Beyond horse whispering: The journey to becoming an equine healer
Anne Scharlow is an equine healer and animal communicator who works with horses and their owners through ‘conscious horsemanship’. Through her practice, she communicates with horses to help solve behavioural problems and heal relationships with their owners.
“I’m a bit of a seeker – I’m looking for a life that feels meaningful. Over the years, I’ve managed to work with nature and with horses, and I try to make a difference that way, and be in service to humanity. Horses are helping me to bring that point across,” says Cape Town-based Anne Scharlow.
Growing up in Germany, she was first introduced to horses at the age of 14, and she describes her first interaction with the animals as an alignment, something meant to be. After that first meeting, her life was forever changed. “Something drew me in,” she remembers, and so she plucked up the courage to ask her parents if she could start horse riding.
“It was a hard conversation, because we had just escaped from East Germany and landed in West Germany – the wall was still up – so it wasn’t like money was abundant,” Scharlow says.
Nevertheless, her parents were persuaded, but they had two conditions: First, she had to maintain her grades in school. Second, she must never ask for her own horse.
“Two years later, I had my own horse,” she laughs. “My grandpa somehow stepped in.”
After finishing her studies in Germany, she eventually found herself in Cape Town, where she began to build her life. “‘Home’ is a difficult word if you are travelling the world, you don’t know where your roots are. But Cape Town is definitely good for my soul; the open-mindedness and the spirituality and how close you live with nature,” she says.
“And also some of the challenges, you know, there’s not always electricity. There’s not always water. It’s a different life, you appreciate things differently. Gratitude is different, and I feel much happier.”
It was in Cape Town that Scharlow was introduced to her second horse, Rohan, who she says challenged her views on horsemanship. “In Germany, at that time, I didn’t know what was normal and not normal. I just followed a traditional German horse path, and my little gelding did everything I wanted. I didn’t know at the time what gift that was until I had Rohan much later – which presented all sorts of issues,” she explains.
“He didn’t want to be touched, didn’t want to be ridden… he said ‘no’ to everything I thought was normal.”
Scharlow then began to reshape her understanding of horses and the relationship between horse and human. She began working with Rohan in a more holistic way, incorporating therapy, communication and tension release into her interactions with him. As the pair worked together, she noticed how Rohan’s injuries were healing and he was coming into himself. More importantly, their bond strengthened, and they understood each other more than ever before.
“It felt so wonderful and fulfilling. I felt this calmness, knowing that I can actually make a difference, and that there’s somehow power in my hands,” she says. “Rohan challenged most of my human requirements and clearly communicated his ‘horse needs’, so that, over time, we could find a new balance and harmony within our relationship… I realised then that he had entered my life because he wanted me to explore a different way of being with and relating to horses and all of nature,” Scharlow adds and advertises on her website.
“And to this day, Rohan doesn’t want to be ridden, because he’s like, ‘why should one being sit on top of another?’ I get it now. But in the beginning, that was hard. But when you detach yourself from what is ‘normal’, then it changes your perception.”
Over the next six years, Scharlow learnt more about equine healing and worked with hundreds of horses as ‘case studies’ – now, it’s her full-time job.
When a client books a session with her, she spends about an hour and a half initially with the person and their horse just getting to know the partnership. “Usually they stand at some sort of crossroads, or they have a challenge in terms of health or behaviour. As the client talks, you get an understanding for the person and for the animal next to them,” she explains.
“You can often see their essence; if it’s a playful horse, a horse that is young at heart, a humorous horse. It might be a horse that takes its job very seriously, it’s really a workaholic, for instance. I tune into that real essence, and this is where the relationship becomes beautiful again.”
As the client explains their situation, the horses often reflect the information being shared through their body language. For instance, when problems are described, Scharlows notices horses walking away or biting the air. “As you discuss solutions or recommendations, you can see the animals softening; it’s really clearly reflected in the horse,” she says.
“When critical information is shared, like, for instance, the owner remembering the relationship and their deep bond, the horse will yawn, lick or chew – and those are release mechanisms that you can see in the body; they show this deep relaxation.”
Through this process, she will begin to assess and engage with the horse, figuring out how they cope with stress. She will then move into the second part of the session, working hands-on with the horse’s muscles and nervous system.
Central to Scharlow’s work is her practice of communicating with horses, which requires a deep sense of trust – both between her and the animals and in herself as she interprets the conversations they share. Because she places herself as merely a translator between horse and owner, Scharlow witnesses moments of profound healing from both sides.
“It’s a magical process, and you never know what it’s all about. Life for that person shifts, and when they’re different for their horse, they’re different with their kids, they’re different for their husband, their whole life changes. And that’s beautiful, but I just translate,” she says.
It was not always easy to share the messages from horse to owner, and it has taken her years of practice and belief. “I experiment to this day, and I don’t take myself too seriously. So if something’s wrong, it’s wrong, that’s okay,” she says.
“Horse whispering” is a simple way to describe Scharlow’s work, but she finds that it is a term that people tend to misunderstand. “‘Horse whispering,’ I think, has become more about dominating, but I see it as a good conversation between partners, not between boss and subordinate. It’s a two-way conversation, and when both needs are met, the relationship has a beautiful potential for harmony and joy and balance,” she reflects.
“In the mainstream, it might be ridiculed, but intuition is something so natural, it’s available to all of us – it takes a bit of practice, because it’s so subtle, and you need to slow down your life a bit to perceive it better, but it’s just a different side of communicating. It’s the language of the heart, which we all can tap into. It shouldn’t be a word which separates,” she adds.
“Every night I go to bed and I’m looking forward to the next day. I love the difference my work makes, when people and their horses suddenly also see the magic. I’m just someone showing up to the universe saying, ‘hi, I want to help’, and I’m allowed to, and it’s wonderful.” DM/ML
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