He is often referred to as a horse whisperer, others call him ‘the magic man’, but Gary Witheford, the man who breaks horses in less than half an hour, prefers to call himself a ‘horseman’.
As the first man to break in zebras, Gary and his son, Craig, have worked with horses who present all sorts of problems. These range from refusing to load onto horseboxes, ridden issues such as bolting, bucking, rearing or napping, fear of traffic, farrier or vet phobias and many other challenges faced by horse owners from all disciplines, be it happy hackers or competition horses.
Gary’s expertise in dealing with horses spans over 35 years and January 2018 brought about a slight re-structuring in the business. The decision was made to focus purely on working in the racing industry for racehorses who have a range of issues, most notably those with issues when being loaded into starting stalls but the team also break in hundreds of horses each year – although he prefers the term ‘start’. ‘Breaking-in’ is a very negative term.
The most notable of his racing successes to date is Sea The Stars for Irish trainer John Oxx and the mighty Kingman for John Gosden.
As Gary explains, horses don’t really want to get into a fight and by working them using pressure and release, they quickly learn to look at you as a leader. “The less pressure there is the more the horse will follow you. It’s the herd instinct. Horses are flight animals, whether they are thoroughbreds, ponies or shire horses so you’ve got to go through their thoughts and go back to basics.’’
As the ‘magic man’ says “I like to think I let my horses do the talking and let the results speak for themselves. It’s all about trust and getting them to think ‘You’re my leader and I will follow you’. It just proves to me that the way I handle horses has to work. I have great respect for the owners, riders and trainers that I work with and totally appreciate the trust they place in me. With the increased focus on welfare for horses I hope that by working as a team we can all make things better for the horses, handlers and riders".