In February 2008 a severe storm was all over Scandinavia when we were waiting for the arrival ofthe elite dressage horse Don Carlos at our small idyllic island Lyo in Denmark. He was due to come yesterday but the ferry and even the buses were out of operation due to the weather. So hopefully today the storm will ease allowing the horse and the visitors to come to the island.
Don Carlos is a six year old gelding; an international top dressage horse worth a lot of money. He measures 1.80 metres at his withers. His owners, famous Danisch breeders would sacrifice anything for him and they tried everything to help him.
When Don Carlos is getting scared he drops himself to the floor. First he takes on a strange posture shifting his weight to his hindlegs and spreading his front legs looking almost like a dog on a leash which does not want to follow his master who is pulling on him. Then Don Carlos drops himself to the floor.
To maintain his hoofs he needs to be sedated and hoisted up in a harness for the farrier to be able to do his work. Picking up his hoofs is impossible because again he throws himself to the ground. Even hosing him down with water makes him so scared that he “faints”. When we put a bucket of water in front of him to drink from it resulted again in him going to the ground. Not an easy task for Klaus but he accepted the challenge to bring the horse to himself again and being able to establish a healthy relationship with his environment.
Don Carlos will stay for 14 days at Klaus’s place and at the end one of Klaus’s Danish students will accompagny Don Carlos back home and help the people, the rider and the breeder to maintain the improvements.
Don Carlos is sweating all over when he is lead out of the float. When the owner brings him to the arena, the problems start. The horse is so afraid of entering the arena, so that the fence has to be dismantled in order for him to go forward. What strikes me the most is the way the horse is standing when he is afraid. He puts his hind legs far backwards and spreads them wide apart. He pulls his weight backwards too. In spite of his enormous size he then seems almost as small as a pony.
Klaus tells us that this behaviour of Don Carlos has been caused by an accident at the age of around 2 years. “The behaviour the horse shows us”, he explains, “is very deep inside the horse. And it is almost as difficult to change his behaviour as it would be to change the colour of his coat.” Klaus advises us to leave the horses to themselves and in their natural environment until the age of 3 years. Mistakes that have taken place before that are most severely imprinted in a horse. In order to be able to work with Don Carlos helping him overcoming his fears, the horse needs to find his confidence in Klaus first. What makes this task even more difficult is the fact that even the most normal daily activities around this horse cause him to contract and go into his posture of fear. It seems that he immediately looses his heart and gives up.
The first encounter of Klaus and Don Carlos was to be able to explore each other. Klaus says that the horse has a good character. “Ein netter Kerl” And he asks the owner if the horse sometimes kicks. The owner denies but soon after the owner was proven wrong. The horse kicked and stretched his hind leg so far that he touched Klaus’s hand. Very soon though the horse turned to Klaus and the foundation for the work was made.
Why is the horse trusting Klaus? Is it the correct way of lunging, a correct pattern of sequences and / or activities? No, that is not enough. I think the reason lies in “Who Klaus is”. He is himself. No hidden agenda, free, open and in the moment, not wanting anything of the horse, Klaus’s control over his own body. Every movement is supervised by his own consciousness and every movement precise and aesthetical. Don Carlos allows Klaus to lift up his hoof. The owner, his rider and his daughter are watching tensed. I could not help asking the rider of the horse, if she feels that Klaus will be succesfull in helping the horse. Yes, she says but it will take some time.
She is a renowned international dressage rider with lots of accolades and she has the courage to ask for help and is open enough to watch Klaus working with the horse.
After a delightful meal Klaus continues to work with Don Carlos. He repeats some work of the morning and then confronts Don Carlos with the water hose. At first Don Carlos reacts tremendously even though the hose was not even turned on. But after one hour Don Carlos allows Klaus too wash his front legs. Klaus wants the owners and carers of the horse being able to do the same, so he quickly introduces two of his Danisch students to Don Carlos. They also approached the horse with the water hose. Very soon other students and guests were also involved.
The owner was sitting next too me. He hardly was able to contain his excitement. He was so happy. This man loves his horse so much. In the evening the Danisch television was reporting about the success Klaus has had with Don Carlos. He succeeded to pick up a hoof and hosing down Don Carlos front legs.
The next morning the visitors and the owners went back home. Klaus was still working with Don Carlos, the mentor group watching. This people come from New Sealand, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany and Denmark. The beginning was succesfull. But there is still a lot to do with Don Carlos. When I called Klaus after two weeks, he told me that the horse has formed a close connection to him. Don Carlos was doing his best for Klaus; he wants to co-operate with Klaus and was so full of joy. But still picking up the left hind hoof not quite a 100 percent. Smiling I asked Klaus if it could be possible that Don Carlos knows that once he is finished here, he has too leave his beloved new chief. Klaus answered smiling: “I hope not.”