Management drags in the wild horses

In this impressionable age, merely to watch a film is not enough – we yearn to imitate what we have seen on the screen. Show us a dinosaur scaring the wits out of darling Dickie Attenborough and we long to go out and hatch a brontosaurus for ourselves. Show us Titanic, and we itch to pull the plug on a luxury cruise liner. Show us Robert Redford and there aren’t enough horse’s ears to meet the demand.

Horse whispering is the rage. Scarcely a nag in the land dare put hoof in a field without some crazed individual rushing up and murmuring something of no great importance in its auricle.

According to Natalie Clarke of the Daily Mail: “Horse whispering – the centuries-old art of controlling wild horses – is very much in vogue, thanks to Robert Redford’s new 45m dollar film…courses in horse whispering have become popular among ambitious executives seeking to improve their leadership skills. So impressed is the Civil

Service with the idea that it is, apparently, planning to send senior Whitehall staff to learn the technique.”

Since permanent secretaries do not come cheap, it might be a better idea to experiment with a few employees lower down the order. I for one would be happy were any number of the staff at TV Licensing sent along to break a few wild stallions armed with nothing more than gentle charm and an engaging manner.

In essence, explains Natalie Clarke, horse whispering is about earning the trust of a horse by communicating with it in its own language. Not, of course, by whinnying, or snorting, but by imitating a horse’s body language. For instance, adopting a bold, aggressive pose with arms held out to the side, frightens the horse. If at the same time you train your eyes directly on the horse’s eyes, you will send out the signal, “I’m the boss”. In effect, you are mimicking the action of the dominant mare freezing out one of the herd. (Or so the Mail says. I know little of horses, but I am pretty sure a mare, however dominant, is incapable of holding out her limbs to either side without falling over.)

Kelly Marks, a retired jockey, teaches horse whispering at her stud farm in Oxfordshire. The five-day course costs 499, cheap for the invaluable skills it imparts. “The horse whispering concept translates well into management situations,” she says, revealing that her courses are a two-way process: she teaches equine ear-bashing and learns MBA-speak in part-exchange.

“If the boss applies this technique to his staff,” she continues, “he will get a more encouraging response from them.”

I can only speak for myself and it’s a long time since I worked in an office, but nothing in my experience suggests that a boss who sticks his arms out to the side and stares wildly into your eyes in a fashion reminiscent of a dominant mare will be rewarded by an encouraging response. True, I did once work for a news editor who behaved a bit like that, but we put it down to the drink.

“Finally,” says Kelly, “stepping into a pen with an unbroken, potentially dangerous horse takes considerable courage, and is a terrific confidence booster.”

Has she never heard of bird feeding? Walking up to a snorting stallion that is mentally measuring your crotch against the size of his offside rear hoof, and murmuring hello in his ear is a piece of cake compared to stepping out into your garden and scattering seed.

The latest issue of The Veterinary Record, a journal unknown for sensationalism, alleges that putting food out for the birds creates “hot spots” of disease that kill wildlife and endanger human lives. Bird tables, it says, harbour heavy contaminations of deadly bacteria, including strains of E coli and salmonella.

Worse still, the small amount of feeding space available to each bird leads to aggressive behaviour and male dominance, increasing the birds’ stress levels and their susceptibility to disease. “These infectious diseases may then infect other species of wild birds in the vicinity and may also pose a threat to human health.”

Who would have thought that such mayhem and menace could lie in the simple, well-intentioned act of feeding one’s feathered friends?

There could be a film here. A beautiful magazine editor living in New York contracts E coli and salmonella and discovers that her bird table is a scene of unspeakable avian carnage. She hears of a wickedly handsome man who, amid the breathtaking scenery and beneath the blue skies of Montana, practises the centuries-old art of brontosaurus breathing.

She rushes to his side and, as they share the mysterious pleasure of seeing these giant, wild, scaly, halitosis-ridden and, frankly, bad-tempered, creatures succumb to the crinkly weather-beaten charm of the Sundance Kid, her health is restored and, back in New York, the birds miraculously rise from their little graves and chirrup.

Meanwhile, somewhere out in the North Atlantic, a luxury liner on its maiden voyage hits an iceberg and slowly sinks beneath the waves. Captain Dickie Attenborough, solitary and magnificent, stands to attention on the bridge. As the credits roll, all that is left is his braided cap bobbing about on the foam.

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