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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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Connecting with my Horse's Mind

Dear Franklin

I discovered your website the other night whilst trying to find some help with my problem. I must say I read which great enthusiasm your advice to other horse friends and find great empathy with your approach.

I am English and now live in St Lucia in the West Indies and have four horses. This is a small island and we have virtually zero for horses apart from a small amount of feed which is imported from Trinidad. Anything I need for my horses must come from online or when my husband travels overseas with his work. I rent four stables for my horses but there is no round pen (or space for one) although I have a space where I can lunge two of my horses (I have a 37 year old gelding who has laminitis and a one year old colt - who we just had gelded last week). Riding here consists mainly of trail work but there are a couple of nice beaches to ride on.

My problem is with my oldest mare. She is around 12 and is I understand three quarters thoroughbred. She is 15.2 and very strong. She was previously owned by three different riding stables and has had some rough people ride her in the past. She has a very hard mouth. My husband and I have owned her for about three years now, she has a son who we have kept and she has a good relationship with him as well as our other two horses. She was the life partner of my elderly gelding and when he became so sick with laminitis we found her and bought her to try and get him well again - which worked. She will go out by herself and is generally a good horse. However, the last couple of times I have been out with a friend and one of my other horses she has become extremely strong on the beach and I have to say I have been unable to stop her (she has eventually stopped on her own). I don't like this feeling and am aware it could end up in a nasty fall for me. (I am 48 and don't bounce as well as I used to !). I ride her in a martingale and use a kimberwicke bit with curb chain. I don't really want to start looking for harsher bits and feel I must go back to training on the ground to try and solve this problem. I suppose the obvious thing is don't gallop her on the beach with another horse but I feel this is a bit of a cop out as I should be able to control a horse I am riding in all situations.

Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated. (I do have the necessary equipment for lungeing).

Regards, Sandie

Hi Sandie,

First thing is, thanks for your kind words. Next is that your horse has a natural proclivity to want to race and at her age this habitual behavior would be extremely difficult to modify. It is easy to understand how old , habitual behavior patterns are so difficult for us humans to modify. It is truely the same and even more difficult for horses. It is really not about controlling your horse. Nobody has taught or ridden your horse to be a dance partner (which is what should be the case with you as the leader of the dance). Please do not think you need to dominate your horse. If you want to try to help the horse develop a better mouth, go to one-handed half-halts and one-handed stops. Do not pull with both hands as that is ineffective and what the horse is used to being able to avoid. A bit is only a tool and only as good as the person using it. What makes a bit severe is the hands operating it. A snaffle can be a device of torture in the wrong hands (seems to ahve been the case with your horse and the kimber bit was an attempt to come up in severity a step. Humans not understanding the nature of horses and their training is really at the core of the situation. Do you understand how to reward a horse for responding to the bit properly? Let me know if you don't. Rewarding every little try of your horse for compliance to a request is crucial to any sort of decent training. You need to do something basically different and doing a lot using a one-handed technique is the way to go. The horse cannot avoid a properly offered one-handed cue to turn, slow or stop. Basically, for slowing and stopping, one hand is simply held steady w/o pulling and the other hand 'bumps' the rein (short rather abrupt tugs in an upward direction). Obviously this is much less severe than putting your weight on a bit and pulling. Of course use of your 'seat' and body in a proper position to reinforce the cue to slow or stop is appropriate at the same time. A verbal cue is good too (but not over done (ho,ho,ho,ho,ho). For beginning to develop a better turn, again one handed, 'bump' one rein upward, use an outside leg to reinforce the cue. Tip the horse's nose up and in with the bumps and kick the animal's butt around in the opposite direction with your inside leg held behind the girth. This is an exaggerated hind-quarter yield. If you practice this in both directions your horse will soften up, turn better, and stop better as well as get it's mouth back. I would also do more leg yields and soften up the horse's responses that way as well. Be skillful and precise, little pressure is needed if the cues are provided appropriately. An intermittent cue is better than a continuous pull.

Let me know your thoughts and how it all goes.......

Sincerely, Franklin

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