17 August 2001

Horse whisperer eases Rosss fears

Getting the chance to hear her horse talk through the

medium of well-known horse whisperer Kelly Marks was

an opportunity Jane Shepherd jumped at

AS an owner of horses for more than 20 years I have often thought: "If only they could talk". Ross, in particular, is one horse I would love to talk to. A 16.3 hands high chestnut gelding, Ross has it all: striking good looks, an honest temperament and a gentle nature.

But Ross has an unusual problem – he goes into panic mode at the sight of most things wooden, including gates, stable doors and fences, and sometimes skulks away from human company.

Schooling and patience have, over the two years I have owned him, helped make a difference but the chance to see what makes Ross really tick was a welcome one.

Ross and I joined a demonstration in Cheshire held by Kelly Marks, who has worked closely with the American horse whisperer Monty Roberts. She appears regularly in the animal-based television series Barking Mad.

Ross entered the indoor arena anxiously, before being put into a circular pen to take part in the training exercise. Kelly set to work. Ross was encouraged to circle around her and, within minutes, his tension eased.

Kelly of Oxfordshire creates a bonding process developed over many years of studying the actions and thought-processes of horses. Called joining-up, it uses body language, voice and movement.

Her analysis of Ross was spot on. He has somehow disconnected with humans, something has happened in the past to make him a little despondent. His anxieties are based around communication – a combination of love and purpose are what he needs to develop and overcome his inner fears.

I was then invited in the pen to see how Ross would respond to me in this environment. Urged to walk in purposefully, I went over and greeted Ross with a rub about the head and was then asked to walk off to the left and then the right.

Ross was to follow me and he did not let me down. He showed he trusted me and at that I felt moment we could move mountains. Then a wooden trotting pole was put on the floor of the pen. Ross immediately tensed up, but Kelly worked through his anxiety and soon got him to approach it confidently.

As I led Ross out of the arena after the half-hour training session, I felt as if we had made a real breakthrough.

Arriving back at Rosss stables I could feel something different about our relationship – something had developed.

Letting him go in the field, he looked at me almost gratefully before running off to his friends. We both knew it had been a very special day.