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Franklin Levinson's

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Sharing breath & heart

Hi Franklin,

I am relatively new to horses, but I have been reading all I can about horse behavior and horse care because someday I hope to own a horse. Your site has been so helpful to me and I really love it! I read what you wrote on your site about sharing breath with horses and so I knew what it was, and I thought it sounded wonderful. Yesterday, I went to a local stable to spend some time with the horses and brush them, and three of the horses shared breath with me! It was so unbelievably special that it brought tears to my eyes! I just stood there and closed my eyes and enjoyed it, making sure to keep my hands down at my side, as you had said (so as not to reach into their space uninvited and touch their beautiful faces). I have tried to find some information online about sharing breath, but there doesn't seem to be much info about it. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about it. Do they do it to a lot of people, or was it a rare and special thing that they chose to share with me? Can they tell a lot about me by doing it (for example, the reason I have been going to the stable is because I have been having health problems with asthma and anxiety, and being around the horses really helps calm me and make me feel better; can the horses pick up on this?) or is it just their way of saying hello? Any more information you can give me about it would be really helpful.

Also one of the horses in particular gets kind of mouthy with me and I wanted to know how I'm supposed to tell him to keep out of my space (I was told that he is the "boss" of the horses). Do I just wave my hand in front of him? I don't get a chance to lead them, just to brush them, so is there still a way for me to establish myself as the leader?

Thank you very much,

Hi Alyson,

I have been in N. California with the Equine Guided Education Conference, and other teaching and training horses as well quite a while now. I have not not been able to respond to emails. I am actually a week or so behind. but yours really attracted me to the point I had to respond sooner than later. Thanks for this question.

I am about to join a trainer in S. California named Caroline Resnick. Her speciality is training horses 'at liberty'. This means the horses are not carrying halters or lead ropes. They are free and in big spaces like pastures. She has observed wild horses for many years. They have rituals of behavior. We all do actually. But we are into 'control' a lot. One of the horse's rituals is the 'sharing of breath'. They will do it when they first greet each other in particular and also do sometimes after any separation from a herd member when they first meet again. It is an acknowledgement and greeting for certain. Sometimes it is acompanied by a squeal and a feigned or real strike of a front foot (frequently a mare will half-heartedly strike at a gelding when meeting and sharing breath). It is wise not to stand right in front of a horse no matter what. Always better to stand by the horse's neck or shoulder.

Anyway, horses 'share breath' at other times as well. After mutual scratching (they scratch with their teeth) they will do it. Foals and their mother mares will do it. Old friends do it. Even stallions and foals will do it. So, to me, it is affection as well as acknowledgement. It is another way to connect and reinforce a bond. It is a beautiful ritual always and you are very priviledged to have participated in it. Most humans never get the chance.

It is very important you are able to set a boundry with a horse (or anyone for that matter). If a horse is mouthy with me or in my 'space' uninvited, I will say NO and wave my hand or a glove or whatever might be in my hand at his muzzle. If he has a halter and rope on, I'll vigorously snake that lead under his chin and back the horse a few steps and stop him there and not allow any forward motion until I am ready. As you can't do that I would always wear gloves and be prepared to clap your hands at his muzzle or vigorously wave your hand(s) to get him to take a step back or at least move his head away. Again, make certain you do not stand in front of the horse for safety reasons and the general comfort of the horse. Standing in front of him may make him feel confined and nervous.

I hope I have shed some light on this horse 'ritual' for you. They have many. There is always so much more we can learn about horses and ourselves by observing the 'rituals' of our lives and those of others. Thanks a lot for this question. Please keep in touch.

Sincerely, Franklin

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