The Thanksgiving Gift of Two-Way Partnership


Freedom from Want
Norman Rockwell

My Thanksgiving gift for you is a video about a very special young woman who can neither hear nor speak yet has an extraordinary gift of communication. Stacy Westfall is a bona fide horse whisperer who communicates with her body, heart and soul. Before you see her in action I want to tell you something about human-horse relationships.

Most people think working with horses is a one-way form of communication: the human does the training and the horse does the listening and learning so it can serve the human’s needs. Most riders and trainers love horses very much and train them with kindness and patience; others believe they need to “break” horses with bullying and brute force. Either type can achieve great success…from the perspective of the human ego.

But the truly inspiring horse whisperers like Stacy step out of their egos and into the horse’s perspective because they want partnerships that are as satisfying to the horse as the human. They don’t have special powers the rest of us lack. Their secret is quite simple. They let themselves be trained by horses. They appreciate and respect the otherness of horses—their desire to please us, their willingness to serve us—so they take the time to learn and use horse language. Horses are exactly the same in reverse. They are “human whisperers” who appreciate and respect our otherness, are acutely sensitive to our emotional nuances, try to learn our language, and let themselves be trained by us because they want satisfying relationships too.

The horse whisperer/human whisperer relationship is the best example of two-way partnership I know. You’ll see it going on between the horse and human in this video. Look for Stacy’s signals: hand pats and rubs, heel nudges, turning her head in the direction she wants her horse to take, shifting her body weight. Then watch for Baby Doll’s signals to her. Throughout the performance his mouth is licking and chewing, licking and chewing. Know what this means in horse language? He’s telling her he’s thoroughly bonded with her and is doing his absolute best to please her.

Watch his ears. When he’s alert and focused he points them forward. This tells Stacy he’s paying attention and ready to go. When she gives a signal he swivels one ear back toward her. He’s listening. When she asks him to do something that requires extra concentration and exertion, like spinning in circles or running backwards, he flattens them on his neck, indicating his agitation and determination.

Watch his tail. When he’s relaxed his tail is relaxed. When he’s asked to move sideways or kneel, his tail switches back and forth with increased intensity. And when he’s getting excited and probably a bit annoyed about the truly difficult things, he whips it up and down with some attitude. But he does what Stacy asks him to, then he licks and chews and pops his ears back to alert and all is well again.  He does this for the same reason you push through your annoyance to do the tough exercises your trainer or aerobics instructor asks of you. Because this partnership is important to you, you’re grateful for it, you want to do your best, and it feels good when you do.

The best way I know to show gratitude to our loved ones this Thanksgiving is to be a human whisperer: To pay attention what they’re asking of us, learn the nuances of their communication styles, push through our annoyance, and try our best to be a good partner. May you allow yourself to be trained by your loved ones this Thanksgiving.

Here’s the link to the video:  Enjoy!

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12 Responses

  1. I know a story has touched my subconscious deeply when tears are running down my face as I read it. This is such an occasion. I have my own long experiences with horses, which involve interactions with my family spanning 5 decades, but I thought I might share this story:
    Ludger Beerbaum and his partner “Classic Touch” were the sensation of the 1992 Olympic Equestrian events in Barcelona. Several times during the competition, Beerbaum looked like he was launching himself off the left side of “Classic Touch”, assuming a position more archetypal of The Hunchback of Notre Dame than a world class Olympic rider.
    After “Classic Touch” and Beerbaum were awarded the Olympic Gold Medal for Jumping with no faults, a reporter asked Beerbaum why he jumped in such an unusual way. His response was that “Classic Touch” often jumped off balance, and it was his job to provide the balance that gave them the best performance.

    1. What an extraordinary story! I love it. Thank you for sharing it. This is a beautiful example of the balancing effects of true partnerships which are always two-way streets.
      My thoroughbred, “Honey’s Shadow Dancer” (I called him Shadow, of course: he was great at showing me mine!), was the best teacher I ever had when it came to helping me see and stabilize my unbalanced emotional responses to situations. Horses have a special talent for humbling the ego and calming the soul. There is no doubt I learned much more from him than he did from me.

  2. Jeanie, I have little experience with horses, but this beautiful post touched me at a deeper level. It said how very much of who we are and how we communicate is strongly transmitted without words–a truly valuable insight, especially as we enter the holidays with the many gatherings of families and friends.
    Thank you and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    1. I’m glad you liked it Sally. Shadow taught me that our bodies say so much more than we realize and this was an invaluable lesson, not only with animals but in people relationships too. I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving too!

  3. Jeanie, I love horses. when I was a child I would pretend I was a horse. I don’t have a relationship with a horse but that is my deepest wish. This story touched me not just your blog on Stacy and how horses are human whisperers but also the video. Reading your blog before watching the video created a bigger impact for me.
    Pulling it all together and asking us to be trained by those in our lives is remarkable and this advice, blog and video will stay with me not just for a long time but I’m thinking for the rest of my life. Wonderful, Janice

    1. I used to pretend I was a horse too. Then my bike was a horse. Finally I got a real one! As I said, partnerships are a two-way street. If we want to train our partners we have to be willing to be trained too, as long as neither oversteps the other’s boundaries. But then teaching our partners our boundaries is part of the training! I’m glad you liked this one. Thanks for writing, and have a happy Thanksgiving.

  4. Jeanie, the link says “this video does not exist.” I tried different browsers and got the same message. I looked up Stacey’s name on youtube and watched there. Realized I’d seen her before, but now I know what to look for because of your instruction. She’s magnificent. Let me know if you get the link corrected, because I’ll share it on FB if you do. And Queen of Night and King of Day are magnificent, too. Thank you for helping me remember to be a human whisperer.

    1. Thanks for letting me know about the link. I’ll see if I can fix it. I think it’s much harder to be a human whisperer because we lie to ourselves and are thus far easier to misread. Animals, like our instincts, never lie!

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