Book Of The Summer Club – Tao, Part 1

If you decided to read Tao Of Equus then you noticed that it’s conveniently divided into three parts.  Here are my thoughts on part one.

I might as well start by addressing the elephant in the room.  There will be some who call BS right off the bat; predictive dreams, horse ancestor ghosts that provide training advice, a well-versed in alternative healing practises psychologist and some sort of out-of-body-into-horse-mind experience.  I can’t claim to have had any of those experiences in my life, therefore you’d think I’d have no basis in which to relate to them.  But I sort of do.  I’ve seen and experienced some odd things in my life, such that I won’t automatically dismiss what someone else claims to have experienced.  Let’s be real here, millions of people (I’m not one of them) believe in God (as per the Bible) and not one of them can provide proof of his/her existence.  The author discusses several cultures over the centuries, all of which believed in something otherworldly.  Maybe the entire human species is crazy?  But I know what I’ve experienced.

Several years ago I was having lunch in a mall with a friend and co-worker.  I’ll call her Anita (because that’s her name).  It was February and we were discussing a recent change in company policy whereby yearly bonuses would be given out on employees’ birth dates rather than on the previous once a year fiscal date.  I promptly blurted out (and with conviction) that I didn’t care when they gave out the bonuses because I wasn’t going to be there (at the company) by the time my birthday (December) came around.  Anita raised her eyebrows and looked at me, and I looked back and said, “I have no idea why I just said that.  That just came out of nowhere.” 

The truth of the matter was that I had no intentions of leaving that employ.  I enjoyed that job immensely, my co-workers and my boss.  As it turned out, the singular and simple event in May of a neighbor cutting down a tree led to my husband and I putting our hobby farm up for sale.  We placed just one ad in an area newspaper and sold it privately for almost the entirety of our asking price within two weeks.  We had also already found the property we wanted to buy within that two weeks, and by August we’d moved to our new farm two hours away.  I quit my job and was long gone from the company before I was due for my yearly bonus.  Somehow I’d predicted a future I’d had no mental awareness of.  I’ve done it a number of other times in my life and always it comes from me blurting out things from left field that have never crossed my mind previously.  I will also admit to having very strong ‘gut feelings and instincts’ that I always listen to because they never steer me wrong.  In the end, though, I’m not sure it matters what we believe or even if we agree on an origin.  It probably only matters if you want to satisfy your curiosity or if you need to place responsibility somewhere to feel at ease.  I suspect a lot of us just simply dismiss these sorts of events in our lives because it’s easier that way.

Mostly, I like to claim being a logical thinker with my fair share of common sense practises.  I have to give the author some credit as she continually questions her thought processes and even wonders if she’s going crazy.  Mixed amongst her struggle to find answers there are a lot of really good tidbits of equine advice.  She seeks out professional training services and input from those more experienced, gets second opinions from healthcare professionals, she applies theory to practical, learns from mistakes (hers and others), and follows a logical path.  Even if you can’t grasp ‘the other stuff’, you can (should) appreciate the rest that she writes about.

The flowery metaphors and poetic prose are not my favorite writing style to read, but then I’m not entirely sure there’s a simple, bland or blunt way to write about some of the topics.  References to Freud, Jung, Sheldrake et al…are a reminder that she’s not in fact talking about anything new or particularly ‘mysterious’, though it comes off that way.  I’ve never studied those particular men and I don’t possess their sophistication, but they do make me go ‘hmm….’ in a good and interesting way.

I loved the historical and cultural data presented by the author, much of which wasn’t about horses.  The development of belief systems is fascinating whether you buy into it all or not.  Mythology, shamanism, religion, spiritualism; all of it has been part of the human existence from the beginning of time.  I’ve got nothing against someone incorporating it into their equine practices as long as it works for the human and the horse.

I also really enjoyed the reference to anthropomorphism versus the more accurate anthropopathism, and the entire Sympathetic Vibration section where the author got all scientific about the sympathetic nervous system, the enteric nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.   That alone was worth the read.

On the equine front there were so many good tidbits I can’t list them all, but I will comment on a couple.  In the latter portion of this section the author takes her Arabian mare out to the desert for the day, to do (basically) nothing.  She’d already come to the conclusion that even though her horse would not be the performance superstar she’d planned for because of her injury, the mare still had much to offer.  This is an important shift that many people never experience.  So often horses are viewed as disposable commodities, like a keyboards.  Bang away, every day, until it breaks, then toss it and go buy a new one.  I hate that. 

In a similar vein, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard of people purchasing a new horse only to immediately climb aboard and start riding/showing it without ever giving the horse a chance to adjust to its new environment.  Then a week or two later the horse has a meltdown and everyone stands around scratching their heads wondering why.  I call those first few days/weeks ‘the honeymoon’.  Once it’s over then you learn what you’ve really got on your hands.  I’ve always advised people who’ve just acquired a new horse to take some time getting to know that horse, and the horse to know them by essentially doing ‘nothing’.  Take a lawnchair, a book, a brush and some apple/carrot pieces and sit your butt in the middle of the pasture/paddock and hangout.  If the horse wanders over to say hi, great. If not, there’s always tomorrow.  Eventually they all do.  And eventually they’ll all stand quietly, without restraint, to be groomed.  You’ve now begun to build a foundation of trust that’ll carry you forward in partnership.

The author also references emotional congruity and how that affects the horse.  We’ve all experienced this; we’re in a hurry, just had a fight, or are upset about something going on in our lives.  We head out to the pasture to bring horses in for dinner or before we leave for an important meeting, and the buggers scatter like a flock of birds on a highway with a Mack truck speeding towards them.  Horses that otherwise would meet us at the gate with joyous nickers, jockeying for position to be the first one in, want nothing to do with us in that moment.  There’s two things you can always count on a horse to do; behave like a horse and be a mirror that reflects your current self. 

