Hong Kong's 'horse whisperer' works to soothe stressed animals

(C) SCM Post, Sun, April 25 2004, by Chris Oliver

Some of Hong Kong's wealthy racehorse owners are using an animal psychic to 'talk' to their thoroughbreds - a form of post-career stress counselling as the animals make the transition into retirement.

Self-proclaimed animal communicator Su Burnett said she makes stable calls to retired racehorses at the invitation of their owners, to talk through problems ranging from anger management to cultural dislocation - and sometimes even the paltry size of the female thoroughbred community.

In December she met retired horse Smiling Knight at the Fanling stables after the owner contacted her to help resolve its 'mean' disposition.

'These racehorses are like retired rock stars in a way because they are used to being in the limelight,' she said. 'Sometimes they don't understand why they are there in a retirement home. Sometimes they have been worked really hard in training and are feeling stressed out.'

Ms Burnett has discovered many horses suffer mood and temperament problems while trying to acclimatise to the summer heat as well as a lack of grass and open spaces.

By speaking with the horses she said she has been able to relay important information about what may be impeding their career development - issues that can range from diet, undiagnosed racing injuries, cramped and humid stable conditions, or lack of sex.

Ms Burnett, who moved to Hong Kong in 1980, says she recently worked with an American-bred horse that was undergoing culture shock, largely because he could not understand the trainers' Chinese commands.

She said the animals were usually happy to see her, but that did not always guarantee an ill-tempered horse would behave. While meeting Smiling Knight, the horse reared and bit her forearm - although Ms Burnett said the animal had been polite enough to forewarn her.

'Every time I walked past that horse he said, 'Come here, I want to tell you something, I want to talk to you',' Ms Burnett said. 'I was leaning forward to get away from him, it was so quick, he said, 'You are slow today', and I said, 'I know'.'

Ms Burnett said she first discovered her ability to psychically communicate with animals as a child growing up in Canada.

She credited her grandmother - also a psychic healer - with recognising and supporting her ability, something which she said most children were born with but tended to lose as they faced the scepticism of adulthood.

She said she tends to hear the animals speaking in English but the process does not necessarily entail linguistic communication. Sometimes she understands what they are saying through a form of telepathy - either by seeing pictures or, if an animal is injured, by physically feeling the pain in her own body.

'It is not like Dr Dolittle where their mouths move or anything like that,' she said.

Last week she made a house call to meet a nervous four-year-old golden retriever. The owners contacted her after the dog began refusing to go outside, a problem that slowly manifested during the past three months.

By speaking with the dog she discovered the animal had suffered a blown eardrum caused by a wayward firecracker while the family watched Lunar New Year celebrations.

The animal was also distressed by the family's financial problems.

'Dogs understand everything you say to them,' Ms Burnett said. 'A lot of people in the household were very worried about money, so he wasn't eating enough because he was trying to leave food behind for them.'

Apart from house calls, Ms Burnett said she can also communicate with animals by speaking over the telephone and has chatted with hundreds of pets in the past few months.