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Problems of 'fear' with a Greek Horse and a Greek equestrian

Dear Franklin,

I am reading your articles at the magazine “Horse” in Greece. Moreover, I have attended your seminar in Syros. That’s why I have decided to write this letter.

I have a 7-year-old Greek horse and I face up a problem. It is afraid of the cars and several other objects and it moves spasmodically.

As far as I can, I am trying to stay calm, when I am riding it. However, sometimes I am getting angry, I am yelling at it and then it is quite for a while.

When we find another obstacle, I have the same problem, as it is afraid again. I am pressing it to pass the obstacle and then it is starting turning round itself. Sometimes it passes the obstacle and some others not.

When it is not passing an obstacle, I am forced to pass it with my hands. However, I don’t know how his previous owner was treating it and that is a reason why I don’t want to yell at it. I have several reasons to believe that he was beat it. When I am passing outside its box holding a shovel or a groom, it is afraid and it is going to the backside of the box.

Sometimes I am trying to calm it down, but it is cautious towards me. However, I insist on calming it down.

It will be really helpful if you tell me what I have to do to make it not to be afraid.

Yours faithfully, Meni

Hi Meni,

Thank you for your question. I loved being in Syros and hope to come back again soon. I made many wonderful friends there. Lets see if I can offer some insight and good suggestions for you and your horse.

Once a pattern of 'fear' is developed within a horse (generally because the horse has been abused), it can take a while for that pattern to be changed to one of trusting behavior. Your bond of trust is established first and foremost doing action and activity on the ground that is appripriate for the horse and helps establish you as the 'great leader'. Elementary and simple movement on the ground will begin to help you establish this relationship with your horse based on trust and respect. If the horse trusts you as its great leader it will go wherever you ask it to and do most anything you request, providing the request is precise, clear and asked appropriately. Your horse thinks everything is 'out to hurt' it. It is insecure, has low self-esteem, and has not learned to trust you enough yet to follow your lead everywhere. Here is what I would suggest;

Go back furthur into the horses initial training. Begin again as if the horse were a young, 'green' two year old. Desensitize the horse to all sorts of things like blankets, pads, saddles, ropes, plastic tarps, all sorts of sounds and noises and anything else you can think of. If you do not know hti sprocess tgell me and I shall try to describe it. However, there is a lot of skill neccessary to do this appropriately. It is so easy to scare the horse by being too forward and forcing the object into the horse's space and trying to make him relax. This is self-defeating. If there is a safe, enclosed area near traffic, feed the horse there occasionally (only letting him approach the food when he shows respect for your space and you say it is OK). This process should take you several weeks of consistent time and patience. When you finally get a saddle on the horse to ride, do it in a safe enclosed place. Just get on and walk around for a little while the first time. Then put him away. Putting the horse away is a big reward for a job well done. Always put the horse away on a positive note. Then the horse will be glad to see you the next time you come to the stable for a training session or anything. Take this process one step at a time. Build one step on the previous one. Never progress to the next step until the horse has mastered the previous one. Endeavour to 'perfect' the total relationship. Rather than focusing on relatively smaller problems that are symptomatic of a larger problem with the relationship, taking the horse back to the initial stages of its training focuses on an appropriate overall relationship with the horse. You'll be amaized that the individual problems you thought were so big, will vanish once the whole relationship is healed and 'trust' is again at the core of the bond between the two of you.

The horse will generally reflect your total state of being. If you are calm, chances are your horse will have a better ability to get or remain calm. If you get angry, so will the horse. If you get frustrated, so will the horse (this produces fear). Keeping a level head, not blaming your horse for its fear and frustration, being compassionate for a prey animal that is just trying to survive helps a lot. Never be unconscious around your horse. Always keep a conscious connection going. Do not be complacient or 'asleep' and unaware around your horse. They are not that way. If you intend a conscious connection, you will have it.

'Intention' is a real key to training and being successfully with horses. If you hold as your 'intention' the horse's sense of safety, your will act appropriately. You will learn to be sensitive to the horse moving even its head, away from you, showing a level of discomfort and fear. Also, it is helpful to have a clear image in your mind of what you want your horse to do. How can you expect to receive something if you do not know what you want? Have a clear and presice image of what you wnat and I promise you, the horse will being to understand much more easily and quickly.

A simple technique to ask a horse to re-focus his attention on you should he get distracted and afraid, is to ask for some simple and easy to do action or activity. Whether you are on the ground or in the saddle, a simple action to ask your horse to do is a hind-end yield. From the saddle you are basically asking the horse to bend tightly around your inside leg several times in both directions. Your request should be perfectly asked with intention that the horse do it without having to figure out what you are asking for. On the ground you simply turn towards the horse's rear, bend its head towards it rear and ask the horse to move its hind end away from you. Giving gentle tugs on the lead rope should be all the motivation the horse needs to comply. This technique works to solve a number of behavioral problems where the horse loses its focus on the human handler. It should be practiced when it is not needed in a safe enclosed space. This is so that when the technique is really needed in a serious situation, both horse and human are comfortable and familiar with the process. It works like a charm.

Thanks again for your question. I hope to see you in Athens during mid-May when I return to present another seminar.

Sincerely yours, Franklin

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