CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

Lifestyle

May 30, 2014

Teaching the language of the horse

For as long as mankind has recorded history, the horse has been a part of it. Cave drawings even depicted the horse.

According to Wikipedia, the evolution of the horse occurred over a period of over 50 million years. Paleozoologists, scientists who study animal fossils and the evolution of animals, have been able to piece together a more complete outline of the modern horse's evolutionary lineage than that of any other animal.

Throughout those millennia there are said to have been people who could communicate with horses. They call them “horse whisperers.” Jim Swanner is one of them…although he doesn’t necessarily think of himself as such. “But I do try to read the horses’ body language and get attuned to it. First, we have to know how the horse thinks.”

Swanner will be conducting a seminar from 10 a.m. to noon June 7; with an afternoon session from 1 to 3 p.m. at Tractor Supply in Cullman (1807 2nd Ave. SW). The seminar is called, “From The Ground Up” and will introduce attendees to the nuances of Natural Horsemanship.

Cullman residents Ernestine Linton, formerly with Cullman City Schools, and Beth Daniel and her eight-year-old son, Lane, took instruction from Swanner on how to practice natural horsemanship.

At the age of 63, Linton decided to learn to ride. Her husband gifted her with two horses for Christmas. Once she realized which horse was the best fit for her, she began to pick up Swanner’s methods. “I’d never been around horses, but Jim helped me to overcome my fears and to become quite comfortable with them,” said Linton. “With his help I began to learn to ‘read’ the horse, to know what the look in his eyes meant.”

The Daniels said much the same thing. Beth wanted her son to know all that he could about horses since his father has horses and mules on their 4-D Farm near Welti. “Jim teaches a better way of understanding the language of the horse,” Beth explained. “He does an amazing job of training obedience without force, so that gradually you use the rope less and less.”

“I learned to back my horse up with my finger,” added her son, Lane. “It gave me better control.”

Both ladies say that Swanner gave them confidence because they had confidence in him. “Learning Jim’s methods is a great benefit to kids who love horses,” added Beth.

Owner of KIN Stables 13124 Carter Road Athens, Alabama, and host of “All About Horses” radio (1080 WKAC/AM each Monday at 9:30 a.m.), Swanner is so attuned to every degree of a horse’s mannerism that he can anticipate its movements. The same is true of the horse – it seems to intuitively know what Swanner expects of it, and it often does it before Swanner gives the command. Swanner explains his gift this way: “Our culture has lost this way of communicating. Think of a flock of blackbirds turning one way, then another, it’s intuitive. Horses running behind a leader will do the same thing. Centuries ago man and animals had this ability of communication, but man lost it – the horse still has it.”

According to Dr. R.M. Miller, DVM, a newborn colt should be exposed to this training before it is even up on its feet. “Dr. Miller calls this, ‘foal imprinting’ or sensitizing and desensitizing. This means that we are getting that foal used to common objects, like a feed bag, a poncho, or a loud noise, to give the foal more confidence,” Swanner explained. “Then we start helping the foal to understand our cues.”

The seminar will outline the concept of Swanner’s program, “From The Ground Up” which teaches how communication is established between horse and rider. “The first time that rider gets up in the saddle, the horse should already understand that the rider is the leader, not through force, or coercion, but through experience and knowledge.”

Swanner went on to give an analogy of a herd mentality, “The stallion owns the herd, but the oldest, most experienced mare is the leader. It is to her that the herd looks to for guidence because they respect her experience.”

Swanner has spent years developing and perfecting this method of working with horses. He has fine-tuned it so that others can learn it, as well. Sometimes in his classes, he is able to spot other natural leaders. They are few and far between, but the evidence is there – the horse senses it almost immediately, sometimes even before Swanner picks up on it.

He attributes this unusual and useful skill to several things. “Part of it is in the way I move,” he explained. “It’s also in my expression, my eyes, or a flick of a finger. I move very deliberately so as not to make the horse skittish. Primarily, we have to first gain the trust of the horse before anything else.”

Swanner notes that different people have various natural abilities, and some have deep heart desires. Those who have both can grasp the concept that he teaches in Natural Horsemanship classes. “When I first started teaching, I had reached a point where I thought I finally knew what this meant – but even then, the horse already knew.”

Swanner was introduced to this concept by a friend. “Then I began to watch a video course and read books,” said Swanner, who was enamored with horses long before he was introduced to this approach. “I fell in love with the whole cowboy image, I probably should have been born back in the 1800s,” he laughed.

He studied the craft with accomplished horsemen from Russia, the Netherlands, and all over the U.S., then put together a special program for himself. In 2009, Swanner taught his method with horses in Hungary.  “No matter where I go, the horses speak the same language,” he said.

Swanner teaches the language of the horse to his students. Again he stresses that is imperative for riders to gain the trust of the horse before they begin. “People have to learn to set boundaries, and first you have to respect that horse,” he said adamantly.

Swanner is dedicated to teaching his students what he has learned. “I enjoy helping others,” said Swanner, who has mini-clinics in his barn in Tanner every Saturday afternoon. “It’s a good way to learn about horses before making such a big investment.”

Linton phrased her experience this way, “The horse doesn’t care how much you know, until he knows how much you care,” which she says she learned from Swanner, who must have learned it “straight from the horse’s mouth’ so to speak…

 

The Details

The Jim Swanner “From the Ground Up” seminar (”horse whisperer”) will be from 10 a.m. to noon June 7; with an afternoon session from 1 to 3 p.m.  at Tractor Supply in Cullman (1807 2nd Ave. SW).

 

Coming June 28-29, 2014, “From the Ground Up” with Jim Swanner. An extraordinary Equine Event/Clinic at the Morgan County Celebration Arena in Priceville, Alabama. Check the website for additional information about being a participant, vendor, volunteer or spectator for this amazing  event

To begin your journey with your horse or more information, contact Swanner at jim@jimswanner.com or on Facebook at www.JimSwanner.com and phone number 256-874-6781.

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