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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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Rushing to Buy Horsemanship - Everybody's Doin' It

Hello Alex,

What you are describing is one of the most common scenarios for newcomers to the horse world today. Even people who have had their own horses for years continue to look outside themselves for resolutions to the problems they have with their horses. Its called being unwilling to take responsibility for the outcomes in our lives. I receive numerous question through my Help Center from folks like your friend, who are looking for the newest 'magic bullet' that will make everything wonderful for themselves and their horse(s). As I have said over and over again, people's opinions and beliefs are most difficult to change. Our lives are based around our thoughts and how we view the world. Our viewpoints and paradigms may have nothing at all to do with the realities of life. The horse part is actually so much easier than the human element in the equation for success. My approach to having the best relationship possible with a horses is based upon compassion, knowledge, consistency, skill and patience. All these things must come from the inside of the human and not from the outside. Knowledge has to be openly and willingly received and then embraced. Your friend does not seem to understand that she is not seeking knowledge about horses, but rather products. She does not actually learn from the training videos she sees. She seems not to grasp that success requires acquiring knowledge and then skills and practicing them over time. Truth be told, some folks never get it. Even in the face of dangerous and terrible wrecks, that could have been avoided, many humans prefer to blame the horse and do not consider taking responsibility for their lack of knowledge, misconceptions and downright ignorance about the realities of horses and keeping them. What to do when that uneducated and misguided human is a friend, as is your friend, is a big question, a huge problem and involves lessons substantially beyond learning to effectively train and deal with horses.

People actually learn in a similar way that horses do. 'One-step-at-a-time' is what the system is called. Sort of like teaching a child to walk. That system that works so well with infants, is the same system that should be used with horses. When I encounter a human like your friend, I attempt to provide evidence of success in small ways (first steps) initially. Sure, I can take someone's fearful horse, with all the issues that come up around that fear, and pretty soon resolve many of those issues. But the owner really doesn't get it. This can be because they are closed to learning which is the worst case. Or, because I have provided too much information too fast. This is what happens with training videos much of the time. The trainer in the video is really moving along to get it all into the time frame of the video. The viewer really only sees the 'whole forest' and never sees the trees. For a good view, it is important to be able to see the trees as well as the forest. That is called balanced perception. It provides the viewer with the 'why' as well as the 'what.' This is a great aid to learning. I think the problem with many trainers today and what sets one trainer apart from another, is that their technique may be OK (we all use basically the same techniques), but the reasons why it works or does not work, are rarely provided. Seeing someone fix a car is one thing. But, understanding how the engine works goes a long way to assist a human in being able to learn how to fix it. The question then becomes how to inspire or motivate someone to want to learn about that car or that horse.

As you may know, less is more with horses. It is the same in teaching humans. Likewise, somehow providing 'inspiration' is a big part of the equation. Part of my goal with my teaching is to inspire humans to want to gain knowledge about horses. I have to do more than do a fancy demonstration. Fancy and extravagant demos, which are very popular these days and provided by the biggest trainers, are more circus types of entertainment. Little to zero education is provided about the horse during such impersonal and glitzy shows. They may be impressive to watch, but are only geared to people with the paradigm of your friend, those wanting to buy the latest, hip gadget or product. What I do is quiet, calm and not very showy (earning trust is not a showy thing). I have said to some folks that watching me work with a horse can be like watching grass grow. Folks have to really want to get it to hang in there with me sometimes. But opening someone's heart is part of inspiring them to learn. It can often take a moving and emotionally charged experience to actually crack open a human heart. So, many times I will take a horse with a lot of fear issues, one who really does not trust humans at all and then deal with one manifestation (symptom) of that fear. It could be a constantly nervous or anxious horse, a horse who refuses loading, or having its feet handled, or herdbound, or any number of fear symptoms. I will take as long as it takes to slowly, methodically and calmly resolve that one issue. I will explain exactly what I am doing as clearly as possible all along the way. I want to receive questions as soon as someone thinks of one and will stop what I am doing to respond (I do not want them to forget the question). I will attempt to resolve the specific fear issue by asking for one tiny step into the direction of the fear, at a time and immediately reward the horse for trying to comply.

