Horse whisperer Dr. Lew Sterrett parallels colt behavior with human relationships to teach life lessons
for Tri-State Livestock News
A full house in the Kjerstad Event Center at the Central States Fairgrounds in Rapid City, S.D., had the opportunity on April 26 to witness what many people there likely had never seen or heard before.
A man turned an untamed, unbroken 3-year-old colt into a willing partner in an hour and a half, all the while giving analogies about the parallels of the colt’s behavior to that of human relationships.
Dr. Lew Sterrett grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania and became involved in 4-H at age eight. He attended Penn State University, majoring in the animal industry field, where he learned from a number of qualified trainers and educators. During his university years, he became aware of his need for a personal relationship with God. He went on to earn a masters degree in divinity and a doctorate in leadership training. His clients today include coaches, administrators, business people, teachers and parents. In addition, Dr. Sterrett is a horse whisperer, a master horse trainer.
He began his presentation at the event center inside a round pen with the colt. Using a sorting flag he moved the colt around the pen in both directions at a gallop. The colt maintained this pace for some time, and Sterrett remarked, “The fence represents a boundary, which is unfamiliar to the horse. He doesn’t know what to do with that amount of control.”
He went on to explain that the fence is only as high as its lowest rung, and that rung will be tested by both horses and kids alike.
More and more often the colt would slow down and turn toward Sterrett, who said, “He’s looking for release, but I will not release him until he fixes his focus on me.”
He was encouraging the horse to stop reacting to him and begin responding to him instead.
“A horse is designed for a relationship, but I can’t make him trust me, just like you can’t make somebody love you or believe what you believe,” Sterrett said. “I can’t give a horse peace or confidence.”
That is obtained by facing and overcoming fears.
Within a short period of time, Sterrett was able to consistently approach the colt and stroke his face and neck. The horse began to follow him around the pen. He took a saddle pad and rubbed it all over the colt’s body and legs, and laid it on his back. The colt jumped a bit but for the most part stood still.
“This horse may feel upset, but he’s choosing to stand,” Sterrett said.
Next a rope was placed around his neck and looped around the girth and flank areas. When the rope tightened around his flanks the colt immediately bucked around the pen but soon settled down. He maintained a distance from Sterrett this time, though, who said, “He’s back by the fence again, but he is going to humble himself and return to me.”
After a bit of coaxing he did just that.
“You cannot harness the heart,” Sterrett stressed, but it can be won. “If kids know they can win the heart of that coach, they will play their hearts out.”
Saddling the colt for the first time was uneventful, but when released with it on his back he again bucked around the pen. When he settled down, Sterrett began putting weight in the stirrups with his feet. He did this on both sides until finally swinging into the saddle. The horse showed little to no reaction. He dismounted and remounted on the opposite side. Then, with only a halter and lead rope for control, they slowly began circling the pen.
He said to the audience, “I never take him to a place where he will not succeed, and he knows I’ve equipped him for success.” As the pair picked up speed into a lope, he added some final advice. “Never pull backward in a crisis; always move forward!”
When not on the road, Dr. Sterrett calls Anadarko, Okla., home. F
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