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The Project: One Mustang directly off the range, One trainer, No tools, Just body language

The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

“Emotion in motion”

I believe what we FEEL is the greatest driving force for what we do. Our emotions become our motion through life. And then our motions feed our emotions. It is an interconnected cycle.

I talked about Csikszentmihalyi’s chart a few weeks back, and the beauty of understanding how our emotions can give us insight into where we are standing in the range of our challenges and skills.

Today I want to talk about cause and effect. How do we cause a horse to move in such a way that he feels increasingly better? How do we cause a horse to feel increasingly better so he chooses motions that improve his life?

If we as humans can have a part in this developmental process with the horse, I believe it has an unbelievable bonding affect between horse and rider. The better a horse feels in his own body and the more he connects those positive feelings with his partners in life, the better partner he becomes.

We all know what it feels like be so emotionally distraught, the stomach becomes tied in knots, churning in anguish. It is an emotional feeling, that becomes a physical motion of the intestines. When horses become caught up in those emotions, the motions of their bodies can become dangerous, with their intentions aimed in self defense, far from the partnership we seek with them.

Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling’s work with horses is some of the most thought provoking for me when considering the links between emotion and motion.

If we consider the way emotions can tie the stomach in knots perhaps motions that address the physical movements of the stomach can in turn change the feelings behind the movement.

When we feel self defensive, we brace against the threat. Often the more we brace, the tighter we feel and the tighter we feel, the more defensive we get.  If instead we learn to yield and soften from the threat, perhaps the defensiveness will dissolve, and partnership can evolve from there.

The Tao To Ching states:

Stiff and unbending is the principle of death.
Gentle and yielding is the principle of life.

Thus an Army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.

The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.

In the work Klaus does with his horses, there is nothing weak about it. However, notice the yielding nature of the flank area as the horses move. I believe that yielding in the flank is a powerful way to access and positively develop the emotions with a horse. As they become soft through their mid section, they literally feel better. Physically and Emotionally

Time and again I have come across variations of this idea throughout all different horses training methods. Working with Dominique Barbier studying Classical Dressage, we did endless working in hand before riding. Working with Linda Tellington Jones Equine Awareness Method, we learned ways of moving the horses body in non habitual movements to soften the belly, and release tightness in the flanks. In Centered Riding practice we learned to read softness of the flanks, the deepness of breathing and resulting stretch of the top line as signs we were starting to get our riding form correct. In the Film “In a WhisperJosh Lyons wins the mustang training event after what seems like hours of modified disengagement. He addresses that softness in the flank very directly and you can see it pay off. Pat Parelli says that improving your sideways and backward will improve everything else you do. A friend of mine who was having some horse aggression challenges in the stable, mentioned the other day that everything was going much better once the horse started being worked with more focus on the lateral work in her dressage. Even in the most basic gut-reflex varieties of horse training, I have often heard people say, “don’t you dare swing your butt towards me, that’s rude!”

It is not just rude for a horse to swing his rump into your space, it is a clue to you about how he feels in his gut, what his emotions are doing to him. It is simple instinctual self defense. All the horse wants is to feel better.

I believe, if we can teach a horse to yield softly through the flank, we give him tools to feel better.

This is an interesting demonstration of that by Klaus. You can see the horses brace and tightness in the flanks as he is emotional and upset. Watch Klaus yield his horses flanks back and forth until they can settle, find confidence, and move on in harmony.

Klaus uses his ropes and sticks and training pens minimally compared to most horse trainers. His horses seem happy, connected and perform at a high level of skill. The work I will be doing in this project, with my Mustang, will be different. However, I do believe the softness and yielding in the flank will be a strong base and building block of our relationship.

Working without the tools I would need to control the horses body after the emotions have driven things out of hand. I must seek first to develop the emotional stability of the horse. Causing him to feel comfortable in his own body. Which I believe will cause him to make choices serving the best interests of our partnership. If my horse always acts like a partner, I have little need for external tools to control his physical actions.

I am deeply grateful for the clarity and beauty Klaus has brought into the horse world with his work. He is an inspiration to many.

May our emotions cause us to dance, and may our dancing bring us joy. 😉

Elsa Sinclair


  1. Thanks for another great topic Elsa :-).

    What I have found to be of great help for settling down the emotions of a horse is the principle of ‘first going with the horse, before asking the horse to go with you’. If a horse is very upset it is not soft and not able to think and learn.
    For instance I have a very leading type of mare with very strong ideas of her own. In the past leading her on a halter and lead rope would irritate her tremendously and cause her to brace or even tear loose and run off, even with the slightest of pressure on my part. I decided to change things, keep slack in the rope all the time and go with her wherever she wanted to go (in a confined area ofcourse). In other words: I went with her. This settled down her emotions and in the end I could start to ask her – more with my body language than with pressure on the leadrope – to go with me, which she then did in a very soft and willing way. She really needs the feeling of being seen and respected for the ‘Queen’ she is and if I do, this makes her a proud and beautiful willing partner, instead of an oppressed servant.

    This principle of ‘going with the horse first to eventually have it go with you’ comes from a book by Bill Dorrance and Leslie Desmond ‘True Horsemanship Through Feel’. In my experience it can be applied in every aspect of horse training, whether riding, groundwork (on- or offline) and it makes for a willing horse that feels respected.

    • Marja, I love that you brought this up. It is in fact where I aim to start first with all my horses. I agree with you it comes before all the concepts of yielding. My blog posts are born from the week’s inspirations, not always in order of importance 😉

  2. Fantastic! Here, we touch the Core of this project, body language to body language, mind to mind, spirit to spirit…the Dance…

    • Funny, I write about the core of the horse… and you call it the core of the project…. 😉 We will see….

  3. This is so great. Although I have such a long ways to go with my horse communication. This touches into the heart of the emotional, body, breath state of who we are as creatures on this planet and connecting to them.

    • It’s beautiful isn’t it Jen…. We all have a long ways to go with communication… I think it is a never ending process….

    • Ritambhara Tyson
    • Posted February 16, 2011 at 8:52 pm
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    • Reply

    Thanks for putting in the videos of Klaus. They really help make your points visually, which I really appreciate. I sent you a new one by him today. Enjoy!

  4. Beautiful writing to describe an inspired project. I’m looking forward to following and learning. Bon courage!

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. By All in a Range | Meditations on Equestrian Art on 16 Jul 2015 at 11:29 pm

    […] In horse training the range and cycle is a very measurable, observable thing. We usually start with some sort of AWARENESS, a desire for something to be different than it is – which causes CHANGE in our thoughts which leads to FEELING something as we head into MOTION – which leads to AWARENESS in the horse, causing it to CHANGE, which causes it to feel and that FEELING motivates MOTION which leads to AWARENESS – and so on…. I wrote about this years ago in the blog post ‘Emotion in Motion’. […]

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