by Barry Lichter
With a little pendulum in one hand, and his other hand running over the horse, trainer Geoff Dunn could be auditioning for a spot in a Harry Potter movie. But it’s a ritual the Canterbury trainer performs every day and one he swears has helped his star horses Venus Serena and Tiger Tara.
A week out from the Harness Jewels at Cambridge, where the country’s best pacers and trotters will battle it out for $1.2 million in stakes, Dunn is engaged in the age-old practice of dowsing. But rather than divining for water or metal, he’s communicating with his horses to detect any ailments. Face drawn in concentration, Dunn is waiting to see if his pendulum starts swinging. It’s then, he says, he’ll know if the horse has a problem.
His homemade pendulum – a short piece of string attached to a fishing sinker, is still. It wasn’t the previous day, at Bulls, where the horses rested overnight on their float trip north from Christchurch, says Dunn.
When Tiger Tara appeared slightly lame he got out his trusty pendulum and located the source to where a horseshoe nail had been driven in too close to the hoof wall. Dunn’s noticed the looks he’s getting from us, as we try to process what we’re seeing and it comes as no surprise.
“Some people say to me ‘what the hell are you doing’ and I’ve got some friends who think it’s a load of crap – you can see it straight away on their faces. But you can’t be embarrassed about it.”
It’s Dunn’s next trick that really tests the scientific mind. By asking specific questions of the horse, like, “Do you have a sore foot?” Dunn says he can really pinpoint the soreness. If the answer is “yes” the pendulum spins clockwise, if it’s “no”, it goes counter-clockwise.
“I know a lot of people have trouble getting their heads round that part in particular. It’s a bit out of left field and, for a start, I was a bit sceptical, too.”
Dunn, who has always dabbled in chiropractic work on horses, was intrigued at the prospect of being able to go one step further and find the source of the problem. And any doubts he had about dowsing were eradicated when four years ago he watched international master dowser Bill Northern at work.
On one of his regular visits to New Zealand, the Virginia man inspected a bunch of horses Dunn and his brother Robert had turned out after being unable to diagnose their problems. “He told us things about them that he couldn’t possibly have known. Then we went over horses at Robert’s stables and told us which ones were sore.”
When Northern checked out Gavin Burgess’s useful pacer J D Fortune, he found the reason for the horse performing badly. “When Bill said the horse wanted his shoes changed back to his old ones, Gavin said only that previous week he’d changed them.” After reading about Northern’s numerous successes, Dunn did a course on dowsing. “I had trouble early on concentrating – you can’t have thoughts in your head – and they reckon it’s hardest to do your own horses. But I kept working on it and now it’s second nature to me. “My vet bills have definitely reduced, now I find out what’s wrong with the horse, I don’t have to pay someone else to do it. “I reckon it’s the best thing I’ve learnt in my life,” says Dunn of dowsing.
It doesn’t make the horses run faster. “It could be a coincidence that I’ve got two great horses right now but the trick is keeping them at the top level.”
Dunn says unlike Northern, who is physically drained after dowsing four horses, he can check out 50 in a day without trouble but, as a racing trainer, he was asking less taxing and quite specific questions of the animals. Maybe Dunn senses we’re among the non believers because before we leave he offers to check out our backs.
Dunn’s pendulum goes haywire at one point high up in my spine and again at a point above the tailbone. I know most guys have bad backs but this is a bit too spooky. Not so long ago a pinched nerve in that exact spot caused dreadful pain and the lower spine has been a war zone since a skiing accident as a child. Before I can splutter much out, Dunn has me in a bear lock and when I breathe out, he attacks and the crack is plain to hear.
Maybe there is something in all this after all.
Authour: Barry Lichter – Sunday Star Times | www.stuff.co.nz | Date: 25/05/2014
Photo by: Peter Meecham Fairfax NZ
Note: from Bill Northern | http://www.billnorthern.com/ | “This is one of my best students in New Zealand, Geoff Dunn”