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Germany: The Rhine

Germany: The Rhine

Vicki and I have just returned from a trip to Germany, where we visited new and old friends. The trip was relaxing and most enjoyable, while the company was superb, overall ‘gemütlich’ as the Germans might say. The occasion has prompted me to share with you a few snippets of experience and information which are germane to parts of the country, and some of its people and horses.




Talking to animals

Our first stop in Germany was a tiny village called Lettweiler close to one of the country’s most important wine regions tucked into the wedge of land formed by the Rhine to the east and its tributary, the Mosel, to the north and east. It is also home to an animal-crazy German couple called Frank and Sabine, who were also playing host to Min, a Chinese woman who lives and works in the Netherlands. Vicki had befriended Sabine and Min at an animal communication course given by the well-known American animal communicator, Marta Williams, in the Netherlands last year (for more information see Vicki’s post entitled Of intuition and talking with animals, a barn cat called Rambo and a wonderful healing here).

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of animal communication, or are familiar with it and are tempted to conclude that we and the people we were visiting should be confined (the word is used advisedly) to the company of those in a state of psychological levitation or suspended rationality, you may want to reconsider your temptation. Vicki runs an online animal communication practice group which uses objective, empirically verifiable data to check its members’ progress. The three members of this group who were present in Lettweiler regularly achieve accuracy ratings in excess of 90%. I am not sure what is scarier – the fact that they talk to animals or that they achieve such ratings – so I am keeping my options open by refusing to knock animal communication for the time being. After all, if they can talk to animals, who is to say that they are incapable of turning a doubter into a frog?


Interacting with animals

Part of Sabine and Frank's menagerie

Part of Sabine and Frank’s menagerie

While availing ourselves of the unflinching hospitality of our hosts, Vicki and I enjoyed ample opportunity to interact with their menagerie of indoor pets comprising three dogs and five cats. While Vicki was mesmerised by a small, old canine resembling a wombat and answering to the name of Bilbo (of Baggins – the hobbit – fame indeed), I was particularly intrigued by the two larger dogs, Dustin and Brindi, who represented a breed that was utterly alien to me: the Australian Shepherd or ‘Aussie’ for short. What is fascinating about this breed is that it does not look like a shepherd and it is not Australian. The two specimens we were privileged to experience resembled a brindle and brown-and-white variant of a Border Collie on speed: friendly, intelligent and active in the extreme. The cats were a trifle more restrained, one to the extent of remaining well-nigh invisible during our stay.


Smella following Andrew to a feed station

Smella following Andrew to a feed station

The morning after our arrival Sabine took us to meet her new horse, an 18-month Gypsy Cob filly who almost climbed into my pocket soon after we were introduced. Smella is her name and smell is what she may have done to start off with. I usually carry some feed pellets in my jacket pocket for Anaïs and the horses we interact with. This is what the filly may have smelled, because she followed me everywhere: to the left, to the right, forward and even backward, stopping wherever I did. If the test of a true connection with a horse is what Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling calls the ‘first parallel’, then surely I was not far behind with the ‘feed parallel’.


Connecting with horses

While having a light lunch on a sheltered platform overlooking the indoor manège, we had the misfortune to witness a young woman lungeing her four-year-old mare. She had affixed a sturdy cavasson to its head but, as though this was not enough to control the young horse, it also came fitted with a bit. Overtly enthusiastic and committed to what she believed was best for her charge, the young woman endeavoured to instil in it the dynamics of a stable gait. The mare was urged on with a long white lungeing whip pointed at her hindquarters, while her mistress’ position was clearly designed to put on the brakes. Not content with this, the young woman held the lunge taut, with the result that the mare was not only unable to find her own balance, she was also pulled off what little balance she could find. The outcome was predictable: protest and conflict. The mare kept bobbing her head and periodically erupted into a bucking tantrum. The human, however, was in the process of teaching not learning, and so she saw nothing other than what must have seemed to her to be reminiscent of an undisciplined child.

Lunch was followed by a walk in the countryside, our second of the day, but this time accompanied by horses rather than dogs. Sabine led Smella on a stable halter and line. They young woman accompanied us with her mare. This time the horse was supposed to learn how to walk straight. The educational dynamics took the following form. The human positioned herself to the left of the horse’s head, which was still encased in the cavasson and bit. Reins had been attached to two of the rings on the cavasson. The young woman held the left rein just above the cavasson with the result that the mare’s head was pulled to the left towards her. The right rein ran along the other side of the horse and over the withers. The woman held it just off the mare’s left shoulder. In the same hand she held a whip, which she pointed at the horse’s hind leg as they walked. As a result the mare found itself urged forward with a bent neck and consequently began to protest. Again to no avail.

