Spoken in Whispers: The Autobiography of a Horse Whisperer

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9781851589425: Spoken in Whispers: The Autobiography of a Horse Whisperer
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Spoken in Whispers is the autobiography of a remarkable woman. Nicci Mackay is a horse whisperer, one of only a few people in the world who can translate what horses say. Nicci, who has had the extraordinary gift of being able to communicate with animals since childhood, tells her story with honesty and humour. She writes about a life dedicated to animals - from her years spent as groom and jockey in a racing yard, when she operated in secret, to more recent times when, after her amazing ability was discovered by the media, she began travelling extensively, translating and interpreting on behalf of animals for their owners.

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About the Author:

Nicci Mackay was born in 1964 and started riding as soon as she could walk. Having worked her way up from groom, to jockey, to head girl in a racing yard, she now has her own livery and training yard. She lives in the Cotswolds with her husband, Robert, four horses, five dogs, a goat, and a cat.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

To Tell or Not to Tell?

'Bear down, Nicci! Bear down! Now push, squeeeeeze with your thighs! Remember, bars of steel! Push now, bear down. How does it feel? Breathe...breathe, remember to breeeeeathe. Have you got him yet? Look! Look what he's doing.'

I didn't need to look, concentrating on gasping great lungfuls of air in as dignified a manner as possible; considering how he was feeling, he was doing fantastically well. At that stage, I was selfishly more worried about my lasting the course; yet another trickle of sweat was running down the centre of my back and collecting in a pool under my seat. The book on Emma's innovative riding technique had been difficult to follow, but nowhere near as difficult as her riding course was turning out to be.

Poise and tone, two of the most painful words associated with riding. Tone, they say, is required in order to ride with poise, hence the need for stomach muscles that would not flinch under the impact of a sledgehammer, and thighs that could squeeze the breath out of a rhino. All in order that one might float across the ground, totally in harmony with the horse, instead of being the more accustomed sack of potatoes tied to the saddle.

I had not really wanted to bring Arnie on the course with me. There had been an option to borrow a horse but, unfortunately, there had been a huge demand for places, and too few owners brave enough to lend their horses to unknown participants. I had therefore no real choice; forfeit the course -- or go, in the hope that it wouldn't prove too much for Arnie.

I was there to learn to ride 'properly'. During my years in racing, I had been renowned for my 'stickability' and lack of fear. Since leaving the racing world, however, I had encountered successful and professional 'horsey' people from other disciplines; people who began to impress upon me the need to take control of my wayward mount, to ride with precision and in a polished style.

The general consensus of opinion was that Arnie had talent, balance and ability in abundance, and if only 'that girl' would get a grip of him, then he would definitely go a long way. My balance was considered good, and I had earned a reputation for being a natural with young or difficult horses, but, in the eyes of these others, I couldn't actually 'ride'.

Eventually, and unusually for me, I had become conscious of the opinions of this new equestrian fraternity, and I had believed them. Now, among skilled instructors with years of disciplined riding technique at their disposal, I hoped to master this new controlled approach.

However, I was struggling to come to terms with the whole philosophy of this, and so was Arnie. During his previous career as a point-to-pointer, he had been handicapped by a lung problem, in spite of an operation intended to help. He had also sustained various injuries, some of which he had never fully recovered from. As a result, I had never asked anything of him. My focus, when riding, had always been to take a back seat -- to go with what I was given. If he marched along with a long springy stride, then that was marvellous. If he was having a stiff day, with his back and his joints aching, then we would stroll along gently, with me mirroring his lopsidedness. If we were jumping at breakneck racing speed, then I would just sit still and attempt to bring him back to me and steer for the next fence. I had never taken the driver's seat before in this way.

'Nicci! How are your tendons?' I was awoken from my daydream by a great booming, operatic voice. The woman must have had eyes in the back of her head, for I was not the only person in the arena at that moment; there were others, each of us undergoing our own personal masochistic session.

'Do they feel like knicker elastic yet? Bear down remember! Head up...and smile!'

I gasped. Smile?...smile! It was as much as I could do not to cry out in agony. I looked across and threw her a smile and a grunt as best as I could manage whilst gritting my teeth.

I most certainly was using muscles that had lain dormant for far too long, but at what cost? Would I ever be able to walk again when they winched me off? I could already feel my legs taking on the consistency of rubber and they had no body weight on them yet. Instead of the picture of grace and elegance that I was aiming for, I would have gone unnoticed lying in a field of beetroots.

