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Franklin Levinson's

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Dangerous horse getting started under saddle

Hi Franklin,

I run a breaking yard and have broken in countless horses and have overcome all situations apart from the one I am about to ask you. I have a 4 year old gelding from a very renowned Welsh Cob Stud that has me and others completely baffled. He is, as said 4-yrs old gelding (when I am not sure) I have had him 3 wks and he's a proper gent in the stable and to handle groom etc. The problems start when I try to put anything on or near his back, he accepts saddle pads on his neck and even over his face but put it on his back and he rears, not only does he rear but he challenges me by spinning on his back legs and striking out whilst rearing, today he managed at lest 20 paces in my direction whilst on his hind legs thrashing out at me. Nothing seems to phase him and to me he reacts like a horse that has already been tried to be broken, signals for this are as follows.....he accepted the bit like an old pro opened his mouth lowered his head and did not once "chomp" when it was in his mouth and just stood still...his reaction to the roller was the reverse he ran at the mere sight of it even the noise of the buckles freaked him out and sent him rearing and lashing out in my direction. The vet came to check him as he has a swollen sheath (something else that is baffling us all) and as the vet entered the stable his reaction was to rear and lash out striking the vet twice on the head leaving him with a egg shaped swelling and a split eyebrow followed by a second rear and lashing out at me as I threw the slumped vet out the door smashing me on the collar bone followed by a strike out with the front leg whilst standing on all fours. He is not bothered by any reprimand and he is becoming too dangerous to handle. I hope you can help me. He has been fed sugar beet and chaff which I have decided to not give him anymore as he seems not to need the extra energy. He is turned out during the day, except to be worked fed adlib hay and stabled during the night.

Thank you, Sarah

Hi Sarah,

You have a difficult situation for sure. If it was me trying to get this horse right, I would go to liberty training in a round pen (60 foot diameter round yard). I would not attempt to confine the animal (stall or with rope) for training. I want to make certain he knows he can move away. Few horses will go for attack if they are sure they have enough room to know they can move away. I think you are handling this fearful horse way too close to him. He could be desensitized at liberty, and when he is ready, accept roller, saddle, etc. at first w/o being restrained or tied. I train stallions this way a lot and it works. I don't challenge the animal. I allow it to come to trust on its own terms, in its own time and when it is ready. Swollen sheaths can happen seasonally (usually spring). Unless it is more than moderately swollen, I would just keep an eye on it. Could be it needs a cleaning too. If the horse has not had a sheath cleaning in quite a while (or ever) he could be experiencing some discomfort there and that could be part of the problem. Either way, I would still train him at liberty first. You actually haven't had the horse that long. However, if you can train patiently at liberty in a round pen, take your time, are calm and precise, stop reprimands or any punishment, and only go for positive reinforcement, you can sort this horse out. But you might have to change your mind about some traditional methods you are possibly trying to employ. I always ask, how can I help this horse to feel safe and trust it is safe with me. This is a primal question for a horse and the answer cannot be rushed.

You know, I have always felt it is an unfortunate choice of terms when it comes to starting horses under saddle to say we are 'breaking' horses. The word originated, from what I understand, during the days when horsemanship was rough, abusive and looked to have an equine submit to the will of a human. In my experience of traveling many years to 6 countries or so in a year, many breakers are still doing basically the same thing, only not quite as rough. It is still too fast and the trainer seeks to have the animal submit. I never say I break horses. I will say I attempt to fix horses, get them right, sort them out, start them under saddle, back them, on and on. For me, I have learned that my language really does reflect my beliefs. So, I have learned to pay particular attention to how I language what I do. Partially to avoid any misconception or misunderstanding about what I do. I am a calm, quiet, gentle, efficient and effective trainer. I allow a horse to take what time it needs to get over scary stuff and accept me as its great leader who can instill feelings of safety within the animal. I don't want to break anything. For me, tradition for traditions sake doesn't make much sense, even with language. Things change, we change. I turn 64 soon and I have changed a lot and really wish to be as clear and concise as possible in my communication. This is not being 'new age' but rather more accurate and precise.

Best of luck to you and thank you for your email.

Sincerely, Franklin

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