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Human Whisperer

Human Whisperer

Since the last quarter of 2011 I have had the feeling that it would not be long before another horse would enter my life. Instinctively I knew that this would not occur if I went in search of one. I would not look for one. A horse would simply come into my life. Now this has finally come to pass. Allow me to introduce a ‘human whisperer’.


She is a mare and her name is Pip. Several months ago Amber, Pip’s former owner approached Vicki with a request as to whether she, in particular, and we, in general, could help exercise Pip. Amber has had to contend with deteriorating health, so Pip became one of a growing number of horses that we were helping their owners exercise at the time. And that is where it would remain or so we initially thought.

What struck me about Pip when I first watched Vicki with her in a picadero a number of months ago – her owner was watching as well at the time – was that the horse seemed to be totally divorced from humans. It made one exception, however: if there were treats to be had, it almost leapt into the relevant human’s pocket. For the rest its focus was confined to any movement or noise which suggested a nearby horse. Vicki had partitioned off part of the indoor manège with surveyor’s tape to create a picadero. The tape side was closest to the two exits to the manège and Pip insisted on pacing it, stopping at each end to peer at the closest exit for signs of a horse.

Pip and Vicki in contemplative mood

Pip and Vicki in contemplative mood

I recall that when I joined Pip in the picadero for the first time a few days later, the only way that I could get through to her was first of all by gently but firmly claiming the section running along the tape side as my own, compelling her to move towards the far wall, where she initially continued her pacing. The next step involved stopping her in one of the far corners but doing this from my position along the tape side of the picadero. This was easier said than done, as no one seemed to have programmed a halt in her repertoire of movements. Finally, I managed to bring her to a halt in one of the far corners. There I warded off her initial attempts to move out of the corner by positioning my body appropriately on the tape side of the picadero until she stopped and looked at me. At last there was contact. Again using remote body language I gently but firmly coaxed her out of the far corner after a while, urging her to move along the far wall to the other corner. There we waited again, following which I repeated this a couple of times, until she seemed both calm and attentive to what I was doing. Only then was it possible to approach her and have contact which did not involve a search for treats. And only then was it possible to do some liberty lunging with her.

The second time I entered a picadero with Pip, she revealed another side to her, which Vicki had already spoken to me about. Even after managing to establish a connection with her, at a certain point during any activity on the right hand she suddenly breaks into a wild canter and goes on autopilot shutting everyone and everything out. When this happened with me, the only way in which I could stop Pip was by directing her straight towards the high wooden fence running down one side of the outdoor manège. Although she is the progeny of jumping ancestors, this was too high for her to clear, so she stopped and suddenly we had communication again.

Vicki actually spent much more time interacting with Pip. When she was not being ridden by her owner – out on the trail or performing dressage manoeuvres in a manège – Vicki patiently sought to lay the basis for a new type of interaction with the mare. She opened the lines of communication and Pip began to settle down, so much so that her owner began to notice the difference in her own interaction with the horse. Pip and I are also reaping the rewards, as I noticed when I took her into the picadero this morning for the first time after her acquisition.

Prior to that we also started to take her for walks together with Anaïs and it is our own mare that helped bring Pip closer into the fold, as it were. Usually, when the other horses were returned to their boxes at lunch time, Anaïs remained outside with a pony to keep her company until we came for her later in the afternoon. After the pony was sold a few months ago, Amber kindly agreed to allow Pip to keep Anaïs company in the afternoons. Over time the mares learned to tolerate each other but they did not stop there. They have become firm friends. Although Anaïs is very much the dominant partner especially in the immediate vicinity of Vicki or myself, her new friendship with Pip has helped her settle down emotionally. Pip too has started to find peace. Her frenetic restlessness even when grazing is increasingly softening into a more leisurely rhythm.

By the time Amber’s health issues persuaded her to find a new home for her mare, Pip had to all intents and purposes already moved into our orbit. All that the humans had to do was catch up. And they did.

Being the kind of people whom we are, this was not just another purchase of horse flesh to Vicki and myself. Pip’s entrance into our lives marks a celebration. In 2005 Anaïs came to us as a birthday present from me to Vicki. This year my wife, partner, lover and best friend has reciprocated. This month I will be turning 55. To celebrate it Vicki has presented me with a ‘human whisperer’. And it turns out that this ‘human whisperer’ will be celebrating her fifteenth birthday in the same month.

