MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Finally this hour, we're going to meet a man named Grant Golliher. One might not ordinarily see God in a bucking horse, but Golliher does. He's a horse whisperer.
He subdues wild horses with gentleness, and as NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports, with a dash of spirituality.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: When Grant Golliher enters a round pen at a county fair in Jackson, Wyoming, a chestnut horse bolts away, bucking and screaming. The cowboy pays no heed, just begins hosing down the pen so the horse won't kick up dust.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GRANT GOLLIHER (Horse Whisperer): Where is that? It's raining.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Golliher is made for Hollywood - about 6 feet tall and trim with rough, leathery hands, silver hair and piercing blue eyes. He looks casually from the horse to the crowd waiting to see him work his equine magic. He begins by telling them he's been breaking horses since he was a kid.
Mr. GOLLIHER: And we did things the old way, I call it. You know, make them do it, show them who's boss. If they give you any grief, whack them with a two-by-four, you know? I mean, get their attention.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Golliher says over the years, he ruined a bunch of talented horses that way. One died trying to get away. But a quarter-century ago, Golliher met a horse whisperer who tamed horses by building trust, not fear.
Mr. GOLLIHER: Now, what I'm going to do is go ahead and drive these horses around a bit. Take this one. This horse is a little troubled; he's a 5-year-old.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: The chestnut lets loose a bucking spree.
Mr. GOLLIHER: He's been ridden quite a bit. But lately, he's been bucking off his rider, his owner. There we go.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: The cowboy shakes a white plastic bag attached to a long crop, then touches it to the horse's flank. The chestnut snorts, his eyes bulge. But — and this is key — the horse is not tied up. He knows he can run away. And that's the secret of horse whispering, Golliher says: giving a horse a chance to make the right choices.
Mr. GOLLIHER: If the horse won't come to you, you don't capture him, you know, you don't rope him and choke him down. You let him know he's free, let him know he still has the choice, freedom to choose whether to come to you or not, see. And that's the relationship with God.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Odd talk for a cowboy. But Golliher applies spiritual principles to his horse training, and horse whispering principles to life.
Mr. GOLLIHER: I'm going to keep pressing the issue until, you know, we get some change here. Now, this horse, I need to make sure that he won't go over the top of me.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Golliher follows the chestnut around the pen, tapping the plastic bag on his haunches, forcing the horse to face his fear.
Mr. GOLLIHER: There.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: The horse quiets. Golliher walks toward the audience, and the horse follows. Golliher says this is tough love.
Mr. GOLLIHER: I love you enough when you're making a mistake, I'm going to bring it up, okay? We're going to try to deal with it.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Which he sees as a metaphor for how God works with people.
Mr. GOLLIHER: Hebrews, Chapter 12 says God disciplines those he loves. And when we go the wrong way, he has his way through life circumstances. When we run into trouble, God steps in and starts waving his flag. So to me, this is just the Bible opening up through God's creation, which is a horse. I'm kind of having fun with this horse, I was going to break this 2-year-old, but…
BRADLEY HAGERTY: With one swift move, Golliher mounts the horse and reaches for the flag.
Mr. GOLLIHER: Now, if he was to buck, I just need to stay on.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: The horse dances around, his hooves in constant motion. But he does not buck. Soon, the horse settles into a calm walk. Golliher reaches down and rubs his chest.
Mr. GOLLIHER: See him lick his lips? That's a good sign. That means the horse feels good about what just happened, OK? Horses really love you when you help them get through their fear.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: The crowd murmurs with amazement. Afterwards, people rush up to seek his advice. Golliher says what astounds him most is not the changes in the horses, but in the people who watch and practice horse whispering. Some abused women have told him they see themselves in the skittish horses. Some men begin to use gentleness rather than fear in their relationships. Horse whispering, Golliher says, gives people an insight into themselves.
Mr. GOLLIHER: Because the horse is just a mirror. He's just trying to tell us, you know, let me show you how to live.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.
Mr. GOLLIHER: See - went through pressure? There. Now give him lots of rope, see.