No horse is too difficult for Mark Langley, whose gentle but firm approach is yielding amazing results.
Story By Amanda Burdon
The handsome creamy mare in the roundyard fringed by stringybarks is wary, her ears back, her eyes watchful. She turns sharply in the soft dirt, darting left, then right, anything to avoid contact with the neatly bearded man leaning on the fence. His body, in sharp contrast, is relaxed; his jeaned legs are still, his steely blue eyes downcast beneath a buckskin hat. The thick summer air is charged and thrums with cicadas.
“When a young horse like this first comes into the roundyard I give them time to get used to their surroundings,” horse-breaker and educator Mark Langley says softly. “I observe how it reacts, how long it’s listening to me and where its attention is, and give it time to get used to its confinement. You need to learn about the horse and the horse has to savour you, too. It’s important to show them that you don’t pose a threat.”
The five-year-old mare has only recently begun her education with the New England horseman on the property “Wallaroo Waters” that he shares with partner Jenny Barnes in the foothills of Bullock Mountain, just outside Glen Innes, in northern New South Wales. But over the course of a remarkably quiet and intimate hour, she progressively accepts Mark’s touch, a saddle rug and even a rope simulating a girth strap. Her movements become more fluid, her body softens, and she stands calmly and meets his gaze.
“Everything with horse training is about pressure and release,” Mark says. “I approach the horse one step at a time and when she relaxes to the adjustment I step away to reward her. I begin touching her – first with a long lunging whip and then with my hand – and similarly approach and retreat. At each stage I reward her by taking the pressure off and giving her a rest.
“You can make it very easy for a horse to do the right thing by not pushing them, by giving them an open door to make mistakes and escape, and then correcting that behaviour, not through force but through education. I then move on to desensitising the horse to the things they find scary. I can’t stop her from feeling frightened but I can help her to learn how to behave better when she is frightened. It’s built on a foundation of trust and that takes time. It also means leaving your ego behind.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #65
Outback Magazine: June/July 2009