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Horse and Human

Horse and Human

It seems that the more I have anything to do with horses, the more I keep coming back to humans and in particular, myself. When I discovered a new way of being with horses a few years ago, what appealed to me most was the new way in which they started to relate to me when I treated them more humanely. My focus was on the horse and how to help it. And then I came across Hempfling, Bevilacqua and Spilker. Now there is Pignon – Frédéric – and I think that the penny has finally dropped.



Friday, 9 March 2012

Yesterday I received my copy of Gallop to Freedom, a book by Frédéric Pignon and his wife, Magali Delgado, about them, their horses and their interaction with each other. I read it in a single sitting and I have added it to my collection of indispensable books on horses and humans. Yes, I balk at the pictures of double bridles with bits that are so massively leveraged that they seem capable of raising London Bridge. But when I see the connection between horse and human, I look again and want to know more, because there seems to be an element involved which goes beyond a mechanical connection, an element which marks a true as opposed to a mechanical connection.

Let me illustrate what I am referring to. First let us look at a video featuring Marijke de Jong at work with several of her horses in the Netherlands. In her own words, Marijke is a horse rider, trainer and instructor. Work is apparently what you do with horses when you interact with them as such. Here she is involved in what she refers to as ‘straightness training’ (rechtrichten in Dutch).

What really helps is to turn the sound off. That way you can actually focus more on the body language, I find. Although the snippets of interaction between each horse and the human are too brief to provide a convincing picture, there does seem to be a connection between them. Horse and human are alert and attentive to each other. What type of connection is this though?

Now let us watch a video featuring Frédéric Pignon at play with some of his stallions during a horse show in Lyon, France in 2010.

Again the body language is more clearly evident if you turn off the sound. I use the word, ‘play’, advisedly, because in spite of the obvious preparation that has preceded this event, it is clear that the horses and the human are having fun, that some of the interaction is unscripted and improvised, that horse and human seek each other to receive and give reassurance, and that the horses even take joy in performing the tricks that they have learned. In short, there seems to be an additional element that is present.

And here is a video of a horse and human, where there is clearly a connection between the two but that additional element is missing. Here we see Jean-Francois Pignon, one of Frédéric’s brothers, with his own troupe of horses.

Yes, there is interaction, yes, there is a connection, and yes, a lot of seemingly amazing tricks are performed. But ultimately, no amount of loud music can awaken the dead.

So just what is this additional element and what does it add to the connection between horse and human?

To find out just what this additional element is, we may want to go behind the scenes to discover just how Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado train their horses. Here is a video that provides a brief introduction.

To learn more about Pignon’s training we need to consult the book. When I finally put down Gallop to Freedom last night, my first impression was that this is Hempfling without the bullshit. There is much that they have in common.

Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado base their training on the following six principles:

  1. to foster a more equal relationship, based on trust and respect, in which horse and man learn from each other;
  2. never to adopt ‘standard’ or inflexible methods of training but to recognise that each horse develops as an individual and reacts differently to the same stimulus;
  3. to reduce stress as well as to become a safe, trusted ‘haven’ for the horse;
  4. always to be patient and never to push too fast or too insistently, and on the other hand, not to allow the horse to get bored;
  5. never to use force or become angry;
  6. to establish a more ‘natural’ form of communication, that is, to further new methods.

I see you frown quizzically. Much in common with Hempfling? What happened to ‘dominance and trust’. As I have pointed out in a discussion paper in the past (you can find it here), what Hempfling refers to as ‘dominance’ in relation to horses is – when you actually look at what it is rather than the word itself – is a form of leadership, something similar to the leadership implied in the following comment by Frédéric Pignon: ‘But normally, what you really want to achieve is this: instead of your horse galloping away from something he does not understand, he stops and turns to you, his accepted leader and friend, because he knows you will understand and explain it to him, indeed, that it is better to stay with you than to run off into the unknown’ (p. 164).

Here are just some of the similarities I have spotted between Frédéric Pignon and Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling:

  • both emphasise the need for the horse to view the human as a source of security and safety, as a leader committed to its wellbeing;
  • this in turn is the basis for the horse placing its trust in the human, without which trust nothing is possible;
  • both are committed to the development of a close relationship between horse and human, which goes far beyond riding or training;
  • both are opposed to the use of force and violence;
  • both emphasise the need for a person to become the kind of human whom the horse seeks to follow in what the human asks;
  • both acknowledge the need to eschew methods in favour of an individual approach towards each horse;
  • both stress the need for communication through body language;
  • both emphasise the need for an intuitive approach and the power of visualisation;
  • both find it important that a horse not be pushed beyond its capabilities and not be allowed to become bored;
  • both oppose the lengthy repetitive types of training that are so typical of the conventional approach;
  • both are opposed to round pen work for the purposes of seeking a quick connection;
  • both shoe and stable their horses.


