Sterrett trains horses by instilling trust and understanding their needs, two techniques he knows to work well in mending human relationships as well.
He’ll be demonstrating those techniques Saturday and Sunday as the featured performer at the second annual Hawkins County Fair near Church Hill.
Not exactly a ‘horse whisperer’
Although he doesn't reject the "horse whisperer" label that others have placed on him, Sterrett told the Times News last week it's not exactly how he describes himself.
"The concept of horse whisperer implies something mystical or ethereal, and that's not really what we're about,” he said. "We're just about really good cause and effect training. But also, whispering implies how well you are attentive to the horse's needs, and how well you respond to those things.”
Sterrett added, "You'll watch the horse's natural reactions and how we respond to its needs, and how the horse benefits and grows from it. They're insecure and they're defensive, so when anybody understands their needs and puts them at ease, they respond very well to that."
A lot of horsing around this year
The Hawkins County Fair is set for for Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and it will continue on Sunday with an hour-long church service on the fairgrounds beginning at about 10:30 a.m., after which the fair will open and continue until 3 p.m.
Aside from all the regular county fair activities, there's a huge emphasis on horse training and horse shows this year.
Local horse trainer Michael Heplar will have shows on Friday at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. and on Saturday at noon and 4 p.m.
Sterrett has shows set for Saturday at 9:30 a.m., during the intermission of the main horse show on Saturday afternoon, and again at 5 p.m.
Horse shows with a Christian theme
The Saturday shows will last about a half hour, but Sterrett also has a show Sunday beginning at 12:30 p.m. that he calls the "Sermon on the Mount" that will last about two hours.
The Hawkins County Fair has a Christian theme, and Sterrett said Christian values are an integral part of his program as well.
"Of course, in all the process we're teaching about how to have a relationship both with our creator, as well as with the horses and people we live with," Sterrett said. "Certainly that's my belief, and it's our desire to demonstrate to the audience the profound reality of how God designed us for relationships. Everything we do is built upon those kind of concepts and values."
He's bringing two horses with him, but he'll be training local "problem horses" horses that he's never seen before during his shows on Saturday.
During Sunday's "Sermon on the Mount," he'll ride a horse that's never been ridden before "and show the foundation of truth and trust for a successful outcome."
Nearly six decades of experience
Sterrett, 65, currently resides in Oklahoma, but he grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania and has been working with horses since he was 8.
For the past 40 years, he's been on the road, making use of his horse training expertise, as well as his master’s degree in Divinity and his doctorate in Leadership Training.
Aside from fairs, he does leadership programs for corporations, sports teams, schools and other organizations.
"When you have healthy relationships it does bring healing into your life, whether you've grown up in a broken family and you can find people you can really trust and learn from, obviously that is a healing process," he said. "Our theme line is 'Lessons for life and leadership from the language of the horse.' It's kind of a mirror image of who we are and how we grow."
The Hawkins County Fair is located at 1069 Old Union Road in the New Canton community near Church Hill. See the online version of this article for a map of the fairgrounds, a schedule of all events and a list and the location of all vendors and demonstrations.