will become even more contracted, and the too-high croup will become an insurmountable obstacle on the path to a happy riding horse.

It is particularly important that the Dancer has a ot of space in front of him so that he canexpress and balance himself while moving forward, without the owner doing much or pressuring him.

I think the Freisian has come to the right place, the right moment, since, as Klaus concludes:

People with friendly, light natures are well suited for this task and can help support this orse. Over the years he will come to move lightly and pwerfully, and with continuous attention will build a very close relationship with his owner. He will then be a very impressive horse that, when healthy and well ridden, will draw attention and admiration to himself.

Follow us on his adventure down this Path in future posts….