Sabine and Smella bonding with Frank looking on

Sabine and Smella bonding with Frank looking on

The contrast between that pair and Sabine escorting her filly was all the more striking as a result. Horse and human moved in unison on a slack line, each alert and responsive to the other. From time to time Sabine turned to Smella and asked the latter to halt or do something else. Each time the filly showed how responsive she was to her human. The two were a model for the other pair and the young woman prodding her mare along could have learned something from them, if she had taken the opportunity to do so. But she did not because she had so much more experience with horses. Sabine, on the other hand, had had absolutely no regular contact with horses until her filly arrived a few months ago. We were pleasantly impressed.


Active (Hit-Aktiv) livery yard system

Smella is kept in a so-called active livery yard system, which I assume was designed with the best of intentions by a an agricultural engineer in Germany, where such a facility is known as a Hit-Aktivstal. Rather than stable horses in boxes, the active livery yard system seeks to regulate feeding throughout the day encouraging the horses to walk between various feeding stations, resting facilities, shelters and water troughs, while living in a herd in a small, mud-free yard, with the result that social interaction of sorts is also possible. To minimise injuries horses in an active livery yard system are often kept barefoot, which is also beneficial for them. You can find an uncritical description of such a system here.

The active stable where Sabine keeps Smella

The active stable where Sabine keeps Smella

My impression of the active livery yard system in which Smella is kept is not so favourable, although it offers at least two definite advantages that I can see. In the first place the system makes it possible for lower-ranking horses to feed undisturbed. Secondly, it allows one to regulate the feed intake in terms of both composition and time (when, duration and frequency). For the rest, I noticed the following disadvantages during the time we spent at the facility (from about 11:30 am to 5 pm):

  • although an active livery yard system enables horses to move far more than in a stable, any movement is much more limited than where horses are kept outside in a large paddock with other horses or even more limited compared with a paddock paradise setup;
  • the area in which the horses can move is far more constrained than in the other cases mentioned;
  • while it is true that there are more opportunities for social contact with other horses than in a stable, the type of social contact which occurs differs greatly from that where horses are kept in a herd in a significantly larger enclosure or a paddock paradise situation. For instance, no playing or mutual grooming occurred while we were at the facility and much of the interaction we did see was aggressive;
  • when the horses moved, they often shuffled along listlessly;
  • a number of the horses were clearly depressed;
  • the surface on which the horses are confined is unnatural, being either sand or a hardened area, such as a concrete pad.

It occurred to me while we were there that perhaps a combination of a paddock paradise setup with some of the facilities of the active stable system could provide a healthier environment for horses kept on smallholdings with limited space for movement.


Responsibility for your own situation

Our final morning in Lettweiler saw all of us embroiled in a breakfast discussion concerning an individual’s responsibility for his exploitation at the hands of someone else. The debate was prompted by our account of our experience at the hands of Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling last year. A highly sanitised version can be found in my post entitled The Island Mountain here. The essential question was this: Can you hold a person responsible for his abuse, suffering or exploitation at the hands of someone else or are there times when such a person may not be capable of exercising or not willing to exercise such responsibility?

The situation is obviously more acute where a person finds it impossible (instead of simply being unwilling) to terminate his abuse, suffering or exploitation at the hands of someone else, because he is simply not strong enough at the time. And it is absolutely diabolical where an individual believes that he is assuming responsibility for his own situation by consciously placing himself in a position where he is open to abuse, precisely because he is under the illusion that no abuse is likely to occur and, more importantly, that the position in which he places himself is likely to be of benefit to him. This is essentially the situation we placed ourselves in when we signed up for Hempfling’s one-year schooling course and paid him a deposit totalling €6000.00 for the privilege. We honestly believed that the course would be of great benefit to us and did not realise at the time that Hempfling would ultimately deny us access to the course because we refused to pay more than we had agreed, and would refuse to refund the deposit.

