Horse whispering, as it is often referred to, is more about listening than whispering. The professional horse men and women who practice this skill understand how to read the body language of horses and are fully aware of the psychology of the horse.
Where do They Start?
Horses that have suffered abuse from people or been traumatised through an accident may develop changed behaviour that their owners find difficult to deal with, or may even result in the horse being labelled dangerous. A horse whisperer may be called in to help in situations like this, but horse-lovers around the world are learning more about holistic horsemanship earlier, which is instrumental in avoiding serious difficulties that may otherwise arise.
Horse whisperers spend years studying the horse and its behaviour in natural surroundings. They learn to read the silent but incredibly powerful communication we call body language. From the most subtle changes in facial expressions, drooping lower lips, ear movements, the flick of a tail, stamp of a foot, to rolling eyes and rearing, the horse’s entire language of communication is expressed in clear terms, for those who learn to interpret it.
Young horses that had received little handling but were destined to be riding horses, for example, were once trained to work using quiet brutal methods of coercion. This system was called ‘breaking’. ‘Making’ a horse is preferable to breaking one.
In some public demonstrations, a horse whisperer will stand in an enclosure, of a reasonable size, which a young untrained horse is released into. The horse’s natural instinct is to fight or flight. The whisperer becomes the herd, the safe place to be, by his use of body language. First, he sends the horse away, he has not yet invited it to join his herd! He drives the horse forward and keeps him away.
When the horse is invited to, he may move in from the barrier towards the whisperer. He is indicating his readiness to listen. When the horse is sent away again and moves in whichever direction and speed the whisperer requests, the horse is giving his agreement to the partnership.
During this assessment/initial training period, the horses outline, or body shape, changes and its body language clearly visible to people watching. This introduction can take seconds or minutes. It is always approached though as if the horse whisperer really has all day to stand there. The result is a clear understanding that can be successfully built on. No shouting, no fear, no pain. A calm and positive mutual understanding that provides a sound basis for true partnership between man and horse.Building Trust
For the young horse who has had this sort of gentle introduction training can be continued along the same lines with the horse whisperers advice and example. For horses who have had unpleasant experiences and displayed behavioural problems, the horse whisperer will assess the elements of difficulty and work with the horse to build its confidence and trust, using the same ‘I represent safety’ techniques. If the object of fear is clippers, for example, they will be used in the body language training session. The horse will accept that it is a wise move to stand still, near the ‘safe person’, than attempt to run away from the previously dreaded object and confidence will improve.