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10 Lessons Voice Actors
Can Learn From Horses

By Rick Lance
Voice Actor

Over the past 20 years I've shared my life with horses, yet I've always wondered what took me so long to discover them.
Oh, I grew up with childhood fantasies of horses brought on by TV shows like My Friend Flicka, Fury, The Lone Ranger and Mr Ed, as well as movies like Black Beauty, The Black Stallion, Lonely Are the Brave and National Velvet.
I'm still a sucker today for the contemporary stories of The Horse Whisperer, Secretariat and the new War Horse.
Mostly, these are all stories of true heart, guts, soul and love. They illustrate the fact that man has learned much about life through the wisdom of his horses.
Of course, these days it's easy to forget the impact horses have had on our lives.
Before the invention of the automobile, horses throughout much of the world were our only means of transportation.
They were not only used as ATVs and farm workers (before tractors), but as companions, too.
And we've always learned from the lives of our horses. We've learned from their spirit, their sweetness, lust for freedom and their trust in humanity.
Yes, today horses are simply obsolete, for all practical purposes - completely low-tech, high energy and high maintenance. Still, every horse owner recognizes their sheer magnificence. 
Here are 10 lessons that my horse, Duke, an awesome, 26-year-old, 16-hand, chestnut, flaxen-maned, Tennessee Walking Horse gelding has taught me.
I should say that I'm not claiming to be an expert in horse psychology or horsemanship, Western riding, equine science, training or care.
However, I have dedicated a large part of my life to the welfare of my horses and the discipline of modern day horsemanship.
For the sake of simplicity, I've borrowed a few maxims from a little book I keep in my studio called All I Need to Know I Learned from My Horse, by Pamela C. Biddle and Joel Fishman
Horses can't talk, but they can speak if you listen.
The heart of a horse is wide open. Unlike us, they do not suppress emotion.
You can communicate with a horse by watching his movements:
  • position of the ears,
  • sweetness in the eyes,
  • bowing,
  • jerking or shaking of the head,
  • pawing, and
  • many other natural body movements.
Those are signs of communication. It's how they relate to each other in the wild among their herds.
Horses can read our body language much better than we can among ourselves.
Understand this and the horse becomes trainable, bonding with his handler in mutual respect.
Part of our training and our job as actors/voice actors is to "listen" well and observe closely.

Before we can bring a character to life - one who really touches people's hearts - we need to practice and refine this behavior.
Listening closely works pretty well in business, too.
A steady hand is better than a harsh bit.

In the days of the Old West, cowboys often rode with harsh bits in the mouths of their horses, believing that brawn was better than brain. 
They muscled their horses about as slaves rather than with the modern philosophy of partnership.
Partnering is a term used today in business. To me, this is achieved through understanding, grace, trust and good communication skills with clients and associates. 
You learn more from a bad ride than from a good one.
A bad ride can more likely be blamed on the rider and not the horse. While learning to ride, I realized that horses are calm and cooperative when you are.
I've always been somewhat hard headed, or so I'm told, sometimes learning things the hard way.
A key to business success is learning from your mistakes, rather than repeating them, then riding on down the trail with confidence and know-how.
Once the jump is under you, it's too late to look at it.
Horses sometimes have more sense than people. They just keep moving forward.
Learning from our mistakes is vital, but dwelling on them is fruitless. What's done is done.
The attention span of a horse is only three seconds. After that he's ready for the next thing.
Likewise, after the botched audition, instead of beating yourself up about what you could have done better, it's best to put it out of your mind.
It's too late to go back and do it again anyway. 
A good heart beats a pretty head every time. It takes more than just being a purebred to make a great horse.
Those of you who feel much freer and more comfortable behind the mic than in front of the camera can relate to this.
As voice actors, our best performances are those that reach out and touch the listener.
Who cares how pretty we may look behind the mic? Microphones can’t see; they can only feel.
A swish of the tail at regular intervals, a simple natural action, keeps most pests away.
In other words, watch your back! Trust is commendable, but naivete can be detrimental.
Brush aside the naysayers and focus on moving forward.
Rely on your own judgment, but look back once in a while to keep predators at bay - and to see how far you've come.
Know the course before you mount the horse. The horse surely knows the way.
If you are new to voice acting, or any other skilled profession, do your homework before getting in too deep with equipment expenses, client services, marketing expenses and such.
A young foal learns to trot before he can canter.
There's a wealth of resources available on the Internet and at your public library and community book store. Read up on your new profession.
Choose your sources wisely. Ask a working pro which sources are the ones most valuable to him or her, rather than asking too broad a question such as, "How do I get into voice acting?"
Riding well is the best revenge. Show off your riding skills.
As I said earlier, keep the naysayers at bay as well as other negative influences.
Concentrate instead on being the best professional you can be.
Revenge is sweet when you've become accomplished, leaving others in the dust who are lazy, misguided, unskilled or unscrupulous. 
Never end an exercise on a bad note. To build confidence leave the session on a happy note.
The best way to do this is to ask the horse to perform something he already knows how to do. He leaves confidently, ready for the next session.
End your own recording session, phone conversation or email message on a good happy note.
Stay positive and forward-thinking when dealing with clients and with the industry as a whole.
Graze in the same spot too long and you'll end up with a mouthful of dirt. Horses always find the green grass.

