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2Moons: Part 1



Finally, he stands before me, the horse whose near-mythological story has mesmerised me from the moment I first heard whispers of it a month ago. Here he is, compact, muscled, his copper-toned bulk fringed with flaxen mane and forelock grounded to the sandy surface of the picadero. His gaze is firm, unblinking. 2Moons has announced his presence and waits for me to do the same.

It is the last Thursday in January. We are in Petra Vlasblom’s indoor picadero in south-west France. An old farm shed has been hollowed out to create the picadero, which is fronted by a small conference area and vestibule to one side of it and one of three stables surrounding the conference area to the other side. The walls of the stables are high enough to hold the horses but low enough to allow them to fraternise with each other and the humans seated in the conference area. The whole is inviting and conducive to interaction between horse and human.

And still he waits, 2Moons. I move away to one of the large windows lining the picadero and look out to the slopes of the adjoining hill now darkening in the shade of the late afternoon sun. I gather the view and the sounds and smells, bring them to rest in my belly and feel the soft sand beneath my feet.  I can face him now. So I turn and look and still he waits, 2Moons. I look at him, searching for the horse inside. Suddenly I see no longer the horse but the creature of the story that has preceded him. I am conscious of the power that has put his owner into hospital not once but twice, and which I saw in him just days before when he reared in protest at a vet’s presumption to even consider puncturing his flesh with an injection needle.

And as I consider the horse and his past, I am also conscious of the quickening of my blood, the dryness in my mouth and the flutter in my belly. Out dark thought, I stomp on it and force it from my presence by seeking to drive the horse to the left. It works and we are away but only for a few rounds of the picadero. A change of rein sees 2Moons travelling on his weaker side and after just a few strides I am challenged. The horse turns and stops. And suddenly I am once again acutely conscious of 2Moons, the legend. Whatever connection there may have been between us is gone. The session falls apart. I cannot dig deep enough within me to find the leader this proud horse demands. He lets me know it. Bossiness, my modus vivendi with horses in a long-fading past would probably get me killed now. I am keenly aware of this. Humbled, I retire.

The picture postcard village of Penne d'Agenais

The picture postcard village of Penne d'Agenais

We are staying in a holiday house (or gite, as it is known in France). It is part of the property comprising natural stone structures, outbuildings and paddocks that is home to Petra, her horses, 2Moons and Kalouscha, and Kontiki, a mare in livery, just outside the picture postcard town of Penne d’Agenais in the department of Lot et Garonne. At our instigation, Vicki and I are here to attend a course tailored to our self-defined horse-related requirements. The venue is appropriate. Not only are we out in the country, we can also see the horses in their stables from the living room of our holiday bungalow at the start of each new day.

Petra has asked us to set out on paper what we would like to deal with during this course. We have but we may as well not have, for the course acquires a direction of its own, the focus of each day growing organically out of the previous one’s deliberations. It has been decided that we will have four hours of tuition each day, following which Vicki and I will reflect on what has been dealt with and flesh it out in greater detail. This schedule is abandoned on the very first day. We are so engrossed in what transpires that five hours pass before we realise that we have not had a break. Not quite sobered by this experience, we manage six hours without a break on the second day, and so it goes during the days that follow. I am reminded of the Hempfling adage frequently quoted to me by many who have attended his training in person that, although you need one, a plan is only that and should be abandoned whenever it is appropriate to do so.

Much of the first day was taken up with a discussion of training. Is it just for the horse or for the human? What should it involve? What…? and so forth. My notes list the following conclusions:

Training needs to target both:

  • the horse; and
  • the human.

The prerequisites for training are:

  1. 1. attention – you must have the horse’s attention;
  2. 2. connection – there must be a true connection between horse and human.

There are two main aspects to the connection between horse and human:

  1. 1. leadership – the human undertakes to lead and protect the horse;
  2. 2. trust – it is clear to the horse that it can rely on its leader to protect it, never to hurt it, and to help it become healthy and happy.

Leadership entails the following:

  • attention;
  • calm;
  • clarity;
  • initiating;
  • the human asks appropriately until the horse answers as required.

Signs of a horse’s acceptance of a human’s leadership:

  • the horse is calm;
  • its neck drops;
  • it snorts or ruffles its lips;
  • it chews.

It is possible to dominate a horse without resorting to force and to obtain its submission without a connection. This is a mechanistic approach which can also be achieved through work at liberty. It is intention which determines the difference between such a mechanistic approach and one based on a true connection with the horse.

