“Get down with me,” said legendary horse whisperer Joe Hughes, as I approached him for an interview at the Pony Club Complex in Goulburn.
He was sitting on the ground “talking” to his horse called ‘Sarge.’
“Just let him get used to you for a bit,” Mr Hughes said.
“Sarge’ was indeed looking at me intently, sussing me out.
“You see, it’s all about lowering the body tone and voice when approaching an animal – if you want to start conversing with them,” he said.
“Horses are just like humans. They have the same reasoning, the way they process trauma is the same.
“If you can converse with a human you can train a horse in under three hours.”
Mr Hughes, who runs 4BP Horses, was in Goulburn this week running a series of horse training clinics.
But as he said – the clinics are not just about training horses, they are also about saving and recreating people.
He has run clinics all across Australia, especially for war veterans or those suffering from mental illness and this year he is also going to be working with first responders to traumatic situations such as ambulance and police officers.
“What I do can freak people out a bit,” he said.
It is about healing people, especially those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety, such as war veterans,” he said.
“We train horses but it is really about mental health, making people get back on track.
“For people with PTSD, anxiety and depression - especially with soldiers it is about teaching them to reconnect and converse with someone with empathy because they lose their empathy,” he said.
“They also have a lot of anger - but in dealing with a horse there is nothing dominant in this training program, no force, no overpowering, it teaches them to lower all of their your body tone to relate to the horse - so it is also useful for conflict resolution and anger management.
“It teaches you to tone it all down and stand there and start to converse with a wild animal.”
Mr Hughes is also a sufferer of PTSD, saying it has taken 22 years for him to be able to talk about his experiences as a war veteran.
“I was diagnosed with battle fatigue seven years ago, though it has been 22 years since I left my location of conflict,” he said.
He does not elaborate on this, instead he talks about the success rate that his program has had with other veterans.
“In training a wild animal they start to heal themselves,” he said.
“A study has been completed that shows that soldiers climbing onto a horse for one hour a week over three to six weeks can improve their conditions by 80 per cent.
“We also have two psychologists joining our program soon to quantify these results further.”
It was Goulburn war veteran Bob Turner, who set up the clinics for Goulburn.
“Bob did a clinic with us in Western Australia, where we set a world record of training 51 horses in five days,” he said.
Another aspect of 4BP is that they take wild brumbies out of the Snowy Mountains and re-home them with people, rather than them being slaughtered.
Mr Hughes is nearing the end of a 16,000km tour showcasing the wild brumbies he travels with and trains and trades.
“We take 75 per cent of all the horses that come out of the Snowy Mountains each year,” he said.
“For the 10 years prior to us taking them they all went to slaughter.
“So we are taking these wild horses from out of the Snowy Mountains and we are putting them with people.
“We got involved three years ago and since then every single horse that has come to us has been saved.
“We take these horses to Cobar, where I have a 200,000 acre (80937ha) station, and they get warm and fed properly and rest.
“We take 150 people per year, who come to Cobar and train for five days. They train these brumbies and then take them home to their properties.
“The clinics show people how wonderful a horse is and how to train them in under three hours. So it is about getting people to train with us to help the environment by homing a horse instead of them ending up a tin can.
“It is best practice for wild captured horses - the initial interaction takes away a lot of their anxiety. It is a win:win for the horses and the environment.”
Mr Hughes has been invited to the USA in 2019 to run the same program there.
For more information visit the 4BP Facebook page.