SCOTLAND’S only qualified horse whisperer, Lucy Simpson, has taken up residence at Ladykirk Stables and since the start of this year the impressive equestrian centre attached to the stables, unused for over a century, is now in daily use.
Lucy spent three years travelling backwards and forwards to California to train with Monty Roberts, the world renowned horse whisperer, portrayed in a Hollywood film of the same name by Robert Redford. She is one of only seven Monty Roberts accredited instructors in the UK, and 30 throughout the world, in what is commonly referred to as horse whispering - Lucy herself refers to it as ‘natural horsemanship’ working with the horse’s natural instincts rather than forcing it into submission.
Horse whisperers learn to read the silent but incredibly powerful communication of body language. From the most subtle changes in facial expressions, drooping lower lips, ear movements, the flick of a tail, stamp of a foot, to rolling eyes and rearing, the horse’s entire language of communication is expressed in clear terms, for those who learn to interpret it.
“I have worked with horses for a long time and have worked for several different people with horses and wanted to find something a wee bit different to do,” said Lucy.
“Monty Roberts seemed the one that made most sense because it complements what I do with horses and works with the horse’s natural instincts.
Working with Monty Roberts, Lucy learned how to understand and read the body language of horses and to be fully aware of the psychology of the horse.
“It’s non violent and it’s using all the horses own natural instincts, speaking to them in a language they already know.
“I will bring the horse down here to assess and work it in the ring, alongside the owner, to see what the problem is with the horse or with the owner - and frequently it is the owner that needs to change.
“Generally for people to be at the point that they are looking to me for assistance they are willing to listen and quite open to trying new ways and changing what they have been doing.”
Lucy admits that in the past she has used the traditional methods of “breaking in” a young horse. But not any more. The Monty Roberts method involves “making” not breaking a new horse and proof of its success can be seen by how quickly a horse can be ready for riding - sometimes within half an hour.
The horse’s natural instinct, like all animals, is fight or flight. The whisperer becomes the herd, the safe place to be, by his or her use of body language. First, he sends the horse away, he has not yet invited it to join his herd! He drives the horse forward and keeps him away.
When the horse is invited to, he may move in towards the whisperer who indicates his readiness to listen. When the horse is sent away again and moves in whichever direction and speed the whisperer requests, the horse is giving his agreement to the partnership.
For the young horse who has had this sort of gentle introduction training continues along the same lines.
For horses who have had unpleasant experiences and displayed behavioural problems, the horse whisperer will assess the elements of difficulty and work with the horse to build its confidence and trust, using the same ‘I represent safety’ techniques.
Anyone watching Lucy at work will see the horses outline, or body shape, change and its body language is clearly visible to. Trust can be built up in seconds or minutes but the whole process is approached as if the horse whisperer really has all day to stand there. The result is a clear understanding - no shouting, no fear, no pain. A calm and positive mutual understanding between man and horse.
“This is a million times better at getting results then every other method - getting a horse to be willing to do what you are asking it rather than forcing it to do it.”
It is the showjumping side of the horse world that Lucy is mainly involved in and she will be back on the competition circuit just as soon as her horse is fully fit.
She has plans for the future which include giving demonstrations of the natural horsemanship techniques she learned at the hands of the master. However, having just set up business in Berwickshire - the stables officially opened on January 1, this year, she is building up the livery and training side first.
“ I love it here at Ladykirk - I’m very lucky to have it,” said Lucy, who has not only brought a new way of horse training to the area but has also brought the splendid equestrian centre at Ladykirk back to life.