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pip+andrew-picaderoLast week Pip and I had our first lesson with Jason Alexander Wauters, the most successful student to emerge from Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling’s one-year schooling programme, the only full one-year course he has ever given to date (yes, the same one Vicki and I were originally scheduled to attend). Since then I have had a couple of homework sessions with Pip and I have to say that I am utterly impressed. I would like to share a few of my insights with you here. In addition, I am rounding off this post with recommendations for where you might want to be heading in September if you are really committed to developing a loving relationship with your horse, and would like to share your experiences and learn with other likeminded humans.



Jason started the lesson very much as I had hoped he would: with the human rather than the horse. Our first step was to ground (or centre) ourselves. In descriptive terms it took the following form:

  1. spread your feet apart to a distance roughly equivalent to the width of your shoulders;
  2. ensure that you are breathing comfortably, to which I would add that you should not try and fill or empty your lungs completely and you may want to try and breathe through your belly (this will lower your centre of gravity to your core and give you greater stability and better balance);
  3. be aware of your body and your surroundings, and maintain this awareness throughout all the remaining steps;
  4. direct your gaze at the horizon but do not focus on a single object;
  5. keep a spring in your stance by ensuring that you do not lock your knees;
  6. while holding your body straight but relaxed, gently tip yourself forward and backward a few times before finding a comfortable position a little behind the most forward point;
  7. now tilt your pelvis backward and forward gently a few time before ending with it tilted forward (what really helps is to swivel your pelvis in a rising arc when you come forward);
  8. hold your hands slightly in front of you at waist height and move your fingers slowly as though your are playing an invisible piano;
  9. gently swivel your shoulders backwards and forwards a few times to loosen them;
  10. starting with your head, slowly lower your upper body while allowing your arms to hang loosely until your hands are a little way above the ground;
  11. sway your arms gently to the left and right and backward and forward, always ensuring that they are hanging loosely;
  12. raise your body slowly but do it as though you are unfolding your body from the waist up, your head remaining bowed until the rest is upright;
  13. find your stance again (where you ended up in Step 5), tilt your pelvis forward and lower your chin to ensure that your head is straight and not directed up or down.
The ground position: centred, loose knees and relaxed upper body

The ground position: centred, loose knees and relaxed upper body

If you have done this correctly, you should end up in a position which resembles how you would sit on a horse with all your energy focused in your core (in your abdomen about a hand’s width below your belly button) and your upper body entirely relaxed. More importantly, you will be aware of nothing but your body and your immediate surroundings. In a word, you will experience a sense of wellbeing and will be in the moment, baggage-free and ready for your horse, which is where Vicki and I ended up. This is a somewhat more extensive version of the one-minute grounding exercise which I demonstrated during my presentation at the inaugural Corroboree Equus in Australia in September last year. It is an excellent way of preparing for any interaction with your horse and works even better if you regularly perform holistic (involving the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions), meditative exercises, such as Tai Chi, Feldenkrais or Hempfling’s body awareness routines.


It is all about energy

Working, playing, loving, crying and laughing with horses, in fact everything we do with these supremely sensitive beings is ultimately all about energy and the way we guide our own and interact with that of those creatures. Many of us may have been aware of this essential nature of interaction with horses for some time but how many of us have actually come to incorporate this awareness into our everyday relations with our horse?

While reflecting on the grounding exercise which we did with Jason, it occurred to me that what we are essentially trying to achieve when we are with horses (or anywhere else for that matter) is not merely to be but to be being. What I mean is that all too often when we do anything, there is a dislocation between our awareness of self and what we are actually doing: the human does something. What we are seeking to achieve is to actually become what we are doing: the human is what the human does. Energy is also constantly in motion even when our minds and bodies are at rest. As such, the essence of being in the moment is precisely that: being (as opposed to be).


Introspective Pip

As I have frequently mentioned in this blog, Pip is introspective by nature and her escape route from anything she perceives to be threatening takes her inside herself. Her “evasion” sees her close all avenues of communication and shut off, which, when she is moving, takes the form of autopilot often coupled with increased speed. In many posts I have also referred to her tendency to shut down during liberty work or on a long longe line. The closer we are while connected through a lead, the more reassured she is and the better the contact we have, although this is beginning to change.

Introspective Pip

Introspective Pip

In this respect it was interesting to note the difference between Pip and Anaïs in the picadero (a square manège of anything from 12 to 15 metres in width often simply demarcated with nothing more than surveyor’s tape). Whereas Anaïs is inclined to approach any human who enters the picadero while she is standing in it, Pip has a tendency to look away and wait to see what will happen next. And if she feels it is threatening she will shut down, even if she has to move out of the way.


Breaking through

The key to helping a horse communicate with us for the purposes of any training, as I interpret what Jason explained to me, is to sensitise the animal to our presence. Where a horse approaches the human, as Anaïs tends to do, we should keep her out of our personal space. This is particularly important with a horse such as Anaïs, as she is quite capable of walking straight through an unsuspecting human’s space.

Pip withdrawing into herself as the madman moves

Pip withdrawing into herself as the madman moves

So what should we do with a horse that does not approach the human, as in Pip’s case? The first step, according to my interpretation of Jason, was to make Pip aware of my presence as a dominant (not a dominating) creature in the sense that, although I love her and am committed to her safety and wellbeing, I am her guide and she needs to know this. So how do I do this in a non-threatening manner? Shaking a strange object (in this case a plastic feed bag) determinedly, simply move through the picadero from one random corner to another, always ensuring that, while being acutely aware of your horse, do not look at her, and that you are close enough for the horse to want to move away from your path but far enough away not to be viewed as a threat pursuing her.