There are matters in respect of which Pignon and Hempfling differ. The ones that I became very aware of were these:

  • Pignon sees the friendship that horses are capable of developing with each other as a model for part of the relationship between horse and human, whereas Hempfling does not;
  • as such, Pignon views play as an integral part of the interaction between horse and human, whereas Hempfling considers play to be dangerous and to be avoided;
  • Pignon gives his horses the freedom to run off, whereas Hempfling insists on working with horses in a highly constricted area at least until the horse responds appropriately;
  • Pignon accepts that it is possible to communicate with animals intuitively, whereas Hempfling’s intuitive faculties focus on dominance;
  • Hempfling insists on controlling a horse throughout his interaction with it, whereas Pignon does not;
  • although Hempfling does not resort to domination as such, he is emphatically dominant, whereas Pignon is not.


It is Hempfling’s focus on dominance – being dominant – and control coupled with his eschewal of friendship and play which place clear limitations on his horsemanship, limitations which, in the face of the carefully crafted books, DVDs and YouTube videos, I only became aware of fairly recently through reports from various people who have attended courses with him on the island of Lyø. The first time I noticed this was when I heard about what happened to Karina’s horse, Cody, during Compact Schooling I in September last year. Since then I have heard of a few other incidents. Clearly, the truth will out no matter how much one tries to manicure it.

Having said this, it must be acknowledged that there is at least one area in which Hempfling is the unrivalled master when it comes to interaction between horses and humans. Here I refer to his insistence that a human needs to prepare himself for interaction with a horse by learning how to use his body to communicate and by developing a calm, grounded presence which allows for intuitive response. Some well-known trainers, such as Pignon, Bevilacqua and Spilker appear to have done this without devoting any special attention to it. At least, I imagine that this would be the explanation for their failure to address the preparation of the human explicitly as an important prerequisite for the occurrence of a true connection between horse and human, and their effective interaction with each other.

But to return to that additional element, what is it?

To be continued…

13 Responses to “Being Human … with Horses – Part 1”

  1. Anne-Marie says:

    I read Frederic Pignon’s book as soon as it was published. I was really impressed. The horses do seem to respond well to him. I am glad I understand French and could listen to the video. They talk about working with the temperament of each horse, and not fighting them. A lot of people may do that intuitively.

    I agree that his brother’s performance does not compare. I thought that the small horse was about to kick him .

    Can you tell me what type of incidents can happen with Hempfling? I have a friend who has gone there.

    Anne-Marie Reed

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Anne-Marie

      What I am referring to in this context are incidents where Hempfling does not manage to achieve a true connection with a horse or fails to keep it. In some of his videos and books Hempfling claims that everything is usually sorted out between him and a horse within the first few minutes. In all of the books, videos and articles that I have seen this does indeed appear to be the case. Eye-witness reports in the past six months reveal that it is not.

      Hope this helps.

      Be well!

  2. Dear Andrew, very interesting indeed. Thanks a lot for sharing this again. I have had the feeling for along time that there should be a possibility to combine all this ‘natural horsemanship’ or ‘liberty training’ with riding. I have had a similar discussion with Emily Glidden from Virginia, with whom I shared a hotel room in Escondido. She has ridden dressage as a Young Rider at Prix St. Georges-level. I have ridden at ‘Midden Tour’-level (the level just under Grand Prix). We both had the feeling something was missing. Or said differently more could/should be possible.
    Do you remember I have been mentioning that it should be and-and instead of either-or. Perhaps in a different setting but all the same.

    I am looking forward to……… To be continued…

    I would like to comment on Marijke de Jong’s video. This is not new to me. I have been doing this since a number of years. When I came back from KFH in 2010 I added his shoulder-in part and the liberty lungeing. When KFH’s shoulder-in is done in a correct way. And one has to know what to look for. One can get a horse straight on a circle. Very interesting!
    Andrew you ask……What type of connection is this though?………could it not be the same kind of connection? I have the feeling it only ‘lacks’ the flashy and showy part.
    The funny thing happned with JF Pignon’s video. At first the energy didn’t seem okay at all. Then after a while the energy improved and stayed okay for most of the time. But JF is a completely different personality/person/physique. FP’s movements are fluid. When something happens that is not planned he sort of solves that with moving and making himself part of that what wasn’t planned. With JF I get the feeling that when something not planned happens he seems lost for a moment. He gets the horse’s attention back and they continue. That is my feeling.
    The horses carring their ears turned back so much I wonder why that is. Perhaps they have been positively reinforced when being trained and the ears have been turned backwards often. So it has become something ‘normal’f or the horses to carry their ears that way. It is a pity as it does not give a friendly impression. Sometimes the horses swish their tails indicating at times I think some slight tension.
    And it is a pity there is no separate space for the horses to wait for their turn. It almost looks as if they are waiting like ‘trained bears’. It gets into the way of the flow.