And at what cost to Arnie? I knew the pressure he was under. I knew how he was feeling, both physically and emotionally. I struggled to pay attention to Emma, to hang on in there, battling with my guilt as it became increasingly difficult to come to terms with my dilemma: Arnie, despite his valiant efforts to cope with this new style, was being punished by pain as his muscles struggled to respond to the demands I was putting on him. Punished in spite of his courage, in spite of his attempts to give of his best.

'That's better, Nicci. Tone, remember, tone -- back straight, seat bones down. Concentrate now, come on.' Emma was slight of stature, yet with a definite presence, as she boomed commands to all from the centre of the indoor arena. Clad in smart, khaki, cavalry twill jodhpurs and a head scarf, she conveyed and received respect.

My dilemma increased. We could not continue like this. I had to get Arnie out of here and back to the stable block. But how could I excuse myself? What reasonable explanation could I give for leaving in the middle of a lesson? It would seem so rude. To the external eye, Arnie looked magnificent; handsome, calm and poised -- there were no outward signs of his suffering. What on earth should I do?

'Come on, Nicci! Pay attention, tits to his ears remember, tits to his ears!' In spite of everything, I had to laugh. Emma had the strangest expressions to explain what she wanted, but they certainly stuck in the mind! Tits to his ears. My old riding instructor in Germany would have had heart failure.

Without warning, Arnie suddenly spun around and took off across the arena, standing vertically on his hind legs, sending everybody scattering for cover. It was not the danger, more the speed and suddenness of his response that caught those on the ground unawares. The other horses being schooled took Arnie's actions as a cue for general 'freedom of expression time' and promptly started squealing, bucking and galloping around. The others were quickly brought under control but Arnie, who had now reached the limits of his endurance, stood straight up on his hind legs again, pawing at the air.

I was conscious of a sea of open mouths, somewhere far below my lofty vantage point. This was not the kind of behaviour one expected in the hallowed grounds of a dressage arena. 'Enough now, Arnie. You're out of order,' I spoke quietly but firmly to him as he reared again. I knew that what he was doing was not out of malice so I resorted to my usual method of sitting still and going with the flow. At that point all four feet returned to earth. 'Thank you,' I whispered.

'Oh well sat!' said Emma. There was a pause as our gaze met; the usual custom now was for 'loons' -- as Arnie had now been branded -- to be schooled by Emma herself, or for her to offer tuition on how to deal with such a horse.

I looked her straight in the eye; there was no way that I was going to put him through any more. 'I'm going to put him away now, he's had enough for today, he feels too pressured, and his back is killing him.'

She looked surprised, and I was conscious of the silence and curious glances from the other riders and onlookers.

'Yes, yes, Nicci, you do just that,' came the reply. In normal circumstances one would have been expected to take control, to ride the horse through the problem and come out the other side triumphant. What I had said had registered, but made no sense. Emma then carried on with the others who had now all returned to their tasks.

Back at the stable block, which was empty apart from two other horses, I tended to my distressed horse. Trying to keep a handle on my emotions, I washed him down and put rugs on his trembling, breathless body, shivering in spite of the heat of the summer's day. I talked to him softly and told him not to worry. I was not at all ashamed of his behaviour, but I was ashamed of my own. All those times in the past, when we had muddled through in our usual slapdash way, we had been together; he led and I followed, somehow knowing that he was doing his absolute best. But now I had taken over, using physical and mental force. And I had hurt him. Really hurt him.

As I allowed this realisation full throttle, I besieged him with a tidal wave of sobbing guilt, almost enough to wash him down all over again. What on earth had I been thinking of? Just because I had been humiliated by others into a submissive reappraisal of my riding, I had allowed myself to believe that I was letting Arnie down by not working him 'properly', allowed myself to believe that others knew my horse better than I did.

Guilt. I had been motivated to come on this course by guilt and, right now, I felt it -- through every nerve-ending in my body. I was overwhelmed by huge waves of guilt, enveloped in it as if by a blanketing, moisture-laden, November fog.

I wept. Boy, did I weep -- for him and for me. His back was so sore. I could feel great tearing pains racking through his shivering muscles. I could also see the beginnings of soft-tissue swellings rising under his silky coat; huge, hot and tender blisters. And all for what? Not for him, that was for sure.

I massaged him and fed him homoeopathic remedies, shovelling them into his mouth. Perhaps they would take this nightmare away. I was so consumed by my own self-punishment that I barely heard my name being called.

'Nicci?' Jackie, my room-mate, was standing behind me. 'Are you all right?'

My reddened eyes had obviously betrayed me. 'Yes, I'm fine thank you. I just feel so bad about Arnie.'

