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Daniel "Horse-Whisperer" Sullivan

Daniel Sullivan (died 1810[1]) from Mallow, Co. Cork, Ireland,[2] was the founder of the most important method of horse training and remediation of abuse that falls outside of the traditions of European schools of dressage. He was an Irish trainer and rehabilitator of horses that had been made intractable or even vicious on account of unusual trauma or extreme abuse. Not very much is known about him, since he was secretive about his actual methods. To the people who were able to watch him at work, he appeared to frequently stand so close to the horse that they assumed he was whispering to it. For that reason he became known as the "horse whisperer."

Hope of rediscovering Sullivan's secret method inspired the American, Willis J. Powell, [3] who wrote about his own actual practices, and from that famous therapeutic trainer the methodology was transmitted to John Solomon Rarey. Rarey's influence was great during the mid nineteenth century.

Sullivan's method grew out of obscurity. Some accounts say that he learned his basic method from "a gypsy," but beyond that the trail grows cold. And after Rarey's time several decades go by without there being other notable exponents of his method. However, his teaching was not forgotten among riders and trainers of horses, and he was occasionally mentioned in the late 1950s. Rarey's book had by this time been long out of print, but it was still available in some libraries. During the next half century, echoes of the Sullivan methodology appeared in the work of more and more trainers who became known as "horse whisperers."

Although Daniel Sullivan was born in Ireland, he was quite active in England and his fame spread beyond those borders. Willis J. Powell came from the United States, but he worked with horses in many countries, including England. Similarly, John Solomon Rarey's work began in the United States, but his fame spread abroad and he was called to England to demonstrate his methods for the royal family. As English-speaking people spread over the globe, the traditions of these trainers were spread by their writings and by trainers who learned directly or indirectly from them.

The methods of Sullivan, Powell, and Rarey do not appear to have classical antecedants, but they are not at strong variance with the classical tradition of training that begins with Xenophon in ancient Greece and has in recent times been beautifully exemplified by trainers and teachers such as Colonel Alois Podhajsky of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.

  1. Tachyhippodamia, Willis J. Powell, p. iv
  2. Twiss, Henry F. (1927). "Mallow and some Mallow men.". Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society (The Society,) Chapter VII: 7. http://books.google.com/books?id=BBd7AAAAMAAJ&dq=%22Daniel+Sullivan%22+horse+trainer&q=%22Daniel+Sullivan%22+horse+whisperer#search_anchor. 
  3. Tachyhippodamia, Willis J. Powell, p. 1



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