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Lesley Startin - Karoo horse whisperer

Lesley Startin lives on a smallholding outside the Little Karoo town of Ladismith on Route 62. She bought and renovated the old post office in town and is now the owner of The Post House restaurant and B&B. Originally from Wales and later England, she moved with her family to South Africa in 1993 and lived in the Fish Hoek and Muizenberg area in Cape Town, before moving to Ladismith in 2004. She has a soft spot for horses, and on her piece of land, she has also taken up the practice of animal communication.

“I used to do show-jumping in England with my son, and when we came to South Africa I didn’t touch a horse for 16 years. Because we were breeding show-jumpers and we had some bad luck with mares foaling and having twins, and they died. So when we came here, I said we were finished with horses. And then, the white horse that’s up there on my farm, he was kept on a farm and he kept breaking out. He was a stallion and he was uncontrollable, so somebody asked me if I wanted him. Of course we went to see him, and we had him. And then the chestnut used to bite the kids, she was kept on the farm close to me so we ended up with her to keep him company. And then they had a baby! The white one is the dad, the grey one is the baby and the chestnut is the mum. The fat one is the baby. My partner Chris calls her my fat, unmarried daughter.

“When we were at the previous guest farm I owned, two ladies came to stay with us for a month at Christmas. I said to them, ‘What do you do?’ and they said to me. ‘Animal communication.’ And I thought, oh, this is really interesting. And they waffled on a bit, and you get a bit sceptical, you know? So one day, I said to them, ‘Can I see what you’re doing?’ So they said, ‘Yeah, we’ll come and fetch you.’

“I said, ‘Do we need to go in with them?’ She said, ‘No, you just stand here,’ and then she called my horse, Sonny, over. At the time he was really quite stroppy because he’d been a stallion. I’ve had him fixed, but he still had that stroppy tendency and he used to bite quite badly. She called him over and normally he was very bossy and he would come over the fences and start nipping you. He didn’t do that, he came and he stood side-on to the fence. I wish I had recorded it because I can’t remember what she was doing, this was like ten years ago. She was talking to him and she was holding my arm at the same time, and he started swaying on his feet. He dropped his head and he started dribbling, his eyes closed – he went into like a trance, I promise you. I’ve never seen anything like it. And then she did it with the other two horses as well.

Lesley Startin owns the Post House in Ladismith
Lesley Startin, animal communicator living in Ladismith, the Garden Route

“And then he walks again, and I follow him. So I don’t walk and expect him to follow me. By following him, he eventually chose to follow me."

“And then she said, after she’d finished, that one of them will come now and say thank you. And I thought, well that’s actually pushing this a bit. But lo and behold, he closed his teeth, and then he came to her face with his lips and he kissed her all over her face. And where she’d been holding my arm, I promise you the whole middle piece was like shaking – it was the most peculiar feeling. She lent me a book, ‘Healing Horses,’ from which I photocopied, the bits that I thought were relevant, then I lent it to somebody and never got it back. But I started doing it with them, as you can do it with your own horses.

“It’s about working on yourself, not the horses. You have to ground yourself. I always imagine like a tree, and the tree has roots. The roots go through the floor and it grounds you, and they also go out, they form a circle around you, so it centres you. And if you think about it, when you normally touch people or animals, our touch is actually quite rough sometimes, even if we’re trying to be gentle. So if you bring in a mindful touch, you’re actually touching with your heart and your mind, you’re actually doing something that brings stillness. It’s all about stillness. So if you can bring a stillness to bear, in yourself, you can communicate it to the animal and make them feel still.

“There’s so much to animal communication. Nobody ever knows everything, it’s a continual learning curve. It’s something that I think everybody has to find their own way into. People can put you on the road, but you got to find your own way down it. I found as well – this is what scared me about starting The Post House – the busier you get, the more focus and energy I was putting into kick-starting that business, the more I was losing that communication side. It’s not something that you can run together, really. So I have to make an effort, to keep that and focus on it. I still need to spend a lot more time with the horses to be back where I was before I started doing the business. That sort of thing is not conducive to calm, focused, grounded thinking. It scrambles your brain, and that’s where people get into trouble with animals mostly, I think. They don’t listen and their brains are scrambled, there’s too much information.

“If I’m walking my horse, I don’t walk and expect him to follow. You pick your energy up, and then you think about walking, and you put that into his mind and then as he starts to walk, I follow him. And then he walks again, and I follow him. So I don’t walk and expect him to follow me. By following him, he eventually chose to follow me. But it’s subtle, it’s a very subtle thing. It’s not about making the horse do A, B and C. it’s about you communicating and listening to the horse, so that he will come with you to do A B and C. That’s where my focus is.”

Lesley Starting from Ladismith, being interviewed for Humans of the Garden Route

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