Such a situation can also occur for instance where an individual consciously joins a sect but may not be aware that it is a sect and that he will be open to abuse at some stage. His conscious decision is prompted by his acceptance of his responsibility for his own situation, in this case to improve it by joining the sect. This is what befell Sigrid Kreile, a German woman, who was part of a sect run by a compatriot in north-eastern Spain at the turn of the century. The sect leader made pretences to being a horse shaman and his followers were expected to serve his interests before their own, as they tried to establish a new order in a foreign land. By her own account Kreile eventually became the victim of abuse and exploitation at the hands of the leader and the other members of the sect. It could be argued that she was the architect of her own abuse in that she joined the sect of her own volition but this would excuse the leader and the other members of the sect from responsibility for their own abusive and exploitative practices. Yes, she was ultimately responsible for her own situation but for much of the time was unable to exercise that responsibility appropriately, initially, because she believed that she was assuming responsibility for her own life by joining the sect, and later after she began to experience abuse and eventually realised that she needed to get out, because it was effectively impossible for her to leave the sect and regain possession of her home without conflict and a court case. Kreile went on to write a book about her experience in the sect entitled Im Bannkreis des Pferdeschamanen [Under the Spell of the Horse Shaman] which was published in 2005. You can watch a video featuring Kreile here and order the book here. (Please note that we do not endorse or agree with what is published on external websites.)

We resolved our breakfast discussion by concluding that, while every individual is responsible for his own situation in principle, he may not be able or willing to exercise that responsibility all of the time, and that this needs to be taken into account when holding him to account. In addition, the perpetrator of any abuse, suffering or exploitation can never be excused from his responsibility for perpetrating such abuse, suffering or exploitation by whatever his victim does or fails to do.



We ended our visit to Germany with a visit to a dear friend in Koblenz at the confluence of the Rhine and the Mosel. We first met Sylvia in Australia not too long after she and her husband had emigrated from Germany to start a new life on the other side of the world. After spending a number of years in Australia,

Sylvia and Vicki in Koblenz

Sylvia and Vicki in Koblenz

Sylvia returned to Germany with her husband and daughter to start a new life where she feels more at home. We went out for lunch, caught up with each other and resolved to invite Sylvia to spend some time with us in Holland. Then we left to return to that very country.


True connection in Germany

To cap off this round of things German, I would like to share a video with you featuring a German trainer showing how it is possible to achieve a true connection with a horse even if one’s development has taken one through phases which are as diverse as Parelli and classical dressage. The trainer’s name is Susanne Lohas. Thanks to Hannah for the link. Enjoy!

15 Responses to “Snippets Germane to Germany”

  1. Heather Binns says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Well, you are still not convinced about animal communication – but it is good to read you are open to it! As you know my focus is with horses – not because I planned it – it just happened! I went from doing readings for people to horses! There have been many interesting things that have come to light during these conversations. Details which I could not possibly be aware of! In fact, recently a friend from the local natural horsemanship club reminded me that during a conversation I had with her horse last year, I told her the horse kept referring to a silver ring. It seems that this ring has been very significant in the horse’s message to her.

    It is good for me to hear these things, as so often I doubt myself. I know, last year when I was at Klaus’ courses, during the time Klaus did a very accurate characterisation of my big boy Saadi – and while giving advice to me told me to stop talking to them as it was bullshit! Of course, Klaus is certainly entitled to his opinion! When I hear these things, particularly from Klaus, it makes me doubt myself – but I have just let things flow – I don’t ‘try’ to converse – it just happens. And since then there have been several significant things happen which has restored my faith in what I do. I am constantly amazed by the sense of humour these horses can have – especially if they are happy and content.

    Ducati has given me some incredible laughs at times. But then I never try to ‘convert’ anyone – and I try to keep an open mind in relation to things which may be anecdotal evidence or may be science based. I think it is always good to look at both areas.

    In regard to your discussion of taking responsibility – say if you sign up for a course – you sign up on the basis of what is advertised – that is how you book a holiday – and we all know that holidays may not live up to what was advertised – and there always has to be some degree of adjustment. Also, with a course, the content can change – it depends on to what degree the content changes I guess. Re payment for a course – usually you pay a deposit knowing the final price – as you are entering into a legal agreement – unless there is a disclaimer that prices may change.

    So I guess you could say – if you’ve read the fine print – the person purchasing the course takes responsibility, assuming they have details clear. However, if something is not clear, it is also up to the buyer to get this clarified. If all is clear, and then something is changed by the course organiser which is beyond what was agreed, then of course it is the organiser’s responsibility.

    In regard to sects, now that is a tricky one! It’s easy to say that the person who joined the sect takes responsibility – but of course it is much more complex than that. People may be vulnerable at the time – or misunderstand – or like what they see at the time – only to see cracks appearing over the longer term.

    There are people who prey on the elderly – because the elderly may not be as mentally aware as they used to be – is that their fault? No! Here the predators are at fault!

