A horse whisperer is not a magician or wizard who can talk to animals, but rather someone with the gift of correctly interpreting a horse’s body language and even reacting and responding to it accordingly. You can find all infos on ” horse whisperers” in this article.
What exactly is a horse whisperer?
The actual whispering, i.e. quiet or inaudible talking, has basically nothing to do with horse whispering. If you observe the non-verbal communication of horses and understand how animals communicate with each other, you have some good basic tools to learn the art of horse whispering. Herds of horses, especially in the wild, often consist of a large number of animals, each with a different rank. They interact with each other exclusively through non-verbal body language, which only occasionally leads to more serious altercations. A horse whisperer understands this type of communication and uses it to train and subsequently work with horses.
Horse whispering explained
Horse whispering is based on years of knowledge gained through detailed observations of horses in the wild. Their behaviour has been meticulously studied by many accomplished equine experts. From this, behavioural patterns were created that enable us to learn and imitate the body language of horses. Basically, every form of body language is considered unconscious communication and conveys a certain emotional state to another person — through posture, facial expressions and gestures. Among humans, a smile means that one is in a friendly mood, nodding and turning towards the other person are clear signs of approval and downturned corners of the mouth convey sadness. In order to react appropriately to another person, we unconsciously pay attention to their body language.
Therefore, a horse whisperer strives for the correct interpretation of the horse’s emotions, which are not shown through sounds or other audible signals. Horses show their feelings and sensations in a completely different way than humans. Understanding them requires a lot of experience, empathy and sensitivity for another species. In the best case, the horse whisperer masters the conscious expression of body language to a level that the horse understands exactly what the trainer expects from it.
An important part of this communication is trust between horse and human in order to create a sound basis for cooperation. Horses are inherently cautious by nature. This is due to the fact that they are flight animals and always sensitive to dangerous situations. Their herd instinct and the impulse to run away are clear consequences of their primal instincts, which us humans cannot influence. However, long-term studies have shown that horses willingly submit and join a dominant species if they feel protected there. Although these are primarily members of their species, they also voluntarily join humans, provided they create a sufficiently protective impression. So if the horse whisperer manages to convey the right signals, the horse will willingly follow him and consequently facilitate a good training partnership.
In the past, it was believed that horses had to be “broken” in order to force them into submission. To do this, horses were forcibly made to obey. Fortunately, today we understand animals and their mindset and rely on the willing nature of horses. This is the only way to create a respectful relationship that can work for both humans and animals. Violent treatment of animals of all kinds is now strictly condemned. This development was imperative to end the suffering of animals.
Horse whispering — Effects on horses
The effects of horse whispering are manifold and effective. First and foremost, it creates immense trust in a horse when it realises that people understand it. However, horses do not think rationally as a general rule, which is why horse whispering has to allow for the horse’s instincts. One very strongly developed instinct is their herd instinct.
The horse whisperer should therefore take advantage of the horse’s willingness to join him. For this reason, they use the so-called “join-up method”. A round pen is particularly suitable for this trust exercise. The trainer first sends the horse away from him or her with clear body signals. A raised arm and eye contact are usually enough to move the horse forward. If necessary, a rope or a lunge can help strengthen the effect. An upright posture and a confident appearance are also beneficial. Now the horse whisperer has to pay attention to the smallest details of the horse’s body language. Every friendly contact by the horse is rewarded with a release of pressure. This can be, for example, a turned ear. If the horse remains friendly in its reaction and gradually begins to chew and lower its head, it shows clear willingness to interact. As soon as the horse’s attention is completely turned towards the horse whisperer, he or she will release all pressure and turn his or her shoulder sideways, inviting the horse to join up.
Further trust exercises then involve touching, which the horse should now allow. The bond should be so strong that a horse whisperer can even work with various materials and, if desired, put on a saddle and other tack. The interaction now has reached the necessary level of trust to constantly maintain a positive connection. However, the join-up exercise can be repeated if necessary, or done again to further strengthen the bond over time. The art of horse whispering basically always leads back to this first exercise, because it creates the basis for all other interactions.
Equine experts try to understand the horses’ instincts at all times and react to them appropriately.
The role of a horse whisperer
A horse whisperer is basically a horse trainer who can demonstrate a lot of intuition in working with horses. He or she can be entrusted with the careful training of young horses and getting them used to working under saddle. Especially with young horses, behavioural errors can creep in if the training is not performed correctly from the beginning. Once ingrained these mistakes can only be corrected with difficulty as the horse progresses in training and age. Behavioural problems can be corrected by a horse whisperer with the help of non-verbal communication. He or she is able to understand which influences cause a horse to behave badly and can also help the horse to break such habits.
Through a high degree of understanding, a lot of patience and appropriate perseverance, a horse whisperer succeeds in alleviating the horse’s fears and getting the animal used to different behavioural patterns. Since horses always react intuitively, the trainer has to turn every possible situation into a positive experience in order to correct any misbehaviour that has crept in over time. A horse whisperer also deals with serious problem horses, which may have developed certain negative habits as a result of a serious trauma. These unwanted traits can often lead to enormous restrictions in the daily stable routine.
