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The term “Horse Whisperer” brings up a variety of images for people. The term has mainly been used to describe a person who seems to have unusual affect or control over horses.

While today, horse whispering may bring to mind thoughts of someone treating a horse softly and kindly, and connecting to them in a special way, a search for the true origins of the term pull up different stories.

The term is said to have first been used in Ireland to describe a man who could tame unruly horses by whispering in their ear (and who would also disappear into the barn with them for a time before emerging with the so called tamed horse).

There are also stories of strange rituals involving a specific bone from a toad skeleton that would give horseman whispering power over horses.

 “Horse whispering” has always had an air of mystery. It describes a person whose methods with horses are not understood, creating the illusion that the person is doing some kind of magic with the horse.

Regardless of the origins of the term, the people we may describe as horse whisperers today, if they are truly good trainers, are not using magic, in fact I would argue they aren’t whispering at all. They are listening. And we can do the same.

In today’s video, I will share four ways that we can be better horse listeners, not horse whisperers!

Click play to watch the video and then leave a comment below!

 

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Comments

46 Responses

  1. This was very timely for me. My Frosty (flea-bites gray 20 y/o AQH) is pretty calm and reliable. In the past month he has started shaking his head when I’m on or off him, but mostly while riding. It’s almost like 3 steps shake the head, 3 steps shake the head, etc. It’s a short side to side shake. The trainer where I board has looked at his ears, teeth and pressure points along his neck, withers and back. All seem fine. When riding, if I wiggle the reins and release he stops for awhile but starts up again in about 5 minutes. He has skin allergies to bugs but this started before bug season. Do you have any thoughts about this.

    1. Linda, I would highly recommend having a vet evaluate this if you can.

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  2. I have recently moved my horse to a new yard and have noticed she has become much more tense and spooky. I am hoping she will settle over time and wonder if there is more I can do to help her.

  3. I think I have achieved, by necessity, “expert status” when it comes to listening to my horse. He has no middle ground. He’s either relaxed (eyes, ears, nostrils, breathing, posture, muscle feel) or he “shouts”, ie lashes out, and he can switch between the two in a couple of seconds whether or not I touch him or where I may be standing. Never happens riding, always on the ground. We don’t know why. Innumerable exams, behavior conditioning techniques, and therapies haven’t helped long term. So, I have to be tuned in to him from the moment I get to his stall to see how he needs to be approached at that particular time. I never forget who I’m dealing with. And, I have to be able to adjust myself (breathing, posture, proximity) at any given moment BEFORE he reacts. I won’t lie, it is utterly exhausting. But, after two years he and I now have a “language” that usually works.

  4. I have slowed down and smoothed out my movements when on the ground with my school horse Hank. I greet him outside his stall and pause before entering to see if he responds or acknowledges me. When I enter I stand by him with slow breathes before putting my hands on his side. He usually keeps eating but I continue slow breaths with slow hand movements seeing if his breath will slow. Then I do the bladder meridian using the Masterson method and watch for reactions. Often the response will be a very slight letting down in his body. These few minutes have made a huge difference. He comes to the front of the stall to be haltered and he gives me his hooves more readily. I have also slowed down brushing and how I ask for his feet. No more pushing into the shoulder. If I have too, I just stand up and then ask him to move a step one way or another then ask for the hoof again. Just giving him these little signs of respects and attention has been a game changer that tranfers to the saddle. Though if I am not right with my balance or aids he will still ignore me, but that is on me. We do seem to work through these problems with less frustration on both our parts since I have accepted my responsibility for his reactions.

  5. Terrific information! Listening is key!
    I am going to practice some of the tips from the video and see if I can feel,the difference in his reactions as he carries me around the ring!
    Thank you again for your wonderful videos!
    Best
    Susan Mandell

  6. Thanks for another helpful “lesson” via your weekly video. “One thing I’ve noticed listening to my horse”…..is the fact that he has been and remains to be a very sensitive and insecure horse. He is 20 yrs old now, I’ve had him since he was 3, and although “he’s come a long way” I need to keep listening to him in that he “tells” me he cannot be treated anyway but gently, respectfully, and understandingly. He is a Morab, which may explain his sensitive nature, but for me, who grew up handling and riding horses the tough “cowboy” way, he has taught me a lot of new perspective in 17 yrs. I have taken dressage lessons on him for a couple of years, not for the purpose of ever competing, but to gain more insight and understanding of proper, classical training. I am much looking forward to attending and participating in a Patrick King clinic in October in Wisconsin. I am still working on the first video of PK, slowly, and more slowly, trying to instill in my horse that he doesn’t need to mouth, bite, nip the lead rope. I think I making progress. Thanks!

