Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hardly Whispering

I recently caught up with whirlwind trainer Katherine Barbarite [Whispering Hooves LLC] at her hideaway in the woods. Who’d of thunk you could find miles of unabated trails tucked in between the hustle and bustle of New York’s recently pummeled Long Island. Super-storm Sandy had left the area with little electricity or gasoline, so the ever resourceful trainer settled into her sand and scrub pine lined forest parkways aboard steed Romeo. I followed closely on another of her auto-pilot yet responsive herd members, Cherokee. Talking was easy meandering up hills and long winding paths, it was even easier to listen (‘Record’ app engaged) as Katherine offered up tidbits of her philosophy. I’m certain I got a one on one of her popular ‘Instructional Trails Program’. “You have to Connect with their mind, then, the feet will follow. So many so called trainers make a horse submit to move its feet. Some coax, some force, some use intimidating posture, some use sticks or whips, some lunge the energy right out of their so called partner.” She is clearly bothered by “what some people think is NATURAL horsemanship”. “They accomplish foot movement by being dominant in one way or another. It takes a lot of effort, patience, skill, practice, experience and knowledge to truly be your horse’s partner.” Make no bones about it, this woman takes her relationship with her horses to a higher level. Stroking Romeo’s neck, she quips “I always wonder what goes on in their mind when people bring out the whip, the stick, or ropes, or even spurs. What would you think?” Her disapproving scowl left no doubt what I should think. Thankfully I had no spurs on my boots, whew. “Double reins, brutal bits…really(?)…you wouldn’t do that to your dog.” “People need to understand herd mentality and structure. From the earliest age, the mare is teaching, communicating and nurturing the foal…not with whips or stick either. As partner, I sort of fit into the mold of the nurturer. That doesn’t mean I can’t be definitive and leave no doubt what I’m asking for. But,” she turns around in her saddle to punctuate, “never forget their instincts. After so many years training horses and their people it is second nature for me to be in that frame of mind…for others, well, I think they mean well, but can easily lose focus and slip back to being dominant, the boss, if you know what I mean.”

Our ride continues until a branch scrapes the lid from my head. “Whoa” as I shift to reverse to retrieve my hat. Katherine reminds me in her patient yet authoritative clinician voice…”A s k, w a i t, g I v e”. One of her programs is all about getting the results you want WITH, not from, your horse by ASKING (seat first), WAITING (let it sink in), and GIVING (praising for the right result). Cherokee backs, around a tree, with smooth purpose with barely an ASK from my seat.
Back on the porch our discussion of ‘connection’ continues. Katherine’s turquoise bracelets rattle with her passion and her voice arches “not communicating properly results in our partners demonstrating their displeasure. Misunderstanding, confusion, and frustration can be the precursor to behaviors like biting, kicking, rearing, and bucking.” “When WE communicate properly, their feet will follow seamlessly, fluently. It gets to the point where less is more, less pressure, more responsive. I like to say it’s like a joyful dance”. ‘So’, I ask, ‘communication is the key?’ (I think she wanted to say “Duh”) “When we get involved, there is nothing truly natural, we compromise their balance, movement, and timing. You try moving with a saddle and rider on your back, how natural does that feel?”
Off the porch and to the corral, lead rope in hand, dancing with Waco, the diminutive trainer explains “this process of working the horse’s feet After you have connected with the (horse’s) mind, resolves and eliminates stress. Challenges to authority and resistance to perform are gone.” “Shhh” she says, so I stop my question mid stream bringing her a hearty laugh. “No, no, not you. See, there too, perfect, even human communication can be tricky.” “S h h h” she explains is an acronym for one of her ground based ‘Connection’ clinics standing for: Soul, Heart, Hand, Halter. “Basically, I am an advocate for the horse and I keep the horse’s well-being first, that’s what I teach. Though a Certified Horse Trainer and Certified Horsemanship Association (English & Western) accredited trainer, she questions convention. Her favorite learning tool: “ask WHY”. She is asking Waco to move but with barely a movement, the only ‘tool’ her lead rope (though slackly engaged). I offer up another softball when I ask about lunging. Her response: “Ay yay yay” (wait for it)…”Why?” Not a fan of lunging, ‘yielding the hind quarters’, using “what some people call tools” (whips, sticks, nose chains) or ven “exaggerated, often intimidating” body language. She exalts: “did you ever see a Mare run a foal in circles, make it move just its’ rear end; how ‘bout pick up a stick? Their communication is imperceptible to people unfamiliar with horses. The flick of an ear or swoosh of a tail, the speed and intensity in which just those things are done say so much. People seem to like to photograph horses eyes, those eyes say so much. If every horseperson could just go to open pasture with a herd, well, it changes perspective. We could benefit a lot more from horses’ communication skills.”
Often targeted to help ‘problem’ horses, this troubleshooter spares no bullets. Katherine is a straight shooting advocate for the horse and has proven solutions for creating lasting partnerships. No bells, whistles, or labels to sell, she speaks directly from her heart with the goal of transitioning horse and rider to become “two as one”.
Katherine Barbarite of Whispering Hooves
Gentle Solutions to Partnership and Confidence.
Clinics, workshops, seminars, and lessons. or call at 631 764 7515

by Mark Munzert