by Linda Chamberlain
There is a new generation of horse whisperers. They work with our animals so peacefully, so silently that you hardly know they’ve done anything at all.
Perhaps you’ve read The Horse Whisperer, or seen the film and know something of the techniques. Or like me, you may have seen Monty Roberts work with horses. It’s impressive but it’s not about having a quiet, little chat with the horse before it takes a rider on its back for the first time. Put simply, Monty understands the ‘language’ of the herd and mimics the actions of the lead mare to produce some obedience or cooperation from the youngster he’s working with. He’s a great showman and he understands the horse deep down.
Monty and others like him became known as horse whisperers but, thanks to one particular horse, I have recently met a couple of professionals who appear to communicate in a much quieter way. Neither of them would fill the Albert Hall; there’s no show, no razzmatazz and they would probably hate the label. The horse who has introduced these people into my life is Tao – I wrote about her in an earlier blog and will give you a link to it at the end.
Tao is my daughter’s horse who came to us as a never-been-ridden five year old. She’d had a bad start in life, lacked food and care and is probably lucky to be alive thanks to the people who saved her from a building site! Well, Amber backed her while studying for her degree but Tao was very accident prone, hated anything that smacked of medical intervention or worming syringes and had her own list of things-I-don’t-like. We worked around them.
On one of the vet’s numerous visits we talked about teeth. It’s routine horse maintenance to have teeth checked and rasped and was something I had neglected, possibly deliberately. An appointment was made and the vet joked: ‘I’ll bring plenty of sedatives.’
Armour might also have been useful. I laughed but later cancelled the visit. Because I thought a horse that’s never had a dentist examine and tend to her mouth should have a chance to do it nicely. Along came Simon Vieweg, a second-generation equine dentist from Westrow Equine Dental Service who was recommended by a couple of friends.
Without wanting to put him off, I told him about our girl. Simon took Tao’s lead rope from me and stroked her head. Then he held her and brought his face close to hers, his hand resting on her forehead. He didn’t want me or need me nearby. They were having a silent, peaceful ‘chat’. He closed his eyes and stayed with her for a bit. Then he quietly introduced her to the dentist’s rasp. He let her hold it in her mouth (like a bit) and gradually she allowed him to do his work while my daughter and I picked ourselves up off the floor. She even let him put on the specialist gag which allowed him to reach her back teeth. We were slightly in awe.
I asked Simon why he had that quiet time with horses before working on them because I had never seen any dentist bother before.
‘I like them to get to know me,’ he said. ‘It’s important for both of us because I need to understand them too.’ He’s never had any training in horse communication; it’s something that comes naturally to him, perhaps because his father was in the profession before him.
Now, I want to introduce you to another horse helper who Tao had need of last year. You see, our little chestnut mare began refusing to leave the yard either ridden or for a walk. She seemed depressed and upset after my friend’s horse had to be put to sleep bringing our small herd of three down to two. At first, like many owners, we thought she was being naughty. We asked ourselves whether she was eating too much grass which can make her silly. Amber got cross and forced the issue but was given the ride from Hell as her reward. I decided Tao was deeply upset when I took her only remaining field mate for a ride. Instead of whinnying, Tao said nothing but stood in the field shelter with her head lowered as Carrie left her.
Could she really be grieving for her friend who was put to sleep? I asked around and many, many people said YES. So I contacted my friend Jacqui Howe (left with Tao) who was studying the Trust Technique. She has since qualified in this method of animal communication and set up her own practice but she agreed to come and visit.
She felt Tao’s refusal to leave home was linked to the loss of her friend. She felt Tao was confused and upset, possibly fearing she might be next!
Whatever the horse thought, it was important to reduce her anxiety for everyone’s safety.
I’m going to describe the Technique as relaxation training for people and horses (or other animals). It teaches you to clear your mind of thoughts and get ‘into the present’ – in other words stand with your horse, listen to the sounds of its breathing, the birdsong, the trees but get rid of all that other stuff like the year-end accounts.
Once we humans get to a quieter state, so do our horses. Tao and Carrie stood with us and they began to relax too, their heads lowered, they yawned and chewed. Jacqui suggested I talked to them about the loss of their field companion – not because they would instantly understand me but they are intuitive creatures and will pick up our feelings. It wasn’t easy, I cried…but I spoke.
And then Jacqui suggested we took them for a walk to the house. It was breathtakingly easy, with no anger or waving of back legs from Tao. I was very happy and then something amazing happened. Carrie began licking and grooming Tao’s neck. Now, if Carrie were a human, she would drink pints and ride a motorcycle.
I told Jacqui, ‘She’s an aggressive mare, the boss. She never does that nurturing thing!’
‘It felt like a real message of well done from Carrie, didn’t it?’ Jacqui said, smiling.
Jacqui visited a few more times and soon Tao was being led in hand on our rides again. Her first time out saw much more resistance from our little mare. Each time she wanted to stop, Jacqui waited with her, emptying her mind, being patient until Tao relaxed and finally…decided to come. It felt like such an achievement.
Thinking about both of my lovely practitioners – it seems as if less was more.
Here is an earlier blog about Tao.
Check out Jacqui’s website for more info. Here is the link.
Simon Vieweg of Westrow Equine Dental Service is here.
Please don’t make them too busy so I can’t use them anymore!
BOOK NEWS BOOKS NEWS BOOK NEWS BOOK NEWS
Just published – A Barefoot Journey, my honest and light-hearted account of going barefoot – including the mistakes, the falls, the triumphs and the nightmares! A small-but-perfectly-formed field companion to my novel The First Vet. Available onAmazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p. The First Vet, historical romance inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago! Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book, which has more than 30 five-star reviews and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society, sold out at the prestigious international show at Hickstead! Still available on Amazon though…
And thanks to reader Andrea Mash for sending me this heartwarming feedback – ‘I didn’t know as much as I do now about feet, still don’t know an awful lot but I could tell my girl wasn’t happy & her fronts looked so squashed together from underneath, I started looking into barefoot and took Linda Chamberlain’s book (A Barefoot Journey) on holiday to read. That was it. I had booked my farrier to take her shoes off and an equine podiatrist before I’d even got back from my hols. 3 weeks in now, podiatrist coming again Saturday, can’t wait to see what she thinks.’ Good luck to Andrea and her brilliant thoroughbred. Keep us posted…
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