  7. Callie I swear your horse in this video understood and agreed with everything you said. Did you see his face when you brought up the topic of the bush? And towards the end when you say to be curious about them, he blinks and tips his head a bit towards you like he’s saying “yes, thank you.”

  8. Excellent information!!! I have two mares that are opposite ends of the spectrum. My mare Grace is sensitive, smart and curious. I have noticed anyone working with her needs to be patient, proficient, and calm. I now look for individuals with calm disposition, patience, and professional or expertise criteria to work with her. I consider this with veterinarian care, training, farrier, clinicians and other horse related interaction. If she is rushed or too much pressure (information) too fast she retaliates or just shuts down. My mare Heidi is like a large red pony. She is super quiet, loves to eat, and shows little interest in initiating action that is food less. If she stops eating, or becomes spooky, I have her immediately checked by a vet. When I have done this in the past she had colic and diagnosed with lymes disease.

  9. Always love the way you break things down, Callie. Love the idea of coming from a place of curiosity. And oh my god Noel looking directly into the camera toward the end, hilarious. 🙂

  10. While riding, even if the horse is moving well he turns an ear in a different angle, it is his attention is focusing in direction of turn. Love all your information and clear explanations.

  11. I’ve noticed when my horse blocks me with his head when start to move to his side. Yesterday I backed away and stood quietly while he looked and then licked and chewed as if to say, Hey! You see what I am trying to say! I repeated the sequence of stepping in, acknowledging his request not to approach and backing up… after a few times he stood quietly and relaxed allowing me to step to his side for some grooming. I find this slow quiet communication is changing our relationship, helping us to form a more meaningful partnership and reducing his anxiety and probably mine.

  12. My daughters pony starting kicking out when she pushed him around so she could finish grooming or tacking up. On closer inspection we groomed him slowly down one side and noticed he was sensitive around the spot where she was pushing him. So he wasn’t being grumpy but is sore. We haven’t figured out why yet but now we have a place to start.

  13. My daughter has an eight year Appendix. She is very good at reading him, sometimes he does confuse her though. While riding in the arena Jo will buck, we have examined every avenue. Lately Jo has been fidgeting with his bit so we called the dentist. As for the bucking the previous owner believes that he is doing that because he doesn’t want to perform. Callie do you have any suggestions?

    1. Michelle, there are many factors that could be going into this. Possibly physical discomfort or saddle fit problems, a recent change in his management, or a behavior he has learned. I always recommend ruling out any of the physical problems and taking a closer look at management to make sure he is getting enough turnout, social engagement, and a proper diet – as well as a saddle that is fit for him. It sounds like you have explored that avenue. I would also recommend watching this video on bucking from several years ago here on the blog!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

    2. Check for sensitivity around the girth area and also in front of the haunches, Sensitivity can be caused by ulcers, and that discomfort could lead to bucking on occasion.

      1. Great recommendation Cat! Always like to recommend looking at any physical discomfort before addressing behavioral issues!

        – Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  14. I love your informative videos.
    Once out hacking my mare kept drifting to the verge, this was annoying & I kept pushing her back in line on the road, I thought this is odd behaviour from her perhaps something is wrong, what is she telling me, so I allowed her to show me, turns out she was desperate for a wee, so now I always try to work out what she is saying. Kind regards Joanna

    1. Joanna, I had a similar experience several years ago jumping at a horse show my horse stopped at a fence (totally not her!) I got her over it but immediately when we left the ring and I let her stand she peed – I felt terrible!

      Great reason to listen 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  15. You are spot on and this info needs to spread like wild fire. I learned from Chris Irwin the importance of watching and listening to my horse. My life was turned around in that one hour. And so my was horse, Tuvia. Just never knew.
    Thank you for putting this out there!!!

