CHATSWORTH, Calif. – If the polo ponies on Ralph Lauren’s famous trademark needed a shrink, Candi Cane Cooper would be the one to see.
It’s not that she drives to the stables in a sleek black Mercedes roadster, or that at 51 she looks decades younger, or that the owners of the horses she talks to swear by her.
“It’s that the horses talk to her,” says Rena Surrette of Woodland Hills, whose 16-year-old chestnut bay thoroughbred, Will, is about to figuratively recline on Cooper’s couch.
Cooper is a horse whisperer – a horse psychologist and healer. Among her mystical talents, she says, is the ability to communicate with animals.
“Every animal owner, especially horse owner, feels that they have a special connection to their horse, and that it’s just normal,” says Cooper, a certified hypnotherapist. “But about five years ago, I came to find out that I was really talking to my horse.”
Cooper says horses tell her things through words and images. While she says she can speak to dogs and other animals too, her business focuses on horses. Horse owners witnessed Cooper’s special relationship with her horse Zero, either in the barn or on the trails. Word spread quickly and people began asking for her help for things like building confidence in their horses before competitions and shows.
Today, her client list includes horse show competitors, Olympics equestrian hopefuls and horse owners as far away as Florida. Her Southern California clients include Carole Rose, wife of baseball legend Pete Rose, a couple Cooper has known since Rose’s playing days with the Philadelphia Phillies in the early 1980s.
In her sessions, Cooper says she helps horses with everything from a bad case of nerves to building confidence in horses that compete in equestrian events. She calls them “performance athletes.”
Sometimes, the issues are similar to those a child psychologist might tackle, such as excessive biting. She recently had to do a little investigating to determine who was biting Will – a task made much easier if you can talk to the animals.
“Who bit (Will)? And which side (did it come from)?” says Cooper. “From Mambo or from Bull? But Bull has a bite, too. So … I’ll just ask them,” she says.
Mambo and Bull are housed in stalls next to Will at the Ride-On Therapeutic Horsemanship stables in Chatsworth.
Cooper talks to the horses in a soft, soothing voice barely above a whisper. It is hypnotic at times, and for moments, she seems to drift into a metaphysical connection with the animals, which may not be unusual, considering her own family.
“My two older sisters are astrologers, so I grew up kind of, I call it, `in the purple zone’,” she says. “My family, do they think I’m crazy? They totally support me.”
It seems that trying to get information from a horse involved in a biting incident is a lot like getting kids to confess who started a fight.
Bull, a 19-year-old quarter horse, has been a patient of Cooper’s for almost two years. She has treated and cured him of the biting habit, according to his owner, Katherine Dahlgren of North Hills.
“Bull, who bit you? Which horsie did that to you?” Cooper asks her patient. She draws near the horse’s neck and, though Bull doesn’t appear to neigh or snort, she smiles and nods knowingly. “They are completely telepathic,” says Cooper.
Dahlgren, who has owned Bull since he was 5, agrees. “Because I care about him … if it’s possible to talk to him, I’d like to know what’s on his mind,” Dahlgren says.
“It’s Will. He says Will bit him!” Cooper announces, then turns back to Bull. “Who started it? He says, `Everybody blames me.’ But you didn’t start it? Will did it? You say, `He’s silly.’ Were you playing or were you fighting? You were being nosy? You were watching him, and he just bit you? We’ll ask Will.”
Minutes later, Cooper begins her session with Will, a magnificent but much higher-spirited horse who wants to be taken outside his stall to the nearby corral. There, he makes a quick dash, then returns and begins rolling in the dirt as if to scratch his back before moving next to his shrink.
“He says he bit Bull,” Cooper tells Will’s owner moments later. “He says he felt funny because Bull’s been watching him, and it makes him nervous.”
“I told Will that we’ll tell Bull to quit staring at him so much,” says Cooper.
Then turning back to Will: “Did you bite Mambo, too? Yep. He did. Why did you bite Mambo?” Cooper listens to Will as he nudges her playfully. “He says he bit Mambo because he said he was a better horse than Will.”
Will’s owner lets out a howl: “My horse believes he’s the hottest horse in this stable!”
Unlike Dahlgren, Surrette is a relatively new horse owner, having bought Will in early 2007.
“He was the horse that everybody told me not to get,” says Surrette, alluding to the reputation thoroughbreds have for being high-strung and nervous. “And I had to get him … My midlife crisis.”
But a year and a half or so later, Surrette – who is an inexperienced rider – has yet to ride Will. With Cooper’s help, though, she says she has built up her confidence. “I got on him Sunday,” says Surrette. “And I’ll ride him soon.”
The session over, Cooper wanders through the rest of the stables. The horses appear to gravitate to her.
“When I come into a place like this, it is like `Dr. Doolittle,’ where I hear them all talking as soon as I walk in,” says Cooper. “And I never turn it off because I don’t want to. I love the animals.”
PUBLISHED: September 25, 2008, The Los Angeles Daily News