Dec 23, 2014

Talking to Animals

by Barbara Woodhouse

An old book I picked up at a secondhand shop once. The author is an adamant animal-lover, and she tells of her life with various animals, how she raised and trained many, her methods and affinity with them. She can be stern but mostly comes across in this book as training animals with encouragement and praise. The book opens with her childhood around horses and dogs, and she tells of attending an agricultural college when few women were allowed to. She then went to visit friends at a cattle range in Argentina and ended up staying on and working for them, stepping in wherever needed- as much as they would allow! Women weren't supposed to break horses, so it took some cleverness on her part to be allowed the chance, and once the men saw she could train a horse in a few days with gentle methods, she got the job to break and train horses continually. Returning to England she faced hard times during war years, had to sell her horses but started keeping dairy cows to sell milk in the neighborhood- so there's a lot about her work with cows- not only how she kept them and got extra yield, but also how she let her children ride the cows and eventually was called up anytime someone wanted a cow to use in a film! because hers were known for being docile and that she could "do anything with them." When the war ended her household moved, and she began buying and selling cattle, but eventually got back into training horses again, and then tried to get her favorite dog- a great dane- acting in films as well. She found it difficult and tiresome to deal with film companies, but became known as a dog trainer and took up running dog obedience classes as well. This was not a woman to ever take no for an answer- often she got around regulations for her dairy cattle, she made and produced her own film on dog training and self-published a book about her great dane. There are a lot more stories in here, all wrapped around the animals, her love for them, and her claims that upon initially earning an animal's trust, she could teach it to do anything she wanted.

I found particularly interesting the description of her time spent in South America, the different customs there and methods they used to manage livestock and train their horses. She also tells of becoming diabetic while she lived there, and nearly died of the condition until she took a local remedy from a tree which she claims completely cured her.

Also a curious passage which made me wonder about the origins of the nursery ryhme/song "Rock a Bye Baby". She tells of a native custom where if a baby died, the people did not want to put the body underground but instead would tie the small coffin up in a tree. And a storm blew it down. And they collected the remains and tied it up again. She doesn't say how long they would leave the coffin in the tree- indefinitely?

Rating: 3/5        208 pages, 1974


Jenny @ Reading the End said...

How neat that she became the go-to person for film cows! How did she get started in that gig?

(I am skeptical that she had diabetes and was cured by this one tree. That sounds pretend.)

Jeane said...

A film was being produced locally and they wanted a cow in a road having a car driving up to it fast and stopping suddenly a few inches from the cow- without the cow moving off. Someone told them the author had cows and could make it do just that. And it did. So later she got calls from other filmmakers when they needed a cooperative cow for particular shot! She tells a lot about how many hours or days of standing around waiting until the moment was right, or doing retakes, just to get those five minutes of film perfect. And sometimes the part that featured her animal was cut and not even part of the finished film.

I'm skeptical about the cure too, although when I look up that particular plant it does have medicinal properties and is used in traditional treatments... Reviews of other books she's written throw doubt on her training methods as well- but I didn't read those training manuals so I can't comment on that. It's one of those books that interests me with its depiction of a different way of life, but I'm not sure how much of it to believe. Although she probably believed all the stuff she wrote, herself?