THE term “horse whisperer” evokes an image of someone with the power to communicate with horses or else it summons the film of the same name, directed by and starring Robert Redford.
It’s a term that Jody Ruysen dislikes though because as she says: “The thing I have found is that horse whisperers are people who can do something with someone’s horse, but the owner can’t do the same thing.”
Jody (32), of Pinchbeck Road, Spalding, is turning that around and helping owners learn to tame their horses, to overcome the fears that make their horse flightly and unwilling to co-operate.
She is doing that not with some special form of communication with animals, but through play. She travels the country instructing owners in the principles of the Parelli programme, which describes itself as “natural horsemanship” and which centres on games that emulate the horse’s natural behaviour.
“When I was seven, my dream was to be a wild horse tamer,” says Jody, who has a five-year-old gelding, Aslan. “I just wanted to be with horses.”
Roll forward the years to college, where Jody undertook equine studies, and following that coming across the Parelli programme, which she teaches while continuing to develop her own horsemanship.
The programme is described by Jody as a “step by step guide to developing a relationship with a horse”, and owners can take that as far as they want, whether that’s competing or simply understanding the horse better and consequently being safe around him.
“You play with your horse rather than work with it, and you play on the ground as well as riding,” explained Jody. “If a horse is scared it is because they think that human might kill or hurt him. People have difficulties putting themselves in their horses’ horseshoes and understanding their perspective.”
As an example, Jody describes a scenario in which horse and rider are approaching a jump; if the horse is worried or scared, he will come up with a lot of ideas of how not to go over the jump. That’s when we as humans – Jody says we’re the aggressive, assertive predator in the horse’s mind – get even more aggressive or assertive, because we can, using force to get our way.
“And that’s not developing the relationship,” says Jody.
Instead, following the Parelli principles, horse and owner play games that will make sense to him because they imitate his behaviour in the paddock, where horses are naturally playful, something not always understood by owners. For instance, they might run up and down the paddock together, or pin their ears back and push each other around, establishing the hierarchy within the herd.
Because the games mimic the animals’ natural behaviour, they help to remove the horse’s natural fear of his owner as predator, and instead build confidence in the horse and a better relationship between human and animal.
“It is building a relationship and developing communication with your horse by using the games,” explains Jody. “It is non-verbal, which is difficult for us to understand sometimes because we are such verbal creatures. It is the human asking the horse to do something, but in order for it to work you have to understand his perspective and why he does what he does.
“When I got Aslan a year ago he was very scared and very spooky, but now he is very confident, which has developed his playfulness. He is very curious and puts his nose on everything and sees if he can eat everything. He meets me at the gates whenever I go to see him, and that’s not how horses operate. You can have a horse and never be able to catch it.
“I understand what my horse gets scared of and what he enjoys. I want him to be my partner and the more I can develop that then the more we can do and become successful.”
To find out more visit www.parellinaturalhorsetraining.com or go to Jody’s website www.jodyruysen.com or contact her on 07975 741494.