Quiet Riding

Equestrian Book Reviews

Book Review

Dancing with Horses

Angle, the horse.
The horse is by nature a being of power, beauty, and elegance — all thanks to his pride, his endurance and, above all, his unbelievably precise sense of balance. To maintain this free, spontaneous pride and this precise balance under saddle — maybe even to further it — is that not one of the obligations of riding?

In his book Dancing With Horses (translated by Kristina McCormack), Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling seeks to teach his readers how to ride with collection on a loose rein. To achieve this, one must be conscious of how subtle movements of the rider's body communicate messages to the horse.

The author points out: “Horses are often punished for responding exactly and promptly to signals people did not realize they were giving.” The rider must be aware of how he is communicating with his horse. Hempfling emphasizes the rider's responsibility:

We can only expect the degree of sensitivity from our horse that we show him. We can only expect the degree of concentration from him that we ourselves demonstrate. The work with horses begins here, with ourselves.

Hempfling speaks of dominating the horse, but he does not mean beating the horse into submission. He states, “If the worst comes to the worst I can break-in a horse by putting him in a state of fear, but in those circumstances I cannot sensibly and meaningfully educate, school or develop him.”

The author goes on to say: “We do not break our horses, we do the opposite, we enhance, we develop, we bring out powers where, before, barely any were perceived.” He stresses: “The horse has no problem submitting himself, but he must trust in the one to whom he submits.” He goes on to explain:

My body language informs the horse that I am a being in whom he can have confidence, to whom he can be submissive, without in the least giving up his pride or his will to live. On the contrary, he says to himself, “Someone who uses so little force to dominate me is someone from whom I can learn comfortably; being with him increases and strengthens my self–confidence.”

This process involves two–way communication. The rider must be able to subtly direct the horse, but he must also pay attention to what the horse is telling him. If we want to truly communicate with horses, it is more effective if we learn their language (body language) than expecting them to learn ours. The author points out:

There are a number of very subtle signs and signals by which our equine partner lets us know if we are asking too much, or too little. We must focus not just our eyes but our whole attention on these very subtle signals from our horses.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing the rider is ambition. Hempfling urges his reader: “Rid yourself of ambition; it poisons any work you do with horses.” Ambition can lead to pushing too hard too fast. “…what we do is only worthwhile if it is done in a spirit of joy, and adventure, for ourselves and for our horses.” He concludes, “Let us put ambition to one side and begin to listen and to see. Above all, let us begin to ‘feel’!”

Hempfling emphasizes the importance of fitness in the rider:

We need to be able to feel the movement of the horse correctly…. Certain muscles must be well and powerfully developed in order to make truly harmonious riding possible. We need to be in good condition, have the ability to move our body parts independently and have muscles fit for use.

Being fit includes being aware of one's body. Hempfling points out: “A person's entire energetic state can be known by and even transferred to the horse.” He adds, “To communicate effectively with the body requires the paring of movement and gesture to the barest essentials.” Before this can happen, a rider must be able to balance. And, in order to balance himself, the rider must be aware of the balance of the horse. “…it becomes my responsibility to find the mutual centre of gravity with the horse.”

This sensitivity leads to the horse having greater freedom in movement. “The horse does not notice my weight because I sit in his movement, and put myself in total balance with him.” Once this is achieved, any interruption of this oneness of movement can be used by the rider as a cue. “We must be absolutely aware that every, even the most minuscule, movement of our body, conveys extraordinarily powerful information, whether we are on the horse or on the ground.”

Much of this book stresses the importance of ground work. Hempfling writes: “…90 percent of correct, horse–oriented riding–in takes place on the ground.” This preparatory ground work is done both with and without a lunge line. But, even when the lunge line is used, it is kept loose.

The author states: “…the way lunging is commonly done can only be harmful.” In conjunction with his emphasis on balance, Hempfling points out how a tight lunge line disrupts the balance of the horse.

He also points out the importance of the trainer's movements. “If I stand rigid and motionless at the centre, then I have no way of transmitting information to the horse with my own rhythm and tempo.” When lunging, “The beauty and regularity of your gait will carry over to your horse and, of course, the reverse is true as well.”

In both riding and lunging, “The reactions and the carriage of the horses are nearly always mirror images of the actions and bearing of the horsemen. A horse always tells the truth, frequently mercilessly.”

Despite his emphasis on precision, Hempfling points out:

Every horse is unique, every horseman is unique. Set recipes constrict you but guiding principles bring understanding and provide a foundation on which each person can build, using the methods at hand.

Dancing with Horses presents its information in romantic, often poetic, language. Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling seeks to inspire as well as teach for, in the end, each horseman must develop his own techniques through sensitivity, experience, and intuition.

Buy Dancing with Horses