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The challenge

If Klaus Ferdiand Hempfling is to be believed, the key to dancing with horses lies in establishing dominance and trust. Most, if not all of us, assume that trust is essential. The concept of dominance, however, raises concerns amongst many people who are seeking more humane relationships with their horses, presumably because of the negative connotations of the dominant behaviour which defines interaction with horses in conventional equestrian pursuits. The challenge lies in achieving dominance without resorting to dominant behaviour.

Perhaps the difficulty is more one of interpretation. Let me illustrate this with a video of me working with Anaiis in what Klaus calls the magic circle, which refers to the space between a picadero and the perimeter of the manège in which it is hosted. The object is for the human to move the horse in front of him from about three to four metres behind using the most minimal body language to achieve this. Klaus explains the principle as follows:

‘The principle of the Magic Circle consists of moving the horse in front of you, and therefore automatically taking on the position of a high-ranking stallion. If they are done correctly and in a grounded way, these exercises make an enormous impression on the horse, so that you will be able to find your deserved position in the hierarchy without any further problems, or at least a lot more easily’ (The Horse Seeks Me, p. 271).

Andrew working with Anaiis

The video shows me trying to do this. In itself the exercise appears to be rather mundane. Let us put it into perspective. As people who used to fly around the world to attend the World Equestrian Games and the equestrian component of the Olympic Games, we have witnessed world champions and their trainers showing themselves to be incapable of leading their own horses, let alone doing so on a loose lead or being able to do what I am trying to do in the magic circle.

Using Klaus’ categorisation of horses (see What Horses Reveal), Anaiis is a combination of King and to a lesser extent Child. As such, she is a dominant mare that responds to dominant behaviour in kind, but exponentially amplified. The challenge lies in dominating her without resorting to dominant behaviour. Coupled with trust and a gentle but resolute presence, the more grounded and calmer I am, the more dominance I can achieve with her. In this sense dominance could be interpreted as leadership, a concept which many find less challenging.

We welcome your comments on our posts and, in particular, on our work with Anaiis, because we have decided to take her along with us to Denmark for our one-year course with Klaus, leaving our geldings (Gulliver and Farinelli) in good care here in Australia.

One Response to “The challenge”

  1. Susanne Schadde says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I met Vicky in CSI last june on Lyo. I appreciate your pointing out the trust AND dominance.
    I know very well as herein lies one of my biggest challenges with horses, as the closeness, love and trust is emotionally easy to handle as they are “positive” whereas dominance has the negative connotation of coertion or force or worst violence. I only understood with Klaus that in order for the horse to trust you, he has to experience you as dominant and that dominant in that regard doesn’t mean wanting something from them only providing for the horse, leading the horse. So important to think so carefully about these!!!