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How do I know my horse loves me?

Dear Franklin,

I have e-mailed friends, and other people who do what you do, but none of them has done anything to answer my question. 'How do I know my horse loves me?' An age old question.

I have had my horse for about 2 months now, and I already love him. I live for those after school meetings with him out at the barn. (He lives at a barn where I take lessons) I give him some carrots, and give him some love, and then saddle him up to ride. Be he seems not to really car about what I want. I ask him to 'Whoa!' several times before he does, and even then he might toss his head. It is gets very bad, I make him go as slow as I can and then make him go up to a wall so he can't move any further. He was an abused horse and I got him cheaply for $6,000. He is a great boy, and I love to watch him while he is in turnout. But as much as I enjoy him, I still have to ask, 'How do I know my horse loves me?' Is their any way to really tell? My friends say that when I clean his feet, and he rests his head on mine, that he is saying 'I love you'. But I think maybe he is just tired of carrying his head around. When I go to his stall he turns around and comes to the door. But what if he does that for everyone that opens the door? He was trained in way of, Pat Parelli, so he knows alot of thost things. Is there any way perhaps to tell there? I let him know I am his leader, when I lunge him I make sure he does everything right. If he does somthing wrong, I give him one more chance and use a little more force. But if he does it again I bring him forward and 'bite' him on the cheek. (not very hard) And then he goes into the submissive licking and chewing. But is there some kind of exercise or way of telling he loves me? How do I figure out if he is just being 'head lazy' or giving me 'I love you' rubbs?

I really want him to love me, I really really do. He has never been loved in his life! He was bred as a racehorse, and went to the track. After about 4 or 5 races (I am not sure) they said he was not agressive enough to keep racing, and they retired him. They took to auction, where a ...'killer' buyer bought him. The kill buyer was a man, and he does this for a living. His wife sometimes rescues horses from her husband if she thinks the horse would make good riding money. Luckily, 'Attaboy,' my horse, was the chosen one. After training him with the Pat Parelli stuff, he was sold to a lady for $1,000. She had 12 horses already, including 4 stallions and 5 brood mares, all of the mares where pregnant. The lady who got him is and was very poor. She couldent feed him and all of her other horses. So she put 2 of her horses up for sale, including Attaboy. She retrained him more Parelli stuff and made him excellent under the saddle. She said he was a good horse, but she didn't love him. And that no one ever had. It broke my heart, no one ever loved him. Not ever her other horses. They where always picking on him and biting him if he got to close to the mares, even though he is a gelding.

What should I do? It hurts me to know that he might not love me, and that is all I want. I have blessed with him, but I want him to be happy to. Not just me. :(

Sincerely, Jessica

Hi Jessica,

I love your question. I intend to expand on your email and make an essay. I have a book in the works call 'The Heart of a Horse and How to Win It." Here are some things for you to consider. First off, you need more than riding instruction. You actually need some solid education about horses; their psychology, language, emotional and mental needs, as well as knowledge about body language and 'herd' dynamics. I strongly suggest you ask your riding instructor for some lesson in 'HORSE.' Most humans only relate to horses as an object something they ride on. Generally the riding is inappropriate, less than skillful, unconscious and focuses much more on the human riding than the horse itself. Many riding instructors can only teach riding and know little of the horse itself (although they will never admit there are things they do not know about horses). Ask your instructor if she will teach you the ways of horses, which is way beyond the human activity of riding the horse. If she evades the topic or somehow declines your request, let me know. If you wanted, I may be able to come there and teach a seminar on horses.

A few words on LOVE. While I certainly can understand you wanting the love of your horse, love is something that should always be given without attachment to being loved back. It is a gift to be offered freely, without strings or thoughts of; "if I love you, you need to love me back." That is conditional love. What you want to offer is 'unconditional love.' Love is the greatest gift we can offer anyone. You cannot make someone (horse or human) love you. You can only offer your love, give it freely, do your very best for that individual and let go and let God handle the rest. The key is "letting go and letting God handle the rest." I suppose that is the hardest part of it as we all want to be loved. But the real rewards come when we offer our love freely and without thoughts of getting anything back.

That being said, here are some key elements in gaining the love of a horse and knowing you have earned that love. Horses are prey animals. This means that, in the wild, they are eaten by other animals. They never forget this and their sense of safety from preditators is the most important thing in their lives. It is more important than food, water, sleep or anything. If they do not feel safe, they do not have any sort of quality of life as they would always be in a state of fear and terror. Safety is a 'feeling' only and does not really exist in the world outside of our feelings. We either feel safe enough to get on an airplane or we do not. A horse either feels safe with you or it does not. If it does feel safe with you, it will bond with you and want to be with you (this is a form of horse love). The question becomes; 'how do I help that horse to feel safe with me?' This is accomplished through the abilities of an individual, 'the leader of the dance,' to direct the movement and direction of that movement of a horse (no riding involved).

Horses in a herd, in the wild, get their sense of safety from the leader(s) of the herd. That lead mare knows when it is safe to eat and sleep. She knows were to find water and when it is safe to drink. Her survival instincts are finely honed and she has learned, over time, how to keep that herd safe. When she decides it is time for the herd to go somewhere, she just goes and the others follow. There is no coersion (bribery, threatening of force, etc.). She just goes and the others follow. If they don't follow her, they may not survive. This following the leader is a kind of horse love. Love, respect and trust are basically the same thing for a horse. Earn their respect and trust through great leadership and you have earned their love. A horse who has bonded with a human and accepted that human as their good leader will want to stay by that human's side. That is an expression of love from a horse. BTW, a horse hugging a human with its head and neck could also be said to be an expression of affection (love). They are tactile and respond to loving touches of rubs and scratches done appropriately. But 'leading' a horse to feelings of safety is the single most important thing you can do to insure a mutually 'loving' relationship with any horse. Again, this is done through the human's abilities at guiding and directing movement of the horse while on the ground. It has nothing to do initially with humans riding horses. Riding horses should be the icing on the cake of the relationship with the horse. Unfortuantely, it is always the first thing done with horses, when it should be the last. Gaining knowledge of horses should always be the first thing taught. But, alas, it never is (or almost never).

The Parelli stuff you mention is very good if it was done appropriately. This mainly involves directing the movements and activity of the horse from the ground, on the ground (no riding). I strongly suggest you show this email to your parents and request they get you a few training dvd's. Many good ones are found in the backs of all horse magazines. I have several in the shoppiing corral of my website that would prove very valuable to you. No matter whose dvd's you get, get several and watch them. They will open your eyes to the world of horses, beyond the human activity of riding them. Parelli has a ton of dvd's out there, as do many other good trainers. I am not a big fan of certification programs like Parelli's, as they tend to be very expensive and only allow limited or no time with a variety of horses. It is usually the personal horse of a participant who goes through a Parelli program. Again, the key is the human's abillities to direct action and movement of the horse on the ground. Training dvd's are the quickest, most cost effective and most efficient way for you to get some real knowledge of horses. Also, attending training clinics is great way as well to get education about the mind of a horse.

Once you hone your ground skills and apply them, always being a compassionate leader, understanding and accepting your horse is always innocent (no matter what it does), NEVER, NEVER taking anything a horse does personally (this is a good thing to apply to all human relationships as well) and gain some solid and grounded education about the horse these things and you will have everything you need to gain the love of a horse and know you have it.

Please keep me posted and thank you again for this wonderful question. Again, please show this email to your parents. Get their feedback, get some dvd's and let me know how it all goes.

Best regrads always, Franklin

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