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Franklin Levinson's

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The Heart Of A Horse & How To Win It

Hello Franklin,

I had a question about finding ways to bond to your horse. I heard about your web site from In Horse Harmony, I recently listened to the interview you had on their on bonding with the horse, since that is more than anything something I have been working with my horse on. He is very strong willed, and is stubborn. He is head shy, and sometimes if you reach for his halter and he knows your their, cause I'm always talking to him somehow, about how nice he looks today or something silly like that, and he will trot away. He can sometimes be mean though. Just so bad tempered it can be a danger to be near him at times. I tried to lunge him on one of these days and instead of just kicking out normal energy, he swung his body at me, turning so that he was lunging his kicks at me and trying to move close. It didn't scare me at the time, though made me more hurt than anything, because I love this horse, I have read tons of books, read articles online anything I could find to try and bond to him, I have never hit him unless he has lunged a bite at me, as John Lyons said in one of his books that was the only ok time to strike a horse. He can be stubborn under saddle too, but I want a bond with him more than anything. This horse is my first one, though I had previously worked at a stable around horses a lot, and he was their. He had a permanent place here with me, and I don't want when he is to old to hardly be ridden have a horse that cant stand to have a person near him, cause I spend hours out their now with them. I will go and just sit and watch him and the other horse we have graze, just to see a horse makes my heart beat faster. I have always love horses, I have always read about them even since I could read I read books on training and body language, understanding them before a lot of things. I am almost 16 now, but I love horses just the same. I just wondered if you had any advice on how I could closer bond to him, if what I am doing is something wrong, or if I am not spending enough hours with him, or anything like that, I would be glad for any advice!

Thank you SO much for listening to me!


Hi Gabrielle,

First thing is to never take anything a horse does personally. A horse's love is not given or 'is' as you are thinking it is. Attributing human characteristics to any animal is risky as they simply are not human and do not relate to love and other human emotions as do humans. Horses are prey animals (eaten by predators). Horses bond with humans, or any individual, out of a need to feel safe. They get their sense of safety from the leaders of the herd who know, either through experience or instinct, where food and water is and when it is safe to eat and sleep. They respect their leaders as their leaders know how to lead, actively do lead all the time and direct the herd's movements. Respect is also earned by the leader's ability to control the spatial aspects of all the members of the herd (who gets to stand where). The leader eats first, drinks first and goes where she wants and the other horses always give way. It is normal for members of a herd to test if the leader is still able to lead on any given day. A small test of authority such as invading the space of a leader prompts the leader to make a small aggressive move towards that invading individual. Generally, this is enough to get the invader to back off. But this test is essential to the survival of the herd, as, without somebody leading all the time, their survival may be in jeopardy. Sometimes a leader may rush at, kick or bite an invader (upstart). A herd leader may also bide her time to teach another a lesson. This means she may wait until an upstart is really distracted with eating and then apply a well placed kick to teach the lesson.

If a horse is able to invade the personal space of another individual whenever it wants, or at any time actually, that means the invader has become the leader. Its all about survival and not about stroking the beloved and saying nice things or giving treats. Once a strong bond is formed with the human as the great leader, accepted and trusted by that individual horse, that is when the affection and sweet talk has more meaning as it is coming from the leader. If the human is not the leader, its like you having a crush on someone and they could care less. So your affection and feelings, at that point, are wasted as far as having them returned.

Learn to get really good at ground schooling (directing the movements of the horse on the ground). This puts you in charge of the spatial aspects when you are with a horse. Control the food (make a horse wait until you say it is OK to eat). As the leader of the herd you control the resources of the herd (food and space).

This is what will gain and earn you the trust (love) and respect of a horse. Trust and love are the same to a horse and very powerful. Trust is earned through your abilities as the great, compassionate, kind and skillfully precise leader. Never get angry. Never get frustrated. Never judge a horse as bad. Any behavior you do not want from a horse is based on its fear of not surviving. If you cannot lead, the horse fends for itself. Only seek to offer feelings of safety to the horse (through your great leadership). It has to be done through your abilities as it's leader. Directing the horse's movements, providing consequences ( movement, work) for unwanted behavior, rewarding every 'try' the horse offers to comply with a request (reward with brief rest, a little praise and a reprieve from the pressure of the request). Look for licking and chewing from the horse as a sign of feelings of safety and compliance. The big reward is to put the horse away for the day. End every session with your horse on a positive note, with you as the great leader. This, then, becomes a pattern of behavior. A winning cycle of request and willing compliance.

Educate yourself with a few training DVDs. They will open your eyes even more. Good Luck.

Sincerely, Franklin

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