  16. I have a 10 year old Rocky Mountain Horse who usually is happy to get out of the arena and move onto the trails. In December I was cleaning his hoofs in preparation for a ride. When I tried to pick up his right rear foot he kicked at me – never had he done this before. When I picked up his left rear foot and started to clean that hoof he kind of yelped. He had never done that either. I finished tacking him up and mounted him using a mounting block. I started to ride away from the mounting block and he wouldn’t move. We eventually made it to the beginning of the trail and on the way to the trail he moved and felt funny. I said something to one of the riders I was with and she watched his rear feet and how he moved. She thought maybe he had an abscess brewing. I returned to the tack up area and checked his feet again. Nothing appeared funny but we did soak his feet. In 2 days my horse had a full fledged abscess open and drain. At first the abscess appeared and behaved normal (I will mention here I have never had a horse with an abscess and did not know what to or not to expect therefore I checked with my farrier, my vet and my friends). After Christmas my horse’s abscess had blown wide open and his entire foot was involved. It is now mid April and he is not sound to ride yet but he is not in pain. I have been reassured that in a few more months his hoof will be back to normal . I believe that my horse tried in many ways and did manage to tell me something was wrong.

    1. Wow – he was definitely trying to tell you something! I hope his recovery is on the uphill now and that the two of you will be hitting the trails again soon!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  17. It’s taking forever, but I do think Tilly and are communicating better as time goes on — two years on May 1. I’ve moved away from the obedience training to improving my requests and interactions, and because I don’t see any problem behaviors starting I think I’m on the right track. When you slow down and notice the subtleties, they notice. I let her sniff me now instead of not, and she lets me scratch her throat. She gives me as long as I need now to pick her feet. We are more patient with each other. One day last month she was so irritable, and unusually for her — peed in the aisle. You know it already, but it was the first time I had picked up on it : she was in heat (very obvious other signs). After a few days she was back to herself. I’m happy to have been aware enough to look for other signs because it means I know her moods. Love this.

  18. The information from this video will help me to be more patient with my 13 year old OTTTB gelding when I am grooming him. I’ve been working steadily with him for the past few months building up a communicable relationship with him. But yesterday I lost my patience with him when he was acting up on the cross ties when I was grooming him. I was ready to give up until I watched this video. Now I have the confidence to try again and learn to listen to my horse better. Thank you Callie and I loved watching the way your horse stand perfectly still during the whole video. Beautiful horse.

    1. Barbara – you can DO this! Looking back can you think of a reason perhaps he was reacting like that in the cross ties? Was there a lot of distractions? Were you grooming and he seemed uncomfortable?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  19. I have found for myself and my horse, leaving my agenda at the door allows me to have an open mind and open eyes. Taking the time to notice and pay attention to his language has improved our relationship ten fold. He has become a much more attentive and willing partner. I leave him a better horse each day.

    1. Joy – this is so true! I think sometimes when we come into the ring strictly goal oriented it can be really frustrating when things don’t go exactly how we are hoping – taking the time to listen and see what the horse needs that day lends to a more productive session in the long run!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  20. Okay .. horse listener who whispers back and gets a lovely response.
    Horses speak softly .. it’s a wonderful engagement of a trusting connection when we hear their language. They are beautiful.

  21. I have a horse who hates gates when I’m on his back.. he stares at them as if a fire breathing Dragons on the other side…but dos not hesitate going through or past them when I’m walking him….I don’t make a fuss ..I just tell him what it is…he’s seen it loads of times, and it’s not going to bite him…He will always go past…it’s just his body posture and not being able to except he’s fine and nothing to worry about …that worries me…
    He did slide into a gate when he was 41/2 yrs old…So I’ve put it down to that …
    Kind regards
    Vivienne

    1. Vivienne, it may be those past experiences the are causing him to have that reaction! So he does fine when just walking past, it is only when you are on his back?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

    2. Get some help. Have an open gate, ride through when following another rider if possible. Do this several times, then have the other rider follow you. Have the other rider open the gate, go through, then have the other rider close it. Next time, you try it. It could be that you are precipitating the event, so just focus on what is at hand, not what “might” happen. Expect that nothing will happen, and it most likely won’t. Your horse should be fine following these exercises.

