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Franklin Levinson's

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Rears in halter/goes too fast/western all the way

Dear Franklin,

I recently purchased an 8 year old arab/quarterhorse gelding that had been used only as a trail horse. He has a very nice disposition and likes people and I liked him immediately. My 14 year old daughter recently started showing him in halter and the chain on the show halter your required to use has him having fits and rearing to the point that last Sunday at the show he put himself over on his back and spent about 15 seconds thrashing about trying to get his legs under him. It was a horrible thing to watch and thankfully he wasn't seriously hurt. My trainer is concerned that he will begin using rearing as an evasive technique as he tried it with her the next day at the stable just in a halter and lead. There is also talk flying around that the rhythm ropes I use while lunging him are causing him to rear. The ropes run over the poll though the rings on his training bit, under his front legs and tie up by the withers. I've been using these ropes about 2 1/2 months with him to teach him to collect in a western jog and he's always been good with them. I'm blaming the chain on the show halter but I'm not sure. He's never reared under saddle but I am concerned. His teeth are good and he's very healthy. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thank-You, Tamara, Norway, Michigan

Hi Tamara,

Ahhhh, the things we put out horses through to show them. Your horse obviously is extremely sensitive. Some horses don't take too well to what we try to impose on them for competition purposes. The training techniques used on some Arabs, Saddlebred, T- Walkers, etc. would turn your stomach. I would suggest eliminating all 'devices' and go back go a much more natural way of handling and training this horse. Its called 'sensitive' hands, used in a sensitive and skilfull way. Aside from what is required for the show ring, any other aparatus beyond skilled, sensitive hands is gimmicky and, can be, abusive to a sensitive horse (as you are seeing). Forget showing this horse for a little while. Here is how you could have gotten this horse used to a 'stud chain'. Begin by using soft cotton rope of an appropriate thickness in the place of the chain. Avoide yanking on it. Let the horse carry it around without anyone pulling it for a while until he begins to get used to it. Gradually you progess (only when the horse tells you he is ready) to a very thin chain or a thinner rope (which will have a bit more bite to it). After a period of time you could progress to what is required in the show ring. As it is now you are abusing this horse and it does sound like you have too heavy a hand with the horse. I would rethink your purpose for this horse before you make him nutz by imposing your desire to compete with this horse who you say was only used to trail rides. You could by a horse already trained to show rather than try to reinvent this horse. You got lucky that the horse did not injure himself or someone else. Use your wonderful skilled equestrian seat and sensitive hands to teach him to collect under saddle, avoid an aparatus that supposedly replaces sensitivity, knowledge and skill. You may find your level of horsemanship and equestrain skills come up dramatically. Your understanding of and sensitivity for horses I know will increase. Your daughter will have an even better role model for her life with horses. Set your priorities here......Consider having the well being of this horse be first rather than your personal agenda of showing him.

I know I may sound a bit criticle here. I do not mean to be rude. But there is really something seriously wrong with the picture you are presenting me in your email. We humans seem to put our agendas first and foremost with all of nature. I always encourage people to put the establishment of trust and the well-being (mental, emotional and physical) of the horse first. Horses are one of several animals that will partner with a human in an endeavour. Are you 'partnering' with this horse or merely imposing your agenda? Partnering means real respect and consideration for the other individual. It means gaining the skills and knowledge to communicate properly to enhance and develop trust in each other. If I were this horse, from what you have said, I wouldn't trust you at all. I guess I am being hard on you. But it is difficult not to react adversely to your communication. I really don't see sensitivity coming from you towards your horse. Go for trust, compassion and kindness always first. Perhaps there are greater rewards for you and your daughter with this horse other than to be found in the show ring.

Sincerely, Franklin

P.S. I just re-read and realized your daughter is the one showing the horse mostly. She is young, inexperienced and is very impressionable. She obviously does not understand what a sensitive hand is as yet. THE PROBLEM IS NOT YOUR HORSE! I really believe this strongly. Please take these words into your heart and remember the words Robert Redford spoke in the Horse Whisperer Movie "I help horses who have people problems".......

Hi Franklin,

Thank-You for your quick response, and I didn't find you rude, just honest. If my horse never saw the inside of a show ring again that would be fine with me. He follows me around like a puppy and is a very sweet and gentle animal. I really dont want to do anything to change that. The training techniques I've been using are on the advice of trainers who are friends of mine.

So I'll ask you, how do I encourage my horse to slow his gait? He's built like a quarterhorse, but has an Arab sort of English gait. This would be great if I liked or rode English, but I'm western all the way.

What can I do to slow him down and teach him to jog.

Thanks again, Tamara

Hi Tamara,

Get very good at leg yields. Hind quarter yields expecially. Also, get very good at riding the trot at whatever speed he does it at. Making it hard for the horse to continue to go too fast is done by immediately putting him to small circles, serpentines and leg yields. The circles and serpentines (figure eights) can and should be done at a vigorous trot (it is impossible for the horse to do them any faster) initially. I promise you that at the end of a few minutes of that kind of work he will slow down. Soon enough he'll learn that if he goes too fast (or does anythng you do not want) he will be immediately working hard doing that trot which is not abusive but no fun. Directing movement is the best and most efficient way to modify a horse's behavior. Do not restrain your horse. Be the good and skillful leader by directing movement (small circles, leg-yields). Once he settles into a nice easy going pace or looks to stop (which may take 10 minutes or more initially), allow a brief rest and a Good Boy. Look for licking and chewing and a lowered head. Ride with a loose but not sloppy rein. Do not pull on the horse's mouth at all. Being "western all the way" is no excuse for unskilled or poor, inappropriate riding. You must learn to ride the trot. Cowboys trot for endless miles and endless hours. Trotting is the best gait to exercise and settle a horse, as it is less exciting for a horse than a canter. Posting is fine in a western saddle. Whatever you need to do to make the trot comfortable for you is fine (other than canter). Learning to ride the trot will greatly improve your 'seat' and legs so as to assure you of becomming a better equestrian. It seems you are avoiding stepping up to the plate, so to speak, as do many "Western all the way" riders who avoid the trot as well. I train and school an average or 5 horses a day at this time of the year here in Colorado. I mainly ride the trot (Western all the way) during schooling with these horses, many who are youngsters and some older horses being tuned up because their owners never trot them out. I am able to put a better 'stop' on them, tune them to leg yielding better, ride them off my seat, etc., all at the trot. By adjusting the cadence of your posting you can slow a horse with just that.

Your friendly trainers are not serving your horse (or you). They are not giving you ways to gain the trust and respect of your horse not teaching you how to 'lead the dance ' of the horse/human pair. They are sucking up to an agenda here that sounds like it is not in the best interest of the horse. If it is not in the best interest of the horse, it is not in your best interest. Its that simple. Why not keep a terrific trail horse (made more terrific by the training I am suggesting). Get a 'halter horse' for showing if you really need to show. If you are not willing to learn to sit the trot (become a better rider and leader for your horse), do not expect your horse step up to the plate for you. You have to go the distance for him as well. Being with horses and training them is a two way street. You might be able to put him with a trainer for a while. But as soon as you ride him, the same old, same old pattern will return. It is our/your responsibility as a compassionate horse owner, to give the horse the absolute best we have. It is what we expect from them. If you need a few riding lessons, take them. Riding the trot is fabulous exercise, develops muscle and flattens the stomach, exercises the heart and strengthens the back. It teaches us not to be 'lazy' riders which many "Western all the way" chair seat riders are.

You can do this if you try and really want it. If you do give it a good effort, your progress will be fast and extremely rewarding at so many levels that you will thank me forever. Good Luck......

Sincerely, Franklin

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