Archives MAIN PAGE

Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

Professional support for you and your horse! horse seems to pull little tricks on me when my instructor is not there

Dear Franklin,

I just want to say that I am blown away by your overall attitude and approach to horsemanship as well as the way you are able to convey your understanding to your readers in such a gentle, clear and illuminating fashion. I've feverishly read a ton of horse books (I'm an adult novice rider with a green horse, enough said!!!) and they all start to blur together at some point... but when I began reading your website, you summed up the solution to just about every conceivable problem, question, dilemma... in your overall philosophy and approach to horses... I know from just my short time with them that your take on horses is true and it just is what works. No one has ever summed it up for me so clearly and removed my doubts and waffling on the issues like you have. There's a lot of conflicting advice out there.

I started out trying to ride a "gift" green horse. It did not go well. I jumped out of the frying pan into the fire by buying a two year old Arab filly (I have no good explanation for this crazed decision). I was unbelievably naive about how much time (years!) and training goes into a trustworthy riding horse. the good news is my horse has a lovely disposition and is uncommonly calm, sweet and willing to please for such a young one-- I've heard this countless times from my teachers and from horse-person-observers. She's almost five now. I have a good instructor who also trains my horse and seems to really "get" horse psychology, her methods are gentle and fair and great consideration is always shown the horse. My problem is that my horse seems to pull little tricks on me when my instructor is not there and it's just the two of us (when I am trying to do my "homework" with her between lessons). The latest one was bucking, preceded by wild head tossing, just as I was putting her into the trot (this in the round pen). She was sweet and calm before that though a bit lazy from the heat. I worked her on the ground for 20 minutes first. I have had her checked for pain in all the key areas (back, teeth etc.), just routinely, in the recent past so I don't think it's that. She wears a snaffle, no flash band or nose band. It may have been my still less that wonderful seat and aids (also I am just beginning to get the hang of putting her into a frame... ouch, I worry for her! ) but in the moment, when she went into this brief bucking frenzy, I did take it very personally... like it was her fault. I took it as untrustworthiness on my horse's part, that she was doing it because my instructor was not there. I worked it through with her by putting her into tight circles (something I've seen my instructor do), and then just asking her to trot a few paces, then walk, then trot a few paces etc. She head-tossed a little but since I was not pushing her to stay in the trot for more than a few yards at a time, she didn't buck. I was sort of winging it, just trying to not inadvertently reward the bucking by stopping. The rest of our time went well, except I did lunge her again after the riding, a little too hard and with a little bit of aggression in my soul, "to show her who's boss"... the first time I have ever given in to "punishing" her. It didn't feel right, not to mention it was well after "the behavior". I hope I have not damaged her trust in me too much. In the moment, I thought it might make her respect me more in general. After what I've read on your site, I am reassured and reaffirmed in the understanding that punishment and an aggressive demeanor will never work. I don't plan to repeat the mistake.

It does seem she will occasionally test me. She's tested my instructor but quickly learns that won't work. Her style of testing (or protesting?) is that she will suddenly begin tossing her head and then maybe take off bucking (if we are in a larger area than the round pen), just seemingly out of the blue... it might even end in a slight rear. It seems likeliest to happen when she and I are alone/no instructor. She is very affectionate to me on the ground and genuinely seems to get excited (in a good way) when I come to the barn, watches me with pricked ears as I do my chores etc. When we are on the ground she is quite polite and respectful. I don't think I'm imagining it when I say we do have a real bond. I have worked pretty hard on this relationship and trying to gain her trust. It sounds like from what I've read of your advice to others on the site, that perhaps I have still not worked hard enough, gained enough trust as a good leader? And that is the crux of it? When my instructor is present the horse is quite good for both of us when we ride her, and we do try to give her a lot of praise and resting breaks. My instructor says my riding is not as bad as I am always thinking it is. Any advice on the overall situation is appreciated. I know my riding would progress a lot faster with a seasoned horse, but this is sort of a done deal. I'm very fond of this horse and have been slogging through all the many challenges for three years. It seems silly to quit now, even though it was a hard and not so bright way to go, starting with a baby and all. I love your philosophy and advice, I really feel that if I can apply what I have read here, my horse and I will eventually really have success as a loving and respectful partnership. Thanks in advance, if you made it through my long letter (sorry!). And thanks for all you do to help people understand their horses for the betterment of both!!