Andrew and our 'human whisperers'

Andrew and our 'human whisperers'

So just what is a ‘human whisperer’? Here I have to thank Geerteke for this humbling insight. At the tail-end of the discussion following my last post (Snippets Germane to Germany), Geerteke noted that we are familiar with the concept of a horse whisperer, a dog whisperer and a lion whisperer. ‘Has anyone,’ she asked, ‘ever thought of a “man whisperer”?’ Unwittingly, I kidded her about it. ‘Are you volunteering?’ I asked. Three days later Geerteke returned with the answer to her own question. She found it in David Walser’s introduction to Galloping to Freedom, the book he helped author for Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado. The quote she cited is one that I wish to repeat here for no other reason than that it is utterly appropriate:

The horse becomes the child whom the man helps to raise, to mature, and to learn to be free. The relationship is so intense that it hardly leaves room for anything else. The horse is in a sense the master. The man asks to be let into the horse’s world, where he goes forward with timid steps until they begin the dance together. The horse does not belong to the man but to ‘freedom’. Frédéric and Magali are not the masters of their horses; as they tell you on the pages that follow in their own words, they are their friends and guides. Roles are reversed: the horse whispers in their ears. He becomes ‘the Whisperer’.

(Galloping to Freedom, pp. 20-21)

So how does the horse become a ‘man whisperer’ (or a ‘human whisperer’ in the interests of all genders). At the outset we need to realise that we are not referring to a whisperer who is human but a whisperer to humans in the same way that a horse whisperer is a whisperer to horses. The online Oxford Dictionary defines a ‘whisperer’ as ‘a person skilled in taming or training a specified kind of animal, typically using body language and gentle vocal encouragement rather than physical contact’. We may adapt this definition to describe a human whisperer: ‘a horse training a human, typically using body language rather than physical contact’.

If there is a single important theme that runs more consistently than any other through much of the feedback which I have received from humans around the world to many of my posts, it is this: learn from your horse. This demands an ability and a commitment to observe your horse, to understand what you observe and, above all, to act in accordance with what your horse is telling you, in short, what it is ‘whispering’ to you through all the means available to it. Yes, it is true that my horse depends on me for guidance, care and her very life, but without this commitment on the part of me, the human, the whispers of my horse will blow away with the wind and I will be unable to be the leader she seeks: one who offers her safety, who is trustworthy, who empathises with her, who is enlightened in his approach and who empowers her, in short, one who loves her. To be her leader I also have to become her partner in that I also have to be prepared to accept her as a teacher: my ‘human whisperer’.

I sit here on the third day after becoming Pip’s new owner and I must confess that the prospect of being the human whom my horse seeks is a challenge. Yes, I have owned horses for many years. Yes, I have ridden horses on and off over the years, although the last time was about 11 years ago. Yes, I have even tried to ‘implement’ some of the ‘alternative’ horse wisdom that I began to acquire five years ago. And yes, I am starting out again with a bucket-load of ‘hindsight’ that should make a difference. But it is precisely this ‘hindsight’ which makes it dauntingly clear that I am embarked on something I have never ever truly experienced before.

The books I look to for guidance and inspiration lie on the table before me along with a few others that I think may be useful. There are the core books which have helped shape the essence of my approach:

  • Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling’s The Horse Seeks Me;
  • Imke Spilker’s Empowered Horses;
  • Michael Bevilacqua’s Beyond the Dream Horse; and more recently
  • Gallop to Freedom by Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado aided by David Walser.
My sources of inspiration and guidance

My sources of inspiration and guidance

Then there is Eckhart Tolle’s helpful little spiritual manual, Practising the Power of Now and Tai Chi Chuan by Dr Yang Jwing-Ming (I also have the accompanying DVD). These are my guides for learning how to use my body effectively and finding spiritual calm.

I have recently acquired two other books about which I am a little ambivalent but which I believe contain much that can be useful as I set out on this journey with Pip. The first is Linda Tellington-Jones’ The Ultimate Horse Behaviour and Training Book. This purchase was partly inspired by a recommendation made in Frédéric Pignon’s book. I suspect that Tellington-Jones’ book may hold much wisdom in helping me support Pip in her ongoing development, especially in relation to finding calm and building self-confidence. The second book is a collection of games called From Leading to Liberty by Jutta Wiemers, another German-born Canadian (the first mentioned above being Tolle). Although the Parelli influence is strong, I do not believe that Pip and I need to travel down that route in order to enjoy some of the games described in the book.

Life has a way of simply happening even when you are starting out on something whose enormity is enough to take your breath away. And so it goes and has gone in the first few days of my journey with Pip: everything has just happened. I have decided to keep a logbook of my interaction with Pip. Here are the entries for the first three days.

