Photos: Sanni Airaksinen
Translation: Johannes Leino
“Horsemanship is learning to live in the moment with the horse. Being aware of your feelings.”
Noora Ehnqvist has been studying horsemanship in Europe, and since 2009 she has also been teaching in Finland.
“Horsemanship is understanding yourself, life and the horse comprehensively and from a wider perspective. The horse is a sensitive and sentient creature whose communication is mainly non-verbal and happens through emotions and body language. It is natural for the horse to react to the energies of each other, their surroundings and humans. They are also very sensitive to changes in their surroundings and in communication. Horsemanship is understanding the beauty and importance of this sensitivity.
Horses are always present and live in the moment, they don’t understand getting lost in your thoughts or conflicts. Horsemanship is learning to live so that you yourself are in a state which is present, genuine and sensitive in a balanced way, aware of your own feelings and motions. The same skill includes learning from the horses and offering them a balanced, understanding, open and unselfish human, who doesn’t see the horse as a tool. The human must take responsibility for themselves and their own development and must get enough information and the suitable circumstances for keeping a horse.
Horses have their own needs, typical to the species, which is very important to learn to understand. Horsemanship is also being willing to understand each horse as an individual and to ensure the physical and mental well-being of the horse, taking its unique needs into consideration. Especially the mental well-being cannot be guaranteed with good will alone.”
“The modern world has become material. There is intensive production and institutionalization everywhere. Target profits, competition and outward appearances have become more visible goals than inner balance and restfulness. In a system like this, different kinds of armors are constructed to shield uncertain and lonely hearts. Horses collide with this world through humans, and they too get exhausted, close their minds, get ill or misbehave. As big, strong and emotionally wise animals, horses often put humans face to face with fears, weaknesses and many other uncertainties, and at worst this drives the human to harshness and constant controlling. The same human may have the sincere will to behave otherwise, but doesn’t have enough inner resources for it.
At best, humans will gratefully take the opportunity to face things that are offered by the horse, and will grow into sincerity, openness and a balanced, present security that the world of horses represents. A new, enlightened group of people has set off to find authentic, honest horsemanship combined with new understanding and awareness, and this group is constantly growing. Life is no longer only about performing, but neither is it about floating in an unreal state, but something deeper and more original.
The horse is no longer just one hobby to be performed, but a part of the sensitive nature that we should nurture with patience, deep commitment and by stopping to hear and see. Things like these are often rare in the hectic and shallow world.”
THE EMOTION BEHIND THE BEHAVIOR
”The horse can be obedient for many reasons. Unfortunately, humans can use force in many physical and mental ways to make the horse obey. If we met an angry child with a gun, he could make us obey too. Kidnapped prisoners can usually always be made to obey. We can be kind to horses and treat them as best we can, but our own needs may still be behind it all. I think a relationship like this lacks mutual respect, no matter how well the horse obeys. At worst the horse has been stripped of its freedom, its pride and the possibility to react to the true nature of the human in a genuine way. Would it be friendship to find ways to force our friend to do favors for us?
If the horse ‘obeys’, it should be due to the horse’s own willingness to work with humans – without fear of what will happen if it doesn’t – earned respect for the true nature of the human and at best the joy for all the things that the human brings to the horse’s life. It’s not enough that we hope the horse will like the things we do; we have the responsibility to learn to read and listen to each horse individually. The horse will feel it if our requests are genuinely for the best of the horse and for a sincere relationship.
So in my opinion, the horse doesn’t ‘have to’ obey. For the mutual life of the human and the horse to be pleasant and safe for both, it’s important to earn a mutual respect and trust.
When the horse feels it’s standing by a protecting figure, it will happily give the responsibility to the human. The responsibility is not only a bonus; it’s like the responsibility of a parent, or a trusted support person, requiring a deeper commitment. Horses are not helpless and submissive; they’re strong enough to be capable of forgiveness, respect, and childlike trust. Therefore I can softly tell the horse that I’m the one who takes responsibility and whose requests will bring calmness to us both, and if I’ve earned it the horse will respond to my request. It’s still not just ‘obeying’.”
