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Franklin Levinson's

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More than herd-bound?

Dear Franklin,

First of all let me thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I know how busy a trainer's life is, and I appreciate your willingness to share your expertise with others. I just discovered your site recently, and was pleased to discover that you and I share a lot of the same views on horse training and care. I am a trainer, and buy horses that are green and in poor condition to retrain, recondition, and resell to good homes. I am having a difficult time with a few horses I am working with, and was wondering if you could offer some assistance. (I read the articles on your website that could have possibly answered my questions, but found nothing that specifically pertained to this issue; I think this is more than simply 'herd-bound'.)

Recently we purchased three young horses, a 4-year-old Morgan gelding ("Moose"), a 3-year-old Morab filly ("Glitter"), and a 3-year-old Arab pony ("Tini"). They have been raised together for most of their lives, and are extremely attached. They are out on pasture 24/7 (we only have three stalls in our barn and we have two other horses right now) and have been for a long time at their previous owner's farm. They have hardly been handled at all (though the filly was shown at eight months old; you wouldn't know it now!), and when they were handled, they were allowed to run all over the person handling them. I have reason to believe they were also neglected, and possibly abused. But they are not really insecure, and I certainly don't think they are scared of me. They are just always running in a tight little pack and even insist on eating with their faces touching. This is much more than the normal horse's concern with staying close to the herd. This is unhealthy. It is impossible to halter the pony (though he does know how to wear one and lead), and the filly won't come most of the time (unless you have food; then the whole herd comes). Though the Morgan is easier to halter and lead, he is very 'stud-like' and thinks the filly and pony are his 'mares'. He is very pushy and just shoves into you when you are trying to lead him. Big deal when you are dealing with eight-hundred pounds of solid muscle.

Now, I am not a passive trainer, nor am I inexperienced in dealing with pushy and herd-bound horses, but I am really stumped with this one. The Morgan pays no attention to me when I am trying to work with him, and nothing I do can convince him he needs to. These horses have no desire at all to work near people, and seem to think that all they need is each other. As you can see, I have nothing to work off of, and yet I can't start from scratch. Dead-end.

I had intended on selling the pony right away so I could afford to purchase a round pen (to assist in saddle-training the remaining Morgan and the Morab; and for overall ground manner improvement, of course). But I can't handle the pony at all, so I cannot see how we are possibly going to sell him, let alone get him to go somewhere alone in the trailer. I just can't handle any of these horses safely, and I don't have any ideas on how to split them up when all we have is the two attached pastures (my other two horses are in the other one). But I do think that if I could just split them up, they would quickly realize that they are fine apart. Selling the pony would help of course, as the Morgan and the pony are the most attached. I also have an older, well-trained Appaloosa gelding (my right-hand-man, if you will) who often assists me in working with young horses, but he has a minor injury right now (freak accident) and needs a few days off to recover before he begins helping me again. I thought I could try working with them (rubbing them and getting used to human touch again) from my Appaloosa's back (safely out of kicking range; and they also can't run me over from up there) before trying to handle them from the ground again. Any thoughts?

I don't really know what to do about this, and I know that with each day that passes these horses are going to get harder to handle. I imagine you are a very busy man, and there may not be an obvious solution to this problem; but if you have had experience with horses who have this problem, or any help or ideas you can give me on helping these horses overcome their unhealthy closeness would be greatly appreciated.

I thank you very much for you time.
Whitney H.

Hi Whitney,

Sounds like you have a hand-full there. Well, here are a couple of suggestions: Get all horses into a relatively small paddock. Cut out one and flag him up and down a fence line, endlessly. At some point let the others out, if possible. Then begin to flag the single one around you in circles, etc. directional changes, etc. until he really begins to face you during directional transitions. Do this for quite a while and eventually you will probably be able to go up and halter the horse and begin basic ground schooling. You could repeat this process with all.

Another option (as you mentioned) work all from horseback, flaging around, cutting individuals out and working him/them in circles, etc. until you can sidle up to each one, halter it (from horseback) and begin schooling etc. Also, it could be possible work the herd together, from the ground. Once they are all hooked on to you, begin to cut individuals out for schooling.

These are a few ways I know of the begin to deal with the herd bound aspect of this little group. I do believe it will take quite a bit of time to move through this. You have jour job cut out for you on this one. Good Luck.

Best regards, Franklin

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