Gaining new ground in any business is vital to its prosperity, longevity and growth, especially a business such as voice acting accompanied by so much high technology.
But then again, what business today isn't? Keeping up with and understanding its evolving phases will help keep your business in the spotlight.
On Friday, Feb. 3, 2012, my beloved horse, Duke, passed away. He was 26 years old - 78 in human years.
One of the hardest things in life I've ever done was to let him go and allow him a dignified death.
Despite the years of care and love we gave him, time and an injury took its toll on his aging legs and he could no longer support the weight of his own body. 
Duke is survived by Majik, our 16-year-old, chestnut, flaxen-maned Arabian mare and Jett, our black, 12-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse gelding.
He's also survived by our two beautiful dogs, Jessie, a 10-year-old, Red Tri Australian Shepherd (Aussie) and Cody, a 10-year-old Shaded Sable Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie), our 11-year-old barn cat, Pistol and newly adopted family member, (abandoned by a neighbor) a handsome, multi-colored rooster, Rowdy, and of course by wife, Mickie, and myself.
I hope you found this article beneficial to your business and personal life.

It has allowed me to collect my thoughts and most certainly was therapeutic in honoring the memory of my first horse, Duke. May he rest in peace in Horse Heaven.

Rick Lance has been working as a voice talent since 1993, transitioning from singing demos and personal projects in Nashville’s music business to voicing hundreds of commercials, then promos, narrations, character voices and more. His vocal style is described as Americana, the voice of the Heartland. He is currently the voice of Championship Bull Riding on GAC-TV and NHRA Inside Reining, Wide World of Horses on IC-TV and Life Care Centers of America, among others. He has also become a leading voice for the industries of construction, manufacturing, energy production, trucking, agriculture/equine, outdoor sports, travel, community banking, finance and health care. And he is a colorful voice for film, television, museum and corporate documentaries.

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Comments (10)
Maxine Dunn
2/15/2012 at 4:51 PM
Hi Rick,

This article is such an amazing & beautiful piece. Thank you so much for offering it here at VoiceOverXtra.

As a fellow horseman, I feel your feelings as if they were my own. And the wonderful lessons you offer here can be applied to so many different parts of our lives, both personal & professional.

Thank you dear one, thinking of you today. I hope you're doing okay. I can imagine it's been a tremendously difficult time for you.

P.S. I just love how you write as well. Your style is so relatable & makes it easy for us to connect instantly with what you're saying. xo
Rick Lance
2/9/2012 at 8:04 PM
Thanks to all of you who posted comments.

I really appreciate your kind words and I'm so glad you found the positive in a not so positive situation. You've helped me, as I'm pleased to have helped you.

He was named Duke because he was strong, tall, righteous with a heart of gold.
2/9/2012 at 6:07 PM
What an absolutely beautiful piece of writing! Informative, full of common sense and wonderful business tips and so very touching. Condolences to you all; Duke surely appreciates the life you gave him. Best Wishes.
Bobbin Beam
2/9/2012 at 12:21 PM
Rick, I could feel the catharsis pouring out of you. Thank you for such a heartfelt, poignant article. I especially enjoyed the connections you made to the VO world. And for sharing something so close to your life.
Ken Budka
2/9/2012 at 11:55 AM
Hey Rick,

I love your observations and ability to learn some valuable lessons from anyone and everyone. I feel better informed in the world of horses now so your message has helped me grow in multiple areas. Thanks to Duke as well, as his spirit was somehow meant to touch my life too.

Naomi McMillan
2/9/2012 at 9:43 AM
What an amazing article, and heartfelt tribute. It is a great start to my day, except for the part where it made me cry and my make up's running :)
Thank you for sharing!!!
Alex Novielli
2/9/2012 at 8:57 AM
A perfect tribute to a beautiful animal. Perhaps the title of the article might have read "10 Lessons Man Can Learn From Horses" as the piece is fitting for every walk of life. May Duke rest peacefully....
Roy Wells
2/9/2012 at 8:20 AM
Really good and interesting take on VO life, Rick. I'm sure Duke will have a good home in God's heaven.
Deb Stamp
2/9/2012 at 7:49 AM
What a strong, creative tribute, Rick.
Wishing you patience as your sadness turns to acceptance and gratitude.

Paul J. Warwick
2/9/2012 at 6:50 AM
Great article.
I'll have my Clio and Circe meet Duke at Rainbow Bridge and show him around> Wow! Their first horse!!
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