Shelagh Wulff Wisdom

Shelagh Wulff Wisdom Perspective

Sunlight warmed my shoulders, adding to the deep contentment of the moment. I sat on a stool by the round pen, mesmerized by a ‘conversation’ taking place between a cowboy and a horse. Few words were spoken: communication was based on movement and posture.

A classy palomino filly stood in the center of the pen. The cowboy stroked her neck and gently flipped a cotton rope over her back, between her legs and under her belly. She swished her tail, licked her lips and relaxed, dropping her head slightly. Neither were distracted by a flock of geese that flew noisily overhead. For them, the world was encapsulated in meaningful communication, trust and respect.

Communicating with a horse is similar to communicating with someone in a foreign language. Horse language is actually body language. Inherently, humans have lost touch with natural body language and place more value on the spoken word. But horses don’t communicate with words. They communicate with movement, posture and expression. We must see the world through the eyes of the horse and learn through observation—horse sociology. This is how we communicate with horses in a way they understand.

As I watched, I contemplated some of this cowboy’s methods with those I learned from growing up with horses. The techniques were oddly similar, but the difference was that he had an explanation for why they were successful and how it applied to herd behavior and the survival instinct of a horse. It was more about understanding the horse’s mind, and not so much about technique.

Being no stranger to training, I had learned early on that you really never stop learning. This cowboy was infusing my first-hand knowledge with calm depth and empathy almost beyond my comprehension. I was soaking it up while feeling a bit smug that over my lifetime I had, at least, done a few things right. One of them was that I said “yes” and married this cowboy four years ago.

Richard’s strength lies in his ability to explain the behavior and instincts of horses and apply that knowledge to all levels and classes of coaching as well as performance. He has traveled extensively helping people to look at life through the eyes of their horses, explaining the “predator-versus-prey” psychology of the horse and how we humans can develop trust and respect in our relationships with horses.

Over the last couple of decades, a number of trainers with a multitude of different training methods have cropped up all over the country. Yet it’s remarkable how little understanding of why some of those techniques work. These alternatives are considered natural horsemanship, but without the understanding of the mind of the horse and the ability and willingness to communicate with them on their own level, they can be ineffective.

Richard is an extraordinarily gifted horseman with enormous insight into how a horse sees things.

He was also my first ‘real’ date in high school 45 years ago. I was an awkward freshman trying to find my niche among the pretty cheerleaders and popular girls. Richard was a tall, handsome senior ‘jock’ that liked to skip school with his buddies and go hunting if they weren’t rodeoing, playing football or basketball.

A lot of living has transpired since that first date, and we lost touch. He earned a college degree, and became an international professional polo player, trainer of polo ponies and award-winning farrier. He became friends with Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt and Buck Brannaman, mentoring with them. He traveled abroad playing polo and coaching horsemanship at some of the most successful dressage and show-jumping stables in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. He became one of the top trainers in the nation and worked with all classes of students and horses ranging from pleasure riders to Olympic contenders. He was invited to palaces, castles and mansions the world over.

Richard was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2010. This slowed him down physically, but his incredible ability to communicate with horses—and more importantly, their people—never diminished.

Wyoming was the treasure that equipped him to travel globally and do what he loves. He has shared the special language of horses with kings, queens, princes and celebrities. But like that first love you never forget, Wyoming eventually calls those that love her back to her mountains, grasslands and high windy ridges where they, too, speak their own language to him.

I’m glad you’re home, cowboy.

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