Victoria Smith - Lancashire's horse whisperer
PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 May 2018
Victoria Smith always loved horses but her high pressure job meant she had little time to ride - until she met a deer in the Forest of Bowland
Today, Victoria Smith’s reputation as a horse whisperer has led to her working all over the world. She’s featured on the BBC programme Countryfile and has recently been asked to be a celebrity contestant on the television show Big Brother’:
That was an offer that she could – and did – refuse. ‘Horse whispering and Big Brother are probably two worlds that should never collide,’ laughs the 43-year-old Wiganer, who decided to become a horse whisperer when she had a chance encounter with a wild deer in the Forest of Bowland.
‘At the time, I had a financial career in London and had just been diagnosed with lymphoma. I suddenly wondered what on earth I was doing with my life. I loved horses, I had been a show-jumper, I had an affinity with them and yet my busy career meant that I had very little time to spend with them.
‘ I decided to spend some time back home in Lancashire re-assessing my life and, it was while walking in the Forest of Bowland, experiencing the glorious countryside and having the magical experience of a wild deer come unusually close to me, that I made up my mind – I would come home and be a horse whisperer.’
Of course, one just doesn’t decide to become a horse whisperer. It isn’t the sort of thing that the careers teacher is going to suggest but, before going to London, Victoria had built up years of experience working with horses and developing her instinctive ability to allow them to trust her.
‘I have been riding since I was two and had always been around them,’ says Victoria, who operates from her home town of Wigan. ‘I was a lonely child and they were my friends. As a teenager, I would offer to muck out neighbours’ stables in order for the chance to ride.’
It was around this time, that people began to notice she had an ability with troublesome horses – horses that refused to enter a horse box or refused to be broken.
‘Quite often, I would be sent for when more experienced riders would be reluctant to help. I have to say that if I was a cat, I would have used up all my nine lives – after all, horses are powerful, wild animals and they have to be treated with respect,’ explains Victoria, who as well as undergoing training in America and Holland, once even spent time sleeping in a stable with one particular horse until she had gained his trust.
For Victoria, now recovered from her illness, gaining trust is paramount as it is only then that any issues can be worked on. Often, she does this using a technique she calls ‘Join Up’.
‘This is a method of communication that echoes how horses behave in the wild – if you like, this is the horse whispering bit. Horses are herd animals, so in Join Up, I become the dominant alpha female.
‘I send the horse away by throwing the reigns at his bottom but at the same time, I catch his eye and watch his ears for signals that he has accepted me as the dominant one.
‘When I think the horse is ready, I walk away and stand quietly, with my back to it, just waiting for it to walk up to me of its own accord – to ‘join up’ with me.
‘ It looks dramatic and it can make on-lookers nervous but when the horse comes to me, it means that it has accepted me as a dominant force and we can begin work on any behavioural problems, as well as the occasional massage.
‘Touch wood, it has worked every single time and one session is all that is needed.
‘That said, once I have a client, they are a client for life and if any other problems come up they can call me at any time. In fact, as many clients are in different time zones, phone calls at any time are something I’ve come to expect.’
Recent clients have included 15-year-old Madeleine Ashforth and her horse, Charlie, a horse who wasn’t too happy about being mounted.
Victoria soon sorted that out, just as she persuaded a horse in France that unexpectedly rearing up wasn’t a good idea. She also calmed down a horse whose behaviour was so aggressive, he had put people in hospital.
‘In that case, the owners were frightened to let it out, so when I led him into the field, he had a huge sensory shock.
‘In fact, at one point, it was all too much for him and he galloped towards me with his teeth bare and his ears flat back.
‘That was when my tenth life came to my rescue! With hardly any pause for thought, I whipped off my coat and waved at him. My heart was pounding but another horse which was in the field ran over and blocked him and miraculously, the aggressive horse calmed down, changed direction and enjoyed a good old gallop and graze.
‘It was hugely moving to see him enjoy himself for the first time in his life and he hasn’t displayed any aggression since.’
Victoria is in demand not only for her own whispering services but also for the courses that she offers to anyone who feels that they would like to learn more about her methods.
‘Yes, I train people as well as horses,’ says Victoria, whose ambition it is to whisper to sharks – in which case, maybe she should re-consider appearing on Big Brother!