Silencing the Whisperers

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.

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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 cover 16food 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. Jacqui wth T

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!’

Amber on Tao-WEB VERSION

Amber with Tao – before things went wrong

‘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-heartedCover_Barefoot_3 (1) 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. BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from AmberThe 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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Tao’s Tale

Some horses take you on a journey – one you weren’t expecting.

Meet Tao – my daughter’s horse who we bought for the price of a pair of curtains a few years ago. Amber trained her while studying for a degree which meant it was a bit stop, start but we got there in the end. The horse eventually became rideable.

Lessons from Tao

Lessons from Tao

Tao has taught me a lot. I could go on Mastermind and be quizzed on proud flesh, infected tendon sheath, tendon injury, intolerance to sugar and now bereavement in horses. She’s an accident prone little mare who’s been ‘under the vet’ more than even the vet would like.

A few posts ago I promised I would tell you about the worst day in my horse keeping career. So here goes. It was one day last year. We had to have Amber’s elderly, nearly blind pony Cloud put to sleep. She was 28 and it was time to say goodbye. Caring for her meant I probably hadn’t seen to the needs of the others sufficiently. Tao had an injury at the back of her pastern and I was dutifully poulticing it daily. I should have called the vet.

The vet came the same day that Cloud died. The vet didn’t have good news.

‘I needed to see this within hours of it happening,’ she said. ‘The prognosis is not good.’

She looked at me warily. I sensed she was holding onto bad news. Really bad news. I saw her face and started to feel tears welling.

The cut was relatively small – about an inch or so. It was a bit infected but the leg wasn’t badly swollen. To be honest, if you had it yourself, you’d probably still leap about on the dance floor. I clung onto my disbelief. But not for long.

‘Her tendon sheath is infected,’ the vet, declared. ‘It would be best if we got her to one of the best veterinary hospitals and operated immediately. She will need careful nursing afterwards. Even with that there’s very little chance she will ever be sound enough to be ridden. If we can save her, she might only be a garden ornament.’

Now I really was crying. Nasty, guilty tears. I had ruined the horse my daughter had trained from unbroken.

I had to challenge the vet. The cut was so small. Surely it wasn’t so bad. Surely, it wasn’t enough to ruin a horse.

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Its position, rather than size, was the crux as it had infected something called the tendon sheath. They are very hard to clear of infection; they don’t respond well. The vet phoned a colleague. I could hear them conferring and agreeing that the case stood little chance. When she came off the phone she asked if we were insured. We weren’t. The operation and after care would cost thousands of pounds. We weren’t convinced it was worth putting the horse through so much to become a garden gnome.

‘Antibiotics?’ I suggested.

The vet nodded sadly but later relented. ‘OK, how about we keep her at home. We’ll throw everything we’ve got at it.’

It was a straw but I clutched it gratefully. The field shelter was quickly turned into a stable. Tao’s field mate, Carrie, was given the run of the yard so that the patient had a friend nearby. Tao was given a support bandage that looked like a plaster cast and she was put onto antibiotics. I threw homeopathic remedies into the equation, the vet even gave her acupuncture. I had to ignore internet reports which reminded me that we had little chance of saving this horse. I felt depressed enough as it was.

The vet returned every few days. I learnt how to reapply the pressure bandage and we made progress. It soon became clear that Tao would live without an operation. She was allowed onto the yard to potter about and Carrie was kept nearby on part of the field. I kept up pressure on the vet to allow Tao more space and movement. She was only stabled for a few days and gradually we increased her turnout.

Well, she defied the odds and got better. The vet was delighted. No, she was amazed. Within a few weeks she said Tao could be ridden. The vet took photographs! She even agreed that Tao’s barefoot, natural lifestyle had helped in her recovery. Wow…

Skipping over some of the other things this mare has taught me I must bring you up to the present day. This little chestnut, the cover girl for my book The First Vet, is suffering once more. There are two possible causes – the grass is too high in sugars for her delicate system or she is suffering from bereavement.

Problems with the grass we’ve had before. It makes her go nuts and throw her back legs in the air. This time, though, her nervousness had a different expression. She didn’t want to leave the yard and putting pressure on her made her aggressive. I couldn’t think what could be wrong and wasn’t convinced the grass alone would tip her over. I went for a ride on Carrie and the chestnut didn’t bother to call out when she was left on her own. She looked sad and depressed when we returned, her head lowered.

A few weeks before this we had lost Casha, an elderly horse belonging to my friend. Our herd was now only two horses strong. Was Tao upset? Did she miss her field companion? Or was I dragging human emotions where they didn’t belong?

I asked my favourite Facebook group – The Barefoot Horse Owners Group – for an opinion. So many people agreed that bereavement might be a cause. Grass was giving other riders a few problems, even in November, but many warned that we ignored bereavement in equines at our peril.

I needed to get Tao some help.

The story will continue…

Care about horses? Then follow this campaigning blog and buy the book! My novel The First Vet is based on one of our very-first vets who amazingly proved that horse shoes deform and cripple the animals we love. His work was suppressed…until recently. Horse lovers, book lovers are buying it and sharing it. It’s a story of love and corruption, full of real history.  Reviewers have described it as ‘brave, witty and romantic.’ The First Vet is on Amazon – UK. Amazon – US.

 

BookCover5_25x8_Color_350_NEW from Amber

A man who could cure horses

A woman who couldn’t walk without them

And the brother who stood between them

The most romantic novel since The Horse Whisperer set against the turbulent early years of the Veterinary College. One reviewer said it was ‘brave, witty and romantic’.

Who can name the horse on the front cover?