A large number of humans do not understand what the horse 'trying to comply' looks like. Likewise, they do not understand when or how to reward the horse for that effort. Here is an example: if I ask a horse to move to the left and he even leans a little to the left with its head, I call that the horse trying to comply and immediately reward with a short break from the pressure of the request (a bit of peace) and a Good Boy. That's it. Over time, through this one-step-at-a-time process, the efforts get bigger as do the requests. Any input we give to a horse, no matter what the form (touching in any manner, talking to, moving into the horse's space, etc.) is pressure on the horse. The removal of all pressure (stillness, peace, complete quiet, etc.) helps develop feelings of safety within the horse because it is a prey animal and constantly looking for the predator to invade its space and kill it. When we unconsciously come into a horse's space it is threatening to many horses (especially young, green horses). The animal's feelings of safety are the most important things in the horse's life. Beyond food, sleep, water, herdmates, environment, its feelings of safety. Feelings of safety equals trust in the language and mind of a horse. Safety does not live in the outside world. It is a feeling only. We either feel safe enough to get on that airplane or we do not. We either feel safe enough to drive on the freeway or we do not.

We develop these 'feelings of safety' (also sometimes called confidence) though experiences we have over time where we make small attempts to confront something scary and manage to overcome those fearful feelings. In the case of children, and even adults, it is helpful to have a guide (parent) or someone who can lead us gently, thoughtfully and compassionately towards something scary so we may gradually get accustomed to it and find out for ourselves it is not so scary after all. This does require a lot of patience over time and a strong desire to help that individual learn and grow and not just get on with it. It is the same with horses. It is our responsibility to become the great leader/parent for our horses. They are not supposed to be obedient and they are supposed to have their own minds (I hear that a lot..."he has his own mind" .. like that's a bad thing).

So, I am suggesting having an agenda to inspire your friend. This might be somewhat accomplished by working with her for an hour sometime. Taking on one fearful, specific issue with one of her horses and resolving it slowly, peacefully, methodically and explaining the process and the psychology around it along the way.

If you can somehow show a dramatic change from fear to trust in a reasonable length of time, this may inspire her to gain some of the knowledge she lacks. Successful horse training is logical. Looking for a quick fix and a gadget that makes the whole thing work is not logical. I do not know if she is attracted to logic at all. Perhaps she is not by your description. Perhaps saving money is attractive to her. But, maybe not. Try finding out what is most important to her in her life. Is it good and successful relationships with a partner or child? Is it success in a career? Is it merely looking good? Is it impressing others? How is her self-esteem and confidence level? Showing her how to have even an elementary success with a horse is enhancing to the self-esteem and confidence and can provide a lot of inspiration to continue to move forward. In a way, you are taking on the role as her parent for this circumstance. As a good parent, you do not want to alienate your child. You do not want to be too critical or put the individual down or offend them in any way.

Facing this dilemma has prompted me to become a better communicator. Horse people can be very opinionated as you may know. Of course, so can anyone. Figuring out ways to make my points effectively is always a challenge. Even when someone sees the successes firsthand, they may resist learning anything perfering to cling to their old, ineffective and erroneous paradigms. I have accepted that I cannot reach everyone who comes to view me or who participates in a seminar.

You may never inspire or motivate your friend to gain any of the knowledge she does not have. You may have to accept that fact and make the decision for yourself to move on or to continue to just assist her in the areas she knows nothing about, without any attachment as to whether she 'gets it' or not. This can be a tough decision for you. She is fortunate to have you as a friend. As your emailed question came to me so long ago, things may have already changed quite a bit. I would be very interested in know. I do hope you will forgive my long delay in responding. With all the questions I get and trying to make a living, it is daungting to respond to all, or even most, of them in a timely manner. But I do hope I have offered some useful suggestions to the successful resolution of your and your friend's situation, Please do keep me posted.

Sincerely yours, Franklin...

Sincerely, Franklin

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