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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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In Need of Help


Rather than preparing for a very important Wednesday morning meeting, I'm searching the internet looking for help.

I recently bought a new horse (end of November). 10-11 year old mare (Arab and Saddlebred), lived side-by-side with her mom for 7 years, not broke until she was 7. Then, bred, and moved, and moved again. I found most of this out after I bought her and tracked down another owner.

Long story short - she is the most highly stressed horse I've ever seen. She is terrified of changes, terrified of new places (like turn outs or arena's). She holds up her feet when tied (known to stand on two feet!). She's just fearful of EVERYTHING!

I have had her in 30 days training and while she is responding somewhat to training, her stress level is scary. I can work with her with relative success in one small covered arena, but when I took her to a different arena, it was a horrible experience. She would not focus on the trainer at all, would not stand still, fought everything.

I am willing to put time, money, energy and love into helping this horse. But can she be helped? My trainer thinks she's "psychologically unwell" and that I should consider getting rid of her. But I know another change will only make her worse. Her former owner (not the lady I bought her from) said I could return her and she'd put her down.

PLEASE tell me putting this beautiful horse down is not the only answer. I know there must be something I can do to help her. But I don't know what. Can you direct me to some articles or references that may help me move in the right direction? Or is everyone right and she's too far gone to help?

Thank you for your time. Lisa


Hi Lisa,

Personally, it sounds like you are getting typical opinions from riding instructors. They may be good at riding and teaching equestrian skills, but frequently know little of the horse itself, its psychology and real basic training. Your horse is definately trainable. Or, should I say re-trainable. If this were my horse I would go way back to the very basics and beginning of good training and re- start this horse like it was a colt. This is how you rehabilitate abused horses, deal with and handle extrememly nervous and dangerous horses (untrained stallions, wild mustanges, etc.). It takes time, which is dictated by the horse, patience, consistency and skill, which really needs to be present in the human attempting the project. A round pen and real skill at using it would be extremely helpful to the process. I have never given up on any horse turned over to me for training (and there have been some real challenges for sure) and I have never not been able to bring the horse through to a successful outcome. Longest time required for me to accomplish this was two months. No doubt it can take longer depending on the time I can spend with the horse and the severity of the issues.

I would forget riding this horse for a good month or two. Riding would be the last thing you do with this horse. I would cut back on its feed to good grass hay or Timothy for the duration of the training and probably beyond somewhat. I would approach and treat this horse like a colt who had never been handled. If you are skilled at this and can take the time and have the right attitude and access to a round pen and other good equipment and tools, there is absolutly no reason you could not come to a successful outcome.

Everyone is WRONG! I have heard this BS from folks who think that because they teach riding, have been riding all their lives and had horses all their lives that they know everything about horse. It is completely false, wrong and unfair to folks like yourself who really love their horses and to the horses they love so dearly and have such problems to deal with. If you cannot do the task yourself and look for a trainer, it would cost you probably as much or more than the horse did, depending on whether or not you actually could find someone capable of doing the job, without abusing the horse. A lot of Parelli and other rubber stamped, certified trainers would end up abusing the horse and giving up. It takes a special sort of talent, skill, knowledge and disposition to take on a project like your horse.

Think about all of this and let me know your thoughts. DON'T PUT HIM DOWN.

Sincerely, Franklin

You are so amazing to write back to me and so quickly. You've given me new found hope. I've been so distressed about this that I can hardly focus on work (not good with you're an administrator!).

I, too, thought the trainer was doing too much too fast and that it was only causing her more stress. It seemed that his ego and how fast he could "change her" was his goal, not focusing on Desi and her issues.

I know a lot about the benefits of round pen work and have some good literature on it, so I think I'll return to that and spend my time doing things slowly and sensitively with her, and focus on building her trust and keeping her out of stressful situations. I will take your advice and not ride her for a while, too. I agree that it's too much for her right now.

I have a friend who has a filly and I know she has a lot of books on training, so I'll ask her if I can borrow one and read up on training a youngster.

Thank you soooo much, Franklin, for your willingness to help me out. I honestly didn't know where to turn and just couldn't imagine that my only option was to put her down. It was only this past October that I had to have my horse, Star, put down due to impaction, strangulation and peritonitis. I had only had her for 14 of the best months of my life and she was EVERYTHING in the world to me. I still cry numerous times each day for her. And it's been hard going from that loving situation to such a stressful one. I want things to work with Desi. So, thank you again!!!

My best,

Hi Lisa,

I am delighted I have offered you a fresh look at the possibilities for your horse. Where are you located? Perhaps I can offer more.

Also, consider some more education for yourself. Perhaps a training DVD that has difficult horses as its focus. I have one (available through my shopping corral) that shows me working in a round pen with a big horse who will occasionally win in shows at a high level, but is unruly on the ground and under saddle, can be aggressive, is pushy, won't longe, is fearful and spooky when away from his home barn, is willful, runs off, bites, rears and kicks, has no respect for humans, and is hard to deal with to say the least. The DVD is part of the Maypine Farm seminar series and is called 'Harry.' Mostly all DVD's that are available only show starting colts, trailer loading training and entry level horsemanship. This one shows working successfully with a difficult horse. If you are significently beyond 'entry' level and well into quite a bit of training experienece already, you will be able to handle even more challenging situations upon viewing this DVD. Education is a great thing and sometimes difficult to get.

Best regards, Franklin

(3 1/2 months later...)

Hi, Mr. Levinson,

As you can see from the e-mail communications below, I wrote to you back in early February in shear distress over my new horse. I followed your advice - changed her diet, stopped riding, did nothing but ground work. It's now nearly 4 months later and I wanted to give you an update.

MY HORSE IS WONDERFUL! She no longer paws, bucks and rears while tied. I can lead her quite easily. She is no longer buddy sour. She lunges easily. She knows her cues on or off the halter (forward, stop, back, hip and shoulder yeilding). She's absolutely amazing. And I just started riding her. She stands perfectly still when I mount (her last 2 owners said she never would). And it turns out she knows a lot more than anyone thought. She's very responsive to leg aids.

Sure, we still have some anxiety issues...she still doesn't like the indoor arena's and freezes when something startles her (mostly ghosts, I think :-) and she is still easily distracted when riding (but working on correcting that). But I can't believe she's the same horse. No one can.

So, to all of those who laughed at me saying ground work wouldn't help a horse like her, and that I should either sell her or have her put down, are WRONG! Apparently it does help and it does work...of course along with a lot of love, wonderful long groomings (she loves massages) and appropriately timed treats. Rain or shine, I went out every day even if it was for a quick pat and some snacks. She nickers at me now when she sees me.

I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU for giving me hope and for giving me tools to work with. I feel like I have a new horse!! I'm sending you before and after pictures. [The first image] is the before. Note the pinned back ears, squinty eyes and tense face. Then, there's [After]. Note the relaxed face, forward ears and big bright eyes.

Desi in February, 2006

Desi in May, 2006

You're the best, Mr. Levinson! Thank you so much for helping me help Desi!!!


(UPDATE. 2 years later...)

Hi, Mr. Levinson,
I wrote to you quite a long time ago, early in 2006, then sent you a follow up a few months later. You printed my story of Desi in your testimonial page. There's a picture of her before and after.

Well, that was some time ago and I wanted to show you an even bigger difference in her. It's now 2 years later and I have a horse that "snuggles" with her mom!

Considering she was called the Psycho Mare and I was told by numerous people (including trainers) to put her down, this is how far we've come.

If it wasn't for you and your positive words, this horse would have been put down long ago. Instead she's my little Snuggle Bum!

Thanks, again, 2 years later!!

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