Reno of Stonebrook, Chief Trainer of the “Communicating with Horses” project, on his 20th birthday pled for peace with human beings. In celebration of the occasion, he gave his guests an impressive demonstration of his teaching, whose consistent nonviolent beginning is absolutely unheard of. The text of his talk, “Dominance: Achieving Appropriate Understanding between Man and Animal”, follows:
“The art that has led and assembled you here, my esteemed ladies and gentlemen, the art of communicating with horses, is, for me, to make the best possible use of the human being’s natural desire to be near us horses.
Peaceful coexistence, trust, and harmony with our two-legged friends unfortunately remains for us horses mostly a dream, because the human’s unpredictable nature all too often evades our control, an evasion, which we all know leads to constant altercation, and endangers us both in body and in spirit. Under such circumstances relaxed interaction with one another is hardly possible.
We are able to put this age old problematical relationship on a completely new foundation. The training system developed and taught in our Project marks a quantum leap in the relationship between man and animal. It is now up to us to bring the eternal battle to an end. With simple rules that can be understood by everyone, rules learned by observing the human’s desire for natural hierarchy, the relationship can proceed appropriately and free of conflict. In this, the physical and psychological health of our human partner remains in the forefront for me.
I will now show you a sample lesson with one of my human students. This formerly very self-willed woman, now works happily and responds to the most minimal aids of her trainer. Much self-discipline and patience are required to make humans into reliable partners. But they reward our effort to train and shape them with lifelong loyalty and devotion.
To begin with, a gentle but unmistakable dominance exercise -- moving backward:
Yielding backward through the corner increases the pressure -- if the human is cooperative, she may relax.
Notice the contented expression on the woman’s face and the way her hands follow the bend that has been presented to her.
Then the trot -- Good to see the relaxed balance of hands and whip....
..... which will be become even more differentiated in canter because the dynamic leaping movement demands a high degree of collection. The upper body is freely erect, the human is evenly bent, and carries herself. Concentrated work conducted in a playful spirit.
All of this has nothing to do with dressage as the term is commonly used, but depends entirely and solely on very precise body language.
Life in a human horde is characterized primarily by competition and strife. As pack hunters, humans require a clear hierarchy for their well-being. Only unconditional obedience assures survival in the group. That is why the human being requires a truly established dominance structure, a high-ranking being whom he can follow. I achieve this lead position solely through my physical bearing and the energy I radiate, which right from the start permits no confusion to arise about who has the say here.
Every single movement of my body becomes information for this woman. She has learned to read the language of my body and to dance precisely to my instructions. This fine, sensitive work renounces every mechanical influence, which would only disturb the harmonious balance. The human remains totally free in her movements. We play with one another. A soft lifting of my fore hoof to signal Levade is answered with the woman's prompt yielding of her hip. Two dancers in perfect harmony.
Lightening fast gestures raise her attentiveness to the most subtle body signals....
... so that we incidentally move up into High School
Even during simple loosening exercises I stay true to my ground rule: With greatest inner peace, act impulsively!
Here the woman has ignored my rank. Energetically and from dynamically flexed haunches I leap forward to defend my space.
The frontal confrontation immediately puts the upstart back in her place. Her diagonal posture signals that she will soon submit.
As soon as she does, I let her come. In such moments it is important not to let oneself act out in anger, because the human cannot understand these emotions and will become confused. We do not want to intimidate the human but rather help him to find himself, and unfold his very promising abilities accordingly.
There is hardly a more uplifting moment: Full of trust my human woman hugs the neck of her partner.
The natural rank order is back in evidence. The human gives his love and trust to the one who dominates, who projects strength even in critical situations. Precise, clear, unambiguous, and dominant behavior, the projection of one’s own presence (while abstaining from physical force) -- those are the qualities that instill respect in humans. Once the dominance question is settled, the human will feel safe and confident when he is with us, in accordance with the laws of the horde in nature. Instead of fighting, he will carry out his assignments quietly, relaxed, and happily.
We horses must learn! If we act according to clear training principles, it is very simple to live in peace with humans. Thank you."
About the author: Reno of Stonebrook has always been a horse on a "mission" and possessed of a certain awareness and talent for getting a message across. To Imke Spilker, he seems almost like a kind of Guru, as concerned about other horses as he is about human beings, when he sees the need for clarification. He demonstrates to other horses how they can conquer a problem, be it in the arena or in the wild. He also gladly instructs human beings. His ongoing assignment to Imke is "pass the message on", which Imke strives to do as well as she can through the book of the Empowered Horses and other writing, as well as photos, and seminars.
This article was provided to me by Imke Spilker. It first appeared in the German publication Freizeit im Sattel in April of 1998 at a time when "dominance" was a hot topic among horse people. The translation is mine. Photos by Gegenlicht.
As always, your comments and questions are most welcome.