I’m off to begin reading part two and seeing where the author’s journey goes next.

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61 thoughts on “Book Of The Summer Club – Tao, Part 1

  1. “horses are taking a new identity…new realm of partnership”
    Really? There have always been enthusiasts, just as there are now car enthusiasts, even though most of us just view the car as transportation. And she seems to disagree with herself on the very next page “To the Greeks, the Celts, and countless other cultures, horses were magical beings”

    “I found significant evidence that mankind didn’t intentionally domesticate the horse; rather, the species may have chosen to associate…lured some of these people into a nomadic lifestyle” Huh?

    Seems to start right off advertising her business, which is OK.

    “the Bedouins…were inclined to slaughter black foals” WHAT? When I was a kid a read a book (I believe it was “My Quest of the Arabian Horse”) so I think I know enough to realize that these were nomadic tribal people. I did some perusing of the internet, and did find some places that said black horses were considered bad luck, and just as many that said they were considered good luck. Even if this was generally accepted, I would find it hard to believe. What can we really know about a culture that was so scattered and kept to themselves? I whipped out my copy of “the Arabian Horse in America” because it has lists of desert bred mares imported starting in 1730. But colors were not recorded. I have a hard time believing that these people, who lived in a harsh environment where every new birth must have been a joy, and who really treasured their mares, would routinely slaughter a filly.

    “Steve completed origins, artifacts” Seems to be also advertising her husbands recordings.

    She seems to have borrowed a lot from other writers. Don’s ask me who, but as I read the mystical stuff, I always thought, I’ve heard this before.

    “Our culture denies the wisdom of body and senses” She seems to think we are all un-wise robots.

    “nervous system was to protect eohippus…from the bite of a saber-tooth tiger” OK, I had to admit I got a good chuckle over this.

    “Most equestrians have trouble reaching this state of union…” She knows this? Maybe because I am not in the horse show world, but most riders I have known over my life do well with their horses.

    “From the moment this magical connection hit me…I began looking for ways to take the guesswork out of how other might achieve…” She’s gonna show us the way.

    Sorry, but I find this a hard read. She seems to be repeating that she is slightly more evolved that me (the reader) and wants me to know it.

    • I too found some of it a hard read, but I’m not sure why you took certain excerpts personally. I read it simply as her thoughts of her own experiences and views – which have nothing to do with me unless I identified myself in her remarks (which I didn’t).

      I also don’t find it hard to believe that groups of people (whomever) throughout history have held superstitions based on something as simple as horse color. As an example, I can’t count the number of people I’ve heard say, “Oh, she’s a ‘red’ mare.” As if that explained everything about that horse simply because it was a chestnut and a female.

      ““Most equestrians have trouble reaching this state of union…” She knows this? I agree with her. Look around. Listen to how people talk about their horses, how many complain about their behaviours, how many label their horses; lazy, stubborn, stupid. I just returned from a barn, where arguably all the owners really care about and love their horses, but don’t have a clue how to interact with them, let alone get the most out of the horse. It’s like that from barn to barn to barn, at all levels. Horsemanship is on the verge of extinctions.

      • I think people get impatient as well. They don’t want to take the time or effort to learn about their horse and make little changes to themselves to fit what the horse needs. I’ve been riding my mare for a little over four years now and I’ve been doing my darndest to learn about her and figure out different ways to fix problems she may have because not every solution is a one-size-fits-all solution. What does she like/dislike? What scares her? What pisses her off? What are her insecurities so I can work with her? We found out she had a complete lack of confidence over jumps. It’s taken two years and a lot of patience (not to mention frustrations) but we’re building her confidence and I couldn’t be more proud of her. She’s turning into a good little jumper. We’ll never hit the big fences, but being able to pop over a little cross rail and having her remain calm and confident has been a huge accomplishment. She’s teaching me a lot too. I’m learning how to ask for certain things and finding what she responds to best. How to solve problems without getting forceful, how to build my own confidence up so I can support my partner when her own confidence wavers.

        I’m not saying I’m an amazing horsewoman or anything, I’m not. I like to think I’m not a bad one, but I’m certainly not great. I think horsemanship would come back in waves if people would just take ten extra minutes to just watch their horses. Don’t just walk right back to the barn when you put them in the field, stand there and watch them for a bit. Take days off of riding to do ground work. Horses need “lazy days” too and you can learn a lot from working on the ground. It’s a whole new experience. Take a step back and watch them in the cross-ties for a minute or two. What are they listening to? Heck, I learned in the time it took me to slip my boots on that my mare gets worried when it’s windy and singing to her calms her down. You can’t learn everything at once, but you won’t learn anything at all if you won’t even be bothered to try.

        (Gosh I ramble…sorry! 😡 )

    • Black foals were often killed not just because of superstition, but their black coats caused them to over-heat in the intense desert heat. That’s what I’ve heard anyway. It was more of a “if we don’t kill them quickly now they’ll die a slow death from heat-stroke later.” kind of belief.

      • Not at all sure that is true- what colour would be better? Chestnut- actually not that popular a colour….What was routinely destroyed were white horses, horses with blue eyes or just too much white on them. They were, to my knowledge, the only foals routinely dispatched.

        • I have yet to find any legitimate source that says black foals were slaughtered. But let’s take a look at her point. The wise black mare would have been killed by the male dominated Islamic tribes. But she also makes a point that the pre-conquest state of mind is what she is pursuing. And a bedouin has this, this pre-conquest state of mind?

          I believe that I have a general layman’s knowledge of both the hard sciences, and the spiritual or mystical. As I read the book I don’t discount her experiences, rather, I don’t like the tone she takes. Good paranormal books, even ones that borrow heavily from other sources, have a point of view, or something that makes the author sound like a teacher. This author comes across as slightly narcissistic and holier than thou, and I keep looking for any bit of new knowledge.

