Queenstown horse whisperer leads the way
When Andrew Froggatt was 10 years old, he spent as much time as possible at his grandparents' farm on the outskirts of Wellington. If his mother refused to take
His grandfather kept racehorses and Andrew would spend hours brushing, feeding and talking to the animals; he had a natural affinity with them. His first pony was a little 13.2-hands-high skewbald called Bobby. He taught himself to ride – no saddle or bridle – clumsily bounding over the farm bareback and following his natural instincts when it came to training. But whenever he asked his grandfather for things to help Bobby – to put him in the paddock where
Such is the depth of emotion tied up with Bobby that even now it takes some time for Andrew to mention him. But it's a critical part of the story. And it's hard to watch him tell it, as he speaks of coming home from school one day to be told that Bobby had had an 'accident' and fallen down a gully. Even as a child, Andrew suspected that his beloved horse had probably been shot.
It seems Bobby has never been far from Andrew's mind over the years and was the catalyst for his life-long mission to find a kinder way to treat horses. As that small
Over a lifetime of following those
Andrew became renowned as a 'horse whisperer', a man who could fix any problem horse, from racehorses that wouldn't stand in the gates to show-jumpers that reared and bolted or wouldn't float. In his
It developed further one day while he was working with a client and the girl's father came out to the arena to watch. "He said to me, 'Everything you're doing with that horse, I'm trying to teach corporate businessmen'." From there a business was born and in 2001 Andrew started Talking Horses near Wellington with Janine Sudbury, taking desk-bound corporates and showing them how to communicate more effectively by copying equine behaviour. After his relationship with Janine ended he relocated to Queenstown about two years ago and launched Lead the Way with current partner Sam Glazebrook.
Watching Andrew work, it is easy to see where the 'horse whisperer' tag comes from. It is simultaneously magical and confronting when he allows Bow, his 10-year-old demonstration horse, loose in the arena. Bow tears around like an oversized puppy, twisting and turning on his heels before careering straight towards Andrew, stopping millimetres from his face. Horses are mirrors of our emotions, Andrew says. If you're a high-energy person, the horse takes on that energy. If you're calm and considered, the horse will respond in kind. You can't dupe a horse – their instincts are refined over years of herd survival – and they know you better than you do.
In Andrew's courses, a CEO who is perceived to be a bit of a pushover will be paired with a stubborn horse with which he will need to be more assertive to make it listen. Or a bolshie businessman will be paired with a pushy horse, one he can't walk all over, and will have to lower his energy levels to make the horse respond. Businessmen used to
The same lessons apply to anyone, and the course has been lauded by some of our country's top sportsmen and coaches. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and Black Caps coach Mike Hesson are among former participants who sing its praises, as well as top-tier management from some of New Zealand's biggest corporate companies including KiwiRail and New Zealand Post and the New Zealand Army.
Part of the Lead the Way course involves videoing participants; most are surprised at how they think they communicate compared to how they actually appear. There was the corporate manager who was highly motivated and determined but never once thought to praise, a reflection of his management style. In the horse world, without praise the animal eventually stops responding.
Another company sent a manager who had been with them for 17 years and reported that after the course he was effectively managing for the very first time. Andrew's strengths lie not only in solving the horses' issues but being able to communicate that in a way that people can understand and learn from. "It cuts through a lot of bullshit and quickly creates self-awareness and how participants view themselves," he says.
Today the business is run from a property on the outskirts of Queenstown. Sam, a talented horsewoman, met Andrew at one of his clinics where she had enrolled in a last-ditch effort to solve the problem of a mare that wouldn't stop
The business has also worked with troubled kids through the Queenstown-based Jigsaw organization, connecting with young people who have experienced domestic-violence situations. The horses help them learn to communicate without anger or violence, and to gain trust through touch, before they learn to trust humans again. A similar programme for autistic children has been equally successful. One 16-year-old autistic boy who had never spoken talked for the first time after a single half-hour session. "All he did was pat the horse and lead it round," Andrew says. The theory has been used in America for years, with some prisons running horse-breaking courses for inmates, teaching them communication and respect through the same methods.
"It's not about the horses," Sam says. "It's about what horses are showing us about ourselves and how we relate to other people. It's about increasing people's self-awareness and how they come across."
What is a horse whisperer?
The term 'horse whisperer' is used to describe people who train horses using natural methods, paying attention to the horses' instinctive herd behaviour and the premise that horses use body language to communicate and survive. The 1998 movie The Horse Whisperer, starring Robert Redford and based on the novel by Nicholas Evans, helped propel the term into mainstream media and natural horsemanship has gained traction in recent years as an alternative to traditional breaking methods.
Andrew's training system has been refined from a mixture of these methods as well as his own instincts and he boasts a 100 percent strike rate. "We all have an agenda. It's about giving the horse time to get used to things," he says. "I'm very, very confident that I can get a result – it doesn't matter if it takes 30 minutes or four hours."
- NZ Life & Leisure