The first day’s deliberations logically led us to a lengthy discussion on the following day of the differences between conventional and natural horsemanship, on the one hand, and the approach adopted by people such as Hempfling, Michael Bevilacqua, Imke Spilke and Petra, on the other. My notes mention the following conclusions:

The essential difference between their approach and that of natural horsemanship is to be found in the following elements:

  • intention – natural horsemanship practitioners seek to make a horse do something to serve a human’s purposes, whereas the ‘2Moons approach’ (as exhibited by Petra and the others) is defined by the human’s intention to help the horse;
  • intuition – natural horsemanship practitioners are guided by a uniform, self-defined method in their interaction with horses, whereas the ‘2Moons approach’ is an intuitive one, with the result that interaction never occurs in a set pattern but is always different, being tailored to the conditions as they unfold in the moment (reference was made to Eckhart Tolle);
  • connection – the follow-up which occurs after Monty Robert’s join-up is no more than the mechanical movements of a horse that has been made to submit to a human by having every avenue rendered less attractive than such submission. As such, there is no connection between horse and human. The same holds true for other forms of natural horsemanship. The ‘2Moons approach involves the achievement of a true connection between a human and his horse, where the latter wants to follow the former;
  • neutral – whereas natural horsemanship practitioners focus entirely on the horse they are working with, the ‘2Moons approach’ entails focusing on addressing the horse’s needs. Although the focus is total, it is directed at the task at hand rather than at the horse and to this extent the latter experiences it as ‘neutral’;
  • method – natural horsemanship employs a method, whereas the ‘2Moons approach’ does not.

What defines a true connection is:

  • leadership – the human assumes the role of a strong, calm, trustworthy leader who does not resort to causing pain but is committed to protecting and helping the horse achieve its full potential for its sake and not that of the human;
  • trust – the horse seeks the leadership that is offered because it is clearly designed to protect and help it. In doing so, the horse commits itself to placing its trust in the human. Over time this trust is established and consolidated through everyday experience.

For want of a more appropriate term, I have come to refer to the approach espoused by Hempfling, Bevilacqua, Spilke and Vlasblom as the ‘2Moons approach’ and the moment when a true connection between horses and humans occurs as a ‘2Moons moment’. With hindsight, logic dictates that I should refer to such a connection between a horse and human as a ‘2Moons connection’.

Petra’s approach to horses and training is reflected in her business. She has undertaken extensive training, which has included a three-year course with the former Belgian based International School for Professional Horsemanship, a brief stint with Emiel Voest, and extensive training with Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling during the period from 2005 to 2007. When asked whom she is closest to in her approach, she instinctively cites Hempfling but when you dig deeper, you come to realise that her single most important tutor has been her horse, 2Moons, which is also the name she has bestowed on her educational operations in recognition of this.

It was this realisation that prompted us to beg Petra to tell us the full 2Moons story on Day 3 of our course. Not only did she do so, she also dropped her guard entirely and led us to places in her life and that of 2Moons that we are privileged to have been allowed to tread. I shall not even attempt to repeat the 2Moons story here. It merits nothing less than a book, for it is a story of transformation that cries to be shared with the world … for the sake of the horses … and for that of their humans.

The 2Moons website (www.2moons.nl – only available in Dutch at present) is subtitled ‘Eenheid tussen mens en paard’, which may be translated as ‘Unity between horse and human’. This is not an empty slogan but a goal that is firmly based in what Petra and 2Moons have achieved together. When she found this horse, no one had been able to ride him or have any meaningful contact with him for at least five years. Petra’s encounter with 2Moons did not dampen her desire for change but it did redefine its direction. The 2Moons experience has changed her life completely and has done so in a very short space of time.

What do you do with a horse that no one can ride, that has had to be sedated in order to be trailered home, and that you do not have a clue what to do with other than what you have seen and read in the books and videos of people such as Monty Roberts and Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling? More importantly, what does it require of you to become the kind of human whom your horse trusts and looks to for guidance to help him become healthy and happy? These were some of the questions that Petra faced after she brought 2Moons home. She was committed to doing all that was required to help her horse become healthy and happy. But how could she know that she was on the right track? By allowing her horse to show her. And 2Moons did, sending Petra to hospital twice in two months when she let ego get in the way. And when she is on the right track, he does so too by giving her his trust to the point that he indulges her desire to have him sit or lie down at her side with a bright eye. And through her he has also come to learn to trust other humans and allow them to grow together with him. One of the most moving series of photos we see while studying with Petra is one depicting 2Moons with a woman. Both are lying down in the picadero, her head on his neck. And both are deep in sleep.

The 2Moons centre in France. Our bungalow is in the middle.

The 2Moons centre in France. Our bungalow is in the middle.