Pip monitoring the madman

Pip monitoring the madman

The idea is not to desensitise Pip, because we want her to remain a horse and not become a robot (which she becomes when she goes on autopilot, a condition which Jason ascribes to traditional lungeing during the many years that she was required to perform dressage up to a fairly high level in the past). In fact we are seeking to sensitise her. This we do through horse-neutral interaction to start off with. This is to say that the human’s action is not directed at the horse, although it may have an impact on her. Initially, Pip ignored the mad human moving determinedly from one part of the picadero to the other (me), then skipped out of his path with mild alarm to face away again, and then started to monitor the human and try and anticipate him. We were breaking through.


The first contact

In some cases it may be necessary to follow up the previous exercise by occupying the horse’s space, again without focusing on the horse. What the horse does in response to having its space occupied is the horse’s responsibility. An exercise such as this would be too much for Pip. This I know from experience (long past thankfully), one which I deeply regret. Jason realised this immediately as well. There was also no need for it, because Pip had responded well.

Initiating contact with Pip

Initiating contact with Pip

We were now ready for me to initiate contact with Pip. The idea was for me to approach Pip with the bag in front of me and to gently raise it to ask her to walk forward and then almost immediately to raise it again to ask for her to trot. As soon as she started to trot I was to lower the bag, step backwards and invite Pip to come to me, stop her outside my dynamic sphere and then reward her with a treat. Under Jason’s guidance I did this a few times but each time Pip merely stopped and refused to come to me. However, she did keep her eyes on me. This was enough to merit a reward. And that was enough for the first lesson.



My homework is to practise what we did during the lesson until our next one on Friday (an interval of a fortnight). All that is required is a few minutes every second or third day. As such, it becomes just another way in which Pip and I interact with each other.

Maintaining contact with Pip at liberty

Maintaining contact with Pip at liberty

And what is Pip doing during our homework sessions? I could not believe it. From the very first practice session, every time I popped her into trot and then stopped to invite her to cross the few metres between us and come to me, she did, as though it was the most normal thing in the world, which is what we want it to be, of course.


Love, trust and guidance

At the end of it all, everything hinges around love, trust and guidance (a bit similar to what Hempfling means when he uses the term, “dominance”). I love Pip and she trusts me to be a guide who will care for and help her. Without this type of relationship, any form of training will never move beyond the mechanical no matter how refined. There will be a human who is and who does but not one who is being, that is authentic. And the horse will know the difference.

Rewarding Pip

Rewarding Pip

Looking back on our first lesson with Jason Alexander Wauters, I see the essence of Hempfling’s approach redefined with a depth of sensitivity and joy (and a refreshing absence of ego), which I believe may help Pip and I bridge the last huge gap dividing us, namely her tendency to shut down during liberty work. I also have reason to believe that it will help her to continue to develop her growing self-confidence. Pip will hopefully learn to trust a bit more, not just me but herself as well.


Where will you be in September?

Whether you are going into spring in the southern hemisphere or autumn in its northern counterpart, September is usually a lovely month for being outdoors and being our equine friends. It is also a month during which two special events are being organised for anyone who is exploring new horse-friendly ways of being with horses. Which one will you be attending?


Michael Bevilacqua’s third “final” international seminar

Yes, the man just won’t go away, thankfully! On 13 and 14 September 2014 Michael Bevilacqua will be presenting another Nevzorov Haute Ecole seminar in the truly beautiful surroundings (you have just got to see the colours of those maple trees in the autumn) of the ski resort of Saint-Sauveur in the state of Quebec in Canada. Again hosted by the lovely, gifted and incredibly well-organised Cloé Lacroix, the dean of the NHE online school, the seminar will be a bit different this time, focusing more on Michael Bevilacqua’s personal experiences and insights. If you can get there without breaking the bank, know that it is likely be worth it. I speak from experience, a very special one. You can read about it in my post entitled At the Interface of Horse-Human Interaction.

Vicki and Michael Bevilacqua during the 2012 international NHE seminar in Quebec, Canada

For more information about Michael Bevilacqua’s third “final” international seminar, go here.


The second Corroboree Equus

If you prefer spending time with humans and their horses in the spring, you have the option of attending the second Corroboree Equus. This is a unique event in that it is all about sharing. Every human attending it is both teacher and student, humans learning from each other. If you have anything you would like to share with other humans concerning horse-friendly ways of being and interacting with horses, simply volunteer. Should you prefer to simply learn and enjoy the company of others on a similar journey to you, simply attend. This year it will again be held on the beautiful banks of Lake Hume in Tallangatta in the state of Victoria in Australia. To give you some idea of what to expect, read about the inaugural Corroboree Equus which Vicki and I attended last year – another very special experience – in my post entitled Becoming the Kind of Human a Horse Seeks to be With: Part 2.

Spontaneous interaction between horse and human during the Corroboree Equus

Spontaneous interaction between horse and human during the Corroboree Equus

For more information about the Corroboree Equus head for their blog here .


Jason Alexander Wauters

For more information about Jason Alexander Wauters and his school, EDEN (Escuela del Equilibrio Natural), please be patient. Jason is working on a new website. In the meantime, if you would like to contact him, please drop me a line (go to the Contact page) and I will pass on your details. As some of you may be aware, Jason is currently travelling a momentous journey. You can read more about this in my post entitled Two Spirits, One Human and the Horse).



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