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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8 Responses

  1. Jean,

    Loved the video of Stacy Westfall; and need to say that I’ve seen her video many times before and still tear up whenever I watch it and see the bond they have. Buying a horse (Storm) that had been abused before I bought him eighteen years ago and having to start from square one to gain his trust which I finally did after a year of loving him, giving him hugs, kisses and body language he would feel safe with.; he would learn to have faith and confidence in me, as I would in him. We had a loving bond because we trained each other, and understood what the heart was saying. I lost the love of my life a few months ago and my heart still aches, but I have wonderful memories and videos to carry with me. Thanks for listening and understanding.

    1. Oh, Fern. I’m so very sorry. Believe me, I know what a huge loss this is for you. He was a beautiful horse, wise teacher, and wonderful friend, as was Shadow to me. My heart still aches when I think of him too. But what blessings they were to us. My condolences. Jeanie

  2. Dear Jeanie,

    That was wonderful and thank you for posting the video link too! Stacy’s performance on Whizard’s Baby Doll was just incredible! I don’t know how I know so much about two-way relationships and the importance of them, perhaps it’s because of my INFP typology, but I find that I do, hence my struggles when I have to entertain a one-way relationship, this includes my therapy work too as my heart and soul are just not made for them.

    You see for me it’s a two-way relationship or a no-way relationship. Whether we’re talking animals or humans I find myself applying this same value and belief system to all. I must add that “Feeling” is my dominant function. It’s very much like you wrote in last week’s post there’s just no fun in creating an echo chamber if there’s no one there to talk too because no one’s interested in having a one-way friendship with others are they?

    Well, that’s not strictly true as I’m discovering on Facebook of all places! But I guess all social media platforms, including blogs offer us an echo chamber in which to call out to our tribe, and hopefully (for me at least) in return our tribe gathers around us, however large or small our tribe turns out to be. I guess this is my way of saying thank you Jeanie for being such a treasured friend all these years and to wish you a happy thanksgiving!

    Love and light, Deborah.

  3. Bare back and no stirrups! That shows total trust between these two sentient beings. Thanks Jeanie, lovely video. I agree with all you say about relationships being a two way street requiring each of us to pay attention with every fibre of our being to the other. Reminds me of Simone Weil: Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.

    Happy Thanksgiving Jeanie to you and your family, Love, Susan

    1. Total trust, indeed. Not easy in human-animal relationships, and near impossible in human-human ones. Thank you for Simone Weil’s quote. It’s perfect!

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones, Susan. Love, Jeanie

  4. Dear Deborah, what an interesting metaphor, with many levels of meaning. I hadn’t thought of a blog as an echo chamber. I’ve thought of an echo as the result of calling out but nothing comes back to you except your own voice. Which can be very sad if you’re hoping to establish a relationship with someone else. Or it can be very comforting if you love the sound of your own voice! 🙂

    But yes, it can also be a place where you use your voice in the hope it will reverberate out to reach many other people you can’t see. And if they are within reach of your voice, they can reach out to you in response.

    At another level, speaking into an echo chamber is a way of “hearing yourself think.” I learn a lot by listening and reading, but ultimately, I learn best by writing. What I write might start out as the echo of another voice I’ve heard or read, but by the time I’ve mulled it over and found my own associations to it and integrated it with my personal experience and other learning, it eventually comes out in my writing as my original voice. My books and this blog have served me very well in that regard, whether anyone else reads them or not.

    I am thankful for you, Deborah, for being a treasured friend who so often responds to my calls. I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to hear and learn from your voice in this echo chamber! 🙂 I’d wish you happy Thanksgiving, but you don’t celebrate this holiday in the UK. Still, in the sense that every day can be a day of thanksgiving, Happy Thanksgiving.

    Much love dear sister, Jeanie

  5. Oh, dear Jeanie. Wow, wow, wow!!! I cried from beginning to end. I felt I was watching Artemis (if Artemis had a horse). What an amazing young woman–strong and confident and balanced despite her challenges. I’m in awe. Thank you for guidance about what to notice so I caught some of the subtle communication between Stacy and Baby Doll, especially the second time I watched. And because of my hearing, I turned off the sound and it didn’t matter. Their mutual trust and tenderness made me think of fulfilling experiences and missed opportunities in communication and miscommunication with humans and my dogs. In the past, I’ve left my land and walked in state parks during hunting season, but this year I decided the dogs and I are safe if we wear lots of orange. They aren’t used to being leashed on our walks, so we’re learning a new way to explore the forest as a coordinated threesome. They’re learning to walk side by side without getting tangled in the leashes and they’re learning that we move as a group so everyone has to pay attention and cooperate.

    Thank you for sharing the most beautiful couple I’ve seen in a long time. I repeat: Wow!

    1. I’m so glad you liked it, Elaine. This video touched me very deeply too. I cried the first time I saw it and still do. Talk about amazing women who are strong, confident and balanced despite their challenges, I see that as a description of you too. Especially since you also struggle with hearing and sometimes balance, and love animals as Artemis did. Of course you know she was always accompanied by her adoring dogs as are you. i worked very hard to bond with my horse Shadow. It was an extraordinarily satisfying experience for me to see and feel how he tried to respond to my mixed signals, and moreso when we both got it right. I do the same with my granddog Izzy now when she’s with me. When we get it right, she watches my every move and I can communicate with her with nothing but body language. When we’re at the cabin she runs ahead on the paths in our woods, then stops and turns her head at crossroads until I point to the left or right. Then off she goes again. Always in the right direction. When she interrupts me too often when I’m reading or working, she’ll lie down nearby if I just hold up my hand palm out with no words needed. There’s nothing quite like that human-animal bond. Sometimes its magical. Yes, it’s all about patience, kindness, paying attention, and cooperating. Not always easy, but worth it.

      I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving day. Mine was wonderful with all the family here. Even the college kids came, two of them with significant others. 🙂

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