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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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Ex-racehorse 'whoa's

Hi Franklin,

My name is Sherry and I contacted you before when I had a problem with my saddle and you helped me by explaining that it was rigged wrong. Now, I have an even bigger problem (of which I have looked at all your answers to several people with problems like mine) but still need to know a little more about what to

I recently got an 18 year old gaited mare (which is also a retired race horse) and the only horses I have ever had were geldings (and very gentle) - now I am the proud owner of a horse that is moody, a non-people person, does not know the meaning of stop or slow, and she is 16.2 hands high. I am 4' 11" and weigh 102 pounds. To make a long story short, she intimidates me and I have never had that happen to me before. I know I have only owned horses when I was a teenager and one when I was in my twenties and it has been 15 years since I have had one but I do not like the fact that I am letting her scare me.

I tried to take her on a trail ride up on Lone Mountain Trail and she had to be first or die, then she kicked another horse and bit a couple more - ha - then by the time I got back off that mountain, I was sore all over just trying to hold her back the entire time ( I finally know where the term "chomping at the bit" came from). My problem is that I already love her and will not get rid of her as some have suggested. I understand she is an ex-race horse and that is what she knows and loves so I let her run when I can and try to make her happy. I spent three weeks when I first got her just doing ground work with her and getting to know her and letting her see that I would never hurt her (as I think she has also been abused at some time or the other) and didn't even try to ride her until she felt safe around me. She has never tried to hurt me when we have been out but she hates to stop and she hates to just walk - she racks like a dream so that is no problem with me - but then she just keeps getting faster and faster and hard to control.

I know after reading all the information on your sites that she can eventually be trained to be pleasurable to ride but my question is, will she ever be "a people person"? I have tried everything I know and she could care less about me - I know I have to show her that I am a good leader and parent and then she may respect me - but I miss the way my geldings loved me and wanted to be around me and could not wait until we rode together....will that happen in time with her or will I never feel that with her? As I said, I already love her and will not give up on her so I just need a few pointers on how to work with her (her attitude and the ex-race horse part) and I do not have the money to get professional help. Everyone says to get rid of her and get a gelding, as all the men that know her says she is not for a woman (but I have proved them wrong on that as she listens to me, when I am in the saddle, better than she ever listened to the men in her past) and that has surprised several that have owned her - Its just on the ground that we have a problem and her size alone should not do this to me as I owned a western saddle horse (gelding that was 17 hands high) but as gentle as a lamb....

I am sorry to keep going on and on but I am "lost in Tennessee."


Hi Sherry ("lost in Tennessee"),

First off, you have said you "recently got" this horse. I don't know how long ago "recently" is but I do know it generally takes a great of time to reshape old habits. It certainly does for us humans. So, I think you might look at the prospect that this 'project' is going to take substantially more time than you are thinking. Six months to a year of reconditioning and reprogramming the horse is not unreasonable. This horse is approaching senior status and has been doing her 'thing' forever. You cannot expect the changes you are seeking to come about very quickly. It does sound like you are making some progress though in directions you want. Well done.

In answer to your question of "will she ever be a people person," I think most any horse can become more 'comfortable and trusting' as far as humans go through a great deal (and I mean a huge amount) of ground play. As I have stated over and over, "your relationship with any horse is forged first and foremost on the ground." I doubt if this horse as done more than rudimentary ground schooling. A lot of at liberty playing in a round pen or big arena is desireable. Additionally, long lining with single and double lines, would be a wonderful thing to do a lot of. There are lots and lots of fun things to do with your horse on the ground, including some basic trick training. Teaching horses to bow, lay down and interact with a human in ways that are different and more unusual than the norm, really do help in developing an even stronger attachment and bond between horse and human. They engage the horse is different ways which is very beneficial. These are skills you probably don't have. But you can acquire them through viewing specific training tapes and DVD's. There are trick training DVD's in the backs of most horse magazines. I don't have specific trick training DVD's but I do have some others in my shopping corral that would prove beneficial to you. But there are many good ones out there. I am not trying to sell you one of mine. But, you should pick up several for your own education. Education and then time applying your acquired knowledge and skills are really the answers to your problems. You state you cannot afford a trainer ..... you don't really need one if you will spend a little money to educate yourself and acquire the skills needed and then practice, practice and more practice is what you will need to do.

Because this horse is so forward anyway and is so habituated to 'go-go-go' I would not allow that situation to be set up. Running her butt off is what she is habituated to do, it is not something she necessarily does because she loves to run her butt off. Horses are naturally lazy for survival reasons. You think you are being good to the horse and providing what she wants by allowing her to repeat her old behavior of letting run-run-run when you can. This is erroneous thinking. You are reinforcing what you do not want here. I would only ride in an arena for quite a while. I would suggest endless serpentines (figure 8's at the trot) until she is extremely relaxed doing them and you feel you can ride them with little rein pressure and mainly off your seat and legs. I would also begin to develop a softness with responses of the horse to any rein pressure, and this can only be done through arena schooling. She needs a better, softer stop which has never been asked of her. Forget galloping off somewhere as this is not what you want the horse to be in the habit of. I would think you want soft, easy movement, floating canters and trots and very responsive and soft stops, etc. These things are not developed on the trail. To get her over being 'competative' (which is normal for race horses), ride head-to-head with another horse in the arena a lot beginning with only walking together. If your horse tries to forge ahead, she should immediately be put to hind quarter yields as a consequence. After a few of them offer a quiet HO and a very short break to allow the horse to process what just happened. Then begin again to ride with the other horse. Once you can ride with another horse head-to head in drill team like precision at any speed, you will be well on your way to getting over the horse's competitiveness. You can use the hind quarter yields as a consequence for any behavior you do not want. It is not fun for the horse, but it is not abusive nor should be thought of as a punishment. As an afterthought to this, make certain she does not have too much protein in her diet. What she eats contributes to her energy level and you need to make certain you are not pumping the horse up diet wise. Consult a veterinarian for the best possible diet for what you are wanting with the horse.

We humans tend to want immediate gratification. We generally want quick results and do not fully understand the time it naturally takes to change habitual behaviors in ourselves as well as our animals. Sometimes we can change our minds or beliefs rapidly, which results in changes of behavior. But that is rare and is profound when it does happen. "Change your mind, change your life" is something a good friend of mine (Dr. Jerry Jampolsky author of Love is Letting Go Of Fear) lectures about and writes about often. However, horses are prey animals and such creatures of habit that developing changes of habitual behavior should never be thought of as happening fast or even easily. It should be considered rehabilitation with the human as the therapist.

So, there you have it. Consider that a different horse might possibility provide you with less of a challenge and more immediate, easy going trail rides. Also consider that if you take this horse on and acquire the knowledge and skills you do not have as yet and do re-train and rehabilitate the horse successfully, you will probably attain the level of a competent horse trainer and be able to help others with similar challenges with their horses. I guess it depends on your main focus and desires, along with a commitment to a course of action. Good luck and keep me posted.

Sincerely, Franklin

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