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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

Professional support for you and your horse!

TB App cross plus Friesian Sport Horse

(followup to an earlier Help Center Request which was not posted)

Dear Franklin,

I am very pleased with your response, and I thank you profusely for the note of encouragement. I am keeping 'Jeffery's' sessions short and extremely rewarding (he is a COOKIE monster). I really believe he enjoys working and figuring things out. He's definitely not mean, just lost, I think. I am looking forward to helping Jeffery's current owners find him that special person. They have been on board with finding him someone who is knowledgable about the restarting of a troubled animal. I think they are willing to take the time for what it takes to find a suitable home, and I am certainly impressed with that.

The hay they are feeding is a mix of good grass hays with relatively low protein. BOY do I know about alfalfa! The facility I used to board my Friesian at started feeding alfalfa (no notice to owners either), and my horse not only fattened up rapidly but got HOT as a cat on a tin roof.


I only have one other question for now, and it is actually in regards to my personal horse, Nova. He is a seven-year-old Friesian sport horse gelding who was gelded at four. I got him at four-and-a-half with thirty days of under-saddle work done by a gifted natural horsewoman. Most of the issues I have continued working through with him seem to relate to "studdish" behaviors i.e. pushiness, nipping, bossiness, space-invasion, etc. I still encounter this type of behavior at times, but there is vast improvement from when I brought him home. I don't know that he'll ever stop testing those boundaries, but that just helps to keep me consistent.

Anyway, he is an absolutely fun horse with a very charismatic and loving personality. Most of the time, he is quiet and easy to work with (we do have our off-the-track Thoroughbred days, but those seem to occur with weather changes). He's also very talented; he learns quickly, has a super trot, loves to jump, and he'll do lateral work in his sleep. However, lately, I've noticed he is "evading the bit" more and more. Just to be clear, I don't expect to ride in any upper level dressage frame ... just an economical, relaxed, supple one.

I use a mild, double-jointed loose-ring with a lozenge and have been for just over two years now. It's never seemed to bother him, and he mouths it well. He has a small mouth, so the single-jointed mouthpieces seem to hit the roof of his mouth easily. He's had his teeth done, and I have had the saddle fitter out (no alterations needed). He hasn't been noticeably achy or lame either. The evading has been particularly noticeable for the past three to five months, and it takes the form of above the bit, shoveling the nose, occasionally behind the bit, shying, ignoring and sometimes others. So, it is not consistent or easy to follow. I don't expect a lot of frame out of him when cantering as he is still figuring out his own balance at that gait (Friesians are definitely trotters). I seldom used to have this problem with him, and it is frustrating since I know he has been capable of carrying himself before. It's also frustrating because I like to have soft hands, but I feel like I'm lugging my horse around and wearing out my legs trying to use more leg to hand.

I've been switching things around for him, you know, back to the round pen and ground work, trail rides, just grazing outings on a lead rope, riding in a rope halter, bareback riding, going long and low, lots of neck stretches etc. I even do some simple, short, rewarding exercises in the ring. I'm sure I am missing something, though. I am not the type to just throw a stronger bit at a horse, yet I also know lugging on his mouth to keep him from tripping over his forehand isn't very kosher either. Any suggestions?

Thank you very much for your valuable time and knowledge. I hope I won't have to take up too much of your time; you must be very busy with all these horsie questions. But, you've got some very valuable insight ... God bless you for that!

Yours truly,
Laura (and Nova, the "stud muffin")

