Book Review: ‘Horses In Translation’

By Sharon Wilsie.

It’s probably pretty safe to assume that most of us want to constantly be improving our relationship with our horses, clarifying our communications so that it feels effortless for both parties. I’d certainly count myself among that number. The trouble is, most of us are only speaking in “human,” no matter how much we think we’re speaking in “horse.”

This concept blew my mind a little as Wilsie introduced it in Horses In Translation — even though it’s so obvious when we pause and think about it. Sure, those of us in the natural horsemanship school might be practicing a few basic concepts of the language of horse, but horses communicate to each other in far more nuanced ways than is immediately obvious to the observer. Wilsie has dedicated a large part of her life towards observing this language that she calls Horse Speak, helping humans learn those subtleties to improve their relationship and communication with their horse, no matter what kind of riding or training we are doing.

Initially, this might sound like a bit of woo-woo to some readers, especially those who have felt that everything up until now has already been going pretty well. Maybe you’ve found whatever individual brand of horsemanship works well for you and your horses; maybe the concept of “speaking horse” just sounds a little too magical. In the introductory material, I too was a bit skeptical, not to mention a bit overwhelmed by the amount of ground-shifting information Wilsie was putting on the page. Even with her clear, descriptive writing style, I felt rapidly as though I was in over my head.

But the second part of the book is illustrative, narrative, real stories — and Wilsie is a gifted storyteller. The parts that had me blinking and shaking my head in confusion initially were better illustrated by the real stories she told, the way she started to observe Horse Speak between horses and start to “speak” her first “words” to troubled horses. Her chapter about the mustang Timmy and his human Dave in particular was enchanting.

I had to go back and re-read the “How to Use This Book” section to remind myself that this particular work is not intended to serve as a step-by-step how-to guide, but a demonstration of how Horse Speak works. I do think perhaps if I had read Wilsie’s first book Horse Speak: The Equine-Human Translation Guide, with its promised illustrative photographs, I may not have felt so initially lost. But once I got to the storytelling section, I was enthralled, and kept coming back for more. I actually brought this book to the barn with me to read while my very slow-eating horse was working on his breakfast.

Learning a new language, especially at the “ripe old” age of your late twenties, is a challenge, and while there are still concepts of Horse Speak that have me totally befuddled to wrap my mind around just as though I were attempting to re-learn Japanese, Wilsie reminds us:

The Gap is the chasm that eats up a person’s confidence, leaving the horse misunderstood and stranded on the other side. The Gap is that odd feeling lurking in the back of an honest person’s mind — the admission that you are not entirely certain what a particular horse is thinking […] If nothing else, learning even a few ‘words’ in Horse Speak may serve to bridge The Gap, wherever and whenever it shows up.

If every step taken counts, then Horses In Translation deserves a place on every equestrian’s shelf who seeks to keep an open mind and constantly learn.

Horses In Translation is available via Horse & Rider Books.

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