SEARCHING FOR THE METHODS
“I’ve followed many different teachers, but I’ve learned to be humble to listen to the horses and people as individuals and to believe and strengthen my intuition and sensitiveness to emotions. On this path I’ve noticed that the deepest wisdom in life is always nearly the same, whatever aspect you are looking at. Humans want to create methods, religions and ideologies, to distinguish them from each other and to swear on their own ones. It’s very human and has given birth to many wars and conflicts in the world. The people and things that emanate genuine, un-egoistic life experience always vibrate in the same genuine way that animals understand by their nature.
There is no technical approach or method that could be applied to every unique individual. Instead, the core wisdom which emanates from everything can grow within me, and through it I can look at the world and horses. I can truly connect with the individuals and myself, stop analyzing and rationalizing, and reach a simpler, yet more emotionally wise level. That path is my greatest teacher.
I also have tools that I’ve received from my teachers and my students. I use the tools to reinforce my inner message, but never separately, and their meaning is a lot smaller in the end than initially believed, and I’ve abandoned many tools as my understanding has grown.
The most important one of my human teachers is Klaus Hempfling, whose philosophy and thoughts have really helped me expand my view of the world, and my understanding of many things in life. His way to work with horses is based on the exact things I mentioned earlier; Every time is special, unique, and there’s no method that Klaus would follow, he listens instead to his intuition and to the horses.”
THE HORSE SUFFERS FROM THE LACK OF HORSEMANSHIP
“The lack of horsemanship can be seen in a different way today than it was before. Before, the lack of horsemanship was replaced with the use of physical violence. The use of physical violence is seen less today, which doesn’t mean that skills have improved, but rather that people have found other ways to circumvent the lack of horsemanship.
People try to reach the essence of horsemanship through manipulation techniques or by following some idea, which unfortunately doesn’t work. As tempting as it would be, it’s not possible even if it might look like it on the surface. In reality, the horse is suffering both physically and mentally. This manifests in many ways. Sometimes horses start gathering physical hardness or stiffness in their body, which can even lead to sickness. In another form, there’s a stress inside the horse, but displaying it is extinguished behind the behavior desired by the human.
Anyone who has to suffocate their feelings will suffer. It can be seen as sad eyes, mental absence, defeat, constant defensiveness or something like mechanical behavior. The more practiced you get in seeing what the horse is actually feeling, the more likely you are to see if he doesn’t get to express and live what he really wants to be.”
THE HUMAN’S RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE HORSE
“The horse doesn’t usually have an opportunity to affect the surroundings it lives in and how it is being treated. The horse has its unique needs even when we are busy or not near it; The horse does not live for us alone. The horse has also not been created to live in prison conditions. The human has a responsibility to learn to understand what the horse needs as an individual and to respond to that need as well as possible. If we try to understand the horse from within an institutionalized frame of thinking, we miss reality. We get too used to the symptoms of the material world.
I think the human has the responsibility to wake up and to see and think about things in a deeper way, without readily made schemes. Similarly, the human has an important responsibility to find their own, genuine, honest self, and to not send messages to the horse that are too conflicting. We cannot blame the horse for our own uncertainty. Many horses need a lot of the security provided by a herd in their life, and the more the human needs the horse’s trust in situations that could be quite special, the more the human should act as a safe, gently stronger supporting figure for the horse.
The human’s responsibility is like that of a wise tribal leader; Not machismo in a leading position, but selfless wisdom, strength and sharing your life for the good of others. Inner wisdom cannot be replaced with external tricks, and it cannot be bought.
The human has a special responsibility to understand their own emotional communication, and that of the horse’s, and to learn to read the non-verbal, subtle messages that are the horse’s soft ‘words’.”