    But to return to that additional element, what is it?

    Andrew how about TIMING………….
    QUOTE….Bad timing does more than prevent us from improving. It actually sabotages what we’ve already accomplished. Bad timing can cause everything to go south in a hurry. Your car doesn’t care if you mistime the clutch and the shift lever when you’re changing gears. Your horse, however, cares intensely if you’re clumsy and awkward. To make matters worse, she doesn’t even care if you timed nine out of ten turns to perfection. It’s the one that wrong-footed her and popped her clutch or ground her gears that she remembers, resents and worries about. And then when I say “she remembers”, keep this in mind – the memory of a horse is second only to that of an elephant…….UNQUOTE from Chris Irwin’s Dancing with your Dark Horse

    Take care

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Geerteke

      Personally, I would give ‘natural horsemanship’ a miss for the same reasons explained by Hempfling in The Horse Seeks Me and Frédéric Pignon in Gallop to Freedom. However, I do think that liberty training can be an important element of the ground work and relationship-building interaction that needs to precede riding, if the horse is to learn to carry himself and is to be strong enough to carry a rider as well.

      With regard to JF Pignon, look at the horses, each and every one of them. Are they alive? Do they carry within themselves the joy of living?

      And with regard to your quote from Chris Irwin, if it is indeed true, then Frédéric Pignon has a major problem (see the video featuring the Friesian stallions). Perhaps someone ought to tell him? 🙂

      Take care!

      • 🙂 Andrew, As for FP I think his timing is perfect. His timing in the way he interacts with his horses. Sometimes I find it difficult to find and use the right words to tell you what I wish to tell you. Sometimes it is a feeling I can hardly put into Dutch words let alone in English words. FP is like a (ballet) dancer with his partner. Having to lead his partner. Knowing that his leadership is very important for his partner or she will otherwise not be prepared to follow him. And when his partner makes a move not intended he is quick, empathic and perhaps aguile enough to support his partner so for the audience it looks as if that was supposed to be part of the dance.

        Are you a good dancer???? 🙂

        JFP does not look like having the dancing talents his brother has. But I do not want to judge as I am only having a video in front of me. But he does have a beautiful behind!!!! :0)

        With ‘natural horsemanship’ I really don’t mean the Monty Roberts thing. Or any other ‘natural horsemanshipper’. ‘Natural horsemanship’ in my perception is the ability to interact with horses in a natural way. There is the horses’ body language.There is the ‘tough love’ among horses. So that even when riding this can be taken into account. There is also the means of checking in a natural way, just by pointing my ANKH sensor towards the horse’s body, if what is being asked of the horse in a specific situation at a specific time/moment is okay. If it isn’t the subject will be changed immediately. And the rider and I will investigate why the horse’s energy said “NO”.
        When I teach my students I always carry my ANKH sensor with me to check on the horse’s energy. To be sure if something is permitted. Very often rider’s actions are permitted without bringing the horse out of balance. Be it physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. I have had experience that I asekd the student to act in a certain way and the student hesitated because it didn’t feel good to her. I assured her the horse’s energy told me it was okay. However, sometimes the student has the ‘last word’ while perhaps the action could and would have improved their connection. Because of the correct TIMING.
        I also check the rider’s energy to be able to tell her if there are any personal issues getting in the way.

        I used my ANKHsensor once upon a time when my then 3-year old horse was ‘joined up’ by a lady – actually she was at that time a student of mine – whom I gave my trust as she had attended a NHcourse. The join up did not go well with my horse and I told her so. Communicated that to her in a nice way. Even though my horse started chewing etc my ANKHsensor showed his energy getting terribly out of balance/stressed. I suggested that she had to change the subject and my proposition was to stop altogether, which we did.

        Warmly, Geerteke

        • Andrew, when watching JFP I have been watching and describing the energy during his interaction with the horse he is doing the show with. At least what MY feeling is telling me. The horses that are standing waiting for their turn I agree with you that they do look ‘not very much alive’. However, they might just as well be kind of mesmerized. And all of them carry their heads in a very low position meaning that their bodies have produced or are producing lots of endorfines. Meaning that they could very well be in a continuous HIGH. Perhaps making them in fact experience a very peaceful feeling.

          :-)) Geerteke as always at your service :-))

  3. Anne-Marie says:

    Maybe this is out of context, but can anyone tell me their thoughts on Carolyn Resnick’s method. I have used it for the last year, and it has certainly improved the connection with my horses . How would this compare for those who have attended KFH or others?

