Who Were the Horse Whisperers
 By Winniefield Park   •   28th Mar 2016   •   3,429 views   •   0 comments

The term ‘horse whisperer’ came into the public collective conscious after a long absence with the 1995 novel by Nicolas Evans and 1998 movie starring Robert Redford based on the book. The main character in the book, Tom Brooker is said to have been inspired by trainers Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt and most notably, Buck Brannaman, who was the inspiration for the 2011 award winning biographical documentary ‘Buck’.

Along with several others such as the Parellis, Monty Roberts and John Lyons these trainers are regarded by many as horse whisperers. Roberts’ book Horse Sense for People: The Man Who Listens to Horses Talks to People and his similarly themed corporate events take the concept of horse whispering to the boardroom. The concept of the horse whisperer continues to fascinate even those who are far from the equestrian community.

Horse whispering is closely tied to the concept of ‘natural horsemanship’, an idea that has taken off since the mid 1980s as an alternative to training methods that involved physical abuse and breaking the spirit of the horse to dominate it. But, this may not always have been the way of the horse whisperer. Many point to the likes of Willis J Powell, John Solomon Rarey and Daniel Sullivan as the original horse whisperers. Powell and Rarey wrote about their methods, but Sullivan was very secretive about his and there appears to be no documentation about how he achieved his success as a trainer. All were famous in their time for being able to ‘tame’ otherwise unmanageable horses.

But how some of them did it is a mystery. It’s written that Sullivan, who died in 1810, inherited his powers over horses from his grandfather who also had mysterious powers. Sullivan was observed to work in a darkened stable, so close to the horse it appeared he was whispering to it. Within a half an hour, an unruly horse would be tamed so that a child could ride it. But, no one knows what magic he performed in those darkened stables.

Secrecy was not unusual to the early horse whisperers. It was a way to protect their livelihood at a time when horses were essential and disposable income almost non-existent. And, not all of their methods were as humane and understanding as those used by today’s horse whisperers. Things like gingering to make a sick or old horse look spry or feeding a horse odd potions that might make it appear temporarily docile was not unheard of. One method to make a balky horse willing was to pour sand in its ear. The discomfort of the sand would distract the horse enough to make it appear willing. By the time the farmer or horse owner found out the potion or trick wore off, the whisperer would be long gone.

The concept of horse whispering is also closely tied to the methods used by Gypsies or the Romany culture. Romani have a rich tradition of horse care, trading and training. They were (and often still are) largely nomadic and the horse was central to their lifestyle. It was often believed that a Roma could put a spell on a horse, another form of horse whispering. These spells may have used acupressure, or calming herbs or other methods to make a horse appear well trained and tractable. To generate income, they would often sell good horses, and buy lesser ones, using grooming, caring and training to improve it. So skilled were they at caring for horses, that locals would often ignore the local veterinarian and consult take the horse to be treated by the Roma.

Are there really horse whisperers? Do some people have a sense that helps them communicate with horses beyond what most humans are capable of. What do you think?
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