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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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Mare has issues

Dear Franklin,

I am writing to tell you how much I enjoy your website and to thank you for sharing your experience and insights. I recently married into horses; my husband breeds a Percheron stallion with thoroughbred mares to get a warm-blooded cross, with the "coolness" and strength of the Percheron and the refinement of the hot-blooded thoroughbred, called the Sackett Sport Horse. Anyhow, I know very little about horses, but I am an eager student. Your website has been a tremendous resource for me, and I refer to it often.

Around Halloween, my husband bought me a 13-year-old thoroughbred mare. Because of space constraints, we are hoping that she will serve double-duty as a horse with which I can learn to ride and as a mare with whom we can breed our Percheron. "Sylvalena" has some baggage. She has been turned out for the last several years and has become "sour." She doesn't like being caught, but she's getting easier. She also has some ear issues, and I've been reading your posts to try to work her through it, which also seems to be helping. She may have some teeth issues, and our horse vet is going to be out sometime this week to possibly float her teeth. It's clear that Sylvalena has lots of trust issues, and I'm patiently working with her to see if we can get through them and develop a good relationship. My husband thinks we should move her; I am more inclined to keep working with her.

On the plus side, the few times that I have ridden her, it's clear that she knows her stuff well. It takes barely a nudge on my part to get her to do as I ask. She doesn't seem to enjoy my riding her, but then, I'm still working on how to become a good leader.

I have my share of confidence issues. I get a lot of instruction from my husband, which is mostly a good thing. I started learning English riding, and failed miserably, partly because of the expectations of my teachers, but mostly because of my lack of confidence. I decided to spend more time with the horses on the ground, and that has helped tremendously. Also, Sylvalena made it clear that she was a thoroughbred cow pony, and is much happier riding Western, so now I'm learning about that! Funny how she made the choice for me!

Anyway, I don't want to bore you, but I do want to thank you for your gentle approach and your thoughtful wisdom. You are the right person to teach me, even if it's via cyberspace! (I did just order a DVD this evening too.) I am hoping that at some point I will be able to take one of your workshops, and in the meantime, I will continue to read your posts.

Happy New Year to you!

All my best, Ellen

Dear Ellen,

Thank you very much for your kind words. I am delighted you are attracted to my kind, gentle and effective methods of being with and training horses. It is gratifying and quite amazing to know I am able to help so many folks I never get to meet or greet. I just described your husband's 'breeding program' to a friend who is very into sport horses and she has heard good things of Sackett Sport Horses. So the word is getting out there.

If your new mare has not had her mouth looked at in at least a year, I would bet she can use some dentistry. Annual dental work is normal maintenance for horses (as it is for us as well). Trust is developed between horse and human through the human's ability to guide and direct the horse's movements appropriately and successfully. Beginning with simple, basic movement on the ground (starting to step/lead forward, stopping, backing, turning and moving around you in different directions) you begin to lead the dance. By keeping things slow and precise you develop your skill and a sense of 'feel' for how much pressure to put into your requests for movement. Too much pressure and the horse wants to leave you. Too little pressure and the horse either ignores you or becomes frustrated because it does not understand your request. These principles will help you develop as a rider too because the concept of appropriate pressure within the request and the release of that pressure immediately upon the horse trying to comply is basic to all communication with a horse. Thank you for beginning your relationship with this horse on the ground.

As horses get their sense of security and safety from the leadership, confidence and skill from the human with it, it is to be expected that for many horses a novice rider will prompt them to be insecure. Horses will only come up to the level of the human interacting with it. School and lesson horses are used to many novice riders riding them. Consider taking lessons on a 'school' horse until you develop more as an equestrian. Continue playing with your new horse on the ground for a while. You could also have a very experienced rider ride the new horse to begin to 'tune her up' for you. This way you will not create a problem with your new horse. Make certain whoever is riding your new horse really knows their 'stuff' (so to speak). No abuse what-so-ever. It is never about 'show them who is the boss.' It is always about dancing and leading the dance.

Not only do you need to develop trust coming to you from you horse, but you will need to trust your horse as well. Your understanding she likes a looser more relaxed style of riding (western vs english) was a good thing. Horses never lie and they are never premeditated in action to 'get' the human. It all happens in the moment, on the spot and in the now (Eckert Tolle). Even an abused horse will forgive humans if the interaction gets appropriate, compassionate and back on track. Sometimes a husband teaching a wife something is not such a good idea. The old addage about not teaching your wife to drive has some merit I think. But it sounds like you two have a really good thing going. So long as he is patient, kind, compassionate, loving and tolerant things should go well. As far as the ear issue goes, try this: simply lead your horse in a ten foot circle to the left and keep going around and around. If you were good at having her go to the right that would be fine as well. As you are leading her, put your hand on her withers and scratch gently. Keep leading her and put your hand on her neck and gently circle your hand and give her neck gentlte scratches. As you continue to lead her gently move your had up her neck a bit to her throatlatch area and even her cheeck. You do not have to move your hand when on a certain spot, rather just leave it there for a minute or so and then back down a bit. Eventually, you should be able to softly touch her left ear and then move the hand back down a bit and then briefly back up to the ear. You should be able to eventually get your hand/fingers on the horse's poll (top of the head between the ears) and then down again. In a little while you should be able to touch the right ear as well. Soon you should be able to stroke the ears, lay them forward, back and circle them from the base of the ear which most horses come to love. Once you can do these things while leading the horse in a circle, simple stop your forward motion some time with your hand already on the horse's ear. By that time you will have mostly trained the horse to accept your touching of it's ears. It is an easy technique to go back to should you need it to reinforce the training. Horses can only focus on one thing at a time. The movment will be the horse's main focus and not your touching its body. It will be aware of it and may toss its head at bit. If it does, simply move your hand back down away from the ears a bit and begin again. Let me know how it goes.

Your email is not the slightest bit boring and I am grateful for it. Please do keep in touch and let me know how things go. If I can be of assistance in any way I would be happy to. I am available to travel to teach and do so often as you have seen from the website. Perhaps there may be interest in your area sometime for my effective, gentle methods. I would be delighted to come there (where are you anyway?). I extend belssings to you and your husband for a wonderful New Year full of health, love, success and safety. I hope to hear from you again.

Best regards always, Franklin

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