What’s in a Name?

I’ve mentioned in my post Horse Whisperer, What Does it Mean? the label horse whisperer was glamorized by the 1998 movie based on a book by Nicholas Sparks. But my research showed that Sparks’ depiction of horse whisperer had flaws. There are a lot of labels that dance around this type of horse training but it’s difficult to define something that doesn’t have a definitive name. Each label contributes to the definition, only the problem is that the crux of this method is an esoteric gift. 

The label natural horseman or natural horsemanship was made popular by Pat and Linda Parelli, and although they use some gentle methods to influence a horse, the label itself is an oxymoron. Natural for a horse is free in the wild. Natural for man is not on the back of a horse.

The title round penner or round pen training involves the use of an approximately 50 foot in diameter fenced circular corral. Frequently the corral is made of portable metal panels like the one shown in my photo. Round corrals or pens are used for many types of training both humane and cruel, but people who have the horse whisperer gift are not limited to a corral.

Likewise, the term horse trainer covers all methods of handling horses.

Even the label horse whisperer isn’t definitive of a method that’s based on non-verbal communication as the word whisperer indicates speaking softly.

The Point of View

Relationship training  may be the most accurate description for the mystical method because relationship training is based on getting into the head of the horse. Seeing things from his viewpoint. Or the horse’s POV. Understanding what it’s like to be prey in a predator’s world. Thinking like a creature whose main goal in life is survival.

If you get into the horse’s head and see what the horse sees, feel what he feels, understand his motives and fears, and you act accordingly, you can have a powerful, sensitive and rewarding relationship with him.

This also applies to people which is one of the reasons corporations like General Motors, AT&T, and Disney have paid to have horse whisperer demonstrations for their business executives.

Getting into someone’s head, seeing life from their POV, imagining you are that character, is the way actors “get into character.” It’s the way authors develop heroes and heroines that we love.

The Difference for a Horse Whisperer

The difference in the scenarios between actors, authors and horses is that the actor or author has ultimate control over the character. If they screw up they do a retake, or hit delete and try again until the character comes into compliance with their demands, or until the character morphs into something new and wonderful. 

The penalty can be much higher when you screw-up with a horse because the horse will go back to his natural instinct of survival and man goes back to being a predator.

Another difference among the actor, writer, horse scenarios is that the actor can come “out of character” when he finishes rehearsing, and the writer can leave characters in the computer. The horse, however, relies on the same relationship connection with the human every time they are together because it’s based on trust. When the trust is broken, the horse resorts to self-preservation and the ties can be difficult to resurrect. If one time you develop a close connection with the horse and the next you slap him out of the way, you’ve confused the animal, and confusion threatens a horse’s survival. The horse’s main method of survival is to flee.

The Value of Seeing from the Other’s POV

Learning to see things from the other’s point of view rewards us through better relationships. When horsemen see life from the horse’s point of view, the horse begins to trust the human. When actors see the script from their character’s POV they “get into character.” And when writers write from inside the character’s head, the character gains depth and story is shown instead of told.

Now it’s your turn. If you’re a horse lover, have you ever worked with a horse whisperer? If you’re a writer, has getting into your characters heads helped you write with deep POV?

Thanks for sharing your day with me,

Barbara Ellin Fox


Lifetime horsewoman, Barbara weaves her extensive background with horses and their people into exciting stories about happily ever after for men, women, and horses. Barbara also enjoys helping others with horses and writing.

  • Great analogies. Getting into characters’ heads can be tricky. One of the best ways, though, is to ponder that all-important dimension: motivation. What past trauma/ghost/wound defines the character’s sense of reality? What lie do they believe as a result? What desires and longings (stemming from that wound) underscore everything they do? (And now I’m rambling 😎)

    • Lara,
      It’s interesting you talk about the wound because it also applies to the horse whispering side of things. The horses that come from the wild are wounded. They’ve been ripped from their homes and families, medically treated without anesthetic and most of their defenses have been taken from them. They are easier to understand and communicate with because their motivation is clear and their wounds have been so dramatic. They are desperately looking for a leader because that means safety. The domestic horse, especially one that has been trained, is harder to reach and tends to respond through obedience. They are harder to read because they’ve had a multitude of directions and have had their trust broken in a different way. If I compared that to a character I might equate the wild horse with the human who has had everything stripped out and has hit the bottom, while the domestic horse is more like the person who keeps trying to overcome their problems on their own. I’m glad you brought up the wound. Everyone has them and they can really define who and why a character is. Thanks! Blessings- Barbara (see I rambled more!)

  • Barbara, this was very well done. The analogy is SO true. After training my mustang Paint, I learned the value of horse whispering, and it was super rewarding. And transferring that to our manuscript is really powerful. Thanks for this blog post!

    • Tisha,
      Thanks for commenting. The hours spent seeing and evaluating things the way Reno sees them have really helped me. I’m surprised at how much applies to both horses and writing. Blessings- Barbara

  • Very interesting blog post, Barbara. I has no idea the big companies used horse whisperers. Smart people! Great analogies as well. When we get into our characters heads, it creates a more compelling and authentic story.

    • Hi Stacy,
      I love compelling and authentic! As a riding instructor I’ve always been good at telling. The horse whisperer side has helped me in my writing! Blessings -Barbara

  • I like it. For myself I have always literally whispered and murmered into the horses nostrils where he or she can also smell my breath. I know it sounds daft but we have made friends that way.

    • It only sounds daft to a non-horse lover! Native Americans have blown into the horse’s nostrils to connect since they first captured a horse. As you know, horses are very sensitive to scent. Reno explores my hands if I use a different soap. I’m always amazed a the sensitive creatures they are.

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