A classic example of this is effective float training for horses that, for a number of reasons, refuse to be loaded at all. The horse trainer is able to understand the problem from the horse’s point of view and can help overcome any apprehension, fear and resistance. In addition, the work of a horse whisperer leads to lasting and long-term removal of anxieties and help the horse find back to a state of genuine relaxation.
Similarly, after a serious riding accident, for example, some horses may no longer be willing to be saddled or develop aggression towards people or other animals. A sensitive trainer can help these traumatised horses to trust humans again and allow for interaction. The treatment of severe traumas should always be left to a professional, as further accidents must be avoided. Unfortunately, the affected horses and their owners are usually under permanent psychological pressure, which they need to overcome when difficulties arise.
In order to avoid getting into a cycle of excessive stress, it is a good idea to ask a horse whisperer for help. This not only helps the horse, but also its rider. In most cases, the trainer works closely with veterinarians and osteopaths, who should determine any physical limitations at the beginning of any training or rehabilitation. After all, pain can often be a trigger for strange behaviour in a horse’s routine.
The importance of a horse whisperer
In addition to every living creature’s personality traits certain experiences can also shape their behaviour. Horses may develop serious behavioural problems that can even lead to dangerous situations. Unfortunately, kicking, biting and active resistance are not uncommon. Sometimes horse owners cannot correct these behaviours without the help of a professional. Before things get significantly worse or the safety of other people or horses is jeopardised, the help of a horse whisperer should be sought.
Often, the horse’s misbehaviour also results in frustration for the horse owner, because many people tend to take the behaviour personally. This starts a vicious circle of negative experiences. A level of mistrust then develops between horse and owner that is difficult to overcome without the help of a trainer. In the long run, a broken relationship with the horse leads to more and more problems or, in severe cases, to the sale of the horse. Even experienced and determined personalities can reach their limits when dealing with traumatised horses and, despite showing a great deal of patience, struggle to bring about any improvement. The support of an experienced horse trainer is always advisable when your own skills have no or too little effect.
To protect yourself, the horse and everyone else involved, you should not hold on to your own pride. Dangerous misbehaviour aside, it may also be advisable to seek the advice of horse professionals for less serious problems. Even small quirks can put a strain on the partnership and considerably affect the bond between rider and horse. In order to prevent growing discontent, the horse whisperer may be able to help with simple tips to eliminate annoying habits and their possible causes. Trust between human and horse is the basis of a good partnership.
Typical equine signals
The versatility of the ears
Probably the most distinctive and well-known sign of horse language, even among laymen, are when the horse’s ears are laid back and reflect aggression and aversion. However, experienced horse experts can learn much more from the ears. Horses are constantly listening to their surroundings in order to be on their guard against dangerous predators. If the horse fixes its ears rigidly in one direction, it seems worried about a perceived noise. If, on the other hand, it points its ears backwards directly at the rider while under saddle, it shows its full concentration and willingness to work.
But here, too, you need to be sensitive in your observation, because the ears are also turned backwards when the horse is suffering from pain. In combination with tense nostrils and a dull look, the advice of a professional or a vet should be urgently sought out. Basically, the complete body language of the horse must always be considered in order to get a holistic picture of its condition.
Drooping lower lip and other signs of relaxation
When the horse feels particularly comfortable, it holds its head low and the muscles are completely relaxed. The lower lip is slightly parted and loosely hangs a little lower than normal. During complete relaxation, the ears also drop to the sides. Chewing, licking and snorting are also very obvious signs that a horse feels relaxed and content.
Horses usually enter this deep state of relaxation during grooming or after training. They should be given time to relax and perhaps even be treated to a massage to promote a good bond with their handler. Other horses may even rest one leg and take a nap. They close their eyes halfway or even completely, and show that they feel comfortable and, above all, safe in the environment and proximity to their owner.
Pawing with the hoofs
There are a variety of reasons for horses pawing. In most cases, however, it is a sign of impatience and nothing more than an impertinent way of begging for food. While horses are being groomed, saddled or unsaddled, it is not uncommon for them to express their needs this way. After training, some horses wait very impatiently for their food and communicate this by vigorously pawing with their hooves. In this situation, the horse owner should not be irritated or react to the begging at all. Under no circumstances should this behaviour be rewarded with food, because it reinforces the habit even more in future. It takes patience to break a horse’s habit of unnecessary begging.
However, there are indeed situations in which it is perfectly acceptable for horses to paw. Among other things, they do this to check if unfamiliar ground is sufficiently stable to be trodden on. This behaviour is absolutely natural and does not necessarily need to be corrected, as long as it is not a compulsive action. Horses also scratch the ground before they want to roll in order to check the suitability of the surface.