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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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New horse and young child problems

Dear Franklin,
I just found your website yesterday and spent quite a bit of time reading the questions and answers section. I even felt like my questions were answered - until today when my daughter and I went to visit our horse, Jackson. Let me give you some background. Back in October, my daughter and I bought our first horse. My daughter is 9 and I am 49. My daughter has been riding for about 3 years and because of her involvement with horses and shows - I decided to start taking lessons last June. So our exposure and knowledge of horses is limited to say the least. I have read all of Mark Rashid's books and a very good friend of mine has taught me a lot but I am still inexperienced. Anyway, back to Jackson.

When we brought Jackson home (the place we board him is owned by a friend of ours) he was very compliant, friendly and forgiving. We bought him from a horse trader who knew nothing of his background but we felt we had made a good choice based on the trainer, the vet and our opinion. He is a 16 year old appaloosa qh gelding. When he integrated into the herd of 3 geldings and a pony mare, he became the #2 guy. In the beginning we went to see him quite often and just spent time with him - brushing, leading, etc. I took him on 3 trail rides and he was great. Then we were not able to spend so much time with him - holidays, weather, etc. so we were only seeing him about once a week. He started pinning his ears back at my daughter mostly and stomping his foot and swishing his tail when she tried to brush him but we kept on keeping on. We never rode him without an experienced person around.

So today when we went to visit him, we went with a new attitude - we decided we were going to practice some of the things you mentioned on your website. We came into the pasture, he came up to us, we didn't pet him on the nose, we respected his space, we let him come to us and then my daughter decided to put the halter on him. She walked up to him and started putting his halter on, he pinned his ears, walked off a little (he does that frequently) so she went back to him to put his halter on and he charged at her - a very new and very scary experience for us. My daughter ran and hid behind me crying (she was very scared) and he continued to walk toward me with his ears pinned, I firmly said "no" and stood my ground, he kept coming so I swung the lead rope at him. Unfortunately I hit him on the nose with it ( I was aiming for the ground) and he stopped and turned away and put his head down. I calmed my daughter down and we went back to the barn to put away the halter. He came over, I petted him but as soon as my daughter started to come over he started to pin his ears back. We left shortly after all that. My daughter wants to go back to see him but I fear for her safety until we can find out how to work with Jack on these issues. Can you help, please?!

Sincerely, Mary-Ann

Hi Mary-Ann,

Horses need and have to have confident leadership and a conscious, appropriate connection with whoever is with it. The absence of this confident leadership and connection with a human trying to do something with it (like a child putting on a halter), will prompt many horses to begin to fend for themselves (the behavior you describe) in order to think it will survive or to establish a higher ranking in the pecking order through the domination of that unsure individual (horse or human). You are all in the horse's herd and need to have approprinateness in your interaction with the horse. Some horses who have been conditioned to young children over time are very forgiving of unconscious individuals. Many, however, are not.

To overcome this situation and move on to a safer horse, my DVD will prove very helpful. Successful relationships with horses are forged first and foremost on the ground through mutually successful quided action and interaction with the horse (the human makes a request, the horse complies and get rewarded with immediate removal of the pressure of the request and a short rest). The human always leads the dance. Simple requests like leading forward, stopping, turning and backing, done with skill and confidence, will develop trust and respect with the horse. Every movement with a horse should be done with consciousness and appropriateness.Once you get good at directing some basic and simple movement with your horse, you should bring your child into the sessions, guide her in directing the movement of the horse. You'll see this in the Equine Facilitated Learing (EFL) section of the DVD a lot. Teach her to fend off a horse by simply raising her hand, arms, perhaps waving them and shooing the horse off. This has to be done correctly with the right energy as if this is done by a child inappropriately it can promote the horse to challenge the child more and someone could get hurt. You need to learn these techniques first yourself and then impart them to your child and supervise the interaction very closely. Once your child is not intimidated by the horse because she has learned to effectively fend him off and direct some movement, you will be delighted at the rise in the confidence and self-esteem of your child. Your horse pinned his ears at the child simply because he could and the child probably makes him uncomfortable because of her fear. It is not so bad that you tagged the horse on the nose with the leadrope. He won't be so inclined to move in your direction with ears pinned. That was a challenge and you met it. No matter how hard you hit the horse it was not even close to what they do to each other to develop their positioning within the ranks of the herd. The nose is a sensitive place and the horse will probably think twice about challenging you.

In the DVD you will see me use a 'flag.' This is a half of a plastic shopping bag affixed to a wand of some sort. It is very effective in assisting in the motivating a horse to move. It must be used judiciously as it is easy to scare a horse with it. Once you get good with it though, it is an excellent tool. You'll see it used quite a bit in the DVD. As I emailed you, I am sending off your DVD today. Let me know if you have additional questions. I am here to help. Thanks again for your order.

Best regards, Franklin

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