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From Sympatico.ca/tilleyfarm

Anthony Head

Anthony Stewart Head works with abandoned animals

Tuesday 13 July 2004, by Webmaster

Courses for horses

At Tilley Farm Sarah Fisher and Anthony Head explain that working with disturbed and abandoned animals really is the good life

We’re in the TTEAM training hall at Tilley Farm, trying to decide where to photograph Sarah Fisher and Anthony Head. How about a nice shot with a horse between them?

"Horses have come between us for 20 years," mutters Tony, but we aren’t taken in for a moment, and nor are we meant to be. Tilley Farm may have started life as Sarah’s project, but he’s become increasingly involved, and spends much of his spare time helping local animal charities.

Spare time seems to be one of the few things this successful couple don’t have, and we’re delighted to have pinned them down for an interview. We’re so delighted that we’ve turned up early. The friendly staff bring us tea, in mugs with I’M IN TTOUCH WITH MY DOG written in on the side. Eyeing us balefully from over the fence, a German Shepherd looks as if he’s contemplating the kind of ttouch that involves tteeth; we click our tongues hopefully, conveying that we don’t plan to rob the place or run off with the guinea pig, but he doesn’t really settle down until Sarah strolls into view.

Making animals feel relaxed is a big part of Sarah’s work. As it turns out, she’s pretty good at making people feel at ease too - extrovert, forthright and down-to-earth, you sense that while she’d go out of her way to help any owner or animal, she doesn’t suffer fools gladly - especially those who adopt a blinkered approach to dealing with ’problem’ animals.

Next to the ebullient Sarah, Buffy star Tony Head is a relatively quiet presence. While she regales us with anecdotes from her work with animals - some sad, others hilarious, all of them thought-provoking - he listens carefully, occasionally interjecting with observations and stories of his own. They’re both excellent raconteurs, and the conversation veers entertainingly from deluded pet owners to vampires and back again.

While Sarah admits to being horse-mad from the age of four, Tony admits that the lifestyle came as a complete revelation: "all that mucking out and pottering about, in an atmosphere of quiet munching serenity - it was the most peaceful thing I had ever done."

As they chat about their different careers, it emerges how strongly they’ve supported and influenced each other. Following the success of that coffee commercial, it was Sarah who encouraged Tony to try his luck in the States - even if it meant that she was left to bring up their two young daughters on her own for months at a time. The gamble paid off, with Tony landing the career-changing role of Giles in Buffy which made him one of the most familiar TV faces on both sides of the pond. Fans of the series will be thrilled to know that a two-hour spinoff movie centred on the character is under discussion with the show’s creator, Joss Whedon, ("a genius").

It was while in LA that Tony first encountered TTEAM (Tellington Touch Equine Awareness Method). "I was watching an "infommercial" he says, wryly acknowledging the Americanism,"and up popped a woman called Linda Tellington Jones, explaining how she’d evolved a way of working with animals by doing very simple touches. I called Sarah, and said "here’s something that might interest you."

Sarah describes seeing Linda work with a disturbed horse for the first time: "Within an hour, she had completely changed its posture and behaviour through body work," she says. "My jaw just dropped."

Through training with Linda, Sarah has become the UK’s leading TTEAM practitioner, using touch, ground and riding techniques to solve behavioural problems and ease horses’ discomfort - something that generally causes the ’bad’ behaviour in the first place. Unlike conventional methods, TTEAM throws the idea of repetitive training out of the window ("boring, for both animal and owner") in favour of a compassionate, sensory-related approach. As she regales us with almost miraculous success stories, Sarah assures us that even an unskilled novice can achieve amazing results. "And it doesn’t just work with horses - TTEAM works on dogs, rabbits, tortoises..." But how do you spot a traumatised tortoise? "It doesn’t come out of its shell," she replies with disarming simplicity.

She makes it all sound excellent sense - and very simple. "It is simple," insists Sarah. "And the results can be instant."

In addition to holding workshops and courses, both at Tilley Farm and all over the country, Sarah presented the recent ITV series Talking with Animals. Narrated by Tony, it follows her work at rescue centres, farms and zoos. "In some ways, Listening with Animals would have been a better title," muses Tony. "So much depends on being able to hear what the animal is trying to tell you."

His own career has gone from strength to strength, with recent roles in Manchild, Little Britain, Peter Pan and The Pirates of Penzance. A new documentary on demons will be screened this autumn.

No wonder then that Tilley Farm is such a haven. "We’re very fortunate to have all this," Tony acknowledges, stroking the muzzle of Otto, a gentle brown and white horse. "But you have to take the challenges life throws out and ride with them."

It’s certainly a far cry from the hellmouth. And if an idyllic lifestyle and the ability to make a real difference is the touchstone of success, it’s a philosophy that seems to be working exceptionally well.

For information on courses and workshops, visit: www.tilleyfarm.co.uk

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