Date Event
Sun., 1 Apr. 2012 In the afternoon I groomed Pip, cleaned her feet and took photos of her and her hooves. She was last trimmed by a farrier about 10 days ago. Pip’s right fore hoof is the worst. She has separation running down the outer wall and the bars, left to grow unchecked, have folded over and started growing into the sole. All of the heels and walls have been left far too long, with the result that her soles are flaky because they are underutilised and the frogs are relatively underdeveloped. Fortunately, compensation may be found in the fact that she has strong hooves.
Mon., 2 Apr. 2012 In the morning I trimmed Pip’s hooves and took photos of her hooves and of the rest of her. Practised walking and halting on a lead, so that we are safe on our walks on the trail. She is very responsive. Released her but she refused to come when I went back to collect her. Played the ‘occupy the horse’s space’ game and then waited, while she looked at me and digested what had occurred. I was then able to walk up to her calmly and reconnect the lead. 

We tried Anaïs’ winter rug on Pip. It fits, so Anaïs will get a new rug for next winter.

In the afternoon I took Pip for a walk along with Vicki and Anaïs. Our walks are usually about 5 km. We slipped into a rhythm quite quickly and she spent virtually the entire walk with her head next to my arm.

In the evening I spent about an hour and a quarter with Pip in the stable, while all her stable mates were being exercised outside. She was somewhat agitated but less so than on her own, which I tried for a few minutes to see what she would do. She began to relax when she heard humans and horses making their way back. The relief from stress was palpable as she arched her head out past mine to yawn her way back to normality.


Tue., 3 Apr. 2012 Late this morning I went to collect Pip from the paddock. She was grazing close to Anaïs. When she saw me approach, she stopped grazing and started walking around. I calmly stayed on one spot well away from her and when she resumed grazing, I walked towards her and again stopped some distance away. Again she stopped grazing and started to move around. I let her circle me as I dropped my energy. Then she approached me and we were ready to leave together. Vicki mentioned that she has been doing this with Amber and one or two of the assistants at the stable. 

It looks as though Pip is set to get all of Anaïs’ hand-me-downs. Today we tried the rain rug on her and it fits her better than Anaïs, so she will get that as well.

After trying on the rug, I took Pip into a make-shift picadero created with a surveyor’s tape dividing the outdoor manège. The tape side was closest to the horses in the paddock, so she started out by pacing it while ignoring me. I first took control of the area adjoining the tape, banishing her to the far side of the picadero. Pip then proceeded towards the gate in one of the far corners. I then manoeuvred her away from that corner using nothing more than body language from where I was standing on my half of the picadero. In the other corner I stopped and held her. Now I had her attention but she was not yet ready to allow me to go to her, so I stayed away and coaxed her back to the gate and back towards the corner she had come from. Again we stopped and the contact was there.

This made it possible to lunge Pip at liberty, first walk, trot, walk, halt in one direction and then in the opposite direction. Then I drew her in. Although the downward transitions are not overly polished, she is halting much more readily. Vicki’s work with her has paid off. After a break of several minutes we repeated the exercise but this time I threw in some canter. On the left she was fine but on the right there was a brief moment of pig-rooting at the outset of the canter before she settled into it. Too much energy on my part or is there something else going on?

The session in the picadero was followed by a brief workout in the jumping arena, where we practised walk, trot and halts in hand by way of preparation to ensure safety on the trail during our walks.

This afternoon we joined Vicki and Anaïs for another walk. Again Pip remained at my side like a big puppy. Only this time she was far more curious about her surroundings. A couple of times I urged her into trot and this went fine. The preparation in the arena has been helpful.

Reflecting on what I am embarked upon, I am acutely aware of just how privileged I am to be given an opportunity to start out life again at this late stage. It is not just Pip, as Vicki and I are now in the final quarter of our sabbatical year and are laying the basis for a new approach to life and work. Nevertheless, Pip has come to symbolise this fresh beginning and will exercise a major influence on the human I am in whatever I do, if I allow her to. I hope to find the sensitivity and humility within me that will enable her to be my ‘human whisperer’.

Pip and Andrew bonding

Pip and Andrew bonding

15 Responses to “Introducing a Human Whisperer”

  1. Laraine says:

    Once more I thank you for allowing me to be part of this journey of yours, it is inspiring and gives me some insight about horses that when I next visit my son’s farm I will be able to approach Sultan his horse more leisurely.
    I sent a copy of the video you had with the young lass and her horse to my granddaughter and she replied telling me that Sultan would not have a bar of it. He really does have a mind of his own, he is part mountain brumby and stallion.
    Enjoy your new friend Andrew, Pip by her photos looks like a beautiful horse.

