Horse Transformations at Hartpury
HORSES FOR LIFE – Online Magazine
A professional journalist’s opinion for you:
Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling is not a «horsewhisperer», he does not appreciate roundpens, playing games, “sending away” or the so-called “join-up”. If anyone has the need to put a label on this man and what he does, then they’ll just have to go watch (even better, participate) and decide that for themselves. Personally, I have never seen a natural horseman like him.
At no point does he abuse mentally (or physically) the horse’s natural instincts, particularly their fear instinct. In front of horses, Klaus has no defined plan, he reacts and works with what is in front of him and it all takes . . . the time it takes. This weekend was no different. This is the second of his workshops in which I have participated and the first day’s work shapes the second day which generally brings to light basic, but deep, complications that must be addressed if both horse and owner are to move on safely.
Klaus opened the first day by talking around the theme “mastering horses means just maybe you are closer to mastering life”.
He drew a parallel between the snake and the eagle, the snake who changes his skin periodically, a superficial change, it cannot easily escape being totally earthbound. The eagle however can fly, can come to earth, and sometimes moves in the sky by doing nothing, because it knows how to benefit from nature’s natural energy, the wind thermals. He suggests that humans need to learn to rid themselves of emotional nuances before working with horses and also how to “do nothing” in front of natural horse reactions. Do not carry the worries of your life into the area of your horse, personal angers or frustrations will block your connection, your horse will not “see” you. In front of your horse you are in the “now”, the present moment. What he did or didn’t do yesterday and what you want him to be able to do in a week or a month or next year is of no concern. Stay in the present, always doing less than more and recognize how he is in the present moment.
From ‘aggressive storm’ to ‘ little child’
The first horse we saw was Wiper (pronounced Viper): a 5 year old Arab stallion, owner/handler B has had him since he was 2. She has not ridden him as he is panicky, bordering on hysterical at times and unsafe, gentle with the mares he covers, aggressive to others but not to her. B led him into the arena wearing a halter and a stallion bit.
He was jumping about all over the place, rushing ahead, much head twisting, tendency to rear and “box” a bit and generally very excited, the stallion bit was obviously uncomfortable for him. Once inside the picadero, all the headgear was removed, Klaus watched from outside the arena and said, “what a desperate storm produced by humans”. The horse is a mixture of King and Child (see his book on What Horses Reveal) and that he is fragile, (Klaus did not define whether this fragility was mental or physical or both). The long fleshy spoon-like ears indicate a tendency to laziness,”he will work but not too much”.
Inside the arena Klaus takes a lunge line coiled in his hand, the horse is storming back and forth, agitated.KFH marks out a corner as forbidden for the horse by simply throwing the lunge line in front of the horse’s feet. Each attempt by the horse is greeted by this action. The action in itself is done slowly and calmly. The horse stays out of it and no longer attempts to get into this corner. Klaus changes corner himself and forbids a different corner to the horse. Very quickly the horse respects this and is, in himself, becoming calmer. The horse stops and blows out. Klaus then forbids two corners to the horse who immediately respects this and at this point Klaus leaves the picadero. This is necessary, he says, to allow the horse to see that complete freedom in the picadero is possible and to allow him time to reflect on what has been happening.
Klaus goes back in again this time with a driving whip, he walks into a corner, the horse turns, stands completely still looking at Klaus, the horse licks and chews, Klaus leaves the picadero again. The horse stands stock still, alone, calm, in the middle of the arena. He lies down and rolls three times, stands up and waits for something to happen!
Klaus goes back in, takes up a position to the side and rear of the horse and asks him to move around the picadero, which the horse does. He then leaves the arena again and asks B to lead him back out to his stable.
The horse is calm, he has gone from “aggressive storm” to “little child” in the way he is holding his body. B comes back in and proceeds to put on the halter and the stallion bit and lo and behold the stormy agitated behavior rears its ugly head again!
Young horses: allow them space to be young & playful
Kalitim (Muffin): 16 month old Arab yearling, owner/handler D. Muffin was led in on a halter with a second sort of halter with a throat strap tightly done up. D was wearing head protection. He is young, excitable and D wants to get it right as she’d like to ride endurance with him later on. He has the most beautiful floating movement. He is also in-your-face dominant, a very cocky youngster! After observing him in the picadero, Klaus decided to give the youngster the freedom of the whole arena and said he would only do a minimum of work with him as he feels that until they are 3 they should be handled only by necessity, health problems or other such circumstances. Muffin did much running away and coming back, Klaus did a lot of standing still and showing him the limits of acceptable distance with soft, precise movements of the lunge line and driving whip. He attached the lunge line and asked him to lead, respecting the distance desired between them. Klaus did ask Muffin for lots of stopping as Muffin insisted on barging in on his space.
He did no more than that and did stress the necessity about leaving them the space to be young and playful, don’t ask for anything much this young and in any work with your horse, less is more.
Ra: 4 year old Spanish gelding led in on a halter by M. Ra fell off the transporter as a yearling which caused injuries and 3 weeks box rest. The second attempt at loading him was disastrous but he made the journey to the UK, arriving in a traumatized, stressed state. M left in to recover and has not asked much of him. When he was 3, he was left in the care of others whilst they were on holiday and unfortunately he got away from these people and had another accident on a road. M feels he is unpredictable, his panic attacks are blind panic, he is capable of running through fences or whatever in order to flee. She feels he has no inner self reliance and he acts as though he is always searching for something, restless and distant.