  22. My mare was very withdrawn when she came to me. She would try to do as I asked, but didn’t initiate anything at all. I remember the day (about 2 months after I had her) she reached out to touch the letter on the indoor wall. She had never tried to touch or smell anything before. After that, I let her touch or smell anything she wants. This was one of the things that really boosted her confidence level. She will even go up to objects we encounter while trail riding that she is concerned or worried about on her own without me asking her to, so she can check them out.

    1. Dani, thank you for sharing! This investigative behavior, as Angelo Telatin has discussed at previous clinics, is an important process for the horse. Once they touch something and they realize it is not a threat they can move on without any concern about a previously ‘scary’ item! Great idea not only for trail riding but for jumping as well!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  23. Very helpful information, Callie, as usual! I will dedicate my life to being more in the moment and listening with any horse, as this could have saved my horse and I from recent calamity. Bystanders call it an accident, but I’m starting to see more warning signs upon reflection that I could have read better. Huge lessons in life are learned in small moments with a horse it seems! I realize now that I still take so much for granted as a human person who relies on verbal communication that I’ve barely tapped into the realm of communication with a horse. Hopefully with guidance like yours and more work, I’ll get it!

    1. Becky, thank you for your comment – I think if we can make the mind shift of not everything is by accident but looking deeper into the situation and the little signs our horses are giving us can make our work with horses MUCH safer!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

    2. Thanks for your comment. I am at same place as you. The mishap we was do to my not thinking ahead and not listening to my mare.
      The video open up my mind and eye before just assuming all is okay

  24. After just coming home from a great learning experience at the Midwest Horse Fair, this video really expands on what I was learning! Making the horse matter in all our decisions, listening, watching, respecting them and their personal space is so important. I love being a “horse listener”. Thank you!

  25. The best thing this video did for me was to reinforce actually “listening” and to slow down and pay attention. My mare came with issues when I bought her, much of which came from another inexperienced owner who had neither the funds nor the desire to learn to be better for and with this horse. While we have a long way to go and I still find myself needing the reminder to “slow down and listen”, she and I have grown as partners tremendously. And I look forward every day to improving myself for her and with her. This was a wonderful reminder of the goals I set every time I’m with her!

  26. My horse Charlotte absolutely does NOT like being brushed on her underneath belly toward her rear liegs. I adopted her seven years ago at a local Georgia Department of Agriculture impound and she came with no history. It’s been interesting to find out what she does and doesn’t like and I always have takien the cues on those issues from her.
    She’s a very kind animal but she definitely lets me know if I’m doing something that is uncomfortable for her. When we go out on a trail to ride I actually let her tell me if something appears dangerous or uncomfortable that we should not venture toward. So far she has kept me very safe by me paying complete attention to how she reacts to everything.

  27. To practice the attitude of curiosity, I try to ask “What else could it mean?” repeatedly. Even if I’m sure it’s because my horse hates me and I’m awful, I think “What else could it mean?” It’s a good trick to keep thinking and revisiting what’s actually going on rather than bolting with the judgement in your head.

  28. The video was very interesting and helpful. I had a bad horse wreck 30 years ago, that ran me through with fear that I’ve not been able to overcome. This past fall, I started taking Horse Therapy and it has helped so much. I realized that whatever ability I had connecting with my horse ended in the horse wreck. I have been trying to pay more attention to my horse in relationship to me being the leader and gaining my horses confidence as a leader. Today, I took him through a gate I had never taken him through before and he became nervous because before we we could get through the gate, there was a culvert that was exposed across the top length of it. My horse didn’t want to cross it or go through the gate. I just stopped, stroked his forehead, spoke softly to him, assured him it was ok, and told him I had his back. I stepped onto the culvert and stomped my foot just loud enough for him to hear it was solid. I then crossed the culvert on foot a couple of times. I told him again, I’ve got your back, clucked at him, and he crossed the culvert and went through the gate without incident. What a confidence builder. I’m so glad I listen’d to him, rather than try to force him to cross before he was confident.

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