Jackie put her grey gelding away in his stable next door to Arnie. 'Your boy seemed a bit pressured before the end there. Is he going to be okay?' she enquired with genuine concern.

Just hearing those few words made me feel so much better. At least here was one person who was not going to brand my horse a 'head case' and me a wimp for not sorting him out.

Yes, he's okay. I knew I was asking a lot of him.' My head spun. Dare I tell her? Dare I explain what had really happened?

I decided to say nothing. Robert, my husband, had warned me, as he'd dropped me off here, that I shouldn't expect to find people who would calmly accept that I communicated telepathically with horses. After all, he hadn't initially. He was probably right. How on earth could I ever explain to anybody what was going on; what I was capable of -- what horses were capable of -- without them all thinking me mad?

As we all left the yard at the end of the day, I stopped off in the village for some supplies on the way to the bed and breakfast lodgings. Such had been my hurry to come away on the course that I had arrived without any shampoo or deodorant, both of which I needed in abundance if I was to salvage something from my features in time to meet the others later for a drink in the local pub.

Fortunately, the little b&b where several of us were staying was only round the corner and I was first in. That meant -- hot water! I ran myself a bath in the tiny bathroom, more of a 'sit-up-and-beg' type of bath, but one of the advantages of not being very tall is that these things don't matter. With the combination of a cup of tea, cigarette, steaming hot water and Radox, I was beginning to feel that I might be able to walk again after all. Gradually, as I was enveloped in the warmth of the relaxing water, I felt myself becoming dazed, my mind a whirl of mixed emotions and fears. I managed to still myself into a sort of dreamy half-world between asleep and awake.

There was a sharp tap at the door and I disappeared under for a fraction of a second, coughing great mouthfuls of bathwater as I emerged.

'Nicci! Nicci! are you ready yet? We're all gagging for a drink now, and you've been ages!' yelled Jackie.

I looked at my watch; somehow I had lost an hour! Had they moved the clocks without telling me? Wide awake, I was dressed in a flash and followed behind them all to 'The Old Bull and Cow'.

Five of us had arranged to meet, to talk over the events of the day, and have something to eat. There were David and Marion who had travelled from the north of England to attend this course for the third time -- real gluttons for punishment. The techniques I had found impossible to achieve at home with Emma's book, both Marion and David achieved with consummate ease. What was worse, they could both accomplish these near-contortions and still manage that elusive 'smiling' thing.

David was a keen intermediate dressage rider, tall and elegant; his horse a beautiful bay Hanoverian gelding called Flash who had a jet black mane and tail and seemed devoted to David. David was keen for the chiropractor who attended these courses to look at Flash's neck. Everybody knew that there was a problem somewhere around the neck area, but to date nobody had been able to find anything and it was stopping Flash in his work. Whilst David's vet couldn't find anything obviously wrong, he had no objections to Flash's being seen by a specialist as such.

Marion, David's wife, was prominent in the local hunt. Riding for her was very much a release from the pressures and strains of the environment in which she worked, and hunting was her pleasure, although her ambition was to perform a perfect dressage test. As with so many who ride to hounds, it was not the kill but the gallop across the moors in the company of others, feeling part of a team, that she so loved. She was a 'team' sort of person and enjoyed the camaraderie that belonging to the hunt gave her. Her horse was a chestnut Irish hunter-type gelding, called Flipper, 15 years old, and an ex-eventer.

Jane was a computer executive, whatever that meant. She tried to explain to me what she did at work but I'm afraid I go a bit fuzzy with techno talk. She certainly seemed high-powered and highly stressed accordingly,unable to sit still for any length of time without a glance at a clock or a watch. The time she spent with her horse was her 'quality time'; he was kept some miles outside London and she travelled for hours each day to and fro. Maddon, her Danish Warmblood, gleamed in appearance, almost black, with 'an eye for trouble and mischief', as Jane described him. 'If you're not careful to keep everything secure, he's off.' Maddon evidently had a knack, and passion, for opening stable doors; not just content with his own, he would delight in trying to open as many others as possible before being discovered.

Jackie was the fifth member of our group. This was the second time she had been on one of these courses and although she commented on how hard she found it, she felt her riding had improved considerably. I felt a great empathy towards Jackie; we shared a room because as smokers we felt ourselves to be outcasts compared ...

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9780754034841: Spoken in Whispers: The Autobiography of a Horse Whisperer (Camden)

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ISBN 10:  0754034844 ISBN 13:  9780754034841
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9780739400241: Spoken in Whispers: The Autobiography of a Horse Whisperer

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