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S E C T I O N 2 Cover Story Friendly persuasion Story by Dave Boyce Photos by Michelle Le Slick, an American quarter horse, cleared these barrels most of the times he leapt over them for the benefit of an Almanac photographer. He was “at liberty,” meaning he wore no halter, and responded to Ms. Witters’ body language, sometimes in combination with spoken commands. I f films and TV shows about the Old West are any guide, cowboys and ranchers back then persuaded a horse to perform on command by subduing it. Part of the process, the photogenic part, was getting on the horse’s back when it was an untamed bucking bronco and staying there until the horse calmed down and learned who was boss. Bending a horse’s will — and even the term “horse breaking” — did not arise with the Old West. The Iliad, Homer’s epic poem from 800 BC that recounts the battle of Troy, refers to three of the battle’s dauntless protagonists — Hector, Agamemnon and Diomedes — with the admiring epithet “breaker of horses.” Woodside’s Rebekah Witter helps equestrians learn the language of their horses Whether employed to carry a warrior or pull a plow, the horse was a living tool and as such, needed to learn deference, Woodside resident, equestrian and author Rebekah Witter says. “That’s why it’s called ‘breaking a horse,’” she says. “They break their spirits.” Ms. Witter doesn’t break the spirits of her horses, and by not doing so, participates in a parallel history of horse-human relationships. Along with a few words, she communicates using body language, something that horses understand since they use it among themselves, she says. The practice is known among equestrians by two names: natural horsemanship and, less commonly, horse whispering. While horses have yet to whisper their thoughts and feelings, the focus of natural horsemanship seems to be the horse’s evident enjoyment of a relationship with a human, and the human’s appreciation for the complex character of the horse. Ms. Witter has written four books on horses and offers free coaching for equestrians interested in developing fuller relationships with their horses. Xenophon, an Athenian, student of Socrates and fifth-century author of “On Horsemanship,” spoke well of gentleness. “The one best precept — the golden rule — in dealing with a horse is never to approach him angrily,” he wrote. “Anger is so devoid of forethought that it will often drive a man to do things which in a calmer mood he will regret. Ö By training (the horse) to adopt the very See FRIENDLY PERSUASION, page 19 December 11, 2013NTheAlmanacOnline.comNThe AlmanacN17

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