These are my observations and application of the information and theories that Klaus Hempfling brings forth in his books: Dancing with Horses and What Horses Reveal. Its my plan to buy his It’s Not I Who Seek the Horse, and The Message From the Horse but for now I’ll cover these books and what I’ve learned from them.
Mining these books and his video channel (which BTW has been extensively updated since I last visited – I have a hate-hate relationship with Youtube) has often been like reading a secret book by the Illuminati! Sometimes they seem incomprehensible, written in some ancient language, which if you only knew the key would unlock wonders beyond your imagination!
Hempfling probably wouldn’t like me; let’s get that out of the way: I neither have the looks, age or weight that would appeal to a clinician. I am not a “brave, fearless rider” and nor am I particularly athletic.
However, where we would absolutely agree is that Horses are NOT toys, some horses are not suited for the sport of riding, and that people need to stop being so soft headed in thinking that love alone would prevent a horse, totally unsuited to the owner’s temperament or abilities, from hurting them.
So let me lead you through what I think about his methods and how I use them:
Leading is the main building block covered in Dancing with Horses, and after working a lot of horses this way I can see why. It’s an easy exercise that anyone can do, and unless your horse is outright dangerous, doesn’t put you into harms way (too much 😉
Leading in the front (position) is the mare leading the foal – this gives the smallest amount of ‘free will’ to the horse and is the beginning position of the process. He begins his initial work, facing the horse and in front of the nose (see the later video in this post).
Most of the time people lead by dragging the horse along, with their back to the horse. Please watch the videos and see that is NOT the type of leading I’m writing about. If your lead rope isn’t the weight of a bird in your hand you are doing it wrong!
Leading from behind (the next position). I find it far more powerful but it takes finesse and some time before a horse allows to work with you in this manner.
This position is the lead horse telling the other what to do. Why this is a powerful position is that it gives the horse an ability to say “uh, no,” and it also allows the trainer to switch between the authority position of one who says “go here” to the horse being the leader with a “go there.” You can play with these leadership roles using this position and it provides a different level to your relationship.
When I’m doing leading exercises like this, I probably spend a month to 90 days, always returning to it and polishing and experimenting with the interaction. I would highly recommend a lot of leading work, especially if you can use it to take your horse into the world outside pasture and arena for new experiences.
I saw this in one of his videos about how he initially works with the horse upon a first approach. While I had read the info, it was watching the video (with sound off) which really gave me an “ah-ha!” moment.
This mimicking action is the major part of the “dance” component. While connected to the horse with a rope, you wait for the horse to move and you mimic that (in the video below he calls it the First Parallelism). If the horses nose goes to the right, your hand, holding the rope, goes to the left (you are facing the horse in this instance). Some of this is shown in this video at 3.12 mark:
I need to do more of THIS! When I’ve taken the time to slow down and actually do this, it was an amazing Zen and connection moment. Do not pass this one up on your program as it can provide a deep harmony to you both.
This exercise brings you “into the horses’ world.” It is really amazing how quickly the horse will pick up that something is different about you – you are not operating like the typical human of tugging them along on a rope. In the next video you see this clearly when the chestnut goes “huh? who is this guy in here with me?”
IN THE MOMENT – FOCUS AND INTENTION
One of the hot words in horses is being “authentic.” The easiest way to being to achieve this is to exist in the moment. I will mention this again later, but for this section, what you have to understand is the ability to exist in the moment – totally focused and thus in union with the horse brings the horse and you into harmony.
You probably have experienced this before yourself – some of my personal experiences includes when I was riding and was so focused didn’t realize that a semi-truck going by the road near the arena had backfired – neither the horse or I reacted to that loud explosive noise that frightened several other horses. Another time I was riding and didn’t even realize it had started snowing.
Existing in the moment can happen when you slow it down, when you focus on the micro details through synchronization, when you become together in a joint meditation of breathing and harmony – when you both are involved in the moment. These can be hard to achieve at first, but the more you experience it, the more you practice it, the quicker you can achieve it again and again.
BODY POSTURE – MIMICRY
When Klaus takes over at 2:12 look at how he moves with the horse. This is not chasing the horse around (like RP work, please there IS a difference here).
