Story by Mary Ormsby of the Toronto Star.com
With An Open Mind Many Lessons Can Be Learned
“It’s Sunday once again so we share with you a story to wash out your mind and strengthen your spirit. It’s a tale that refreshes and one that sends the horse-haters over the top as they have no relationship with their companion horses. Please enjoy and prepare for yet another week of battle. May the ‘Force of the Horse®‘ be with you all” ~ R.T.
Horse whisperer Lauren Bode says she’s been telepathically communicating with Boot, a 16-year-old Belgian cross living at Centre Island’s Far Enough Farm.
So I test her.
“Who’s going to win the Queen’s Plate?”
Boot rolls his enormous dark eyes my way, crunching and slurping a carrot chunk. Is the retired police horse consulting his psychic tote board? Bode laughs.
“First I’d have to tell him what the Queen’s Plate is.”
A non-committal answer from Bode, an animal empath invited by the Star to commune with the island’s farm critters. As for Boot, maybe he doesn’t want to be the Pete Rose of the ponies, spilling industry secrets to gamblers.
But when it comes to sharing emotions, says Bode, Boot and his 29-year-old paddock neighbour, Duchess, are quite forthcoming.
She says the two are upset about moving from Far Enough Farm, a popular Toronto attraction on Mayor Rob Ford’s chopping block.
“The animals were quite worried about going to a new home,” relates Bode, who says Duchess, a 20-year farm resident and former mounted unit member like Boot, senses death.
“She wouldn’t cope very well, but if they’re going together, it would be best.”
The hobby farm, visited by generations of local families and millions of tourists since 1959, is slated for closure on June 30. The City of Toronto has cut its funding (the annual budget is $221,000, covering two staff salaries and animal feed) and that of High Park Zoo and Riverdale Farm.
The “50-ish” Bode (sorry, the horses wouldn’t snitch) says she communicates telepathically with animals at their human handlers’ request. Growing up around animals in her native Guyana, she says, she realized her powers at age three when she communicated silently with a cow.
“The reason I speak to animals is to help them. That is my purpose, to make people understand that animals are sentient beings.
“They have feelings, just like us.”
Horse whisperers don’t “break” horses but use gentle, therapeutic techniques to train unruly or abused animals. Actor Robert Redford played one in the 1998 movie The Horse Whisperer.
Bode — who lists “horse whisperer” as her profession on legal documents (she also works with cats and dogs) — focuses on obtaining physical and emotional information. And the occasional bit of gossip (Boot, apparently, is quite a ladies’ man).
Bode feeds Boot and Duchess organic carrots and strokes their faces and soft muzzles during her Wednesday visit to the farm. She says she asks the horses for permission to connect to their thoughts before initiating a conversation.
So how does Bode do?
Well, some information she relays isn’t exactly breaking news. She reports that Boot is happy on the farm but would like to go for walks more often.
Boot’s former rider, Const. Rob Graham, says Boot is used to plenty of exercise from “pounding the pavement on the streets of Toronto” for nearly a decade. Wanting to walk beyond his driftwood fencing makes sense.
“He was a well-disciplined, brave, magnificent police horse,” says Graham, who personally delivered Boot to Far Enough Farms in late 2010 for his “well-deserved” retirement.
However, Bode does stun farm staff with a few of her divinations.
She says Boot told her that the pellet treats he liked were being withheld. In fact, they were. Animal attendant Linda Darking confirms she’s been cutting back the servings of apple chunk pellets in his diet.
Bode also correctly notes that Duchess is recovering from colic. Staff confirm a veterinarian was called two weeks ago and the horse was treated with medicine.
Bode goes a step further, saying the colic is anxiety-induced because the aging mare of unknown heritage — possibly a quarter horse and Clydesdale mix — fears she’ll be slaughtered if she leaves Centre Island.
“The older girl told me she colicked because her stomach was hurting her. I asked her why and she said she was going to be put down because no one would take her. She had no place to go.”
Bode also chats up Jake the Nubian donkey.
Jake, who has his own Facebook page, is the longest-serving farmhand at 37 years. His pen is about 20 metres away from the horses, across a small path, behind the rustic, red-boarded staff office.
As a peacock screeches for attention behind the fluffy-haired grey donkey, Bode reports that Jake was happy, healthy.
Then out of the blue: Bode says Jake wants to move over to the empty paddock beside Boot. A brief silence from the staff.
Then Darking says Jake is indeed slated to move beside Boot in the near future. That empty paddock is Jake’s summer home.
Darking, who’s never worked with a horse whisperer, is impressed by Bode’s session.
“She knew things we didn’t expect she should know,” says Darking, who has worked at the farm for 23 years.
Still, there are skeptics.
Graham says he doesn’t “put much stock” in mind-reading horse whisperers. Neither does Canadian Olympic dressage equestrian Ashley Holzer of Toronto. She feels a deep understanding of horses could mimic a psychic connection.
“I’m not a big telepathic believer, that’s just me,” says Holzer, who will compete in her fourth Olympic Games this summer in London.
“But I’ve lived long enough to not say no (so) I will not rule it out. But do I have this feeling that I’m lying in bed and my horse is telling me he has a headache? No.”
What about Bode walking up to a strange horse and immediately sensing its colic?
Holzer explains that if a person is like her, raised with horses to a point she knows them “really, really, really well” then they will be sensitive to clues about animal distress. Bode was raised with horses and currently owns seven — all of them rescue animals.
“I could look at a horse that I’ve never seen before and say to you, ‘This horse is colicky (or) I would check this horse for ulcers,’ ” says Holzer. “Or I could watch a horse eat and I could say, ‘Have this horse’s teeth checked.’
“How do I know that? I just know the way horses chew normally — and I’ve seen so many horses with teeth problems chew a certain way. Just like I’ve seen so many colicky horses (in) pre-colic, colic, after-colic (states).”
Bode says she’s used to disbelievers who challenge her when she works in stables.
“They ask if this gift I have is from the devil or from God, and I don’t get into specifics with them. I just tell them it’s a gift, I don’t believe in the devil, that I believe in positive and negative energy.
“So I make it light. I tell them a joke. Then I invite them to stick around and listen to what their horses have to say.”
Just don’t ask them about daily doubles or trifectas in a get-rich-quick-at-the-track scheme. If Boot is any indication, there’s no horsing around when it comes to playing the ponies.