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Franklin Levinson's

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Big horse, Little Confidence

Dear Franklin,

I ride a beautiful Clydesdale, 8 yr old gelding. Prior to beginning riding him, I 'got to know him' from ground up, so he could know me, and I could get a sense of him. It worked, we are in love! tee hee. After about three months, we began to ride. We have a few issues that time and patience have benefited us - head down, calm down, easy - he is so smart and his confidence was building beautifully!!

About three weeks ago, while tacking him up, the horse we ride with on a regular basis, who was standing to the rear side of him, untied itself, skittered around, spooked, reared and ran close behind him full canter down the hill. In the process of this, Gabe knocked me down, stepped on my shoe (from which I quickly extricated my frightened foot!) and absolutely could not compose himself for about 10 minutes despite my best efforts to convince him that we both we just fine. This was my last ride prior to a two week vacation.

Upon returning I notice that his good manners at being tacked up have disappeared. He stands to the side looking behind him with wide eyes, won't stand still, skitters NOT to be padded and saddled, and tries to literally HIDE BEHIND ME, looking behind him all the while. He looks at me and licks and licks my hand as if to say, please save me!

He, in previous years had another trauma whilst saddling, when someone riding him mounted and then had a stirrup break. The man landed heavily on his back and the saddle slid all the way under Gabe. As a young horse at the time he panicked, with this new owner on his back, bucked the man into a tree and unfortunately there were injuries but he seems to have gotten way past this. The man still owns Gabe and I exercise him for the family.

I have tried to teach Gabe my beliefs which are trust and patience and very very minimum of man handling (pardon the expression). I don't believe horses deserve or need it, and truthfully, the mentality of the draft horses, is exceptionally sensitive and reacts adversely to being treated that way. We have come so far together this way. I am proud of both of us.

I wonder if you can recommend a way to de-sensitize Gabe from being so frightened of the area where we tack up. I changed the location, but he still looks behind in fear and cannot settle down. So I took him back to the same area where the incident happened and have begun working on just standing there calmly, casually, a few treats and once he stands the way he should, praise and then we move away on a happy note.

He is a BIG boy, and therefore, I would appreciate any advice you may offer - for his sake and the other riders who would also like to use the tacking area (he takes up the WHOLE area with his sideways stance!

Thank you from both of us! Teresa

Hi Teresa,

Thank you for your email and your sensitivity. Sounds like you have a good handle on the situation actually. Here are a couple of suggestions: You cannot shield your horse from all scary things and places. Desensitizing him is the way to go. You might need to speak to the other folks who share that tacking area with you that you need to re-train your horse to be calm in that area. Set up your training sessions through considering the others who share the area so as to not impose on them. Make your schedule for this accordingly. Make it difficult for your horse to keep his attention behind him and easy for him to keep his attention on you by asking for hind-quarter yields (tight move) when he takes his attention off of you. Get good at doing this move with the horse somewhere easy and safe first before going into the barn isle to do it. As soon as he begins to be distracted, do the move, several rotations and then offer a HO! and a brief (15-30 second) rest. Look for him to relax (lick and chew, sigh, etc.). If he does not and continues to stand sideways and look around, do the move (process) again and again and again, until he stands and relaxes. The principle is making what you do not want difficult and what you do want (standing quietly) easy for the horse. This process works to modify all sorts of equinie behavior you do not want. This can be done from the saddle as well. Hind-quarter legs yields are a basic riding maneuver that all riders should be familiar with. If you are not, let me know. Good Luck and please keep me posted.

Sincerely yours, Franklin

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