          Aside from that, I am enjoying the book, because it is making me think, “OK, why do I not agree with this”. Something I would not have done had I just picked up the book on my own because I would not have continued reading it. So thanks, I really am enjoying this book club and our discussions.

          • “This author comes across as slightly narcissistic and holier than thou…”

            Okay, fair enough. I haven’t gotten that sense at all, but perhaps it’s because I’ve been accused of the same a time or two…which I felt was unwarranted since that was never part of my intent…therefore making me a poor judge of such a situation.

            All I read is someone struggling to find answers for herself.

          • OK, that is fair enough. But to make such a bizarre statement to bolster her narrative is insulting. If she had said something like “bedouins were superstitious about markings, whorls and colors”, that would have made more sense. Anyone who has read King of the Wind knows that.

            So far, I am not interested in the author enough to care that she is struggling to find answers for herself. I read to either learn, or get lost in the story. I have been accused of being holier than thou without meaning to be, probably most of us have been. Part of being an imperfect human. But I’m not writing a book.

          • “So far, I am not interested in the author enough to care that she is struggling to find answers for herself.”

            And that’s also fair, as are people’s individual reasons for reading what they read, so I’m really okay with what you’re getting from it even if it’s contrary to my view. I am interested in knowing in how she comes to her conclusions because I’m always interested in how it turns out for the horse and since she’s purposely seeking to use horses to help other people, that keeps my interested. I’d be perfectly okay if the people never got a thing from it, as long as the horses didn’t suffer.

            Since I also *write* and have put works out there to be critiqued and criticized by peers, I’m less judgmental (than I otherwise might be) about writing style and personal choices in writing. Certainly she could have said it/written it another way, and perhaps that way would have been more palatable to you and given you a different vibe. *shrug*

    • There is no EOHIPPUS that was scrapped some time back, and anyone who makes such a very very basic mistake as this loses my vote. This is bullshit, I am happy to call it. Unlike aspects of NH it does not appear to be very dangerous BS, it has sidestepped all the actually hard work- like Demos, etc- and gone straight for the “soft kill” ie the money. Do not waste your time or your money on books like these, buy the Flicka trilogy and Black Beauty and you are pretty much set, bar a few good Vet text books, for life. Well….you do need common sense, which this author appears to totally lack…

        • The FACT that it is called Hyracotherium. The fossil was originally found as a single bone and wrongly placed in the proto hyrax group- hence Hyra-cotherium. Then a whole (mostly) skeleton was found at a later date, obviously Equid, and named, poetically “Eohippus” (Dawn Horse) THEN they realised that the Hyracotherium bone belonged to the same animal as Eohippus and, in paleontology, the first name trumps all, so the name “Eohippus” became history and the the horrid name “Hyracotherium” stuck.
          Paleontologists- gotta love them!

  2. I so agree with you that horsemanship is in dire straights. Not the heels down, thumbs up, but the knowledge of what makes horses tick, how to teach, how to discipline and how to have a respectful horse that trusts its owner. Love is something that can be related to anything; family, animals, sunny days, the beach – it doesn’t identify a healthy relationship with a horse. Making excuses for the human’s inadequacies of communicating appropriately to develop trust and respect, then blaming the horse, is failure. If a horse bites, kicks, bucks, rears, avoids the bit, charges off, pins ears, won’t move off leg, drags the rider to the gate, barn or passes the handler when being lead, there is a breakdown. Any of these behaviors IMO identifies a situation where the horse is smarter than the handler. I’ve seen outright dangerous horses, made so by “love” and the lover wants a magic wand to fix the horse with kind words and cookies. Training is hard work forever riding the fine line between respect and trust, in front of / behind the leg, nose out / rollkur, fit / overworked. And it absolutely happens at all levels. Reading the forums on FB where the young, inexperienced 1-horse wonders offer training advice that is 100% wrong makes me insane!!!

    • Blondemare, I’m a professional petsitter, and I can say it’s not just the horse world. People are always willing to throw money at a problem hoping for a quick fix rather than take the time to lay a good foundation of training and learn how their animal works. Rather than teach their dog to walk nicely on a leash and continually work on that training until it becomes second nature to the dog, they buy all the gimmick collars and harnesses, extendable leashes, clickers — whatever promises “instant results!” and then yank and scream at the dog until they’re both miserable. Sad things is, you see it with people and their children, too.

      • “Sad things is, you see it with people and their children, too.” Like those lovely child leashes? And the good ol’ “shove an iphone in their face to shut them up instead of actually being a parent and disciplining them”?

        There’s a man in my neighborhood who has both dogs extremely well trained. He walks them around without leashes, they stay by his side. If they begin to wander, a quick whistle from him and they come running to his side. They will follow his commands from a distance as well. Be it sit, stay, whatever. I’d personally like to see a leash on them simply for safety reasons, but still, it’s nice to see such nice training.

        There’s also the adorable border collie at the barn that follows the BO everywhere. You can see them out in the arena when she’s working one of her boys and Buddy (the dog) is running behind them, keeping a safe distance but still keeping up pretty well, haha. He’s learned over the years to stay by the rail, though, so he can make a quick escape if needed. We had a little train going once when I was riding with her. BO on her stallion, little Buddy behind them, and behind him was me on my mare. xD

        • There’s just something about barn dogs, isn’t there? We have a border collie at the barn: Ruby. She started putting on weight and the BO insisted that she wasn’t being fed any more than usual. Where was this weight coming from? Turned out Ru had developed a taste for sweet feed, and was making regular trips to the feed room during the horses’ meal times to stick her nose in the can and help herself!

      • Don’t even get me going on clicker training! Amazing that people will spend money for a clicker when the whole point of training is timing. Click all you want, if the timing isn’t right it’s a waste of time. And gosh darn, what do you do if you get to the barn and realize you forgot your magic training tool on the counter? Pet your horse and go home? A person’s animals / kids are indeed a mirror imageto their soul.

