Sunday, 31 May 2020


A local horse whisperer

Some claim Mercury Bay local, Colin Harris, is a horse whisperer. After a lifetime involved with horses, he has much empathy and a strong understanding of them. 

His father trained race horses and when Colin started working with farriers, he acquired some working horses of his own. 

Along with his horses, Colin moved from the Bay of Plenty to Mercury Bay in 1983, where he started working as a farrier in the area. Now he looks after the feet of many miniatures, horses and donkeys.

“Horses have personalities and once you get to know them, you get attached to them,” says Colin. “Donkeys will nudge you and watch you, horses are more stand-offish. They take longer to get attached to someone.”

Colin thinks horses’ brains are like the brains of elephants, they never forget. “When I first start working on a horse’s feet, I try to make it a positive experience as opposed to just getting the job done,” he says. “That helps me gain their trust. With younger horses I give more latitude because they’re learning. It’s important to be relaxed around them.

“When breaking and training horses, I start by putting my hand on their head and face and waiting until they feel calm. It’s the way to start and it’s very subtle. You have to build trust, like you do with children.”

Horses are flight animals and have almost 360° vision, with a blind spot directly in front and behind. “You can read a horse’s emotions by looking at their eyes,” says Colin. “Their hearing is about eight times sharper than a human’s, so it’s important to keep a low voice. They hate loud noises. You’ll find if there’s a group of them, one of them is on guard. It’s instinctive.”

Trimming a horse's feet is like giving a pedicure and the aim is to get the platform of the foot to stand on the ground in a natural position. “There have been new developments over the years and I never stop learning,” says Colin.

So why do horses need shoes? “They need them if they are working and if they are on hard ground,” says Colin. “There’s a variety of shoes, including ones for work and for eventing and jumping. Shoes can be weighted to correct traits and this is best done when the horses are young. The key to good hoof health is a balanced diet and regular maintenance and attention to the hoof. 

“In this work you need knowledge, experience, patience and a love of horses. You’d find it hard to stay in the industry if you didn’t love them. You also have to get along with people and be open to their suggestions.”

Horses need balanced training to stimulate both sides of their brain and body. “In some ways they are smarter than humans,” says Colin. “When we try and impose our wishes on them, it may not work. Rather we need to work with them to come to a mutual agreement. If a horse is treated properly and you have respect for each other, then that animal can become amazing.

Colin and his partner, Shelley, have eight horses. They get much satisfaction from breeding them and from nurturing a foal and watching it develop.

Pictured: Some claim Mercury Bay local, Colin Harris, is a horse whisperer.


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