Klaus observed this horse for quite a few moments, stepped into the picadero with him, Ra was standing very quietly. He asked the horse to walk, trot and canter, Ra did these 3 paces perfectly and without fuss. He asked Ra to stop, he did so perfectly. Klaus stepped out the picadero and asked M if she knew of any history of an accident with his sire or dam. M said she didn’t know. Klaus says there has been some incident in Ra’s very young life. On the one hand, he is a calm, modest horse, dedicated and looking for contact. On the other hand, he has an opposite behavior of extreme panic to the point of causing his own death. Klaus said he felt a big parallel between Mandy and her horse. He said that this horse needs contact now. He said that the other two horses were contaminated by bad habits initiated by humans but that her horse had none of these bad habits as she’d left him alone and as such Ra reacted perfectly and precisely to Klaus’s body language. (From Klaus’ words and actions concerning M and Ra my conclusion was that Ra was now in direct need of contact and connection and that M needn’t be afraid to do that because of his past traumas). He asked her to lead Ra back to his stable and off they went.
Authentic leadership through body-language
On the second day Klaus talked about the misconceptions of control. If you try to control your horse you will be alone in this need and your horse will remain distant from you. Every movement of our hips, our body and our eyes is a word, a sentence, a paragraph or even a picture for the horse. Be relaxed, precise and clear, consider it as “leading” not “controlling”. Learn to trust your own instinct and intuition, we all have this and we often ignore it or put it to one side because we might not do as everybody does or what is expected. Be clear in your decisions and mean them. Many people get into great trouble with all their efforts to “control” their horses with lots of artificial means such as stronger and stronger bits, elastics, martingales, etc. and the join-up techniques sold by the so-called “horsewhisperers” are, for Klaus, the most cruel.
Meet your horse on his ground with no expectations other than creating boundaries of respect and a relationship based on 100% mutual trust.
Trust cannot be 99, it is 100 or there is nothing. Never meet violence with violence, this will only lead you to continual conflict, be it just a little or a lot,it will always be a battle that will never conclude in trust and harmony.
No flying angels
He also talked about his life experience and why he has such a heightened sense of instinct and intuition. Having to fend for himself as an abandoned child at a very young age meant survival by any means. Later in life he researched mythology and lectured on it. In mythology, the horse is present everywhere and eventually he decided to go and interact with this animal face to face. This led to his period of living in the Spanish Pyrenees studying herds of wild horses. He assured everybody that he doesn’t have visions, doesn’t see flying angels or anything of that nature!!!
He has purely evolved his natural capacities of instinct and intuition to see and feel the truth of what is happening around him. He insists that we are all capable of this.
He talked about how we hold our bodies, he calls it being grounded, 7 parts down, 3 parts up, the latter being your head. How to stand so that your feet are in total contact with the ground, (surprising just how much we are on our heels!), knees very slightly flexed, ready to move very fast if needed but the upper parts, back, chest and shoulders stay down, grounded and completely still. We had to lift our arms/hands into the position of holding the reins without any movement from the shoulders.
Another exercise we did was down in the arena, in pairs, one person was the horse, the other was the rider. The rider stood behind the horse who had to close their eyes and the rider placed their hands on the horses head and had to guide them doing loops, circles, straight lines, turns etc. Then the pair changed positions and repeated the exercise. This was amazing. He asked people their opinions on the microphone afterwards, for me this exercise heightened all my other senses and
it was a very humbling experience to have my movement directed by another being in whom I had to place my body and my trust.
So this is something close to what the horse feels when we are on his back holding those reins!!! Really makes you think!
Sunday afternoon was dedicated to B and Wiper. Klaus did a repetition of the work he’d done on Saturday but asked B to stay close by. Once he had the horse calm, focused and moving and stopping by simple body cues, he opened the picadero and took Wiper into the great space of the arena and worked him around all four sides of the exterior of the picadero. Wiper was attentive and respectful. He took him back into the picadero and asked B to lead him back to his stable. B had become very emotional during this work, she’d witnessed such change in how Wiper behaved with Klaus. She struggled with herself a very long time in the picadero about whether to put in the stallion bit or not. Finally, she did and just stood there with her arm draped over his wither, totally dejected. You could have heard a pin drop. Klaus just said no B, take that off.
From that point on, he had B do all the work he had just done with Wiper, inside and outside the picadero and half an hour later, B led her horse calmly, in a halter, back to his stable even passing other horses on the way without any problems. What an achievement this was for her! I can’t tell you the shift in the energy in that huge arena after that, people sometimes say that an atmosphere is electric, this was even more than that. It was huge, positive, happy and harmonious. At this point it was 5pm, the program was finished but Klaus invited everybody down into the arena and did a final body awareness and energy exercise focusing on how to say ‘Stop’ with your body. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay as my sister and I had a plane to catch.
She said to me that she had just spent a weekend that would stay with her for the rest of her life . . . I can second that. Whether you appreciate or not what this man does with horses,
you will leave his workshops with an incredible amount of food for thought and you will never approach horses in quite the same way again.