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Franklin Levinson's

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All a matter of trust in the leader

Hi Franklin,

I have been reading the information on your webpage quite a bit. I really enjoy your positive approach to training. So many in our area try to dominate their horses and don't ever think about building relationships. About 5 weeks ago, I bought a horse for my 12 year old daughter. She has taken lessons for 3 years and we leased a horse over the summer months. In the fall we decided to purchase a horse. He is a 7 year old gelding. I bought him because he has a wonderful, calm disposition and seemed like a perfect match. My daughter was not allowed to ride him for the first two weeks. We had her work on the ground with him establishing space and respect and worked on his ground manners. We then hand walked him around the neighborhood making sure he was okay with cars, bikes, dogs, etc. He was solid as a rock. Next time out we took him on a trail ride by himself without problems. He enjoyed whinnying to all the other horses. We then took him out on the trail with the mare that is also kept on the property. Our horse is kept at a friend's house. They are the only two horses on the property. They are not turned out together yet but turn out time is alternated and they can be with each other but with a fence between them.

Things were going along very well with this horse. His ground manners were coming along, he could go out on the trail alone or with another horse and my daughter was beginning to bond well with him. Then last week he started to balk on the trail. He would just refuse to move forward. He would back up, turn in circles but wouldn't go forward. Hand walking was okay but not riding. We noticed that one of his shoes had twisted a little bit so we took him home and didn't ride him again until the farrier came out. Today we tried to take him out again and he didn't want to leave the property. We hand walked him well away from the property and my daughter got on his back again. At first everything was going well but then he started balking again. She tapped him on the shoulder with the rein and that helped him to go forward. Later on she had trouble controlling him on the road and he trotted (uncontrolled) out into traffic. She could not control him. We hand walked him home and we worked on ground manners when we got home. This horse seems to have completely lost his confidence and is now quite insecure.

This is my first horse and I am at a complete loss to understand was has happened. Has he bonded with the mare so much that he doesn't want to leave her? My daughter can't ride him in the arena on the property either. He just balks. We have looked at saddle fit, bit (snaffle), physical problems, etc. but can't seem to figure out what the problem is.

Can you please shed some light on the problem and offer some solutions, please? We just don't know what to do next? I thank you so much for any help you can give.


Hi Gail,

Even the best trained, most compliant horse in the world, will lose its confidence (trust in humans) and begin to fend for itself, when the leadership is lacking when the horse is being ridden (or handled on the ground) by a human who is inexperienced and lacking in confidence. Because you have not been able to appropriately deal with the initial situations when they came up while the horse was being ridden his (trust) confidence in your or your daughter's abilities to 'lead the dance' with him are unfortunately greatly deminished. The fact that you (or your daughter) got off the horse when the blaking situations did arise, quickly trained the horse that if he disregards your requests (balks) he gets rid of his rider, led home and put away. So you have been rewarding him for his behavior. This is how horses are trained.

Your horse is now what is called 'soured' towards doing those requested tasks for humans. Horses do this in order to feel they have some control in their situation and will survive as nobody around is able to lead and guide them appropriately and confidently through requests made. This translates to leading the horse, if the horse gets nervous or something a bit scary happens, towards feelings of confidence and safety. In the wild they get all their confidence and feelings of safety from the knowledgeable confidence from the leader(s) of the herd. Without that leader present, any horse will begin to fend for itself in order to feel it will be safe and survive. Horses in dude-strings (trail ride stables) have to be ridden and handled regularly by experienced equestrains and horse people in order for them to not have similar problems you are experiencing. They need that leader around at least part of the time to stay trusting and compliant with humans. Horses cannot be handled or ridden by novices for very long before they start to fend for themselves. This is what you are experiencing. Also, the horse is herd-bound with the the mare, so that separation is traumatic for the gelding. Again, this is normal behavior for a horse when there is no other being around who can demonstrate thay can 'lead the dance.' They get their sense of safety, companionship and belonging only when with the other horse. They have lost all confidence and trust in the human.

The good news is that it is a relatively easy situation to remedy. A confident, gentle, experienced trainer or horse handler has to now spend some regular time with the horse to get him back on track (tuned up). It might take me a day or two to deal with everything that you have described as the horse was pretty compliant before these occurances happened. You have not said where you are located. That might be helpful information for me to suggest a person or place for you to turn to. I have relatively easy techniques to deal with what you are describing. They take some horsemanship abilities I do not think you have as yet. Unfortunately, I cannot describe them in an email. It is a lot of information. After all, it has taken me most of my life to perfect these methods. I would suggest you get some education on horses and horse handling (training). Knowledge will help you a lot. Seeing the techniques would prove invaluable. There are many good training DVD's and books out. I have some that would be very helpful to you within the shopping corral of my website. Likewise there are many trainers out there offering good, educational materials. Any horse magazine has ads for these in their back sections. Getting a DVD is probably the best overall thing you could do as you can see the techniques in action. Hiring a trainer or sending the horse to a trainer is risky as there are a huge number of so-called trainers out there who abuse horses and really do not know much about them. Its all about dominance for them (controling the horse rather than leading the horse). They do not understand about the importance of trust and think it is all about the horse 'obeying' the human, like a slave. So you need to be very careful when hiring a trainer. Riding instructors say they are trainers. But frequently know little of horses beyond the human activity of riding the horse. Even in the riding instruction it is all about "show him who is the boss" or "take charge and control that horse." Again, this is a huge error and creates fear within the horse and the student as there is no knowledge about horses imparted and a great many misconceptions are provided by such people. They will not admit there is something they may not know about horses.

Anyway, please tell me where you are and maybe I know someone or a place you can turn to locally. I also travel to present training seminars all the time. If you think there may be others in your area who would benefit from a clinic with me, I am free to travel and do much of the year. Please consider educating yourselves through taking a horsemanship seminar and/or purchasing some training DVD's and books. It will prove invaluable to your lives with horses and some of the best money you can spend in persuit of good and sound horsemanship. Please keep me posted.......

Best Regards, Franklin

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