Tuesday, 25 November 2014
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• VOLUME 40 • © HORSES For LIFE™ Magazine • Horses For LIFE Publications

Horse Listener

A rider once complained to Carlos Tabernaberri that he could only get his horse to do what he wanted it to do by raising a stick, defensively adding: "But I never hit it." Tell me, Tabernaberri asked, does your wife cook for you? Yes, the man said. And she would cook for you if you waved a stick at her?

Well, certainly.

So your wife would cook for you because she felt she had to - you would get your meal, but would you and your wife be enjoying the relationship? This is what is happening with you and your horse, Tabernaberri explained quietly. It is doing your bidding only because it feels intimidated. What sort of partnership is that for the horse?

Tabernaberri was dubbed "the horse listener" — he rejects the more clichéd "horse whisperer", because he thinks that confers on the human more skill than the horse in what should be a relationship of mutual trust and respect.

Tabernaberri grew up in Argentina, immersed in the country's horse culture. He witnessed frightened and frustrated horses being controlled by wranglers who would hit them across the head if they reared up. What struck him was the absence of kindness or sympathy in the relationship between man and beast.

For some reason that he attributes to a higher source, young Tabernaberri didn't become just another gaucho. Even though the horses were often nervous and wary, he was unafraid. He would walk into the pen and wander among them, patting, reassuring. He thought that all horses would view men very poorly and wanted them to know that there was one human, at least, who wanted a different relationship.

He remembers being repeatedly surprised that powerful animals treated with such little empathy did not simply trample their minders and run back to the bush. Young Tabernaberri began looking into the eyes of the horses. In 1980, his father brought the family to Australia, where Tabernaberri found the horse culture also steeped in traditional training methods. He hopes others will see the benefits of changing their approach.

"Resisting change is like holding your breath - if you succeed, you are dead," he says. That he understands the horse mind is indisputable. Word of his training methods is spreading. Exasperated owners bring their horses to him and say the beast is beyond redemption. Frequently, his Whispering Acres property at Whittlesea, just north of Melbourne, is the horse's "last chance" before being sold or sent to the knacker's. He asks the owners what they want the horse to do and how they set about it. He hears all the labels - that the horse is stupid, or stubborn, or nervy. Tabernaberri will then invite the owner to return in a few days - maybe a little longer if the horse is seriously traumatised by mismanagement. Almost without fail, the owners are stunned by the progress their horse has made. What is Tabernaberri's secret?

It's not magic, he says - the horse is simply looking for a kind leader it can trust and respect. He believes most owners are not deliberately unkind to their horses - it's just that the kindness horses need and appreciate is a good relationship based on trust, not fear. A friendship.

Tabernaberri does not use the term "breaking in", because it sounds as though the relationship between man and animal is going to be one of oppression. He describes himself as a "starter" - if you start a horse off well, almost all behavioural problems can be avoided.

Resisting change is like holding your breath - if you succeed, you are dead. He wants to show us the possibilities of a symbiotic relationship.

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