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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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New Horse Owner Frustration!

Dear Franklin,

I happened upon your website when searching for some answers to our horse dilemna. And was so glad to find it! Our 12 year old daughter has been very interested in horses for the past 3 years. For her 10th birthday we gave her "riding lessons" so she could have some exposure to horses and to see if the interest continued. It did. So after taking her to lessons for a year and half and seeing how she loved it, her instructor and we felt it was time to invest in a horse of our own. With her instructor's guidance we purchased a "laid back" 3 year old paint gelding last spring. He was such a nice, easy to handle horse, (at first) but we are very inexperienced in the world of horses so naturally were a bit cautious and intimidated. Our daughter gradually became more and more intimidated and by the end of the summer refused to get on him insisting that he was becoming too feisty. Our instructor moved away and we live in a very rural setting so felt a little lost. Anyway, my husband and I decided that we were going to need to get more involved in working with this horse so I read up on lungeing, watched some videos, asked our (former) riding instructor questions over the phone and began working with him. I would walk him around, lunge him, ride him, etc. and all was well. However, things have been going downhill since......

When I lunged him last fall I could NOT get him to lope.....only walk and jog. Then he got so he did not want to switch directions.... It just got more and more frustrating. Well, winter came and because we live in northern North Dakota with no riding arena we have not really worked with him much. I tried to lunge him a couple of times in the snow, but felt very clumsy and didn't seem to be communicating well with the horse because he was being very defiant in his behavior. The last time I tried to work with him here's what happened.... He refused to lunge, shaking his head then staring at me. If he did finally move the direction I wanted him to go he took off at a fast lope, then bucked, reared, stopped and stared at me. I was so frustrated, and to be quite honest my feelings were hurt. I decided to distract him with a new activity because I sensed we would just continue to frustrate each other. Instead I walked him around a little, stopped him, backed him up a few steps.... just to re-establish my authority. Then all of a sudden he shook his head rather aggressively, pawed at me with his front foot, then reared up and "batted" both front legs toward me. I got scared and ended the session, put him back in the pasture and am now writing to you for advice. He also tries to nip at me a lot, turns his butt toward me (which I believe is a sign of disrespect) unless he thinks I have something that interests him, and all in all seems downright rude. He acts like a little kid having a temper tantrum (which I guess, he is, huh? But frankly, I'm not quite sure how to deal with a 1,000 lb. "kid" having a temper tantrum. I don't want to get hurt, but I do want to understand him and establish a positive relationship with him. Actually, I thought we were on our way to achieving that last fall so am not quite sure where or why things started to go wrong.)

I know he is a young horse. We would have never bought such a young horse except that the gal we bought him from was a good friend, knows a lot about horses and assured us that he was unusually laid back for a 3 year old. We realize that we need more education and will seek out resources for learning more, but are there some tips you can give us now so we can start taking some positive steps to reverse our horse's behavior? We really want to enjoy owning him, working with him and riding him.

Thank you, Franklin. God bless you.

Hi Joni,

Thats quite a story. Unfortunately it is a very common story. The person who sold you the horse is not such a good friend and/or doesn't know that much about horses and did not do you any favors. Any horse under the age of 5 should be considered greenbroke and risky for young children and rank novices. Horses will over time only come up to the level of their handler/rider. Young horses especially will quickly find out the weaknesses in their handlers and riders and move to take leadership of the interaction. They do this as the appropriate thing for them to do to assure their survival. In the absense of a confident leader they begin to fend for themselves which they should do. They need and want appropriate and confident leadership all the time, every moment. This is what gives them the ability to trust they are safe. Safety, along with trusting that it is safe, is a feeling only and brought about by the ability of the leader to direct motion and action successfully. It is not about showing them who is the boss or taking control of anything. It is about being the embodied, confident leader and knowing what you want and how to ask for it appropritately.

As you astutely pointed out you need education. Trying to learn horse training from opinions and tips from others is not the best way. I am happy to offer a few suggestions though. First suggestion is for you to get some training DVD's. They are easily found in the backs of all horse magazines. I have several in the shopping corral of my website that would prove invaluable to you. But whether mine or someone elses, get a few educational training DVD's. I have several involving pushy, disrespectful horses and how to quickly improve the situation. Learning to train horses without the assistance of visual teaching aids is like trying to learn ballroom dancing from a book or from handy tips. You need to see it. Training DVD's are the way to go. It will be the best investment you make in relation to your horse. You taking your horse to a training seminar and participating together would be really terrific as well. If you just give the horse over to a trainer who gets him back in line and then you get the horse back without having greatly improved your horsemanship skills, the problems will return. Like children horses need consistent, skillful, compassionate and precise guidence to learn to make good decisions for themselves. Coersion (bribing or punishment) is never a substitute for the deveopment of trust.

Lungeing is about body position, where your eyes are looking, energy, intention and attitude. There is a specific technique to it that must be observed and then practiced over a bit of time. If you don't know what you are doing, do not expect your horse to understand your requests. You being an unsure and a less than confident leader frustrates the horse which produces fear, which causes the horse to assert its own leadership of any situation in any way that it can. The horse's young age contributes to your problem. As it has not reached the maturity to have established longevity of habitual behavior, unless you get things squared away soon, the behavior you are experiencing will have to be trained out of him as it will soon become habitual. Once the horse has you intimidated, which it seems it does, it knows it and the behavior will only continue to get worse. If you could provide a consequence for behavior you do not want that would be good. Movement is a good consequence. Get good at asking for hind quarter yields from your horse and getting it. You need to see the move. But it is convenient, easy, can be done in a very small space (a horse's body length) and will immediately put the horse's attention back on you as the leader with the ability to direct motion and action. You cannot get kicked and the horse cannot rear or strike when doing it. I consider it a good tool for you to get skill with. I show it on several of my vids.

When a child throws a temper fit, providing a consequence rather than a punishment puts responsibility for what happens in the hands of the child. Getting punished produces resentment. Having to deal with consequences for certain behavior creates a learning situation. This is true for the horse as well. Simple movement is still a good consequence, a good tool. Lead the dance of the relationship with your horse. Get education quickly. That is what is required.

Sincerely, Franklin

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