        • I’ve clicker trained a few horses. Certainly the point is to break training down into simple and sequential steps, and get the timing spot on. A lot of people can benefit from learning that. You can morph it and the horse doesn’t just stop progressing because you forgot your clicker. *wink* I’ve used it to breakthrough barriers on horses that have more baggage than a fully loaded 747; a means to an end, not a centerpiece.

          • I just don’t like the trendiness of it, as people with zero ability think their training woes are solved. That’s not the case. I’ve had some bad cases over the years too. Some horses need the slightest relief in pressure to get it, some need a head to hoof massage, some respond best to food rewards. Like turning on clippers, getting the wide eyes, feeding a cookie, turn clippers off. It’s about the association to the reward / release.

          • The point is, I think, that people think the clicker is to train the horse when, in fact, the clicker is to train them.

      • Mouche, I have family that raised two children with learning disabilities. And, just as you said these folk wanted “instant results” from every thing advised for their children. That the parents themselves actually WORK with the children to achieve results—–never happened.

  3. I’m not planning on reading this book, and I dislike horsemanship books that mystify the horse/rider bond with too much pop spirituality, which can make it sound like the author has some particuarly unusual connection or mind-meld. But I do agree 100 % that many riders simply do not pay enough attention to their horses on a moment-by-moment basis, during ground work, riding or even tacking up. For some this is because they are too goal oriented, in a rush, or focussed just on the next manoeuvre. For some it is because they are nervous and over-reacting, either to what the horse is doing or to what they think the other people watching them are thinking. I guess both these would count as thinking about yourself, not the horse. But I’m also amazed at the number of people I see having long long phone coversations (with headphones) while working with their horses, even when in the saddle. The few times I’ve had to have a longish talk on the phone while on the ground with my horse I’ve really felt like I’ve destroyed my horse time, cheating myself and also my horse. I think that good horsemanship will grow out of being really present with your horse at every possible minute, thinking about the random stuff he does that doesn’t relate to your training goals, and forgetting about yourself for a while. Yes, there is something Taoist about it all, but I’d prefer to strip it down to a few basic suggestions like: Be present, be mindful, look at the horse, forget yourself. Also, btw, if you forget your clicker you can cluck your tongue one and it works just fine! But if you forget your pocket full of treats, game over 🙂

    • Ah, come on! Join the fun!

      But seriously, unless you don’t have the time, which believe me I can understand, try it. I just reported on some of the notes that I jotted down in the book as I read it. And I am enjoying the responses here.

  4. I admit to having failed on finding my copy and re-reading and to making the effort to go to the library.

    But I remember the emotional congruence part of the discussions. And I think that we humans have so distanced ourselves from our animal origins, the observation skills, the non-verbal skills, to deny emotions, etc., that we are ill equipped in modern times to deal with horses or other animals. Our very denials of kinship put a massive roadblock mentally and spiritually between us and the rest of the natural world. I am not much into spirituality, or trying to look for the deeper meaning of my existence, and a supernatural explanation for it all. I strongly believe in a more naturalisitic, nature based view of the world with a strong amount of science. And what science is discovering that is germaine to this discussion is two fold, (1) emotions govern all decision making in humans, the brain is wired that way, if the emotion center of the brain is damaged, you can’t make decisions easily or at all, as simple as do I like peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, that power to decide lies in an emotional reaction.; and (2) animals have most of the same genes, brain structures etc. that we do when it comes to emotions and how that plays into their reactions to the outside world. We are not that different, and we are not all that rational.

    What Tao of equus is trying to say is that we have to find that kinship, that emotional honesty that animals have, and not allow the ‘new and improved’ brain that operates over the emotional operating system hardwired in (ie, ever graphical interface in a typical computer is still running in some part on an ancient DOS operating system), We bring anger and frustration into our relationships with animals as much or more than we ever bring too much love. But we humans can’t admit to anger and frustration easily. So we project onto our animals and blame them. When we talk baby talk and harbor anger, the horses know it. They react poorly to it. An angry, frightened or whatever horse telegraphs those feeling clearly for every other horse to see, they aren’t deceptive. We have to find ourselves and lean to offer that kind of honesty, to let go of anger as a response to not communicating and getting the answer we want.

      • Yes, well said! Horses also get flashes of anger and frustration and resentment and fear, but these are responses to a situation, they show them physically, and then they let them go (until the situation reappears). Humans hold on and remember and then try to pretend they aren’t still feeling these things, to themselves and to the horse, and to other people as well. And then humans have a bunch of emotions that are rooted in human self-consciousness, like shame, embarrasment, pride, social anxiety. I don’t think animals really have these emotions, or not in the way humans do; even an embarassed looking dog is probably more afraid of being scolded than really embarassed. You have to let all this go and be in the moment with the horse. If you are worried your horse is going to embarass you in front of other people, everything will go screwy. Speaking from both observation and experience 🙂

        • Horses have something humans don’t – honesty. They aren’t dumb enough to lie! 🙂 People put their own insecurities on their horses, all the emotional baggage that gets in the way of an honest relationship. Horses don’t feel sorry for themselves, they live in the now. I constantly hear about people and their ‘abused’ horses; i.e. horses with bad habits that the owner can’t fix. There is no history of abuse but it’s a perfect excuse to A – get attention and B – relieve the owner of the responsibility of fixing the bad habit. Horses release their baggage a hell of a lot faster than we do. Show them a new way to be and they embrace it.

          • Abuse and how horses deal with it is an interesting topic. Agreed that horses live in the now. Agreed people make excuses for themselves by blaming the horse. Don’t necessarily agree that horses release their baggage a lot faster. Many have memories like elephants and revert to behaviors based on triggers. Do agree that showing them a new way goes a long way in fixing baggage.

