Sunday, April 18, 2010

Peace in all our relations

It's that time of year again. "What time?" you ask.

Time to start watching out for frogs setting up house in our shoes! There aren't many things worse than putting on a shoe and feeling a squishy thing at the toe. Poor little guys, just looking for a home.

I had great fun playing with the horses again today. We really seem to have turned a corner in terms of enthusiasm (in Patrik's case), sweetness (in Sofi's case) and trust (in Sundance's case). I'll just have to keep the visuals secret until I have a guest in the pasture with me to take pictures.

plentiful grass, lots of room to run, friends, and pain-free
human interactions add to Sofi's sense of well-being

I was thinking today about how important a sense of well-being is for both horses and humans. In a human's case, if we are lucky enough to feel secure about our food, clothing and shelter, and have loved ones, then as Maslow's Hierarchy of needs shows us, we can have a shot at self-actualization.

A horse's case isn't that different. If we are far enough removed from our own agendas (myself included) and we compare the life of the average sport horse to my horses, my horses have more of the base levels of the triangular model met, building a solid foundation for whatever the top levels of the horse's triangle might be. I think the biggest difference between sport horses and my horses are their feelings of safety. I am saying this coming from a very long and involved background in the traditional horse world, having been a specialist in starting young horses and teaching children with seemingly "gentle" methods.

The amount of pain involved in even the most gentle horse training, especially with a bit, but also with any length of time spent mounted and compounded with a saddle and tightened girth adds up to a horse feeling pain and being "taught" (i.e. forced) to deal with that pain by submitting before greater pain (tugs on the bit, kicking, spurring, whipping) is inflicted.

To the uneducated eye, a traditionally trained horse will often look like she is not in pain. The further I go along this path, the more I see significant differences between my horses and the others, and even between my horses now and my horses as they used to be when they were traditionally trained. A horse that doesn't feel safe from having pain induced by riding is missing a large part of the stability needed in order to feel a full sense of well-being.

There are amazing things that we humans have figured out about horse behavior and ways to work within their own nature in order to train and work with them, but if we don't stop causing them pain every time we are with them, we will never know the levels that they are capable of bringing us and themselves to.

I used to think this was an extremist's path. Now I see it as completely logical. So much so, that I don't feel the need to debate or argue these points with anyone. I have proven it for myself and know in my heart that others will eventually find it too. It may have to wait for a time when more humans have been fortunate enough to have their own basic needs met.

When our only battles are with the dark parts of ourselves, and we are overflowing with enough love and compassion to help other humans, we will have peace in all our relations.


  1. I thought I had this peace in me, but then I lost it for a while. I think it came back thou - All is full of love again.

    Safety needs of a horse seems to be the hardest for us people. We have such a different opinion on that and we tend to humanize horses on this matter, locking them to a warm stable every night.

  2. I know safety has been the key to allowing Chloe's enthusiasm to show. She used to be intent on making a bee-line back to the pasture at every possible opportunity. Whereas now that she knows she can return whenever she wants, she suggests leaving the pasture, and it's often hard to persuade her to go back.

  3. In "Empowered Horses," while there are many photos of Imke and others riding bareback, there are also many shots of horses wearing, and being saddled up with, very traditional saddles. Also bridles. Does anyone have any perspective on this?

  4. I've read "Empowered Horses", too, and think that while Imke offers some wonderful insights, she stops just short of fully embracing the NHE philosophy of no bits, riding, etc. Her discussion of collection is, I think, very much in line with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs ... it is an expression of joy (could that be a way of expressing self-actualization?) that's only possible when a horse's more basic needs are met.

    I love Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and the idea of applying it to horses is food for thought. It would seem that Alexander's horses are examples of self-actualized horses.

    I agree with JEN-SKA ... humans have a different perspective on what horses need. Horses feel safest when they are part of a herd and have nurturing leadership ... things that I have only recently learned.

  5. Or.... NHE stops just short of embracing Spilker's way ... could be that way round too!

  6. June wrote:
    "Or.... NHE stops just short of embracing Spilker's way ... could be that way round too!"

    A wonderful observation, which will be interesting for Stormy to tackle, if she feels up to it.

    I, myself think what Alexander and his horses accomplish together in physical and mental development is spectacular, and life changing! But I cannot embrace it as "self-actualization", at least not in the way that I understand such things.

    Let's say a monkey removes a human from his human world and immerses him in the world of monkeys, and puts barriers between him and other humans, makes him completely dependent on the monkeys for even the most basic of his needs, and then teaches him only things that monkeys feel are important to monkeys rather than what humans feel are important to humans--is this "self-actualization"?

    To me, much as I bow at the feet of Alexander Nevzorov for beauty of his interactions with horses and how stimulating they are for humans to contemplate new horse/human relationships, something is missing in the NHE way that is flowering in Imke Spilker's least in my opinion...

    What might that something be?

  7. Oh I wish I hadn't given away both my copies of Empowered Horses, but what to me is the most lovely part of the book which somehow epitomizes the whole thing is the young girl with her Icelandic horse - no formula, no ideology, no rules - just friendship and fun.

  8. Don't worry June, I still have 12 copies if you'd like to buy one! :)

    I have put together a collection of my favourite quotes from Imke's book. I went through them trying to pick the one that best fit this dialogue.

    "It is not the stable door that opens the pathway to the realm of horses. Nor is it a particular method, of whatever kind, taught in clinics, seminars, or schools. Only the horses themselves can show us this path and teach us their language. We reach their world only when we have left behind any desire for control, claim to dominance and arrogance of the mighty and we open our eyes and our senses wide."

    In "Kinship With All Life" Mohave Dan shares with J. Allen Boone his thoughts on how to best understand a dog: "There's facts about dogs and there's opinions about them. The dogs have the facts and the humans have the opinions. If you want facts about a dog, always get them straight from the dog. If you want opinions, get them from the human."

    The truth is there will never be a human being, however gifted, who will be a better teacher about horses than your four-legged friends looking at you from across the pasture, inviting you to enter their world!

  9. How lame it sound to say that "horse is your best teacher"... Yes, that's true, but only with the above mentioned shifts in your own scheme of things.

  10. Sandie, I should probably buy 3 copies so I have another 2 to give away, eh?

    I know, Jen-ska - that's the thing about cliches - they're usually true!

  11. Lynne, in your example are you saying the monkey is the human and the human is the horse? Does Nevzorov not keep his horses in a herd?

  12. June, Yes, in the example I gave the monkey represents the human and the human represents the horse.

    This is Stormy May's blog and she may or may not wish to discuss what the structure of the Nevzorov horses lives are like--and of any of us, she would have the most valuable insights on such things, for she has been there in person, and I have only been there vicariously through words and images.

    The words and images of both Alexander Nevzorov and Imke Spilker have buoyed me as I raft on down this river with horses--each for specific reasons, each because of their dedication to providing horses the very things Stormy brings to our attention by sharing Maslow's pyramid, albeit with some distinct differences in interpretation of the "hierarchy of needs". There are "things" within the applications of both Spilker and Nevzorov's ways of relating to horses which disturb me a little, but which do not detract from their overall messages and how my life and the lives of my horses have been enriched because of their overall messages and how I incorporate these messages into my own way of being.

    What keeps me coming back to The Path of the Horse blog is the gift Stormy May gives readers by sharing how those people she has met in person have inspired her to live differently with her horses. There is no need for comparisons here...let's just let things unfold the way Stormy determines them, which will likely be filled with many an interesting observations to provoke us to deeper reflection.