    Then again, you could argue that a sect leader is also not responsible as it has been shown that most sect leaders have a personality disorder called narcissistic or borderline personality disorder (was something I studied during my psychology days!)

    So, I would say that perhaps in many cases, there is no clear answer – and I guess that is why they have cult busters! Outside intervention is needed to sort it out.

    Now, back to the horses – at present I am experimenting with some more scienced based ideas to go with the spiritual, energy based ideas – and having some good results!


    • alexia says:

      Dear Heather,
      I love the ‘sense and sensibility’ in your letter! You are also very compassionate person.
      with best wishes

  2. Oh good!! I’m so glad you found a video you liked. 🙂

  3. Kelly says:

    Hi Andrew
    You’re still pretty pissed off at Klaus aren’t you…even after all this time and that inadvertently he was the big catalyst that set you on this new path of learning.

    I am not saying what Klaus did was right or wrong, but there seems to be a constant undercurrent in your blogs of unresloved issues surrounding Klaus and his treatment of you and Vicki………perhaps this is an area to spend time working on and letting go of?

    Perhaps a learing from the horse in this situation is to live in the moment and experience each day each moment afresh, not hold onto the past and continue living there?


  4. Heather Binns says:

    Kelly, re unresolved issues – sometimes it is hard to know how to actually resolve them. People say “move on” but at times it is easier said than done. None of us really know how it would feel to be in Vicki and Andrew’s position – and we were not there to witness the course of events.

    I imagine that if I had sold up everything I own to move away – and then find that those dreams evaporate – it would take me some time to come to terms with what had happened. In time, I would work through it – but I am not sure how long it would take – I guess it is a grieving – and, as we know – everyone grieves differently.

    Also, I’m sure I would then find unexpected positives – but it would come in its own time.

    Maybe a professional third party to talk to is the way to go.


  5. Dear Andrew,
    Checking in!
    Soak up as much sun as you can get here in Holland as long as it shines. It might be gone for weeks again before you know.

  6. Kelly Bick says:

    Hello Heather
    You are very right. I cast no judgement as to whether Andrew should or shouldn’t be carrying these unresolved issues regarding Klaus… from the story of events that he has shared he certainly seems entitled to have grievance with the whole situation.

    I think also that not only is it sometimes hard to know how to resolve them, sometimes it is hard to even be aware that we are still carrying them. Perhaps my “job” was to bring awareness to this for Andrew, which will then allow him to seek out a solution to resolving the unresolved?

    Through experience I have learned that the carrying of unresolved negative baggage hinders our ability to move forward in our personal growth – spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.

    As this is journey of personal growth to become a “better” person around and for horses, I hope that Andrew can identify that these feelings he is holding onto are “holding him back”, and that he can begin to seek ways –whatever they may be – to allow him to find acceptance, resolve them, and let this negative energy go; thus freeing himself to continue growing in all areas .

    Perhaps if Andrew decides to explore and share this process in his blog, it will help others who also find themselves carrying unresolved baggage discover ways of finding peace and moving forward…because you are right, it is easy to say “move on”, but it is not always so easy to do or know how to do.

    All the best


    • Andrew says:

      Dear Kelly and Heather

      Perhaps it is time for Andrew to enter this debate about his purported unresolved issues in relation to Hempfling.

      First, I would sincerely like to thank you both for your genuine concern for me. It is something which I treasure from a friend, such as you, Heather, and which overwhelms me from someone I have never met, such as you, Kelly. You have hearts of gold!

      Since 2010 and especially since starting this blog and arriving in Europe, a growing number of people have shared their experiences of Lyø with Vicki and/or myself. Their stories range across the period from 2005 to late 2011. Many cherish those experiences. Yet many come away with pain and hurt sometimes after an initial glow. Apart from the sadness they evoke, these stories are almost invariably accompanied by a plea not to disclose them to anyone else. The concern of the storytellers is palpable, in some cases to the extent that it reeks of fear of retribution or worry that they may be seen to be carrying unresolved issues.

      How does one resolve issues such as these? While very challenging to implement, the answer is also very simple: you accept them. They are as they are. Then you get on with life: being!

      Inherent in the debate so far is the implied assumption that ‘negative’ issues can only be resolved by no longer referring to them. I would suggest that the need to hide such issues is symptomatic of a failure to deal with them. It would seem to me that the true test of whether such issues have been resolved is whether one is capable of referring to them dispassionately, particularly in a public forum and especially if they are germane to current developments.

