Written by Robyn Greyling, Equine Behaviour Consultant, and Mike Kerr, founder of Animal Outreaches in Port Elizabeth
Whisper joined us at The Horse Zoo at the end of 2014 as a flashy little horse with a mighty big attitude! Although this pony had never wanted for anything and, unlike his mother, had always been extremely well cared for, he had a number of behavioural issues. He lacked confidence on his own but, at the same time, had very bad social skills with other horses. Under saddle he had little enthusiasm or confidence and when faced with something new he just fell apart. Whisper also thought nothing of biting or kicking humans! The first couple of months were a very tough learning curve for this little horse...
Every day when they all went into the big three-hectare camp, our herd of horses took it upon themselves to teach Whisper ‘herd etiquette’. It was tough to watch. Time and time again he would barge into the other horses’ space and they would discipline him rather severely. During the first couple of weeks he spent a lot of time alone on the outskirts of the herd; gradually he learnt to be a touch more subtle and polite. My daughter, Kaitlyne, began his training under saddle in earnest, taking him back to basics and using exercises to improve confidence and discipline.
Whisper wins them over
Whisper went to his first show in February 2015 and had absolutely zero confidence in the show jumping arenas. He was terrified of everything and got eliminated in all his show jumping classes, not making it past jump number two. In the dressage arena he was a different horse; confident and worked like a star. However, the moment he was faced with a jump he fell apart, shying away, bucking and rearing, quivering and sweating.
Kaitlyne patiently persevered, asking the judge’s permission to walk him around in hand and under saddle during course changes and after classes. The next show was much the same but we continued working on his confidence and not making a big deal of it. Finally, after six months, everything starting coming together; Whisper relaxed and started showing enthusiasm for jumping. He has awesome potential.
Whisper has flourished and proudly qualified and competed at the South African National Equestrian School Association (SANESA) national finals this year where he won a bronze medal for third place, a third place in his show jumping classes, and third place in Prix Caprilli (dressage with jumps).
All the hard work, patience and belief by his owner that he could do it have certainly paid off. His circle of horse friends has also become bigger and he now spends many hours happily grazing and playing within the herd. Best of all, he is now a pleasure to work with and hasn’t bitten or kicked anyone in ages – we sometimes forget he was a ‘problem pony’. This little horse now has a big, bright future ahead!
How Whisper came to be
Mike Kerr, founder of Animal Outreaches in Port Elizabeth, who now owns two of the mares, recalls, “At the end of 2008 we were called to rescue five abandoned horses that had been used as brood mares; it was quite a difficult rescue as the property was large and the horses were very spooked. The SAPS mounted unit assisted, and the patience and kindness from the officer who boxed the horses was incredible.
“All five were taken to our shelter for basic health treatment like deworming, and then the hard work began. I was determined to bring two home, so a cottage on my property was converted into stables and fencing installed. Two weeks later, Romy and Twinkle – as we named them – arrived home. Now, unbeknown to us, Romy was in the early stages of pregnancy… On 29th September 2009, at exactly 5:25am, Whisper was born.”