Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling is more than a horseman. He’s a global brand with a tremendous international following—over 1.3 million on Facebook alone and YouTube clips with views also in the millions. He is incredibly prolific, with a multiple books and videos on horses and the horse-human relationship published in a number of languages. He is a writer, a philosopher, an artist—but mostly a teacher. His words, ideas, and images have changed the way people all over the world have interacted with their horses, with their families and friends, with their colleagues and business partners.
It isn’t often that we have the opportunity to interview Klaus; he is immersed in his study of horse and human nature and keeps an extremely busy seminar, consulting, and life-coaching schedule from his base in Denmark. But we were lucky enough to spend a morning talking with him about his newest offering for those who are searching for an authentic place in life and with horses: for the first time, Klaus’ autobiographical narrative THE MESSAGE FROM THE HORSE is available in English. And as we discovered in our conversation with him, within it lies quite possibly the secret to genuine love, authentic life, and the question of whether human beings should experience a necessary process of initiation before they are able to train, ride, and own horses.
TSB: It seems in many ways THE MESSAGE FROM THE HORSE is especially relevant today considering the current state of the world. How do you feel the lessons in the book might be able to help humanity as a whole—in 2016 and beyond?
KFH: I agree absolutely with what you are saying. I have been writing this book some 25 years ago, and when I delivered the book to the publisher in Germany then, he told me that this book was probably published 25 years too early. Nevertheless you are right—it is definitely very on board, very present right now in light of all the confrontations that happen in the world and at the same time with the apparent lack of solutions.
TSB: How did you reach the place where you are now, as a world leader in life-coaching through horses?
KFH: When I started being with the horse (and this is a big part of the book), it was never like…that I was just interested in riding the horse, in being a show rider, a jump rider, this was never the interest. I was coming from an entirely different aim toward the horse, trying to discover again the horses for what they have symbolized and what they have been meaning to our forefathers, something very symbolic—a very high-range medium for personal development. Our forefathers, they always had the idea that the way how people are dealing with horses, the way how people are treating horses, the way how people are able to communicate with them, to bond with them…or in the other way, to treat them bad or to struggle with them, that this is always indicating the level of society…the quality of society itself.
TSB: So the way we are with horses is mirroring the state of society in general?
KFH: Right. The state of society in general and also how people are dealing with each other, and how people are dealing with those that are weaker inside the community; inside the state.
TSB: Did you set out to write THE MESSAGE OF THE HORSE as an exploration of this idea?
KFH: This was of course my attempt, my first attempt at being with the horses and trying to tell the entire story…the content of the book is not describing something like horsemanship itself, like how you should practically deal with something in this regard or that regard. This book is primarily talking about the spiritual, the philosophical, the symbolical background of the horse. We are as mankind, as entire creatures, confronted with so many huge reckonings and problems, and in this regard this book is definitely, in a way, trying to see, to watch, to perceive, and to observe our times with the eyes of our forefathers and with the eyes of the symbol [the horse] which they have mainly used in a way to understand the procedures, etc, of life itself.
TSB: We presume the main character in THE MESSAGE OF THE HORSE is you. How honestly do the specific challenges the young protagonist deals with reflect your own experience as you were discovering the spiritual aspect of horses and horsemanship?
KFH: One main idea of producing a book like this one is to bring things in a formal way together—to create, to formulate, something like a story, like a new artificial medium to entertain people, to have an exciting experience, to give them new ideas, in a way to educate them about different things on one side…and on the other side. A decision [to work] toward being a real, authentic, proper personality or being is timeless. In this book, I try to put the main aspects of my beginning of my life into an epoch of this young man who is living in the mountains, living with this monk, and of course, running through different kinds of misery, different kinds of confrontations with himself, with nature, with his expectations, with his ego, of course, together with the confrontation with this monk who in a way is mirroring all this. This young man really wanted…was always looking for something like an authentic way to perceive the world, which is hidden behind so many layers and walls. In this regard the book is talking about a period where I as an author…where I, where this guy, where I try to summarize all the experience before in my life which…with this epoch, starts to convert to really find the first authentic answers.
TSB: Do you feel that one of the things we can learn from horses is the concept of genuine love?
KFH: Yes, I think it is a very important question, which by the way…is very very often misunderstood. If we just look in this book, for example…at this old monk, who was pretty beastly treating this young man, leaving him more or less alone. He was absolutely not willing to give real answers—“You have to find it on your own”— which is very difficult for this young man. There was definitely a disharmonious relationship between the monk and this young man. But, finally, when [the young man] came back from his adventure in the mountains, they could cook perfectly together. So could we say that, in the beginning, there was something like love between the monk and the young man? Or that love was created later? The next question he was asking himself, “Why am I living? Why am I living here?” Everything is so horrible but still I am staying here?” The young man himself, he is also described in this book as ambivalent. Is he nice? Is he not nice? He’s seeking for very peaceful togetherness with the horse, describing it, but there was a moment when he was so fed up, so abandoned, when he was about to beat this horse and started to have cruel ideas…so what I want to say is this book is very much talking about love but on a level where our forefathers are trying to explain to us that there is something higher than love.
