Someone recently asked me if I knew any horse whisperer secrets, or had any tidbits I could pass along. This was my response. Let me know if you agree, disagree, have other thoughts on the subject.
In my opinion, there isn't really any "whispering" going on. It is just a term applied to trainers who are able to get a previously wild or "rank" horse to allow a person to tame it and train it, when before this trainer worked with it, it would fight anything that came near it. The term "whisperer" was tagged onto training because the observers couldn't really see the communication between the trainer and the horse, and his methods were more of a secret--the horse just seemed to magically come around and respond, as if the trainer had whispered a secret to him.
There is some credibility to knowing a horse's mind. Bill and Tom Dorrance had a way with horses, Ray Hunt learned from them, and these skills have been passed on to a lot of people who wanted to watch and learn. However, I don't approve of the high-dollar awesome exhibitions you see on TV. Their form of horsemanship is a more watered-down "let's show off and wow the crowd" sort of thing fashioned to bring in a lot of money. True horse training was never about the money or following a certain trainer--it was putting the horse first, knowing what he was feeling and thinking, and working to get the correct response using the horse's own nature and instincts as aids.
If you ask me about these "horse whisperer" trainers today, here's my opinion:
Clinton Anderson is successful because of his accent and his ability to appear "in charge" of a horse. He is often rude to his horses, goes to extremes in his "desensitizing" tactics with the whips, pistols, leaf blowers, and chainsaws, and I just plain don't like him.
Dennis Reis is also in it for the money. His TV appearances are geared to promote his video series and "No Dust" tour...what in the world does "No Dust" have to do with training? My teenage sister is a better trainer than he is! I don't mind watching his show with the "mute" button on, but I cannot endure listening to him...he talks like a biology professor and never finishes his sentences.
Pat and Linda Parelli are the biggest fakes of all. The seven games are entertaining, but you never see them teach people how to ride and train their horse under saddle. They put on a great show, but there is little instruction involved, and they give their students a false sense of being trainers...just because I have a bond with my horse does not mean I can ride and train an unbroke horse. It's like a TV evangelist "watch and be in awe and send us more money!"
And finally, Craig Cameron. Some of his "ride smart" tips are great. But the Extreme Cowboy Race? If you want to be grossed out by the spectacle of a greenhorn dressed as a cowboy, kicking the sides in on his poor little confused horse because he's trying to get him through a water obstacle in record time, watch this show! The obstacles are interesting, and the idea of a cowboy race would be fun. But the way these riders treat their horses to win is just plain ugly. There is no training or learning involved. For instance, the horn sounds, and they spur away, lunging through obstacles one after another. Horses that aren't used to water aren't carefully and calmly allowed to look, think, take a step, learn it won't hurt them, and proceed. They are just scared and spurred and made to jump into it. It's like watching toddlers being forced through a haunted house, they're crying and afraid, and the parents just keep pushing them through the halls towards more spooky unknowns! Come on, Craig. We like the cowboy race, but let's make it based on horsemanship and giving the horse a chance to think and respond correctly. Some things just shouldn't be raced through. If the horses had prior training on this course, and learned it at a slower speed, and THEN performed the race for the show, that would be a little better.
Anyway, sorry to be so vehement, but those are my opinions. I think if you want to learn horse training, find an older seasoned trainer in your area who really knows horses. Follow him around, watch him start colts. See how he asks, waits for the horse, watches the horse respond, rewards the horse, and then proceeds to ask for another action. There are secrets to be learned, but I think they should be free (not bought on some $200 video set!) and I think they aren't found in the limelight of television.
The trainer I learned from is Kevin Wescott. He knew Tom Dorrance personally and he learned a whole new way of riding and listening to the horse. I have taken many problem horses to him for help (he lives in central Nebraska, but travels frequently to the east coast and Colorado for horse training and clinics). He isn't famous, but with the wealth of knowledge he has, he should be. See if you can find someone in your area that really knows horses, and learn from them. Good luck!