NEAR INGLIS -- It's as if Judith Graile fell out of the sky.
Graile -- a former competitive and stunt skydiver in Germany and an accredited horse whisperer as well -- was looking for a place to indulge her love of horses. Rural Europe is too densely populated. She drove across Western Canada, starting in British Columbia.
"Professional skydivers make a very good living," explained Graile, who has appeared in many skydiving scenes in European movies. "That's how I bought this ranch."
She landed in the deep valleys carved out by the Assiniboine and Shell rivers of Manitoba's Parkland. "It's the most beautiful place in the world," she maintains, and European tourists and others who stay at her vacation ranch every year are "awed" by the landscape. Graile has run her guest ranch and horse-whispering school here for five years.
"It really has nothing to do with whispering. You don't talk to the horse. It's just about body language," she explained.
"We don't use spurs or bits or any means of control," continued Graile, who studied for 18 months under legendry horse-whisperer Monty Roberts in California as well as others. Graile demonstrated with her horse Ebony, one of 51 equines on her ranch, half of which are rescues, by merely give a light tug on its mane, not using reins and steering with a gentle hand touch on either side of its neck.
"We don't use pressure on horses," she said. Horses always act against pressure. A horse only gives in to pain, like the bit in its mouth, and that's not what Graile is about.
The biggest mistake people make is to treat horses like people, she said. Horses don't think like humans. They are prey animals, not predators. People must move with slow, smooth motion around them.
"You have to move slowly, as if you are walking in water," Graile said. "If you go to a horse and hesitate, it's going to back away. You have to always have the same speed."
You may want to look into their big, expressive eyes (with their eyes on the side of the head, they have 340-degree vision, better to see predators and flee), but they don't want you to. To horses, looking into their eyes means "go away." You have to learn to use your peripheral vision. On the other hand, if you catch their eyes and pull away in one direction, that's motioning them to go that way.
"A lot of humans move the wrong way. They move the human way, not the horse way," Graile said.
"The most important part is what you think. A horse knows when you are angry and doesn't like that. You have a negative radiation and then the horse doesn't listen to you."
She teaches four- and 12-day courses in gentle and natural horsemanship and horse psychology. She also has up to three apprentices working with her during the year. She trains 35 to 40 horses a year for other people as well. (More information is at www.parkland-ranch.com.)
Tourists stay at her guest house up to two weeks at a time, and she even takes them on cattle drives with as many as 45 head. Usually they return to their accommodations at night, but this year they can camp under the stars. They sit around a campfire at night, play guitar and sing.
"This is what people from Europe like, and our horses are really good at cow work," Graile said.
Some tourists have asked if they can have guns on the cattle drives, presumably to fire in the air to get the cattle's attention. Nicht. It's verboten.
Graile has 640 acres for her trail rides. Trail rides extend into Riding Mountain National Park, which borders her property, as well as onto a nearby friend's property.
Graile, 49, arrived in Manitoba alone five years ago. After purchasing her ranch, she returned to Germany and came back with her five horses and dog on a LuxAir cargo plane.
"I liked Manitoba best," said Graile, who is from Bingen am Rhein, near Frankfurt, about her relocation choice. "I liked the big sky. For a former skydiver, that's very important."