Don’t bark commands or whisper to your horse — try listening, says Dragons’ Den star

  • People should be thinking of listening to horses rather than whispering to them – or “barking commands” – Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden believes.

    The businesswoman and lifelong horse-lover gave her personal perspective on invisible horses at last Thursday’s (30 November) World Horse Welfare annual conference, including telling the tale of her own first pony.

    “Apollo, before I got him, was at a riding school and he was pretty invisible,” she said. “For a moment in his life, he was the centre of my world.

    “But I don’t know what happened to Apollo because when he went out of my life, I didn’t even ask. I got my new pony.

    “I cried, then two days later, I got my new pony.”

    Deborah told the conference about a horse called Bo, whom she bought against the vet’s advice for “all the wrong reasons” and who was “a nightmare”.

    “But there was a moment that changed me completely,” she said. “I had the pleasure of spending an hour with Monty Roberts and he said something to me that’s stuck with me ever since and it’s changed our relationship.

    “He said: ‘People call me the horse whisperer but I’m not really, I’m a horse listener.’

    “When I was a little girl I was taught to command my horse. I thought I talked to my horses but I was barking commands at them. What I wasn’t doing was bothering to stop and listen, to hear what they were telling me.

    “When he said that, was when me and Bo worked it out.”

    Deborah said that since she and Bo have been able to enjoy this “proper communication”, the horse “is the love of my life”.

    “But before she came to us, she was for sale for £10,000. By the time we got her, she was £500,” she added. “Something happened to that horse, I don’t know what.”

    Deborah also talked about a promising racehorse called Fred, who suffered an injury.

    “This was a horse that was well-bred, someone was proud when he was born, he was an absolute joy. He was sold as £100,000 as a three-year-old but like that, the horse became invisible to the owner, he wasn’t what they wanted.

    “It’s about understanding what happens in horses’ lives and it’s about education. As a girl, I never thought about tracking what was going on with my pony after he went.”

    Deborah spoke about a recent trip with charity Brooke to India, where horses were not treated well, but that it was lack of education and understanding, rather than intentional cruelty.

    “But looking forward, I’ve got immense hope,” she said. “Humans are going through change and beginning to look at things in a very different way.

    “Technology is a fantastic thing, and what gives me real hope is Blue Planet.

    “The Blue Planet was watched by 80 million Chinese on its first night, it’s the most watched TV programme in the world. It’s changed the way I look at oceans overnight. And this is a movement throughout the world.

    “People can’t care if they don’t know. Me as a girl, I didn’t know. But if you can use technology to reach people and show them what to do, of course they want to do it.

    “Whatever the changing landscape, we’ve got more tools today to make a difference to those animals than we’ve ever had.

    “There’s an audience out there that’s willing to listen.”

    For more from the conference, see this week’s H&H magazine, out 7 December.

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