Horse Whisper – And The Truth Shall Set You Free
I stood on a log and jumped on the horse’s back, without any saddle, bridle or seat belt of any fashion to hold me on. What happened next didn’t go quite exactly as planned. I’ll save that little truth for the end (and a song I wrote about the day too).
His mother was a beautiful bay quarter horse with warm chocolate eyes and his sire was non other than Dakotas Poco King, who was a champion Paint stallion that fathered most all of the horses that free ranged in our Butterfly Hollow. Not long after Ace was born he and I made a connection. He was just a young foal living freely alongside his Mom, grazing and swatting flies with his tiny tail. I used his curiosity of my dog Daisy to lure him a few steps away from his Mom. Each time I would raise my hand outward to stroke his beautiful coat he would retreat back to the safety of his Mother’s love and within her kicking distance. We played the “come close, go back to Momma” game many times that warm spring afternoon. It finally dawned on me that I was probably the first human creature he has ever seen and how strange I must look. All the other animals that his young mind has processed have all been on four legs. The deer, the horse herd, the coyotes at night, and even my little dog. So I decided to get down on my knees and hands and do a little foraging. Lucky for me it was the perfect time of year to nibble on some wild chickweed and winter cress.
The bait worked. The next thing I knew his warm wet nose was sniffing my hair. I tilted my head just enough so that we were nostril to nostril and I slightly blew back. I gave Daisy the hand gesture that I had trained her with for “stay”. She looked back and had that look in her eye as if she was saying “Are you crazy?” Ace sniffed her from tail to head and moved back to me. The three of us grazed and hung out together for a couple hours that afternoon and from that day on Ace and I had a brotherhood.
There were many young foals that followed Ace over the years and I became close with almost all of them. Larry, who was the farmer that owned, trained and sold these Paint horses, had land that joined us, which turned out to be a dream come true. There was no such thing as a fence separating our properties so his horses felt like ours. We loved sitting on the porch and watching the painted hillside slowly move their way across, mowing and fertilizing all at the same time. I often thought of buying little Ace just because he was my first but then I would have that internal battle of “Horses are Mr. Larry’s business, don’t get attached.” and of course “why buy one, you have your pick of over fifteen to ride at any time for free.”
As the herd grew, I became more and more involved. I created the website for Larry’s farm where we sold many of his horses online. I lent a hand imprinting the foals and began helping train the two year olds. The training that Larry used was a combination of “old school – horse breaking” and the newer method of “join up” where a horse is not forced to accept a saddle. Larry was learning the horse whisper approach from a friend of his named Sam and one day the two of us drove over to see him work with a young colt. That afternoon changed my relationship with horses for ever. I vowed to never use force, fear or intimidation to communicate to an animal. I would learn to whisper.
As it turned out Sam needed a website for his farm too, so I bartered website work for natural horsemanship training. It wasn’t long until Larry and I had our first crop of two year old colts all taking a saddle and excepting a rider without the use of a rope or whip and without even the first buck or kick. Ace was among that freshman class of horses and my heart sank a bit the day Larry and I took pictures of him along with the others to go on the website. I reassured myself that he probably wouldn’t sell since he wasn’t covered in the beautiful paint markings that most buyers are looking for. One by one his horse-mates sold and the day we had an email inquiry for Ace, Mr. Larry and I sat down and had a little talk. He cut the price in half and the next thing I knew, we were in the horse business.
As my knowledge of natural horsemanship grew so did my relationship with Ace. I could stand on the ground in front of him and with my eyes alone make him turn left or right. I could use just the tip of my finger against his skin to make him step sideways. I loved riding on his back without a saddle and with just the movement of my thighs make him turn, stop or move backwards. He and I rode countless miles and most of the time I would use a saddle and a non-intrusive bridle which was more for my added safety then force, but there were many days when I would just use a halter or a piece of bailing twine around his neck and would slip it around his neck in the barnyard and we would walk for hours together.
So this brings me back to the day when I’m standing on a log. It was a warm summer afternoon and I was building the barn that I was making for Ace and the others that we would eventually own, raise and train. I stood on the last rung of a ladder nailing up one of the final boards and looked out towards the little field that was next to our farmhouse and saw Ace along with ten other members of his family. I decided it was time for a quick break and walked down to say hello. I gave my best interpretation of a horse win-nee and Ace immediately stopped grazing and looked up. He had heard my “horse hello” his whole life and knew it was me. I hopped the fence into the field and was greeted with eleven warm noses.
I rubbed and spread the love the best I could and when the others figured out that I come without treats they all returned to their foraging and left Ace and I to ourselves. It was such a beautiful day and it would have been perfect for an afternoon trail ride, but my saddle and gear were all down the road at Larry’s. “Who needs a saddle or bridle?” I rationalized to myself. “Ace and I are connected and I’m a horse whisperer.” I used my thumb and nudged Ace over to a log where I slowly mounted on to his back. I leaned over and inhaled that sweet smell of his mane while giving him a gentle squeeze with my legs. He slowly moves forward. I apply a little pressure with my left thigh and butt cheek and he moves off the pressure and to the right. I do the same to the left. “Let’s see if the breaks are working.” I leaned back and moved both of my legs forward, and on a dime we came to a stop. I leaned forward, took in another sniff and a rub on his neck. “We truly are one.” I whispered in his ear. We weaved in and out of the other horses, made figure eights, practiced stopping and moving backwards and then there was a communication among the herd that wasn’t shared with me. Someone decided it was time for a water break and took off at a trot through the field towards Larry’s and the pond. One by one the other horses lifted their head and followed along. Number ten took off in full gallop, not wanting to be the last one to the water hole and that left Ace alone with me on his back with nothing but a pair of butt cheeks holding me in place. Before I could raise my leg and slip off his side, he bolts and I grabbed his mane. I bounced like was I was on a ride at the fair and when he made a quick jump to the left to avoid a wild rose bush I became a human torpedo. By instinct I used my wrists to brace for the impact and came crashing into the earth, rose bush, and a heaping pile of pride.
During the three months that I wore the casts on my wrists I stuck to the story that I told Sharon about how I fell off the ladder in the barn. Actually I told the story so much that I believed it too. Only Ace knew the truth. I finally came clean to Sharon some six years later and now on days when the weather is about to change, or when its real cold outside, my wrists will remind me that I was once a horse whisperer.
(A little ditty about the day)