          • Well I can think of a good example of both – a horse I rode as a kid had been passed around the neighborhood a few times, every time we would pass a place he had lived he’d lean towards it, thinking perhaps to go in and see if anyone had left any hay laying around.

            And I’ve worked with a few ex race horses, that as soon as they figured out that they didn’t have to run when I got on, were happy to mosey down the trail.

          • Trailrider…so true on the OTTB’s. I have one that was a handful at the track for her trainer, he had a devil of a time leading her with a chain around her nose 6 ways to Sunday. She hasn’t had a chain on her nose since day one and quietly leads with a rope halter with another horse as quiet as can be. I love to see them evolve from problem animals into good friends. I will never not be amazed by their ability to change.

          • Doesn’t it amaze you how quickly they can change when spoken to in a language they understand? If chains are wrapped around noses to make horses manageable, there’s a breakdown somewhere. My only caveat would be in the breeding shed when quick responses are necessary for the safety of all handlers and animals.

          • Since I’ve actively and specifically chosen horses that no one else wants to be around, I say that it depends. Yes, many times a simple change of ‘presentation’ makes a world of difference, particularly if basic ignorance was the catalyst. Purposeful abuse, though, not so much. That takes time, sometimes ‘forever’.

          • I just had another memory of “Flame” beautiful chestnut mare, didn’t know how to walk up a hill! She did not pick up her front feet and would go down to her knees if it was at all steep. She learned real quick though, I would love to put a picture of her for your critique.

  5. I am a little confused about what parts of the video complements our discussion, the lack of congruence between the chyron and what we see happening? Can you explain more of what you are thinking when you see that video?

    • How owners improperly comunicate with their horses, create monsters, and how a true horseman connects with the animal and earns its trust and respect almost immediately. Horsemanship is a lot art for most of us and it is not the fault of the horse.

  6. What does Hempfling demonstrate that shows that he knows how to connect almost immediately, do you have the full tape? I have older stuff, a book and a tape series, I thought he was mostly performance and very little practical advice, and was especially distrustful of his decision not to show his initial work with the horses he brought in, but only the work after he had already established his relationship. I think we need to be able to really dig into what it is people are doing, in an edited tape, it is hard to see, especially in something as highly edited as that trailer, what is really being done. Quite frankly, I felt that Hempfling was using the tail of his rope to provoke some behaviors to make the horses look worse than they were. I saw a reference to ‘Dance of Healing’ (now there’s a new age touchy feely reference if I ever saw one) so maybe he feels he needs to provoke to change. I would like to know more.

    As for immediacy, I am reminded of Bill Dorrance and his work with his last horse Beauty and the months it took him to break through to a severely disturbed horse. I agree that nothing is the fault of the horse, they don’t get choices about their lives, they are forced into unhorselike and unnatural living circumstances and have to make out the best way they can. But I am always mindful of Ray Hunt’s admonition that this is simple, but it isn’t easy. In watching the gurus it seems to me that their humility, and their generosity of spirit, to even the people that don’t seem to catch on, is great. While Ray Hunt was certainly at times a grumpy old man, he had infinite patience to sit and watch the same old crap day in and day out for years, to try to help people help their horses. I have a Tom Dorrance tape, where Tom spends a good long time over a multi-day clinic working on issues of one pair, it is not all he did, but he offered this one guy a lot of support. And finally, near the end of the clinic, the guy does the opposite of what Tom instructs one more time, and Tom just heaves a big sigh, says “Oh, my” and then tries something new. That was the most critical thing he did or said of anyone.

    • Work with me on this. I’ve watched a few of Hempfling’s videos over the years, some showing the initial contact and the communication developing in front of the camera. I’ve spent countless hours of my life learning from the likes of Buck Brannaman, Tom Dorrance, Clinton Anderson, Chris Cox and others. These people can and do take horses and correct bad behavior on camera. That takes a certain degree of confidence, talent and determination. What it defines is that horses have people problems, people ruin horses every day. It is no fault of the horse that its handler has nurtured the worst of its instincts creating predators out of prey animals. In nature, this would never happen. Hierarchy is absolute and known by all living things. A good horseman uses this to his/her advantage, is clear and concise, and isn’t afraid to dominate at the first sign of aggression. Horses test and I’d estimate that 75% of horse owners are dominated by their horses every single day. Many believe that a little nipping, ear pinning, leg lifting and stall kicking is to be expected and wouldn’t think of walloping a horse for any of this. And that same person may ask their horse to tolerate poor balance, thumping on their hollowed backs and hanging on the bit for hours on end, talk of love, sunshine and rainbows, and put away a sore, wet, exhausted horse in a stall for the next 96 hours until it’s time to ride again. And the bag of treats on the stall door with the smiley faces is supposed to indicate how great an owner the horse has.

      One of the worst lines that divides unity in the horse world is tack. Oh, he’s a dressage horse, he can’t be turned out. Or, he’s a WP horse, that’s why he’s tied in the arena with nostrils to the heavens for 6 hours. Or one of the best…he’s a Big Lick and they LIKE to show off like that. Behind all the specialties are horses that are just horses looking for someone to talk to, for freedom to be a horse. I’m still an old fool who will try to fix any horse, have helped them all at least a bit, and have so much more to learn. But those teaching these days work for money first, not for righteousness and the enjoyment of teaching like the elders did years ago.

  7. I’ve spent time with many of the same people, though a couple of them I think really don’t come up to the Ray Hunt standards, Brannaman is the most thoroughly grounded in my opinion. Hempfling’s first tape didn’t show the original work, tapes by the others are much more complete. I dropped even looking at Hempfling after that, and nothing in the trailer really convinced me otherwise.