He is putting himself immediately on this horses’ radar that I am in synch with you. When horses are in a herd, the ones playing are in perfect synchronization.
Important things to notice in his videos is how he closes the distance, when does he close the distance, when does he increase distance? – these are all connecting with the horse and saying I am dancing with you – I influence you – you influence me. I listen when you talk.
At 4.15 he starts the parallelism of dancing.
A lot of Klaus’ work is standing. When does he stand? and he stands with an upright, confident posture that has a deeper stillness in it (which you see with those who have done martial arts also). Don’t discount posture as an influence on what your horse will present to you – even the most basic exercise of leading – you speed up and the horse breaks into trot from walk – is based upon your body language.
Spend time watching his videos with the sound off. Watch and observe. It’s pretty much explains all you need to know 😉 However, if you watch enough of his videos you start noticing each horse seems to be approached differently – why is that….?
HORSE PERSONALITY – this determines the approach and TEMPO of the WORK
What Horses Reveal shows that Hempfling uses an intuitive approach to decide how to initially approach the horse. What “personality” he ascribes to it means he will enter the horse’s space quickly or slowly. He will adjust the tempo – fast to slow to medium – based on the horse’s personality.
I think this is confusing to folks – you can get caught up with the personalities and become paralyzed with the idea of “what do I do next?” One thing I wish he would do on EVERY VIDEO – is put in the comments what “personality” the horse is that he is working with in the video. That would really help us all out (NOTE TO YOU if Hempfling ever comes across this blog 😉
As it is, I am more ponderous about figuring this out. I usually work with the horse on the ground and after a few weeks figure out what type of tempo we will do – this also can change as the training progresses. For example, in the beginning with Dante I should have worked at a lower tempo and now that he is getting better we can intersperse with power, high energy, sessions, sandwiched around slower times.
I also change the Tempo day by day – according to how the horse is feeling and what he is presenting me might make me change what I thought I was going to do that day. If the horse is feeling frisky we might burn off some steam with fast work; if he seems bored, we might go out to the field to work.
In general, start with slower work and as you gain confidence intersperse with higher energy work. This isn’t necessarily what the horse needs (the horse generally can do a lot more then the human!) – it is what the person needs to protect themselves from disaster! (IMO)
The Weakness of Hempfling’s System is PEOPLE.
1.) Identifying and ascribing a personality is intuitive. Some people will always lack this ability or not comprehend that each horse is different in terms of its tempo needs. This can lead people to overfacing the horse in the work (putting too much on a horse who can’t handle it) or boring a horse (who ends up venting his frustration on you).
2.) People are reluctant and slow to change, no matter how much they say they want too. Counselors deal with this all the time. Clinicians deal with it. Horseback riders deal with it.
Changing entrenched habits of posture, confidence, and belief, sometimes just can’t be done with some people. As a teacher, I’ve learned that the hard way. They can lack the intelligence – or the desire – for real change so the “system” fails for them.
3.) Inability to change, either through intelligence levels or emotional needs to hold onto the old, means these people will continue to have the same trouble with any horse. Take the same person, give them many different horses and they all come back to having the same problem no matter the horse.
Since the common ingredient in the person, the person is the problem. They will say his method doesn’t work (or it’s stupid, or they don’t get it) and move on to the next clinician. But, again, in my experience will never admit to it and never change.
As always People are the Weakest Link.
These people are not AUTHENTIC to themselves, to their lovers, to their children, to their co-workers – and so they cannot achieve AUTHENTIC CONNECTION, a cornerstone of the Hempfling system.
HORSES ARE MIRRORS – they REFLECT YOU. When you are not authentic, when you are not presenting who you are inside to the outside – they know it in a heartbeat. Their fear, frustration, disobedience etc.. is in reaction to the anomaly you present to them. To the horse – a prey animal – anomalies are seen as a threat to existence!
Horses will always present your inner turmoil to the World.
Being authentic doesn’t mean you express every emotion you feel inside to the outside (I’m angry so I shout – I’m sad so I cry). It means being in a state of Harmony, and this Harmony seduces the horse to your side.
Any errors or miscommunication from his books to my application are totally due to me – and I am not certified or endorsed by Hempfling in any way.