The Horse Whisperer Connection

Levinson also found that a lot of people were interested in this new approach beyond a simple trail ride because they were afraid of horses. Understanding the horse and ultimately developing some kind of communication skill with it breaks down those barriers.

So about three years ago, Levinson started his new program and found that it was wildly popular and word soon spread like wildfire.

The program is relatively simple; a three-step process. Step one is a discussion of how the horse behaves and interacts with other horses in the wild.

“The language of the horse is not hard to learn. If you observe horses in the wild it’s pretty easy to pick up on how they’re communicating and what’s going on between the herd members,” explains Levinson. “It’s a prey animal. It needs to feel safe. It’s somebody’s dinner. So it’s got these two main things going on — it’s either going to be afraid or trust. Love or fear.

The same things that tear apart other relationships tear apart relationships with the horse — inconsistency, untrustworthiness, a controlling attitude, and so on.”

Step two is a demonstration in the round arena, where Levinson shows the guests how a human can interact and communicate with herd members, and even take on the role of the herd’s leader.

Finally, guests get hands-on experience and implement the lessons they’ve learned about gentle horse training.

“Even if you’re a little shaky on the language itself and not quite sure how to move around the horse and cue the horse, if your intention is right on it’s a good bottom line and the horse will be very forgiving if you make a mistake,” says Levinson.

“With our multi-day programs we do very little time with the horse the first day — mostly lecture and discussion. We let them just watch the horses interact — What do you see here? What is this horse saying to this horse? What is this horse’s response to that. Observe, observe.”

Lessons from the Trail

Levinson’s three-step method is simple, but it’s a valuable teaching lesson, and Levinson exhorts camps that run trail rides as part of their curriculum to take a page out of his book and ease kids into the ride, rather than saddling up and moving out.

“Camp directors who use horses need to get someone on their staff or on hand who teach this gentle horse training — someone who understands the language of the horse and can impart their knowledge to other people,” suggests Levinson, who is also available for consulting services. “You can find qualified people in the classifieds section of horse magazines or on the bulletin board at feed and tack stores.”

Once the training expert is identified and brought in to lead the program they can be supported by typical staffers. If you work with horses, look for supporting staffers that love horses and have a desire to learn more.

“Look for people who want to be an advocate for the horse; people who are into better communication with the animal and are giving,” says Levinson.

Also important is identifying which horses will work best with kids. The two important traits Levinson looks for in the horses he uses with kids are “extreme” patience and confidence. In order to identify these traits, Levinson experiments with the horses in different situations to see how they respond.

Once those traits are identified, acclimation is equally important for the horse, because you don’t put novice riders on a young and inexperienced horse.

“I never put a horse on the property and put him right in the string,” says Levinson. “We’ll use him as a lead horse so that he gets accustomed to the area and the trails and then allow him to go into the string.”

Ultimately, Levinson is after what he calls “life enhancement,” a philosophy girded by a dedication to not only educate, but enrich the lives of those who attend The Horse Whisperer Experience.

“We start out with life-enhancement as the goal. That’s something a lot of camps might want to stress — if you come to this camp it will enhance your life,” says Levinson. “It’s not just about a fun activity; you’ll actually enhance your life. It’s really how you process people through the experience that makes it life enhancing.”

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