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Laraine

      Thank you for your kind wishes for Pip and myself.

      It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to know that you are still with me on this journey and that after one chance evening in your lovely B&B. I am sure that Sultan will welcome you as you are and he will do so precisely because he does have a mind of his own. All of the horses have minds of their own. The only question is whether we humans wish to connect with them or simply go our own way.

      Be well!

  2. Susan Van Wagoner says:

    Hi Andrew ~
    Pip is beautiful! I love your post and I look forward to hearing all about your journey with her, and about her journey with you. I so appreciate your putting yourself, your soul, here for all of us to share. Thank you!

    Love to you and Vicki and The Girls!

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Susan

      Thank you. Pip is indeed beautiful, if perhaps a bit shell-shocked. I am her eighth owner and she is yet to turn 15!

      If by putting myself ‘out there’ I can help just one person find the path to their horse, it will have been worthwhile. I owe them so much, the horses. They have helped me change my life.

      Take care!

  3. Dear Andrew, good to read about your new ‘friend’. I wish both of you all good times together and that YOU may well become her compassionate ‘friend and guide’. Of course, I am not forgetting Vicky!! Perhaps there will be some difficult or better said perhaps challenging times ahead of you as well. However, I am sure you will be all too ready to ‘catch her whispers’. Being inspired by Tai Chi and Eckhart’s NOW I am almost certain you will work things out when they present them to you.
    And I feel priviliged being part of the path you are travelling. Deep deep deep inside we all are alike so your path is in fact my path. You are the other me. I am the other you.
    Take care

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Geerteke

      Thank you for your kind wishes for Pip and myself. What will be between us, will be and that will be enough. I share your sense of a shared being.

      Be well!

  4. Cynthia says:

    Hi Andrew,
    While reading this post I couldn’t help but think your new friend, Pip, would benefit hugely from http://www.friendshiptraining.org – you of course would benefit too!
    It is an approach that takes horse-human relationships to a whole new level and will fit your values beautifully.
    Hope we get to meet when I am in Holland in June.

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Cynthia

      Thank you for your recommendation. I have been aware of Chuck Mintzlaff’s programme for some time. In fact, Vicki used to have contact with him through the Nevzorov forum a number of years ago. It is good to see projects like this developing and maturing.

      I would love to meet you when you are in Holland in June and will contact you to make arrangements.

      Be well!

  5. Peggy Bienefelt says:

    Dear Andrew,
    A fantastic, positive and progressive blog.
    Lots of love,

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Peggy

      Glad you approve!

      Like the ‘negative’, the ‘positive’ simply is what it is and as acceptable for what it is. It seems to me that once you accept either for what it is, it ceases to be either ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ but simply part of the great experience of being.

      Hugs to you and your horses!

  6. Anne-Marie says:

    Hi Andrew,

    We purchased a Thoroughbred many years ago that was 9 years old and we were the 9th owner. She had been through good and a lot of bad. She was absolutely great with us, and we enjoyed her until she died at 24 yrs old. I am sure that Pip will be great for you too.


    • Andrew says:

      Dear Annemarie

      It seems to me that you and your thoroughbred were meant to be together and were good for each other.

      Pip is already great for me. At present she is teaching me patience with the aid of positive reinforcement. I am an eager student.

      Be well!

  7. Heather Binns says:


    Great to read about all your good work with your new horse Pip!!! Enjoy!


    • Andrew says:

      Dear Heather

      Thank you for your kind wishes. Hope all is going well with Magnum and the rest of the herd.

      Take care


    That is A question!

    I want to share the following with you.


    The miracle begins when we no longer demand anything from our horses but instead try to create as much freedom for them as we possibly can, particularly in our presence. At first, the horse is relieved that no demands are forthcoming. Then, perhaps he is a bit puzzled: “What is this? Here is someone who wants to do something with me yet asks nothing! How strange!”. His interest is awakened. “You, a human being, are giving me space, are making room for me?!”. He senses that he will discover something new here, as when a door suddenly opens onto a vast, spacious expanse which beckons him to step into it.

    Only when I am able to ‘release’ my horse, not just physically but also in spirit, can he feel free in my presence. I must free my horse within myself. Only when I give him this inner space will he speak to me there. The greatest freedom we can give our horses in these times is invisible to outside observers. But our horses sense it clearly and respond accordingly.


    EMPOWERED HORSES, Imke Spilker Page 53


    Be well!!