By: Connie Strong
HOUSTON, (Horseback) – Horse Whisperer. Two simple words that may conjure up thoughts of something mystical or magical, but for those who have seen the results — and for those who practice the discipline — it’ s actually quite
simple. Kerrville’s Copper Love says, “I like that term; I find it positive and I’m glad they came up with it. I can tell people that’s what I do and they think
they know immediately. The term to me is taken in a lovely context.”
What exactly does it mean? According to Love it means, “You are speaking lightly, ‘whispering’ to the horses.
Your hands on the reins or lead rope are a gentle vibration — that’s a ‘whisper’— you are not yanking them. My hands ‘whisper’ to the horse; my body language ‘whispers’ to the horse.”
Copper studied under Linda Tellington-Jones, pioneer of the internationally-known and respected Tellington TTouch® method of relating to animals and humans, and author of 19 books on the subject. In the 70s, Tellington-Jones developed TTouch training for horses, and it was through this program that Love began to integrate her innate connection to horses with her newly acquired skill.
Love says, “I was easy to teach because I had no old habits to overcome.”
She says that she has always had a strong connection with horses and laughs when she tells Horseback, “I think I was born half horse.
Mother said I got on my first horse when I was 11 months old.”
Although the Texas Hill Country is home, the lively, red-headed Waco native grew up in San Antonio, surprisingly, without horses of her own. She states, “I always loved horses, but I had never owned one — every horse I rode belonged to someone else. I didn’t know how to wrap a horse’s leg or clean a hoof and yet, this city girl always wanted a horse.”
After graduating from Texas Tech, Love married and moved to a farm where she was finally able to own her first two horses. Still, she had no training, and admits being quite naïve. “I never knew a horse could be dangerous. For me, they were something to love, to ride, to smell, to touch, to be around, to watch — only that.”
Eventually, she went to Colorado to study Linda’s teachings and, according to Love, “The experience changed my life. TTouch is so ‘honoring’ to the horse — and to the human.”
TTouch involves applying specific, circular movements all over the body to awaken cellular activity and “intelligence” in order to promote healing, foster compassion and change negative behavioral patterns. The methods were simple, the message plain: “It’s about finding strength without dominance.”
She explains, “You have to learn to relax and breathe with the animal, to be with it, to learn its body language; it’s talking to you every minute. Watch their ears; watch their eyes, their breathing and their stance. It tells you everything.”
Love feels that, often, a difficult horse is one that is merely misunderstood. She says, “Many times, an owner/trainer will say that the horse is lazy, refusing to cooperate, stubborn, or ‘is fighting me’ — using all of these negative human terms — and the problem is blamed on the horse.”
According to Love, the first step is about getting people to change how they feel about the horse. “It’s my job to then question whether there may be a problem that the horse is reacting to — maybe he hurts in his body; doesn’t understand what they are asking; is afraid. I have to shift human thoughts from blame to understanding.”
Love continues, “While there are a few, most horses are not intentionally trying to hurt their owners. For instance, when he’s showing fractious behavior, maybe he’s fearful: how can we address the fear? Maybe he bucks: does the saddle fit properly? Or maybe, in girthing for the very first time, it was too fast, or he got pinched — so every time the saddle is brought, he’s going to remember that. While we can’t change the memory, we can change that habitual reaction, or response, to the situation by replacing it with something more gentle through bodywork or ‘touch’ in the girth area.
When the shift is made the horse is so appreciative, and the behavior changes.”
She states that for anything positive to be accomplished, a bond must be formed. “It’s about getting the horse to lower his head, gently, without force. When the head is down, I can get my hands on the horse and earn its trust. I take them through ground work using many different pole configurations which helps us build a connection and gain confidence in each other.”
Tellington-Jones tells Horseback, “The thing that I love about this method — because of the bodywork, the ground work and the work that we do under saddle — is that it gives both the experienced and the amateur horse person ways in which they can come from the heart and be successful. Instead of coming from that place of dominance that we hear so much about in the horse world, we can learn to cooperate with horses — and the horses are taught to cooperate with us, so that they can enjoy working with humans as much as humans enjoy working with horses.”
Copper Love has used this method to help many champion horses overcome behavioral problems, injury and anxiety. When Fast Parade, a 2006 Kentucky Derby Candidate, went from a nervous, tooth-grinding, hyper horse to a calm, relaxed athlete, it was Love who was instrumental in making the change. Fast Parade went on to set the new track record at Del Mar and win the Grade 2 Nearctic Stakes at Woodbine.
She has worked with Anne Kursinski and Robert Dover’s horses. Speaking of Robert Dover’s Romantico, Love says, “That horse was the most amazing horse; we connected. He read my mind.”
Love has taken her skills all over the world, to 14 countries. In the early 80s, she took the TTouch method to Moscow where she braved the frozen climate to work successfully with the Russian Olympic Dressage and Jumping Team.
She has worked with every type — from therapy horses in Germany and champion endurance horses in Australia, to Olympic hopefuls in the States.
Copper is now planning a trip to India to use the method on a racehorse that, after banging her head in the starting gate, is “petrified and won’t even get near the gate.” It will be Love’s job to retrain the horse by gentle methods, without the use of force or dominance. Dominance, she has learned, seldom works. “You might be able to force the horse in, but you will not have the best athlete coming out.”
Is there a secret to ‘whispering?’ Love answers, “Horses have run through my veins since birth; I was born with this connection. I’m not perfect; sometimes there is only minor success. But there is a gift involved — something that some of us are born with — that is part of our ultimate bond with animals.”
Other than that, it’s quite simple. “It’s much more about ‘listening,’ than ‘whispering.’”
In addition to her work with horses as a TTouch instructor, Copper Love is an accomplished artist, having illustrated Kinky Friedman’s “Heroes of a Texas Childhood” and his upcoming, “The Hummingbird Man.” For more information: www.copperlove.com and www.ttouch.com.