    The rest of what you say, about domination and walloping horses, really doesn’t comport with my understanding of the main message of the Dorrances, Hunt or Brannaman. Mind you, I’ve watched Ray Hunt get on to a horse but it was never ‘walloping’ him. Brannaman’s work never strikes me as walloping, and I have also watched Leslie Desmond, who worked with Bill Dorrance closely, and she never wallops a horse. Nor do any of them speak in terms of domination, Hunt’s words are always about discipline, the infamous injunction to make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy, but never make it hard, because a horse can’t work that way. Also, the whole, a horse can’t do through something bad and come out on the other side good. Down to always rubbing the horse or stroking it, not striking or slappling it to pet it. Hempfling slaps. When the stallion is rearing, he is still swirling the tale of the rope, putting on pressure on a horse that is already pawing the air, why?

    I make no excuses for people’s lack of ability in the sense that I believe it is ok that they lack ability. But I also know what the Dorrances and Hunts, etal taught, people won’t learn the lessons until they are ready and you can’t make them be ready. They routinely said that they couldn’t teach anyone anything, but they could help someone learn. And again, they brought to the people they worked with the same kind of understanding and acceptance, the willingness to start from where those people were, so that they could be brought along. People they knew they couldn’t help, they offered a suggestion to them, and if they got somewhere ok, if not, they backed off. Buck Brannaman described his first effort to get help with a horse where he called Dorrance and was puzzled why the old man kept talking about the back end of his horse when he was worried about his shoulder getting in the way. And he dismissed what he was told. Eventually figured it out and realized he was wrong, but Dorrance was just as kind and friendly as ever to him, accepted that Brannaman would just have to figure it out and was glad he finally did. These people put helping horses over everything, even the failings of their owners. Because you can’t help a horse if you’ve alienated the owner.

    I used to be a lot less mellow, a lot more condemning, but that never helped people, it drove them away, especially the ones that needed to change the most. They still do the same things and their horses don’t get help.

    And hierarchy’s are not absolute, horse herds are observed where the stallion has some jobs, and a boss mare has other jobs, in their jobs, they are boss, but not absolute. Some herds the boss has an ‘enforcer’ who metes out disipline, you can also see subherds where the boss ultimately makes decisions whe it directly invoves the boss, but doesn’t interfere in the internal affairs of the subgroup. The social dynamic of a horse herd is not the same as the dynamic of a wolf pack. And humans are so specialized, that lots of co-existing hierarchies evolve and they are far from absolute. You let your doctor have great control of certain decisions, but probably would write him off if he tried to do your tax return.

    I guess my point is, I see very little in the Hempfling trailer but recognize it is advertising, not the entire product. But even as advertising, I am wondering what it is that he did, versus watching other people, that was actually effective.

    • I use the word dominate because in a herd, there is typically “a” dominant mare. Her decisions are absolute to her subordinates and she is rarely questioned. Others accept their positions below her and as long as she holds an air of superiority, she maintains it. I consider that absolute not that it can’t change at some point (eventually she ages) but that it is rarely negotiated, it is just known. And if she is challenged, she will ‘wallop” a subordinate for testing her authority. When a horse questions my authority, I respond in kind. Not angry, not vicious, but hard, quick and to the point. Then I forget it happend but it leaves a lasting effect which rarely needs reminding. Having owned and bred a stallion for years, I know the importance of the dominance game. Given a squeek of a chance, a stallion will try to dominate its owner, even in subtle ways. Mine would lip my winter clothing ever so softly and slowly while I scratched his head…segway into the lips pulling back a tad…that’s whyere I drew the line. It was our game, stallions like games, and we knew each other well enough to know how it would end. There’s a great book called The Stallion by Jim McCall that offers interesting perspective into the nature of stallions and breeding in general. He’s spot on about many of the behaviors, even those that are good natured. Have you seen the Buck dvd with the yellow stallion scene? There was no need for that horse to become the monster he did. Rumor has it that he’s still alive because she couldn’t euth him. Which would be the only kind thing to do at this point.

      • Is it your experience that the Alpha mare goes straight to ‘wallop’, each and every time? I’ve owned one and ‘wallop’ only happened if everything before it was ignored. Meaning, she always gave the other horses a chance to change their mind with a warning (or two) equal to the pressure originally applied to her. That seemed quite in line to me with; ask, tell, demand as well as the often repeated ‘increase (up) the pressure equal to that which the horse is offering you’. ‘Wallop’ right from the start – unless the initial pressure was ‘I’m going to make you hurt, big time.’ – would fall into the ‘unfair’ category, which isn’t acceptable, imo.

        • Completely agree. I stated that ‘when a mare is challenged’ meaning that she has given a warning and the warning was ignored by a subordinate. She will wallop though if flattened ears or snake neck get no response. I start at the lowest energy (unless it’s a dangerous act in which case all bets are off) and increase energy as necessary. Some horses will never need more than a “2” while others don’t open their eyes for less than a “5”. One thing I don’t do is nag. I get in, get out and move on to happier things.

          • I agree. If a horse is naughty, I give them the appropriate punishment. I start light and then escalate until they listen. Depending on the horse and the situation, it could be anything from a simple “no” to a firm smack on the shoulder. Sometimes less than that. My mare occasionally stops listening on the lunge line and I’ll “cut her off” when she disregards my asking her to slow. It takes one, sometimes two times and she gets it and starts paying attention again. I had to ramp it up one time I got charged in the field, though. It was unprovoked and the most terrifying moments of my life.

            I had just turned my mare out (left her with her leather halter on as per her owner’s request that day) and was walking up the field back toward the gate with just a lead rope and heard galloping behind me. I know they like to run up the field sometimes and turned to watch, because who doesn’t like watching horses gallop in their field? But instead I was greeted by a gelding barreling toward me, ears pinned. There was no escalating punishment. It was a life-threatening situation and it was all or nothing, do what is needed to stay safe. That is behavior that can NOT happen and must be taught IMMEDIATELY that there are consequences he does not want repeated. Long story short, I somehow managed to escape with nothing but a bruised shin from our legs colliding, but he got a very hard hit from the business end of a lead rope. I was not aiming. It landed where it landed. Just behind his ear on his neck. Between that and me screeching rather unlady-like words at him at the top of my lungs, he ended up getting scared off down the field again. I got to the gate as fast as I could and went to report the incident to his owner. He hasn’t tried it since. He is much more respectful these days.

