Friday, March 26, 2010

Developing relations

The following is an email I received a couple of days ago.

Hi Stormy,

I have recently purchased your video The Path of the Horse, and have been very moved by it. Since getting it we have watched it every day. I have also read Linda and Carolyn's books as well as Imke Spilker and am very interested and do work mainly with my three horses at liberty. I have one horse who is coming two and one coming three. I would at some point like to ride them, even for short times and am wondering what you would suggest for bringing this subject to them. If I work with them and keep playing and developing a close relationship will it be possible to ride them without any formal "colt starting" program?

I am fascinated really by all of these different trainers, I love the dancing and the running free and the absolute joy you can see from the horses. I guess that is my biggest wish. I am really resonating with Carolyn Resnick and Imke Spilker, and am now also planning on getting books or DVDs from Klaus Hempfling. I live in Calgary Alberta right now, but within the next few months I am moving to British Columbia where I will have the opportunity to live with my horses at home instead of boarding them, so I am looking forward to having more time with them.

Thanks for any ideas or suggested websites or books.


Lisa's horses Comet, Selene, and Josie. Selene and Josie are rescued horses. Photo Courtesy Lisa.

Dear Lisa,

Your question has inspired me to take a deeper look at what I would wish to create, both virtually in this blog pasture, and in reality here on the other side of the camera lens.

I have gained ideas and inspiration from all of the trainers that I interviewed in the documentary. As far as taking the philosophy of "do no harm" to its logical conclusion, I have to say that Alexander Nevzorov has created the model that I think goes the farthest towards the end that we are all heading, whether we are currently conscious of it or not.

Mr. Nevzorov spends an extraordinary amount of time and money researching the history of horse human relationships and documenting it in films for Russian TV viewers. As an offshoot of that, we get to read about it on his website and the different publications NHE (Nevzorov Haute Ecole) puts out including the Equine Anthology which is available online and translated into English.

The way I would describe his conclusion in my own words is as follows. The logical progression of our relations with horses, which started out as a reflection of our human need to control through force, fear, pain, and intimidation, as evidenced by horrifically painful bits and spurs, will evolve into control through friendship and play, at which point it will no longer be control at all, instead it would be better termed harmony and friendship, discipline, respect, and a very subtle level of communication between two species.

So, with a big nod towards Alexander Nevzorov, these are the signs that will be the natural result when someone comes into a truly close, empathetic relationship with a horse. These shouldn't be seen as rules. I believe that they are natural conclusions that a person will discover when they have evolved to the next level of relationship with horses as outlined in the Path of the Horse documentary.
  1. The main objective of the human-horse relationship must be to maintain or improve the quality of life for the horse. A human may benefit along the way, especially in terms of learning to operate in more subtle realms, but that should not be the primary purpose of the relationship. Anything that does not maintain or improve the quality of life for the horse will not be indulged.
  • In all training work with horses, whether it be playing together, grooming, or more concentrated work to gymnasticize the horse, the horse must be fully at liberty without anything on his head and in an area large enough that he can choose to participate or leave.
  • This includes all riding work. If a horse is in a situation where he cannot receive adequate exercise without being ridden, then he is not being kept in a humane situation.
  • There may be times when head restraint is entirely necessary. In this case, a flat, wide halter should be used and the horse should have been previously taught to give to pressure from this halter after having developed a close, trusting relationship with humans. Examples of when it might need to be used are for veterinary procedures and leading in potentially dangerous areas. These instances should be kept to an absolute minimum.

  • There must be never be physically painful consequences to the horse in any training situation. Of course some necessary medical procedures or horse-to-horse interactions by their nature may be painful but those should be minimized whenever possible.
I believe the biggest hurdle we human have to jump, is learning how to experience horses in a new way. We will need to develop eyes and feelings that can identify when something is happening that is not in the horse's best interest. The signs above will give a person a good idea of where they are at in relation to the Path of the Horse.

In direct answer to your question about riding your horses without any formal "colt starting" program I can say in general "yes". If your horses trust and respect you because you have earned it, then being on their backs (provided that they do not have pathologies and that you are of an appropriate size/weight for their size and conformation) will be no different from any of the other exercises you do with them. The question you will first need to answer for yourself is, "Am I on the horse's back solely for his own benefit?"

I suggest to anyone who is serious about this path that in addition to any other trainer that you are interested in, also apply for Alexander Nevzorov's free online school at . The perspectives that are discussed there are an invaluable piece of taking the next step even if you have no wish to do Haute Ecole with your horses.

Comet, Selene and Josie. Photo courtesy Lisa.

I believe this one is Comet. What a beautiful eye. Photo courtesy Lisa.

And as for my horses today...JD is having a well-deserved although short vacation so I was up before dawn to let the horses out and feed them breakfast.

Then later in the day I made my way down and recorded some of the new blooms. I'll have to figure out what these are. They are quite pungent and are on some bushes with big spines.

Here's a bad picture of the first blackberry blossom I've seen this year.

And I caught a picture of the horses and the grandmother oak in the pasture.

Here's another view of this special tree.

As expected, I spent plenty of time doing this.

Then I captured a very subtle yet fascinating video. I almost wasn't going to post it, but then I watched it and saw so many little things going on that I couldn't not post it. I started out videoing because I had caught Sofi in a rare relaxed, maybe meditative state. By the time I had pulled out the video camera and started shooting, we weren't quite in it anymore but what you see at the beginning is a pretty close approximation of it. Note the rate that I'm petting her at and imagine that I'm watching all her subtle signals to tell me how she is receiving it. I've found that horses rarely enjoy their faces being "petted".

Then in the background we see Patrik taking an interest in what is going on. Sofi immediately senses what he's up to and starts to show her readiness for what may be coming. I try my best to put myself between Patrik and Sofi and let him know that I'm having time with her now but I'm not entirely successful. Then he goes and takes a drink. I try to coax Sofi back into the state she was in, but she is too concerned about Patrik who then does his famous trick of walking over with a mouthful of water and trying to dump it on an unsuspecting person. I'm not sure if he does this on purpose or not. All the while I'm trying to keep him away from Sofi. At the end he decides he has better things to do and Sofi asks for one more scratch, but then signals that she's done by a classic head shake, nose down position and then walks off. All this in three and a half minutes!


  1. Dear Stormy,

    I begin with acknowledging you for the courage you have shown on your journey from competition to compassion.

    As a middle-aged woman who recently acquired my first horse, King, a 12-year old Paint gelding, I began my search for an approach to horsemanship that was "fit for my King!" :) Of course, the process of exploration and elimination was painful. Then online I found The Path of the Horse which of course leads me to NHE. I have indeed applied for the online Forum and eagerly await my access.

    That said, I am wondering where to start with liberty work? How do you best learn to read your horse so you stay safe? Having only ever taken riding lessons, I do confess I find myself somewhat nervous about liberty work, and yet I know it is the path I want to take with King.

    For me, this journey begs the question - what is the true nature of love? I have concluded that if you love horses, then you must do as Alexander says and partake in only those activities that enhance the well-being of your horse.

  2. Hi Stormy,

    Thanks so much for the reply. I have looked at Alexander's website and the online school, and truthfully felt a little intimidated not knowing if I would have much to contribute to the discussions, or if I was a good enough horse person, but I will look again and apply for the forum. I always think of myself as such a beginner with horse training as I've never had any horse lessons of any kind, I just learned to ride my horses as a child, simply because I had them, and loved being with them--which to me logically meant riding. I think it was a blessing that we rescued Selene at 5 months and Josie as a yearling because riding wasn't an option and it gave us that opportunity to just be with them on the ground.