“…a person’s inner state”

“It is hard to believe that something as ineffable as a persons’s inner state can have any influence on a massive horse.”

“Togetherness is the foundation from which everything else proceeds. Togetherness – not hierarchy…”

Imke Spilker, Empowered Horses (p. 28)

A post from Lynne brought me back to this book, which I read when it was first published in English (courtesy of Amazon thinking I might like this book). In my opinion, this is a seminal work which goes beyond any other book on being with horses that I have read. The photos in the book are gorgeous with much to learn from and the text is worth chewing over many times. I almost feel I dare not attempt to sum up the book as so much would be missed, but the second quote above is, I think, a key to this book. I went out to Ben and Rosie on Thursday morning thinking of this book and the conversation relayed in the post on Lynne’s blog.

Now as I have mentioned, Ben can get quite impatient holding up his foot for anything other than a quick going over with a hoof pick. I have needed to treat his hooves for thrush and this week I was at work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and therefore went out to Ben in the dark after the usual bustle of homework, dinner, bedtime in the house. I was tired with a tired mind as well as body and a sore shoulder. Ben’s jerking of his leg was not appreciated by me.

I wondered if I should try a clicker training approach to help us both.

On Thursday morning I was not at work. I went out to the paddock having relished the silence of the house which had already restored my mind. I went up to the shed and sat outside. Rosie over by the trees looked up. I felt I could somehow signal a welcome to her silently as I sat and she seemed to feel this and walked over to greet me. Ben, up the back, approached as he heard Rosie moving and in his turn greeted me also. Then he went back up to his favourite resting spot.


I looked up at him, aware that somehow my mind and my heart felt open, expansive and, on a whim, I picked up the hoof implements and went up to Ben. There in his resting place, at liberty, he lifted up each foot in turn and held it patiently whilst it was cleaned and treated.

I could have tried a clicker approach, and I am sure it could encourage Ben to cooperate with the hoof cleaning process. But what happened was both simpler and more profound. There was no hierarchy here; no “you shall” of a dominant stance or training of a positive reinforcement approach. There was harmony between horse and human, my inner state influencing Ben and creating the togetherness of the moment.

I like to think that Ben is waiting for me to have this inner state to which he can respond.



Filed under books, hoof care

10 responses to ““…a person’s inner state”

  1. Marja van Run

    Hi Máire,

    A few days ago I also wrote on my (Dutch) blog about picking up legs and how this often seems to create some tension in a horse.
    I mostly groom my horses at liberty because I like them to be able to show how they feel about what I am doing to them. I noticed that my mare Kría stood still as long as I was grooming her, but the moment I wanted to pick up a leg to clean a hoof, she showed a bit of tension by walking off one or two steps. She taught me to go step-by-step in this process and to keep a very peaceful connection to her while asking her to lift her legs for me.
    Horses are very easily disturbed about having their legs handled and I think this is a logical thing, because they fully depend on their legs to be able to run off in an unsafe situation.
    I find it very valuable to learn how to approach the lifting of the legs at liberty!

    Best wishes, Marja

    • Hi Marja,

      It is pity I can’t speak Dutch as I would love to read your post! I do agree that lifting a horse’s legs can be disturbing for them. I like to groom at liberty too, but until now I have rarely lifted Ben’s legs at liberty.

  2. This is something both my horses teach me too! Cleaning is quite ok (if I ask nicely) but trimming is not quite the same. It’s easier during summer, I can just collect everything I need and go show my tools to them and ask where they would like me to do their pedicure. It’s also hard for me to remember to do just a little, but often. No wonder they disagree if it always takes hour(s) of standing with three legs.

    • Jenny as you say, horses teach us. The learning for me was about my own inner state. Now I know that horses do not like it when we are rushed, and when I feel rushed I would usually try to slow myself down, but this is approaching my inner state “from the outside in”, which is not the same thing as having this state “from the inside out”, if that makes sense.

  3. Lynne Gerard

    Dear Maire,
    These types of “breakthroughs” are rich with meaning, aren’t they? And difficult to “show” or “explain” to another person–but you’ve done a great job of illuminating how vital a person’s inner state is when interacting with horses (or any other entity).

    It’s terrific that Kris and Imke and Empowered Horses have touched you there in Ireland, and me here in Canada.

    Would it be okay to quote a part of your post here in the comments section of my journal entry to carry that synchronicity a little further?

    • Hi Lynne, of course you are welcome to quote from my post in your comments section.

      It is hard to put these feelings into words, as you say. And sometimes I wonder if one is better without words, because they are indeed ineffable.

      Imke’s book is indeed special and what a great thing Kris did in bringing the book to the English speaking world – from Ireland to Canada and beyond I am sure. There are so many jewels in that book. I was thinking today that most people would say “partnership” rather than “togetherness” and there is quite a difference in meaning between those two words.

  4. Love this, Maire.

    I once had a hoof-picking session with Salina, who was standing free in her paddock, in which she flatly refused to pick up her feet. I was frustrated, and got more so as I leaned against her shoulder, squeezed her leg, and tried all the ways I’d ever been taught to get her to pick up that hoof. It was her left front.

    She had only been with us for a week or so at that point.

    As I got more frustrated, she was that much more adamant that she was not going to pick the hoof up. It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I got so frustrated with her (not so much because she was “defying” me, but because I felt that if I couldn’t even get her to pick up a hoof, I was a “bad” horseperson”) that I started crying and stomped around a little bit and told her if she wanted to stay with us she needed to be more cooperative.

    She just stood there and looked at me with her one eye and kept that right front hoof planted solidly on the ground.

    After a few minutes of agitation, I began to calm down. I tried to focus on what she was saying to me with her rigid stance. The most interesting part of it was that she was not moving. She wasn’t walking away – she just wasn’t picking up that hoof. She was having a conversation with me – I just didn’t like what it said about ME.

    As I realized that, all my agitation and annoyance began to slip away. I started thinking more about ME than about her hoof. And I realized that what she was doing wasn’t a judgment of me as a horseperson so much as it was a piece of information, a conversation between this mare and myself. And at that moment I felt suddenly very centered and as though I understood something – in a deep way that had no words.

    At that moment she picked up the hoof and let me clean it out.

    This was five years ago. I think that day and that interaction taught me more about horses and myself than anything I’ve ever been shown in a lesson or read in a book. Salina has taught all of us how to listen (as it turns out her right knee is the very severely arthritic one, so picking up that left front hoof forces her to put her weight on that right leg, which is hard for her).

    But more importantly she has taught us how to look inside ourselves and shown us that when we become calm and centered, everything becomes possible.

    I love Imke’s book and I know I discovered it here – thank you for sharing it with us!!

  5. In the fourth paragraph, I meant LEFT front. Should have proofread before hitting post!

    • Billie, that is a great story and exactly how horses teach us (me anyway) that there are no rules – no techniques – and that what is beyond words is where the connection is.

      I am glad you discovered Imke’s book – as you can see I really like it.

      I have had strops like you describe – Ben knows them well!

  6. June

    That was a lovely moment you described, Maire.