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Horse training and songs, the Cheyenne way

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LAME DEER, Mont. - Stories and traditions of the medicine wheel are not
unfamiliar to most people. Many American Indian cultures use a type of
wheel as a life teacher, as it represents the directions and the connection
to all creatures, animate or inanimate. Through its teaching, the
connection with nature is the center of the language.

Philip Whiteman Jr., Northern Cheyenne, practices the art of communicating
with horses in a language they understand: the language of Mother Earth.
Whiteman also sings the songs and tells the stories so important to the
Cheyenne because of their ability to teach and entertain.

So what is the connection between training horses and telling stories and
singing songs - the natural world and its language?

Whiteman is a firm believer in the traditions of the Cheyenne. He lives his
life according to the traditions, teaching and culture of the Cheyenne, and
that includes a related connection to the natural world and everything it
contains.

The Cheyenne language is from the natural world, Whiteman said. And through
that language, the stories of life as it is connected to the natural world
are told as entertainment and as learning tools. The horse, too, speaks a
natural language, albeit a more basic form of communication than the spoken
language of the Cheyenne; nonetheless, it is a means of communication that
Whiteman learned by way of traditional teachings from his mother, father,
grandparents and traditional leaders.

Whiteman's mother, Florence Whiteman, was the last of the original warrior
women to go through the Elk Scraper Society; and his father, Phillip
Whiteman Sr., is one of the chiefs of the council of 44.

"When my mother passed on, she took a wealth of knowledge with her,"
Whiteman said.

Just one month before her death, Whiteman performed the story of the Grass
Dancer at the Denver March Pow Wow in 2003 as an honoring to his mother and
father. He said his mother was proud to be honored in that way.

The Grass Dancer is one of the stories he tells and demonstrates while on
the traveling circuit to schools and communities, and is included on his
new compact disc "Spirit Seeker," or Vot?statane, which in Cheyenne means
the circle of life and the cultural belief that all things are related.

Whiteman was brought into the Grass Dance circle and the story he
repeatedly heard he tells often. The Grass Dancer, a young boy who is
paralyzed from the waist down, exemplifies how dreams can come true
"through the mystical powers the creator offers us."

Through the life of the disabled youth, the story teaches how to overcome
adversities in life and "to believe in faith and hope, love, and the
rainbow. This young man was blessed as he shared stories with his people,
teaching to overcome the different disabilities that each and every one of
us has," he said.

"These stories I put on the CD are about diversity that creates unity, like
the trickster story. I believe stories are the food for the soul. They are
used to teach us life's lessons and stimulate thought and imagination.

"I believe it is important to pass the stories down. That is why I tell
these stories," Whiteman said.

Also on the CD is "Cheyenne Flag Song," written by Phillip Whiteman Sr.;
the "Journey Song"; "Circle of Life"; "Traditional Prayer Song"; "Flute
Song"; and the story, "My Friend the Porcupine."

"Rites of Passage," or the snake story on the CD, takes the listener
through the four stages of life and returns to the circle. Everything is a
circle and everything has a season, and the creator blessed people with two
survival skills, the first two stages of life. A ceremony will reintroduce
the person to the circle of life and help to make the transitions into the
third and fourth stages of life.

"So we will no longer depend on the first two gifts we were given to
survive, to cry out like an infant and to act out like an adolescent but to
learn to process our feelings and our emotions like fall time. There are
the seasons and everything is connected and there are many ways to be
brought back into the circle, brought back into the seasons and the circle
that connects everything."

Whiteman's approach to training horses is similar to the rights of passage.
His approach is that a horse has four stages of life, the four directions
and colors of the medicine wheel. That's why he calls his approach the
"medicine wheel of horsemanship."

"I am challenging the horse people and bringing them to a higher level of
understanding. We talk about the mirror concept and what we put out comes
back. The simplicity of it all is connected."

Whiteman's approach to training a horse, a youth or adult is all connected,
and horse owners and trainers in the region have started to look at his
approach. At the February Black Hills Stock Show, the third-largest in the
country, Whiteman drew nearly 600 people to a workshop of his medicine
wheel approach. Other trainers, or so-called "horse whisperers," drew 30 or
40 people to their clinics, he said.

He teaches a horse to lead by following it. Once the horse learns to lead,
he demonstrates the four sides of the horse. The child side cries out, the
second or adolescent side reacts. The third side is the processing of
emotions and feelings, and will connect with the rider. In the fourth side,
the horse becomes calm and no longer seeks self-preservation.

"I demonstrate and teach the language of Mother Earth as a way of
communicating. Things have changed, but our ways used to worship and live
with the Creator have not changed," Whiteman said.

For more information, visit www.phillipwhitemanjr.com, call (406) 477-8720,
or e-mail spiritseeker@rangeweb.net.