Sincerely yours, Colleen

Dear Colleen,

Thanks for your kind words and I am delighted you find my website helpful and informative. Here are a few comments on your email and question. As a horse is always looking for the great leader to be present (so it can feel safe), asking "Can you still lead the dance today?" is quite normal. This is expecially to be expected with younger horses whose maturity level is not what an older horse's might be. As the horse gets its sense of safety from its leader(s), and this sense of safety is paramount for the horse to feel it will survive, can relax, focus and not be anxious, it is vastly important for us humans to respond always as the great leader for our equines. Even if we don't know the exact move or technique to handle a particular situation, confidence, some basic skills and compassion (the right attitude) need to always be present to have a good outcome (a good outcome is where the horse feels safe with the leader, nobody gets hurt and the animal gets put away on a good note). Even with older horses, if we confuse or frustrate them we can make them fearful. If we make a horse fearful at all, by pushing too fast, too hard, confusing it, frustrating it, not being clear with our cues or what we exactly want the animal to do, etc., it is to be expected that a horse will test the human even more as it becomes more afraid every moment and begins to fend for itself. The behavior you are experiencing is not the horse trying to do something to you because your trainer is not around. Its behavior is never to be taken personally. Yes, they are smart, but not vendictive. They are extremely cognitive, but not premeditative in their behavior. The horse is responding to your energy, confidence level, anxiety level, heart rate, resperation, apprehension, confidence level, deodorant effectiveness (just kidding), level of inner and outer calm and more. It can read your mind as to attitude and more as well. If you think the horse is out to get you because the trainer is not there, or whatever, that is what you will get, but not for the reasons you think. Remember 'The Secret'...the movie that has gone around the world lately? It talks about the 'law of attraction.' This law really does work well within the world of horses in particular. Whatever we hold in our hearts and minds about our horses, seems to come to pass. You actually do have a good handle on this concept and are conscious and self- aware enough to feel if you are trying to punish the horse, as opposed to providing a consequence which sets up a learning situation. Never punish, always teach and lead is a good way of looking at this.

You might look at the amount of food being given the horse in relation to the exercise it is getting. If the horse is being given too much protein it will increase its energy level and prompt this sort of behavior because of not enough movement for the amount of protein given. This is just something that is overlooked a lot so I thought I would mention it. Also, palpate the animal's back to check for possible misalignments. Make certain your saddle fits perfectly.

Perhaps you are starting out too quickly asking for a trot. Try doing more walking and extended walking and, also, not moving straight out. Take more time anbd be more patient. Consider taking the horse in figure-8's (serpentines) for the first 15-20 minutes steadily, walking first, then extended walk and then trotting. Avoid moving forward in a straight line until you feel the horse has really settled down into the serpentines, is relaxed and moving smoothly. Then you gradually move off into more straight forward movements, still doing a lot of smaller circles along with the straight ahead movement. The horse may be just too 'cold backed' still and needs more warm-up before trotting forward is comfortable. Starting with slow serpentines and some leg yields will do this. I tend to do a lot of leg yields when I first get on a horse. It has been my experience that I can warm a horse up w/o speeding up by focusing on leg yields for about 10 minutes or so. This also tends to settle a horse when it is first ridden for the day, allows the horse to flex (a very important step when we first get on a horse) and helps the horse get used to our seat, legs and carrying our weight. Everyday is a new day and these steps should never be taken for granted, nor should our horse's compliance or comfort level with us. 'Expect the unexpected' is a good anthem when working with horses.

I think the horse is responding to any lack of skill or confidence in the way you handle her as opposed to how your intructor/trainer handles her. These skills take years to master. Inner calm is developed over time through practice. Inner peace is attractive to all (horses and humans). We can sense it when someone has it and we want to be around it. Horses are the same. This can come through the development of skill and confidence over time. It cannot be rushed, but it can be practiced. If you have ever done any yoga or meditation, you will understand even better what I am referring to. No worries if you are not familiar with the concepts. It is obvious that calm and steady is better than nervous and eratic or jerky. Go the for calm and steady (even if you are unsure as to the right move). Do what you can and do it in a calm and steady fashion. This will go a long ways to keeping your horse calm and steady as well. Don't ask for too much too quickly. If you double or triple the time spent doing leg yields and walking slow and fast in sperpentines, then try trotting the figure-8''s before moving off straight, you will see a marked difference. Take more time than you think you need to. This is always a good thing.

I hope I have offered some good suggestions and I would love it if you will keep me informed of how it all goes. Keep well and be careful......

Sincerely, Franklin

Look for: