A secret method by which certain persons are supposed to
be able to acquire power over hard-to-manage horses. As is well
known to students of Gypsy lore, Gypsies are reputed to be in
possession of some secret by which they can render vicious
horses entirely tame.
Opinions are divided as to whether this secret consists of the
application of a certain odor or balm to the horses muzzle, or
whispering into its ear a spell or incantation. It has been
claimed that the Gypsy horse-charmer applies anise seed to the
nose of the animal.
Horse-whispering has also been in vogue among many
other peoples. The antiquary William Camden, in his recital of
Irish superstitions, states, It is by no means allowable to praise
a horse or any other animal unless you say God save him. If
any mischance befalls a horse in three days after, they find out
the person who commended him, that he may whisper the
Lords Prayer in his right ear.
It was said by Con Sullivan, a famous Irish horse-whisperer
of the eighteenth century, that practitioners of the art could not
explain their power. This was affirmed by those who practiced
it in South America, where a couple of men could tame half a
dozen wild horses in three days. The same art was widely practiced
in Hungary and Bohemia, and it was from a Bohemian
Gypsy that a family in the county of Cork claimed to hold a secret
by which the wildest or most vicious horse could be tamed.
For generations this secret was regularly transmitted as a parting
legacy at the time of death from the father to the eldest son.
Throughout the north of Scotland there are members of a
secret society for breaking in difficult horses, which is believed
to be called the Horsemans Society and which purports to
trace its origin to the Dark Ages. Only those who gain their livelihood
by the care and management of horses are admitted,
and the more affluent and better educated are jealously excluded.
Many farmers entertain a prejudice against the members of
the society, but they are forced to admit that they are always
very capable in managing their teams and can perform services
that would otherwise require calling in a veterinary surgeon.
They are usually skilled in the knowledge of herbs and medicinal
plants, and a great deal of folklore surrounds them. It is
stated that they hold their meetings at night in the clear moonlight,
going through various equestrian performances with
horses borrowed for the occasion from their masters stables.
There is also said to be an inner circle in the society in which
the black art and all the spells and charms of witchcraft are
studied. Members of the inner circle are said to be able to smite
horses and cattle with mysterious sickness, and even cast spells
over human beings. One local writer stated that the inner circle
of the horsemen employ hypnotic influence both on men and
animals, as it is said certain North American Indians and some
of the jungle tribes of Hindustan do.
On one occasion the services of the famous Con Sullivan
were requisitioned by Colonel Westenra (afterward earl of Rosmore),
who possessed a racehorse called Rainbow. The horse
was savage and would attack any jockey courageous enough to
mount him by seizing him by the leg with his teeth and dragging
him from the saddle. A friend of the colonels told him
that he knew a person who could cure Rainbow, and a wager
of £1,000 was laid on the matter. Sullivan, who was known
throughout the countryside as the Whisperer, was sent for.
After being shut up alone with the animal for a quarter of an
hour, he gave the signal to admit those who had been waiting
on the result. When they entered, they found the horse extended
on his back, playing like a kitten with Sullivan, who was quietly
sitting by him, but both horse and operator appeared exhausted,
and the latter had to be revived with brandy. The
horse was perfectly tame and gentle from that day on.
Another savage steed, named King Pippin, took an entire
night to cure, but in the morning he was seen following Sullivan
like a dog, lying down at the word of command, and permitting
any person to put his hand into his mouth. Shortly afterward
he won a race at the Curragh.
Sullivans statement that the successful whisperer is not acquainted
with the secret of his own power may well be true. As
Elihu Rich (in E. Smedleys The Occult Sciences, 1855) states
The reason is obvious. A force proceeding immediately
from the will or the instinctive life would be impaired by reflection
in the understanding and broken up or at least diminished
by one half. The violent trembling of the animal under this operation
is like the creaking and shivering of the tables before
they begin to tip, and indicates a moral or nervous force acting
physically, by projection perhaps from the spirit of the operator.
None of these cases are, after all, more wonderful than the
movement of our own limbs and bodies by mental force, for
how does it move them with such ease And may not the same
power that places its strong but invisible little fingers on every
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Horse-Whispering
point of our muscular frames, stretch its myriad arms a little
further into the sphere around us, and operate by the same
laws, and with as much ease, on the stalwart frame of a horse
Trigg, E. B. Gypsy Demons and Divinities The Magical and Supernatural
Practices of the Gypsies. London Sheldon Press, 1973.