            Whether or not that was the “proper” punishment, I don’t know. I never want to hurt animals, even when they’re misbehaving. Hell, I spent 15 minutes chasing a dove around the arena today to try and catch it and make sure it was uninjured after its fall from its nest, but in those moments my cares for that horse’s overall well-being flew out the door. I did the only thing I could think of at the time to make sure he didn’t kill me. But even then, I didn’t “nag” him. It was one hard hit and it was over. That’s all it took.

            P.S. If anyone knows the “proper” way to save yourself from a charging horse, please tell me.

          • To Quill,
            I would separate the charging horse part of the answer from the rest for a moment:

            Are horses frequently naughty? Or do they fail to respond to requests or respond inappropriately? Naughty as a word tends to ascribe an intent that may be lacking much of the time. Ray Hunt always said if the horse didn’t do as you expected, it didn’t understand the request. That is one of the issues humans tend to have, they ascribe motives and interpret the action based on what they perceive the horse (or person) meant. Horses generally don’t have such motives, to misbehave on purpose. We have to let go of our emotional baggage. We either get the response or we don’t. The horse isn’t being naughty, out to get us, trying to show us up, etc. For example, the mare doesn’t slow down, she doesn’t understand your slow down cue to mean slow down in the way you meant (ie, she might think it is asking for her to look at and usually she slows down when she does that, but not always, you think she’s ignoring your cue, she thinks she has complied because she looked at you). A failure to communicate, not a wilful disobedience. Or you gave the slow down cue but you also gave a contradictory cue that you are unaware of, such as falling behind her hip and actually driving her on, or raising a hand or whip simultaenously, or just projecting a higher degree of energy as you anticipate she may not slow down, and she responds to the energy more than the cue. Again a failure to communicate, not being naughty, nothing wilful that would need punishment. When you say ‘cut her off’, you mean step into and in front of her to block her path, and she then responds, that is not punishment, that is just a more expressive cue she actually understands and she complied. If you mean you jerked on the lead line and yanked her head around, blocking her shoulder so she slowed down, then it was more akin to punishment, a negative act in response to her action. But she may not really learn from that, it may appear too random, because in her mind, she did comply, and hence a continuation of the failure to slow on the lead line from time to time.

            Horses also tend not to listen when they are certain their survival depends on doing what they are doing. It is up to us not to increase the pressure until the horse feels it needs to flee, Pressure is many things, our presence, the presence of other horses, weather conditions, feeding time, chronic illness, too crowded conditions, being taken away from a buddy, etc. The horses will warn us, breathing changes first, head up, hollow back, tail straight, short choppy steps, that they are becoming overwhelmed. Frequently we wait until they blow to notice, and then it happened all of a sudden in our minds. Always make room for letting off some pressure, not adding to it. Hence my earlier comment about Hempfling twirling the rope when the stallion is already standing on its back feet. That was provocation, more pressure when the animal was already screamng I can’t take it any more.

            The gelding in the field presents one of the basic rules, when the situation is already out of control by the time you notice it, save yourself. You will meet the aggression of the out of control horse with a firm rebuff at the level the horse is offering to you. Not more, not less. You don’t want an escalation, so no more pressure, but not one bit less. Make yourself big, yell, wave whatever you have in your hands, go ahead and hit the horse. That isn’t really punishment either, that’s self defense. If after the horse breaks off, you chase it down to hit it, that’s punishment and again, likely ineffective, because in the horse’s mind, it already conceded the battle and now you are the aggressor.

            The real solutions lie in being aware of each horse and its attitude when we are in a group, group dynamics create situations that can change how a horse responds, defense of territory, a mare, fights over expected treats, etc. mean that you are never just controlling the horse you are in the paddock or pasture for, but every horse out there. It helps to know all the horses in the pasture where you board if at all possible and spend some time with them establishing that you are friendly, trustworthy and also, higher in the pecking order than they are. Horses tend to establish priority by making the other guy move. Work on it in calm situations, get them to step over behind, back, etc., control them. Then one day when you need it, you will be in charge and can defuse a nasty situation.

            I don’t have the skill to be able to never use punishment, to never need to pop the butt of my young horse when he decides to leave to find some grass, I screw up all the time. But I use less punishment than ever before, have learned more tricks to avoid losing control, to ask early and reinforce the requests before discipline, especially physical discipline of the walloping kind is needed.

        • it is getting dated, but there was a study many years back where horse to horse interactions occurred without physical contact well over 90% of the time, I think 97% was the exact number. Not so of course for human/horse interactions. Another issue with humans is the concept of early. Or as Bill and Tom Dorrance tended to say, knowing what the horse is going to do before he does it. Most humans can’t see the horse making decisions to do what we didn’t want done, until he’s acted. So our physical interventions have to be larger. Our timing, as a group, and going back to my earlier statements about having separated ourselves from non-verbal communication and extincts mean that we tend to arrive at an understanding of our dilemma too late. Hence the need to discipline by walloping rather than suggesting. And the whole embarassment of being stepped on or whatever that means we don’t react before but punish after.

          I have McCall’s book and I have seen the dvd. But Buck’s take wasn’t that the woman should have walloped the horse more nor was his attempt to work with the horse based on walloping. We all tend to pick facts that suit our point of view, but sometimes when we make the effort we can see and hear them all. The baby was potentially a dummy foal, born with health issues, rejected by the mare and bottle raised, Buck pointed that out, was pretty clear that saving such a foal is not always kind. Still, he pointed out, with the right handling it might have been an ok horse, dependable enough. The woman never gelded any of her horses and collected stallions that she threw into groups. That baby probably got plenty of walloping through herd dominance (and never by a mare). Buck’s real point was that the lady had serious issues and was unfit to have a group of stallions, and unfit to have that particular horse. But that horse, on the bell curve of horse behavior, was a tailing end. Not typical. Not something most people deal with. The testosterone fueled drive of a stallion is not something most owners deal with, not should they.

