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Whispering to horses

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Did you see the movie The Horse Whisperer? Neither did I, but the synopsis describes an alternative horse training philosophy whereby the trainer talks with horses.

King Dexter owns Still Mountain Ranch in Guffey, southwest of Colorado Springs. At this beautiful and unique ranch, Dexter calls his version of horse whispering "just horsemanship."

Matt Smith, pictured at left, is his 17-year-old acting foreman, who may opt for full foremanship on his 18th birthday. He's been working with King since eighth grade, learning how to "partner up" with a horse without using old-fashioned, harsh "cowboy"-type methods. You've heard the term "breaking horses"?

"If you break something, it needs fixing," says King with a laugh. "The key to it all is learning to look at the world from a horse's viewpoint."

I thought of parallels in the animal kingdom. I don't recognize our dog Fido's pleas to go out, and then I get mad at him when he pees on the carpet. I bet he'd like to rub my nose in it.

When horses are encouraged to do things, "it's pretty much a mutual decision between horse and rider," said Smith. A horse, he adds, can communicate through body language, feel and even facial expressions. "It's like when your mom looks at you in that certain way. You know what she means."

He had that right. "Yeah, but aren't there exceptions?" I asked.

"Sure," said Dexter. "Like if the barn's on fire or there's personal safety issues."

Smith's been working with his slightly wild horse Cherokee for a long time, and Cherokee may never be ridden if it's against the horse's will.

"Do horse owners get it [the philosophy]?" I asked.

Not always, the boy told me.

"Who's harder to train: a horse or the owner?"

Owners.

-- By Malcolm Allyn

Photo by Sunnie Sacks

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