TNH Advisor Has Good Horse Sense
By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
September 3, 2008
Julie Perron isn’t partial to the term ‘horse whisperer’ because she thinks it suggests there is something secretive about communicating with horses, and that’s just about as far from her way of thinking as it can get.
“Horse whisperer is a buzz word; it’s the popular thing,” says Perron. “It all comes down to connecting.”
Perron, who serves as the business advisor for UNH’s student-run newspaper The New Hampshire, has been around horses since she could walk. When she was 7 or 8, she would borrow Lady, the horse from the farm across the street. The deal was, if Perron could catch her, she could ride her. When she was 14 she got her own horse.
“I think my parents gave in because I just finally wore them down,” Perron says.
She’s been working with horses ever since.
For the two years she was at the Thompson School (she came for the equine program in 1983), Perron lived and worked at the old UNH Stud Barn, which is now home to transportation services. She spent a summer as an apprentice at the UVM Morgan Farm in Vermont, and then went to work on a breeding farm in the Seacoast area. She moved to the Plymouth area in 1992. While she was there she started her own newspaper, The Critter Exchange, which she published for 10 years.
“The animal thing was instinctive to me,” Perron says. “I’ve always been drawn to the behavioral aspect, and the therapeutic medicine aspect, of all animals, but especially horses.”
Perron tries to teach people how to handle their horses “from the ground up”; to connect with them mentally. It’s not the same as trying to train a dog or a cat, she says. Physical ways of leading them, or restraining them, won’t work with horses.
“You’re dealing with a 1,000 pound animal. You’re not going to force a horse to do anything he doesn’t want to do,” she says. “You have to communicate with them in a collaborative way. It takes quiet observation and positive energy.”
For seven years, Perron owned a “lay-up” farm, taking in old or injured horses and nursing them back to health. She continues to get involved in rescue and starvation cases, trying to help find the abused or neglected animals a safe home.
One of the hardest things to do with a horse happens to be one of the jobs Perron likes best: transporting them from one place to another. Her goal is to assure the horse has a good experience.
“Horses hate small spaces,” Perron says. “Part of the problem is that it takes patience, and people are usually in a hurry when they are trying to get the horse in the trailer.”
Perron’s method involves letting the horse go in and out as many times as it takes to get him comfortable. Pushing or pulling won’t work. Instead of rushing the process, Perron says you have to go slowly.
“I feed them, let them go out, go back on; it takes time. Otherwise, you’re just getting riled up—people and the horse,” she says. Of her success with trailering horses, she says, “Horses learn quickly who they can trust and who they can’t.”
All these years working with horses helped Perron decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life. She is taking classes at UNH toward an undergraduate degree and plans to attend veterinary school in a couple of years, eventually working with large farm animals.
“Horses are powerful and fragile. They have fragile legs, fragile digestive systems; psyches,” Perron says. “They really can’t handle being mishandled. You can learn to communicate with them and that makes all the difference.”