The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Monday, March 29, 2010

How It All Began

It all began innocently enough. You go to the bookstore to get a coffee and kill some time. You do what any right-thinking person does - you head to the horse section to pick out a volume or three to browse through while you sip your latte. You see the photos of Toppur, and you go "Hmm, cute horse, this book'll do." Imke Spilker's Empowered Horses. A cup of latte becomes the thin end of the wedge.

I sat and read through most of the book, fascinated but mystified. Where was the system? Where was the program? Step A, Step B? I went back the next day to buy the book, kept it by my bed and read it through over the next few days. I was away from our own horses for the summer, and so two horses belonging to a friend were my first companions on this strange new path.

Ella was a charming and communicative two-year old Connemara filly, and Buddy was a slightly enigmatic five-year old Appendix QH, of a genial but often irascible temperament.

The first step was to ask the horses if they'd like to come with me out of their pasture. They both always said "Yes!" but each horse had a different motivation. Ella loved the diversion and the chance to get out of the herd and have some me-time (as they say). Buddy, I believe, loved to come and hang out in the arena because I let him cruise around the perimeter and munch on all the long grass growing on the other side of the fence.

But I really didn't know what on earth to do with either of them. No lunging? No round-penning? What do we do? For Buddy the answer was clear: "We eat!" I tried to entertain him, to engage him in some kind of shared activity - but he was just fine eating grass, thanks. I started to long for the way he used to behave when I was bossy and dictatorial - he would come up to me with his friendly face and follow me around. Sigh. I felt like I was with a stranger at a cocktail party and the conversation had run dry.

Ella made things a little easier, being of a sweet and affectionate nature. She would tell me if I pushed her too hard, and readily forgive me if I did. But I had the same feeling of not knowing quite what to say.

I would like to say I had a breakthrough of understanding, but I did not. I was supposed to be helping my friend with these two horses, and I felt that I had become completely useless overnight.

This was last summer, and it is only after interacting on an almost daily basis with our own horses (as well as others) that I am gradually beginning to see something taking shape. Buddy has come to live with us and is now called George. (Well, all male horses are "Buddy" aren't they?) Our two dear old mares both died of old age over the winter. Bridget came to live with us. And good old Chloe is with us still, demanding, as Hempfling says, "righteousness" from the humans around her.

It is true to say that I still do not know what I am doing. In the beginning, for every three steps I took forward, I'd slip back two. But I can sense the dust settling, or the mist parting (or some such metaphor); strange new forms are emerging from the fog. The inability to have a schedule, to form a plan, to do - all this continues to be frustrating. But today, in the car on the way to the barn, I felt excited at the prospect of seeing the horses. That can't be bad.


  1. That is very interesting. I am enjoying your story.


  2. This is my story! I have been introduced to Empowered Horses and now feel completely inept. I don't ride -- how can I, my horse wants to play hide 'n seek if he sees me come out with a saddle -- I don't groom, I play scratching games and today I went out and fell asleep in the barn as my horses at hay :) Thank you for saying exactly how I have been feeling -- relieved, grateful and a little lost.

  3. Hi, Lori - It's all a bit weird, isn't it? Some days the "relieved" is at the top of the list, some days "grateful," most days "a little lost," and occasionally the emotion is "discouraged." Although that tends to be when I'm thinking about the horses rather than when I'm actually with them.
    Some people are actively opposed to riding. I'm not. I'm perfectly willing to ride, but like you say, the horse may or may not allow it!

  4. Hi June, yes weird! I thought my horse enjoyed riding -- we have been going bitless for some time now. However once I gave him the freedom to decide what he wants to do, it's obvious by his running away at full speed that he does not want to go anywhere right now. He is a very talented, 15-year-old Arabian whose definition of happiness is to stay home with his 18-month-old filly.
    Empowered Horses entered my life less than a week ago and I must have been willing to hear its message because everything has changed. The good news is that my previously unaffectionate horse is now licking me and running toward me and that makes me very happy. :)
    The part that I find discouraging is the isolation part -- I would love to find some local, like minded people. Have you managed to do that?

  5. No, I haven't found anyone. I lent Empowered Horses to a barn friend, and she likes it and is interested in some of the ideas, but she hasn't changed a lot. I gave a copy to another friend (who has a wonderful relationship with her horses), but she interprets everything in light of what she already believes. I lent What Horses Reveal to another friend, and he was interested - but it's asking so much of people who have invested a lot in competition or in training horses or giving lessons.
    I'm curious about Spilker - she apparently has riding students. The book was written a while ago. (Toppur is now all white) - I wonder what she's up to now?

  6. It's great that your horse has given you such quick feedback, Lori! It makes up for the confusion and apparent lack of direction. I think it must be like you say - you're just ready somehow to hear it. I didn't "decide" to try and put it into practice - I just kindof had to.

  7. I was wondering if you've read that Zen connection...-book by Jenny Pearce? I am really curious about it, I'd be interested in hearing opinions about it. I've understood that it is more like a "program". I am still thinking about buying it :)

  8. I haven't read it, but I'm also thinking about buying it. I'm also intrigued with Carolyn Resnick, as she also has more of a "program" and seems to think you can do all kinds of crazy things with your horse, like - oh, I don't know - ride it.
    I've only looked at excerpts from the Waterhole Rituals, and I'm thinking I might have to break down and buy that too. For some reason it really bothers me to "practice" asking to horse to move out of its space as a way to establish leadership. I don't mind moving the horse when I think it's necessary - e.g. to stop George from kicking the gate when he's flirting with the mares-next-door - but I just feel weird doing it otherwise. Maybe I have to get over this.