There are very few people who you will come across that have the ability to completely change your life, but Sue Spence is one of those people. Nicknamed ‘The Horse Whisperer’, Sue uses her deep understanding of horses and personality types to help underprivileged youths and corporate groups get the best out of their lives and relationships. We got the chance to talk to Sue before her trip home to New Zealand from her current Australia base, and it wasn’t hard to see how she has improved the lives of so many people.
What do people think you do?
People think I do Horse Therapy or I am just a Horse Whisperer!
What do you actually do?
I’m a communications coach, helping people from underprivileged youth to corporate CEOs better understand their personality type and making them conscious of how their conditioned response to stress shows through their body language in different ways.
Extroverts can appear intimidating with their body language if they are not aware and introverts can appear not confident or indecisive. It’s important that they learn to consciously communicate with others by controlling their adrenalin and body language (as you have to do with horses, which I demonstrate live or by visual PowerPoint training). This helps open doors of communication.
How did your journey as the Horse Whisperer begin?
I grew up with horses, progressing to show jumping and eventing in the South Island until moving to Australia’s Gold Coast in 1981.
I was involved in the fitness industry for 25 years, instructing and competing. I had developed a program to teach instructors how to identify exercise addiction and disorders up until I was diagnosed with early breast cancer in 2001. After going through a double mastectomy and reconstruction, moving out to the Gold Coast Hinterland to a property and gathering my horse and ponies together, my anxiety (which I had always suffered and self-medicated over the years by becoming exercise addictive, until becoming aware I had a problem) became acute. Nothing seemed to work. I tried just about everything, but I was lucky enough to be introduced to Natural Horsemanship and after attending horsemanship clinics with my Quarter Horse Sunny, I noticed my anxiety was settling down due to the fact that we were learning how to control our adrenalin and body language to better engage with our horses and develop a better relationship with them.
I wanted to share these skills with others, people who didn’t have horses and who would never get the opportunity to spend time with world class horseman. This resulted in Horses Helping Humans being formed in 2005. Youth organisations started hearing about the results I was getting with disengaged young people, and I was booked 3 to 6 months in advance! I have been diagnosed with ADHD, so I very easily identify with and understand a lot of the young people I work with. It’s so important for them to learn how to help control adrenalin and learn focusing techniques. Horsemanship ground skills help to do this.
My charity The Horse Whispering Youth Program was formed in 2011 and has gone on to help thousands of young people and families communicate more effectively with others.
My HHH program has been just as popular with corporate groups, going into workplaces and teaching teams how to better understand and communicate with one another.
What is your favourite part of your job?
Seeing the changes in the students (youth and corporate alike!). I send them away with new body language and an awareness of when they need to drop their energy to avoid a reaction!
What has been your career highlight so far?
My book being published and receiving business awards! In 2014 I won The Gold Coast Women In Business Award for Community Dedication and in 2015 an award of Merit for making a change. It was an absolute honour to receive these awards.
Why do you believe horses have such special abilities?
Horses are so sensitive to energy. Harshness, aggression, anxiety; they pick up on it all. Learning how to be calm when working with them gives you a life skill that helps in all areas of communication with fellow humans. As humans start to realise the trust and respect they can develop with their horse when they control their reactions, they can then understand how human relationships can benefit also.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
My Mum and Dad have been my main inspirations in how to look at life.
Every student I work with inspires me, “That was Then, This Is Now” is how we all move forward from hardships. I always have a glass half full attitude. Let others help you find the light at the end of the tunnel so one day you can inspire others to do the same.
What is your philosophy for life?
The philosophy I stand on is what I teach. “There Should Never Be Fear Or Intimidation In Communication, There Should Only Be Trust And Respect.” This only comes when we can accept and respect the differences in one another. We are born with different personalities for a reason; some to lead, some to nurture, some to motivate and others to organise. Each one compliments the other. When the differences are learned and understood, the dynamic of the whole team or family can change.
People can start working together, not against one another. Opinions can be given, not forced. People can be asked, not told. People can be heard without being shut down. Respect and Dignity is Restored.
What are your goals for the rest of the year?
I have licensed my Youth Program and have a HHH now in Northern River NSW with three more soon to open in other areas. It’s always been my dream for students to be able to access this program all over Australia and New Zealand, so my goal is to find more suitable licensees to facilitate the program and see local communities benefiting from what we teach.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
The best advice I had a few years ago was to “Follow Through”. Many times we have wonderful ideas and dreams but don’t follow through. If I hadn’t finally followed through on my dream, I wouldn’t be writing this now, and thousands of students would have missed out on learning new skills.
Never let perceived limitations hold you back. Sharing your story with others is always a blessing to someone.
Who are your heroes?
There are many! The people who have been through adversity and huge challenges yet turn that around to be an inspiration to others. It is these people who have moulded me to inspire others.