      In my posts you will discern either or both aspects of my view of Hempfling: a great master who dances with horses and a little man who stumbles with humans. I do this deliberately, firstly because I wish to speak freely of matters as they are (the money issue is still current in that it is now being dealt with by the European Consumer Centre after I put the situation on hold while our friends were studying on Lyø in the last quarter of 2011), and secondly, because I do not want my posts to serve as uncritical advertising for Hempfling’s profit-generating activities on Lyø. Too much of the ‘brown world’ that Hempfling claims to despise has been emanating from that beautiful island.

      Finally, I would like to suggest that, when I stand before a horse, it does not merely mirror the beauty in me but also the defects. The challenge is for me to overcome those defects. But I cannot do this for any public figure who is mirrored in the actions of his students and assistants (former or otherwise). That he must do himself. All I am trying to do in my posts is speak about matters as they are. Usually I manage to do this dispassionately, although I must confess that I can become very enthusiastic about some of the magic that Hempfling creates with horses.

      Be well, both of you, and take care!

  7. Heather Binns says:

    Hi Andrew, Kelly and Alexia,

    Well, thanks for your nice comments!!! Andrew – yes, some things cannot be resolved – it is just about learning how to live with it.

    Andrew – re your comment about your challenge to overcome the defects in order to have the connection with your horse – I do wonder if we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect – certainly I’ve learnt some wonderful things from Klaus – such as being calm, grounded, body awareness, never rushing, taking a break – maybe the hardest thing is to learn is to go to the horse in a state of ‘being’ – calm but alert. The idea is that first you need to be aware of your ‘issues’ – and hang them at the gate before you enter the arena to the horse. For instance, if you constantly play a message in your head of ‘not being good enough’ – the tricky bit is to go out there without that message! But, yes, it can be done as I did see one of the course participants do just that!

    But I have also been doing a lot of research on animal behaviour and I do wonder if we are trying to be ‘perfect’ without necessarily having to be! Of course we need to be calm, kind etc. but if we are not perfect in our body – or mind – does it matter? Maybe I need to have another chat to the horses about that!



    • Andrew says:

      Dear Heather

      You draw a distinction between resolving an issue and learning how to live with it. I would suggest that they may amount to the same thing. In my relatively recent experience accepting an issue for what it is disarms it: it is no longer an issue. The matter has occurred but because it is no longer an issue, you are then able to identify positive aspects.

      When I first became aware of Hempfling referring to the need for a human to improve himself before interacting with a horse, the thought really appealed to me. Of course, it is utterly unrealistic if you interpret this as a linear progression. What helped though was to listen to the essence of what Hempfling was saying about preparing yourself for interaction with a horse: learning to control your body, learning to banish thought from the full experience of now and joining the horse in the moment.

      Then I read Echart Tolle’s The Power of Now and it all became so much easier. Entering into the now is a relatively simple exercise, albeit one that requires a bit of self-discipline, especially at the outset. Hempfling’s body awareness exercises really helped with that. I found that I could banish thought – and with it past regrets and future fears – from the moment to allow in only the full experience of the now: sights, sounds, smells, taste and physical sensation (within and without). In the absence of his body awareness exercises I do Tai Chi and that also helps.

      The bottom line is that you do not need to be perfect before you go to the horses, neither do you need to be aware of your ‘issues’. You can enter the moment using simple aids and meet your horse right there. Perhaps when you have your chat to the horses, they may tell you that it really is this simple.

      Take care!

      • Dear Andrew, man has invented the titles “dog whisperer”and “horse whisperer”. There even is or was a'” lion whisperer”. I don’t know if the man is still alive.
        Has anybody ever thought of “man whisperer”????

        • Andrew says:

          Dear Geerteke

          Sounds like a job for a woman (or a man, of course). Are you volunteering? 🙂

          Be well!

          • Dear Andrew,
            Are you volunteering?
            I did not know an answer to this one. Still it kept buzzing in my mind.
            Reading the introduction to Gallop to Freedom written by David Walser and coming to the end perhaps there is my answer to your question. Pages 20 and 21.

            The horse becomes the child whom the man helps to raise, to mature, and to learn to be free. The relationship is so intense that it hardly leaves room for anything else. The horse is in a sense the master.
            The man asks to be let into the horse’s world, where he goes forward with timid steps until they begin the dance together. The horse does not belong to the man but to “freedom”. Frédéric and Magali are not the masters of their horses, as they tell you on the pages that follow in their own words, they are their friends and guides. Roles are reversed: the horse whispers in their ears. He becomes “The Whisperer”.