When, for example, this Laozi, this guy who 5000 years ago was writing the Tao Te Ching, when he is talking about love, he is explaining it in a very simple way. He says, if you lead the path of Tao—and Tao I would translate as authentic life, into connected life with destiny—so if you lead this life, then on the next level you will meet with love. But…there is something which is bigger than it, which is incorporating love but in a different way. We have to understand that I say, for example, “I love horses.” But what is it with spiders? What is with snakes? What is with frogs? So in our way, where we are so often dealing with love, we are using the word very exclusively to say, “This Hamburger Hut I love,” but what is with the next one, what is with the next one? This book is talking so much about the real meaning of love so we are able to understand it even when in the first attempt we are seemingly disconnected from something, we are seemingly rejected from something (like so often the young man experiences this).
TSB: We commonly use horses today to ease our own suffering (whether emotional or physical), but when we don’t go to them with purity of conscience or peace within, don’t they acquire our suffering without us easing theirs? Is this a fair exchange?
KFH: This is the perfect direction to think about this entire issue. When I’m writing books then it is like this: there’s a lot of sort of information, a lot of vibration, to find between the lines…. Being with horses always has been one of the highest arts in personal development. If we look back even to the younger histories we can see leaders, state leaders, kings, emperors—even if they never in reality had been together with horses—they were always painted or sculpted on the back of the horse, with loose reins, the horse nicely collected, in something like a levade…So the idea that something like an emperor, a leader, is eager to be sculpted, to be painted, in a portrait together with a horse, on top of a horse, is radiating a sense directly to our very often unconscious understanding of symbols. Even if you have no idea what the horse means in reality, you understand that this person sitting on this horse is able to dominate, to maintain, to do something very special, and obviously this means that this emperor, this leader, this king, is qualified to lead people—to lead a nation. And that’s the idea. We look back to our forefathers and how they were treating horses, and this book is talking a lot about it…together with the monk, who perceived himself as the last lost ambassador of these ideas, and he definitely was not prepared once again to come back to the world and to life and to the position of a teacher…it did take a long time for the young man to convince him to take him into his house and give lessons and lectures….
So the point is: If you want to be with the horse, you have to already be something like and experienced something like a master. You can see this in the martial arts—those samurais of the Japanese culture, they…have to go through a career of a tea ceremony, of calligraphy, of paintings, etc. So this means that before you start with the horse you do have to run through something like an initiation. And the book is nothing more and nothing less than the explanation of this: The monk…only had to wait for the moment when he could sense the time was right for the young man in his “abandonedness” and (on the other side) in his innocent openness, where it would seem that everything was hopeless, all the effort was done for nothing…and this was the moment the wise monk was taking action to send him to the horses, knowing that if he would have sent the young man before, he would not be open enough, would not be desperately lost, close to death enough…. Coming back from this initiation suddenly the young man was different and this is the whole idea. Suddenly he could cope with the world, he could cope with the horses, and he could cope with the monk. All this what I’m trying to describe now, has been 200 percent erased from our understanding of what we do in life and what we do with horses.
TSB: Is there a simple lesson that readers can take away to apply to their lives with horses and their lives in general?
KFH: I am absolutely sure about this, and I think that not for nothing we have (by the way, in my opinion) a very nice translation in the English language and…I would like to express my gratitude toward the translator David Walser. Not for nothing we have this translation now because I think now, compared to 25 years ago when I did first write the book and [heard from] the first publisher that this is 25 years too early, I think now we are in a time where we will understand this, where people will understand this, much better—consciously and subconsciously. In my opinion this book is a reality, it is a real story (of course, converted into a novel, no question about it), and I think people will sense this…and they see now how I am with horses in my life. What I’m doing is congruent and authentic continuation of this book…is very much like a fairy tale. So if children, they read a fairy tale, they are with so many symbols—we have the seven mountains and the seven dwarfs and the seven walls we have whatever, all these symbols—and without explanation, the children are able to immediately connect with their soul with this…it is encouraging to children that finally Snow White will wake up again. Snow White will live, even if it looks so bad, even if everything seems to be lost….
With all the wisdom and wise words of the monk, I think that this book hopefully might touch conscious parts, and in a pretty huge way, unconscious parts—like the fairy tale—so that you may read this book page by page and breathe deeper and find trust again and to connect again…to strengthen and revive your hope…. There’s not one truth. If we have more than 7 billion people on the planet, then we have 7 billion truths. And that is also part of the story. So take your truth and find your path. The wisdom wherever it might come from. The connection to the horses, the connection to the monk, you will find it here and there…. One thing I think is very important in this story is that the young man didn’t ever give up. And this was the sort of testing of the monk: he was teasing, he was pushing, he was withdrawing, and he was asking with this and without words, “Do you really want it?” And the young man was so often about to give up but …finally he is rewarded with an entirely different life.
I think I’m living my life, I’m managing my life, working mainly as a life coach and management consultant. This is my main job: Using the horse, taking the horses to explain, to make things easier, to break down things and make them visible. But, of course, the initiation was the beginning of the life, which has been providing me the tools to take destiny into my own hands—to connect with destiny, have a dialogue with destiny—and the symbol of this crossroad, the symbol of this breakthrough, is and has been the horse.
Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling’s THE MESSAGE FROM THE HORSE is available now from the TSB online bookstore.
CLICK HERE to read a free chapter.
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