Day 4 sees us spend another five hours without a break discussing 2Moons moments and what is required to achieve them, while watching videos of her helping humans to solve their problems (largely human-made) with horses. My notes for that day mention the following:

The question arose as to how one can create conditions which facilitate the achievement of a 2Moons moment. Personal difficulties can have an adverse affect, making it difficult if not impossible to do so. It is possible to undergo physical and spiritual development to help one deal with personal difficulties more effectively. There must also be a way or several ways of putting any adverse personal circumstances aside before and while interacting with a horse. Meditation can help in both the long and short terms. It is also possible to focus one’s breathing, energy and consciousness in such a way as to make it possible to enter into the moment with a horse, shutting out everything alien to that shared moment.

These concerns organically suggested the next focus of our tailored course and we accordingly devote the next two days to personal development. In particular we look at patterns of behaviour in horses but especially humans. What are they? And how can they best be changed? We examine our own patterns of behaviour, which ones were changing, and how and why they were doing so. What ultimately serves as a catalyst for changing patterns of behaviour in both horses and humans? The answer, we feel, lies in rendering the unpleasant pleasant. Patterns of behaviour will change only when it is pleasant do to do so and when the change yields benefits or the failure to change creates a crisis of such magnitude that it is more beneficial to do so.

We also drew up wish lists for ourselves and talked about what would be required in order to achieve them. By way of an example, Petra shows us the wish list that she had drawn up after acquiring 2Moons. Within 10 years she has achieved everything mentioned in it.

Day 7 brings this part of my 2Moons story full circle. It is Friday evening and Vicki’s twin sister, Agathe, has joined us for excursions into the Dordogne to the north during the weekend. The three of us I are seated in our bungalow viewing my disastrous interaction with 2Moons on a painfully large television screen, which crisply displays that doleful encounter in all its sorry detail. I cringe. That poor horse. What on earth had I been thinking? Therein lies the germ of the problem but I am too brow-beaten to take note at the time. My keenest instinct is to give up, to walk away, to sink into the ground somewhere and return to a pedestrian life. If we learn from horses, then surely this must be the most brutally obvious lesson that 2Moons has taught me?

Petra, 2Moons and her dog, Summer, during the course

Petra, 2Moons and her dog, Summer, during the course

5 Responses to “2Moons: Part 1”

  1. Dearest Andrew, What a marvellous 7 days you & Vicky must have had at Petra’s place! Wonderfully intriguing I guess?!
    I have read your blog twice, Andrew. I thought I must have missed something but after reading it the second time I was sure it just wasn’t there. I miss the word RESPECT. Although respect doesn’t always go with trust, trust in my view always goes with respect. A true leader is a leader that can be trusted and will be respected by the horse.
    And perhaps I did indeed miss something somewhere somehow in your story. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    You talk about 2Moons as ‘That poor horse’. Have you written that with a serious mind or is it ‘talking Russian’. Saying one thing and meaning the other :-)) And perhaps you meaning to say that you do/did not consider yourself worthwhile interacting with 2Moons. As if wasting the horse’s time? Could it not be so that 2Moons can look after himself very well and that feelings of deepfelt/profound thanks have been felt by you at some point?

    Well, lots to think & talk about the coming months I guess?!
    And Vicky, how about you? I would love to hear or read your story!!

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Geerteke

      It is really great to hear from you again.

      The issue of respect which you raise is an interesting one, not only because it is an essential component of any relationship involving leadership and trust but also because it begs the question of what types of behaviour we humans can legitimately attribute to horses.

      Put another way, is a horse really capable of showing respect? In the sense that it automatically acts in deference to its leader, it could be argued that it is. When interpreted as a feeling, however, I do not think that respect is something that a horse is capable of in the same way as a human is. On the other hand, is my firm belief that a human cannot serve as a true leader to a horse, unless he is absolutely committed to the health and wellbeing of that creature. Respect for the horse is an essential aspect of this commitment. A human should not be surprised if his leadership is not acknowledged in the absence of such respect.

      My reference to ‘that poor horse’ was designed to reflect the regret I felt at inflicting my inadequacy on him. I have absolutely no doubt that 2Moons does not need me personally to feel complete. Yes, at some point I come to feel ‘deepfelt/profound thanks’ but that occurs in Part 2, which is still to be posted.

      Oh yes, there should indeed be lots to think and talk about in the coming months. Or not. Either way is fine.

      Be well, very well!

  2. Heather Binns says:

    So nice to read this while I am having my breakfast! I look forward to hearing more! It sounds like you have found the direction you were searching for!

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Heather

      Glad I could make a worthy contribution to your breakfast.

      Yes, it does sound as though I have found the direction that I was looking for. It is not perfect but neither was the last one. Thankfully so, as life could turn out to be terribly boring in the constant presence of perfection.

      Take care!