Confessions Of A Horse Whisperer
Stuck in the rat race and trying to get ahead in this dog-eat-dog world? Leave the stressful animal idioms behind and get thee to a horse, advises Andrew Froggatt.
We meet horse trainer Andrew Froggatt on a beautiful Saturday that’s all blue skies and light breezes. It’s the perfect weather for a morning at the Singapore Turf Club Riding Centre, where the New Zealander known in his field as a masterful horse whisperer is demonstrating his skills to an attentive audience that includes His Excellency Dr Jonathan Austin, New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Singapore.
For the last 20 years, Andrew has travelled the world to work with over 6,000 horses, including race horses, show horses, and ‘problem’ horses. Today, he is working with a beautiful black horse for the first time, narrating to the crowd how he is calibrating his interactions with the animal to make her feel comfortable. “Did you notice that she looked a bit worried when we first started?” he asks me later. Horses, he says in his understated way, are just like people. “Sometimes when you start working with a horse, it’s a bit worried and wired. As you spend more time with it, it starts to soften and its face looks kinder. It’s a bit like approaching an insecure person. You have to get their trust by being aware of the way you carry yourself, so that they feel they can relax around you.”
How did you become a horse whisperer?
I grew up in the suburbs, and my grandfather had a nearby farm with horses. I used to spend all my time there, sometimes walking 6km to the farm by myself to visit the horses. I’ve always had a quiet way about me and I’m really patient, and horses would just do things for me.
When I was about 10 years old, I saw some people working with horses, and I sort of hated the way they did it: they were very dominating and quite cruel to them. The traditional method tends to be little bit harder, it’s like ‘you do this or I’ll hurt you’, as opposed to building the relationship, getting their respect, so that the horses want to do things for you.
It wasn't until I went to Australia and did a horse business management course over there that I saw a kinder approach to doing things. I spent a few years learning that, then came back to New Zealand. Now I work with a lot of ‘problem’ horses and also have gotten more into using horses to help humans.
How can horses help humans?
The whole idea is teaching people personal development and life skills through working with horses. Last year, we worked with some teenage girls who were having daily contact with the police, always in trouble and going through a pretty rough time. We got them to come out and work with horses, and it was quite interesting. The girls were sort of grown up before their years, but when they were with the horses, they were like kids again. The experience taught them some boundaries, and helped to build their confidence, awareness and self-esteem. It’s quite powerful stuff. Many of the troubled youths we work with have never had a proper relationship before, and they learn how to develop a good relationship with the horses and relate those skills back to how they interact with people.
You also work with many corporate leaders and sports coaches. What is it about horses that helps these people?
A lot of these sessions are about leadership, communication, and relationships. Many people are looking to get out of the classroom to learn more about these things, and part of our whole concept is to get them out of their comfort zone. Learning how to get a 700kg horse under control can be pretty satisfying and empowering. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re a prime minister or not, a horse doesn’t treat you any differently. You can’t fake your rapport. Horses are super sensitive animals, so that makes them good teaching tools. They become a sort of emotional mirror for the person interacting with them.
Is there a dream you have in terms of working with horses that you are working towards?
As a boy, I remember watching this horse Kiwi on TV. It was bought by a farmer for NZ$1,000 and trained on a farm where he helped to round up the sheep. The night before the Melbourne Cup in 1983, the TV news showed all the other horses tucked away in the stables for the night, but Kiwi was just grazing with the sheep in a paddock. I loved how happy that horse was. The next day, Kiwi was last all the way during the race, just plodding along, before he looped the whole field and won the Cup. All of a sudden, Kiwi was just flying — it just sent shivers down your spine, it was pretty amazing. Watching that really inspired me. I’m always looking for that one horse that's really, really fast, but a bit of a problem, a horse that people have kind of given up on.