          Quite frankly, horse people strive for dominance when we don’t know how more often than not, leading to more walloping and less communication, because we show up late all the time. Some things we have to just do to keep from getting killed or getting our horses hurt. But we should always be looking for opportunities to set things up better (make the right thing easy) before we start, so that what we want is what the horse wants at the same time we want it. That is very simple to say, but very hard to do.

          • Mercedes

            If you get a chance to see Leslie Desmond out in your area, you might like her. She usually does a trimming demo, and she has some interesting theories. But she has really been exploring what she learned from Bill Dorrance about feel, and she has come up with positioning and signalling things she worked out, she almost never needs to apply ‘pressure’ or touch a horse to get it to move exactly as she wishes. Watching her last fall was one of the more interesting things I have seen. She will be back in my area again this fall, I plan to go back to watch again. She interacts with auditors a great deal, answers questions, etc. so you don’t need to even have a horse with you.

          • I’ll keep my eyes open for her. I was so mad, I found out too late to change my plans, that Deb Bennett was at a horse expo in Sacramento the week I went north recently. I’d have been there in a flash. UGH! There were a few others at that event as well that I’d have loved to see, if for nothing else than for a personal laugh.

          • I like your post and it’s obvious that we are opposite ends of the horse world in means of horse owners. You speak of frustrated owners without the feel and timing necessary to appropriate fair and meaningful communication. I do also but as I take in horses for training, I find the opposite to be mostly true. I find people are usually lax with discipline and the horse is dominating its owner, not the other way around. One acts, the other reacts. I have a food aggressive horse that would be happy to kick your head off at feeding time when he came to me. He now stands quietly in his corner of the stall to wait for grain and hay. He was reminded of his manners on day one with a couple swift taps with a buggy whip when he showed aggression. No more than voice has been needed since that day, problem fixed, communication lines open. Discipline can be applied fairly without violence but allowing a horse to threaten humans isn’t acceptable. Horses are not philosophical though they have incredible perception and will give their all to someone they trust and respect. I’m afraid my post on walloping has been taken out of context. I’ve seen too many people make monsters out of perfectly nice horses….horses that end up at the slaughterhouse through no fault of their own. I find that incredibly sad.

          • I think that there are people that can really work with and train a horse, the masters; people who do well with their horses in what they ask them to do, and I place myself in this category. I only want to have a trusty trail horse; and then there are those who want to work with horses and either don’t have the instinct for it, or have some baggage that interferes, like the lady with the stallion on Buck’s video.

  8. Almost every one I know, regardless of how there horse is, wants it to be pleasant, responsive, and obedient, wants it to be safe, etc. Most don’t know how to make their horse into the horse they want, it is not merely a lack of discipline, but a lack of knowlege of how and what to do, when to do it, early, really early, and no one to show them how to get more out of their horse, and in some cases, a total disinclination to learn to do what it takes to get their horses where they would like them to be.

    I feel that what happens is that people who ‘train’ horses just need to get a particular vice fixed, or a way of going established for a discipline, and right away. They provide a service for a fee and need to just get the job done and the owners don’t want to pay a fortune. Unfortunately, that leaves the owner as ignorant and as incompetent as they were the day the horse left for the trainer. And many trainers don’t want to train owners (horses are much easier to deal with than people). So ignorance abounds, the horse gets fixed and rapidly becomes unfixed at home and nothing gets better about horsemanship in general, or more importantly, nothing gets better for the horses.

    There is so much more to working with a horse than ‘discipline’. They need discipline, because yes, they are big, strong, and their instincts frequently lead them to do exactly what they shouldn’t do in human made contraptions, constraints and surroundings, and they or the person can be badly hurt or killed. And horses that have already learned to be dangerous can’t be allowed to continue and no trainer should be maimed because of a dangerous horse.

    But in the larger world, the world we are addressing at this blog in large part, people who aren’t total idiots, but who want more, they need to see the postivie things, the little things that make big changes in horse behavior and aren’t about being showy, or stallions pawing the air suddenly acting like little lap dogs, because that isn’t the skill set they need or will use. And little of the really useful tools that people can use daily are about discipline, except the self discipline to be observant, set up circumstances to succeed, and really understand how horses work, both the physical from the kind of conformation lessons Mercedes is offering, and the mental and spiritual things that are being offered up in lessons from the masters at communicating with horses. Because that is what is really at the basis of calm and safe horses, people who can communicate, and part of that is discipline, but there is so much more available. And it isn’t really supernatural or mystical, but it sure can look like it when you first see it, because it is subtle and made up of such refined communication that it looks like something mystical. The goal of all this should be akin to what someone once offered up about Tom Dorrance, and I was reminded of it when Blondemare used the ‘scale’ of a two or some other number. The gentleman said everyone is trying to master the scale between one and two, and Tom Dorrance has mastered 0 to 1. Zero to one works best before discipline ever comes into the picture. That;s what we all need to be striving for, that is where real horsemanship lies. I ceratinly haven’t made it there, but at least I know where I’m going.

  9. Regarding the book itself, I am having a similar experience to others reading it. I find that a lot of the experiences, historic events etc could be interpreted in many different ways, but the author uses them to come to conclusions that suit her.

    I do think though that there is some good substance to the book so far, I’m only a little ways in. Will keep reading if I can – I’m finding quite a bit of it painful and have read 2 other books since I started it!

    • I’m hanging in there, reading part 2. I find it’s useful in that my mind keeps wandering off, and I have to concentrate to keep to the text.

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