Hi Again Laura,

Glad to hear 'Jeffery's' future looks a bit brighter. A simple thing to try with your horse 'Nova' (and I wouldn't suggest this to a lesser horseperson) is to change the bit. Ruling out anything else it is the easiest thing to try that hasn't (at least it sounds that way) been tried much. Consider several options. First off try a bit that is not broken in the middle at all. This leaves out all snaffle type, broken bits. A simple curb with medium to high port, and medium shanks is worth a try. The attachment to 'broken' bits by many English riders hurts their horsemanship and horses I think. Even very good riders (high intermendiate to low professional) tend to lay on the bit too much to get the collection, get a good stop or bring the horse on to the bit appropriately. You saying you "feel like I'm lugging my horse around" tells me you are having to be much heavier handed than you would like. A bit is only a tool and only as good as the skill of the person using it. I am not saying to "throw a stronger bit at the horse." I am suggesting a more effective bit for the job. I have worked with many English style horses who have their noses in the air, no brakes, are very much on the forehand, etc. etc. all because the owners are 'saving their horse's mouths' by using snaffles and hanging on to them for dear life. Once a horse starts to resist the snaffle, its a done deal. The trainer has to go back to the rudiments of bridle training to get the horse's mouth back. So, for someone as skilled and light handed as you say you are, I suggest you try to use those very skilled and light hands with a bit that will make a difference. It is your hands that actually make the difference. Slight tugs, a little bump with one rein, the lightest possible rein cues for a good response, are what you are looking for. Before you take one step under saddle, the horse should put his nose on the ground if you ask him to and anywhere in between as well as give to either side. Again, aids (bits, spurs, crops, etc.) are only tools. They are abusive in the hands of ignorant, well-meaning but unskilled and, of course, uncaring humans. In the hands of professional, skillful and compassionate horsepeople, they are a God send to the horse. My current favorite bit I don't know the exact name of. It is a western styled reining bit made by Tom Balding. But I have seen the same bit made by Myler and in a more English version. It has a high port, swivels at the shanks and on either side of the port. It is not broken like a snaffle. But does swivel in four places. Myler rates it is a bit for higher level horses and riders.

You know, as far as your legs getting tired, try a bit more use of the knees (just a suggestion) and try taking a deeper seat. The muscles that go from the knees up through to your abdomon and back are generally fairly strong. I find I can lift a horse better and better without hands or lower leg at all simply by having a deeper seat and a bit more contact with my knees (which when I am really seated properly gives me better control from my seat and I do sit much deeper onto the horse's back which makes for more effective and efficient riding). The horses seem to naturally collect and start right out lifting themselves into a floaty, collected canter departure on a very lightly contacted rein (barely any assistance from a rein). For me, they tend to hold that floaty, collected canter without accelerating and will execute a flying change with the slightest of cues. Just something to consider.

Well, now I must get ready to have some 'real time' with horses. Its heavy winter here in CO near Aspen. Thank God I have a couple of clients with heated indoor arenas. Good Luck and keep me posted..........

Sincerely yours, Franklin (Happy New year)

Dear Franklin,

You know what? You're right. It is true that even what we consider to be a "mild" action bit can become destructive when it is being lugged on. One with more "ooomph" can reward the horse far quicker because the cue can be given lighter and briefly with a quick release. You are also correct in that there is a stigma in the English world. It repeats itself like a broken record in my head: "If you have to go up in bit strength, you are not doing things correctly or are torturing your horse."

I know the bit to which you are referring, and I think my instructor has one (she agrees wholeheartedly with your prognosis and theory by the way). I'm going to see if she'll lend it to me for awhile so I can give it a test. I think you are onto something. Granted, I'm going to also keep working from the ground up and see if there is anything we've missed in schooling or that needs a tune-up. Also, I will work with my instructor to get that seat like you're describing. I think she's been trying to do that for awhile, and she will appreciate that you echoed her words to a "t." Last night, she had me raise my knees a little so my feet were a dime's width above the stirrup. Deep went my seat. Felt different, so I must've been perching (raspberry sounds). Good, good. I like to have new things to try.

Thank you again for your help. Enjoy your winter weather ... it's 75 degrees here in Virginia and driving our animals nutty!

Thank you again,


Hi Laura,

Thanks for that most kind email. I am delighted that my suggestions strike a 'true' note with you and your insturctor. Please keep me posted on how it all goes and let me know if I can be of additional assistance. BTW, I travel to do seminars and clinics regularly. If you think there may be interest in your area in my gentle, effective and efficient ways of being with and training horses, please let me know. Hosting a seminar is easy, fun, educational and can make the hosting facility a bit of extra money.

I am off to Maui (where I lived for 30 years prior to coming to Colorado) for one month on Monday. So, I will be enjoying some wonderful weather, thank you. I don't ski, so I don't need the winter.

Best wishes to you, Franklin

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