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Franklin Levinson's

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Don't know what to do. My fears are big.

Dear Franklin,

I don't know if writing you will help, but I don't know what else to do. I have always thought of horses as beautiful creatures and have taken every opportunity to ride when I'm on vacation, etc... When my husband (who has the same experience level as I do) learned of my interest, he gave us riding/horsemanship lessons for my birthday from a local man who has always had horses, and we spent every other Saturday pleasantly riding for a few hours while learning a little bit about horses. My husband, who is an extremely confident man and sure of his abilities, wants to train his own horses. I thought that I wanted to do that as well, but now I don't think that I can. Although I love them, I, like many who have written to you, am fearful of them to a certain extent. I'm anxious when I'm with them, and I'm trying to read their body language and doing a hideously poor job of it. I can't tell when they're trying to be affectionate and when they're being pushy. I don't know how to react to them, and no matter what I do, I feel guilty... like I shouldn't have done this or should have done that.

  Quite frankly, I wasn't too worried about my anxiety issues because with each ride, I was doing better and better, becoming more confident and able to read the horse was with (a 16 year old mare dominate among her herd of 26). I thought that after I took lessons for a couple of years I'd be ready when we finally settled down and bought a horse in a couple of years. Unfortunately – well, fortunately because I DO feel very blessed – the timeline on that was shortened considerably this past October when we bought a house with a wonderful barn with 4 stalls and a tackroom. At the time, I was simply elated because I thought, "Wow!! We can get the house together and then we can get a horse sometime in the next year, say the fall of 2007." On the day we signed, however, I found out that my husband had bought two horses, a 6-mth old and a 1.5 year old as a surprise for me. Please don't get me wrong... I was extremely happy, but at the same time I was thrown into terror.

Now all I can think about when I'm around the horses is "I don't know enough to do this!!" Quite frankly, I'm terrified that I'm going to do something out of fear, ignorance, or just sheer heat-of-the-moment that the horse won't forgive me for, and I'll ruin her. They've already been through a trauma because the second week in November they were attacked in our paddock, and the weanling was almost killed, her throat being almost ripped out and suffering severe lacerations to the forelegs. The yearling jumped the fence and was big enough only to sustain a small wound on her right side where the girth will lie, but she suffered from skittishness that she has now almost completely overcome thanks to my husband. He is so good with them – he shows an almost a natural instinct – but I second-guess myself with EVERYTHING. I keep thinking that if I could just learn more I'll be ready, but then I realize that no matter how much I learn, my anxiousness will still be read by Memory and Misty. How can I build confidence when the only way I can build confidence is to successfully do a thing, but the only way to successfully do a thing is to have confidence about the thing I'm doing?? I feel like I'm caught in a very bad Catch-22 with no options. Everything else in my life that I've been afraid of (snowboarding, firearms, etc... ), I've just gritted my teeth and done it, desensitizing myself by sucking it up and just plunging in, but this... the horses know I'm tense and it affects everything.

At this point, I don't even know what to ask. I don't even know if I've gotten my problem across to you. I guess I just want to know... well, can I screw up something so bad that I'll ruin our horses? Or, maybe... I guess I need to know if it's possible to allow my husband to do most of the training (he loves doing it so it's not like I'm shirking cause I definitely to the barn work with him) and still gain the horses€š respect after they've learned what they need to know like longing, etc... ? I mean, other people send their horses out to be trained, right?  Or does everyone try to train their horses from birth? Maybe I'm just not cut out for this, but I don't just want to give up. I love brushing them and taking care of them, watching them and even just being near them... .Heck! I even love mucking out their stalls and burning the poop. Does it take years to get to where a person can relax around their horses, or does everyone feel a certain amount of trepidation all the time they're near such beautiful but horrendously strong creatures? Maybe I need to trust my horses until the do something that shows me that they don't deserve it. Believe me, both horses are wonderfully well-behaved... no biting or kicking, some crowding issues but they're both just learning to lead. Both stand for us to pick up their feet and bathe them. They don't spook easily, and if anything, they're on the lazy side, wanting to lag behind on the lead instead of dance all over the place and give you problems.

I don't know what my problem is. I'm just feeling overwhelmed, and I want to do what's best for my horses because I love them both very much. It almost killed my husband and me when we saw Misty torn up like that. If the best thing is admitting that I'm only going to ride and feed/water/muck and let my husband do the training, then so be it. I just don't want to do anything to hurt them.

I'd appreciate any insight you have about this. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my rather lengthy email. It means a lot to me.

Sincerely, Heather

Hi Heather,

   I thank you very much for your email. I want you to know you are not alone. There are many, many people who suffer with their fears and anxieties about horses as you do. Knowledge and experience will greatly help in dispelling fear and anxiety. Guidance needs to be provided initially and that guidance must be consistent, appropriate, skillful, thoughtful, compassionate and non-judgmental.
You can overcome your fears!
You can become as skillful with horses as you really want depending on how willing and able you are to put the time into learning. There is no quick fix to horses. It really does take time. The expression "time in the saddle" is actually quite true to get successful with any endeavor. But along with the time put into the topic, the gaining of knowledge, good information, technique, methodology, philosophy, etc. is just as important. It does not happen overnight and accepting that it will take some real time and effort on your part is very important. I can give you things to do; techniques to practice, etc.; impart knowledge and helpful information to you, teach you the ways of horses, give you books to read and videos to view to speed up your learning curve. You simply need to state to me your availability time wise and how much you would like to invest into gaining this knowledge. You can honestly state what you and, perhaps your husband, are willing to do to help you overcome your fears and gain the knowledge to do so. You need your husband's support, patience, tolerance, compassion, kindness and release of trying to control you in any way. Just as it is not such a good idea for a husband to teach his wife to drive a car, it may be a good idea to gain this knowledge and education from an outside source. No matter which route you go to gain the knowledge you need, there will be some investment. Often times folks go to helpful neighbors, or friends who have horses to get the education they need for free. This rarely works out as the information is often flawed through the individuals misconceptions about their own horse(s). Just owning horses, even for a lifetime, does not make one a professional and that skillful or knowledgeable. Being a 'professional' does not always make a good teacher. Also, 'professionals' that have their egos too far involved in what they do often go to trying to teach control rather than partnership and dancing with horses. Be wary of anything that smacks of control, dominance, or a "show him who is boss" sort of attitude. I am extremely quiet, gentle and patient with horses and students.

   Anyway, I have to go be with horses for real now. Please give me your thoughts on what I have said. There are many ways we could work together if that is your desire. Think about it. Be honest with your husband about your feelings. If he is a compassionate and understanding man, he will not judge you or insist he 'show you the way.' He may have jumped the gun on purchasing the horses by not telling exactly what he had in mind. Tell him and then perhaps he will not do something so 'big' again without discussing it with you first. That is respect and thoughtfulness. Please don't allow yourself to be disrespected in the name of providing you with a big surprise you are not ready for as yet. Anyway, I send Blessings to you for a wonderful New Year. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Best regards, Franklin

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