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Animal Talk, January 2001: ‘Equine Ministry’

SOMETIMES horses have moods, just like children; others are suspicious and have a sad expression in the eyes… almost like ill-treated children. It is not everybody who is capable of fixing these broken souls, as Malan du Toit of Joostenbergvlakte, Western Cape, will testify.

This minister of the NG Church Maitland works part-time with horses with problems; lends an ear to those who cannot say in words what bothers them. “I work with horses that were traumatized in gang rituals, up to racing horses battling in starting pens,” says Malan. But this is not where his talent ends … those with moods are taught (without whips, ropes and brooms) to realise who actually is the boss.

Through repetition, endless patience and more repetition old, negative thoughts are substituted by positive ones. A little praise here and there leaves a problem horse as meek as a lamb.

Malan’s talent was discovered about ten years ago when his wife, Finnie (once a SA Saddle-Horse Champion), was pregnant. She made him get on her horse and taught him how to ride. Once the bug bit, he got his own horse, Zarp. “This fellow was not easy. He was aggressive, but his eyes had an apologetic look in them,” Malan said.

Like a difficult child, but why? Is it naughtiness, maybe fear, or simply just a case of looking for attention?

With these questions in his mind Malan stayed awake at night reading books and watching videos. John Lyons and Monty Roberts, international experts who had written books about how to handle horses, opened up a whole new world to him. “As soon as I knew how to get into Zarp’s head and how to manipulate him, he reacted positively for the first time. He started having confidence and acknowledging me as his superior,” he said.

According to Malan horses are a bit like children. Those traumatised must be handled carefully and with love. However, be careful not to hug them too soon. Imagine an ill-treated child being hugged by a foster parent, when it is exactly what he or she fears most after being abused by his or her parent.  A relationship of trust has to be established, and those who do not obey will be taken in a firm grip.

Horses with problems are being categorised in grades, almost like children at school. A horse that does not want to go into a trailer is in Grade 1. If it progresses up to the back door of the trailer, it is in Grade 3. If it retreats, it will be back in Grade 2.

In the beginning Malan had to make a paradigm shift. “Reality was my motto, but as a psychologist to horses I often had to trust my gut feeling.  I do everything with horses, from their first acquaintance with training to all types of behaviour problems. Horses are being taught to behave against their nature. Therefore it is important that the right thing is done right from the beginning. Sometimes I go back and think for a few days before I reach an answer.”

He also lends a helping hand with horses that are afraid to enter the starting gates at Durbanville and Kenilworth racecourses. His first case was Big Appetite, who was suspended several times for running amok at the starting-pens.

Malan begins his treatment at the paddock, where he does a join up, and teaches the horse who is in control. “One of my worse cases was a SPCA pony that was like a wild horse. She started co-operating at last after months of treatment,” Malan said.

-Author:  Lolanda Olivier


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