    Anne-Marie Reed

    • Dear Andrew, please forgive me if I am stepping over boundaries but I would very much like to respond to Anne-Marie’s question.

      Dear Anne-Marie, in August 2010 I attended in Holland the first Introduction to the WHR workshop. In September of that same year I was a participant at KFH’s 8-day Pure Practical Performance on the beautiful Danish island of Lyoe. I have loved my time there. Especially so because I was in a position to watch KFH at work and see him do the rituals. He was performing in his way. I donot have any Compact Schooling experience so I don’t know whether he explains more there than he did during the PPP. Actually during the PPP he didn’t do any explaining as far as I can remember, so I can imagine if you have no knowledge of any rituals what KFH does with the horses looks like magic. The magical or magnetic connection Carolyn talks about as well.
      I have found it very helpful knowing about the Waterhole Rituals and I agree with Carolyn’s statement that they are or certainly can be the foundation of all equestrian pursuits. And it is also very interesting to notice that sometimes people do the rituals or some of the rituals subconsciously. Intuitively.

      I hope this is of use to you.
      Warm regards, Geerteke

      • Andrew says:

        Dear Geerteke

        A question. The mechanical connection that Monty Roberts achieves through join-up: would that be similar to what Carolyn Resnick achieves or is their an additional element involved in her case?


        • Dear Andrew, as far as I know Carolyn is mordicus against join up. Carolyn gives lots of time and space for the horse to say “NO”.
          Perhaps this will be of interest to you. On day one at Carolyn’s ranch in Escondido we had a 10 or 15-minute interview with her. She was assisted by 3 certified instructors. When I entered the room I had hardly time to say hello and shake her hand as she had already told me that I had hurt her by saying (I must have written that as a comment on one of her blog posts) that there was more than the Waterhole Rituals. I was surprised but remainded wonderfully grounded. I commented that I must have pushed on one of her buttons. Unknowingly. That cleared the air a bit as we had a good laugh. I tried to explain what I had probably meant. And the same applies here.

          What I mean to express is more of a supernatural thing perhaps. More of a selfrealisation thing perhaps. However as these matters are sometimes not so easy to put in down-to-earth words, at least for me, I sometimes may sound and read a bit chaotic. Sorry for that.
          If you can put it in down-to-earth words, Andrew, I would be very grateful.
          But on the other hand maybe it is okay the way I write it down.

          The quote you have used from FP’s book Gallop to Freedom is exactly the way Carolyn puts it. At least that is the way I have understood it!!


    • Andrew says:

      Dear Anne-Marie

      Frédéric Pignon has this to say about the use of methods:

      In dealing with other people we learn to be aware of their wishes and their reactions to what we say and do. Likewise, we can learn to read horses to be aware of their wishes and reactions, but the language is different so we have to learn it first. When people find themselves dealing with horses, all too often they ignore this obvious truth and throw commonsense out of the window. They follow some method that they have been taught or heard about and apply it without any attention to the horse’s reaction. They make no effort to gauge whether the horse likes what they are trying to do or not. Put yourself in the horse’s position. Would you care to be treated like this? To treat another human being in a preconceived manner without any care for its effect on him or her, might be considered autistic behaviour. Is it any different when dealing with a horse? (Gallop to Freedom, p. 140).

      I echo the question.

      Be well!

  4. Dear Andrew,
    ………..Pignon accepts that it is possible to communicate with animals intuitively, while Hempfling does not;…………..

    It suddenly comes back to my memory that during one of the PPP-days KFH was working with a bay mare. The owner was a German lady. The mare looked and behaved bombproof. KFH was of the opinion that the mare was ‘dead’. She hardly reacted to anything. In the end he took a garden hose and started hosing water as if watering a garden. Gradually he came closer to her legs and once in a while the water touched her legs. That started the mare moving. KFH called it something like ‘bio-energetic lungeing’. I don’t know if he had right there and then found a title for that. It sounded ‘quite impressive’ and certainly creative .
    However, one of the other comments he gave about this mare was that if things wouldn’t change drastically the mare would die within a year.

    In my view this cannot be anything but an intuitive communication with the animal.
    Another possibility may be that KFH communicates with his InnerSelf/Guides/Angels (give it or them a name) during his meditative moments. These moments usually take place out of sight. However, I have noticed him taking short breaks regularly when he is inside the picadero and sometimes he leaves the picadero, but during these moments there was hardly ever any communication with the audience.
    So perhaps during those breaks, or pauses as Carolyn calls them, there is some kind of intuitive interaction between him and the horse.

    Love hearing from you, Geerteke

  5. Anne-Marie says:

    Thank you so much Andrew and Geerteke, your replies are so appreciated and make so much sense. I love all these communications from people who are REALLY searching .