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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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Too much or too little?

Dear Franklin,

I found your website a couple days ago and have been constantly reading ever since. I am a back to horses person, I rode when I was very young, until my mother could no longer afford it, and as soon as I got a job I started taking lessons again. I then joined the military and was unable to be around horses, except for a few occasions. After I had my baby I decided that I really wanted to be around them again, the only way I had was to take lessons, so I started. Then I found a horse rescue and I now volunteer there too. I decided it was the time to get a horse, I've wanted one for so long. I adopted a 7 year old TB, off the track (for about 2yrs). He is a rescued horse and very sweet, he was "in training" but I want to start from the ground up with him. He isn't too spooky but very strong willed, I guess is the best way to put it. I was going to put him in training with my curent instructor. But, I am having second thoughts, she is very nice but, tells me that I am too nice and I have to be firm. For example, the horse I ride at the barn is also a tb, he gets very spooky sometimes. There is a big garbage can and some construction going on across the street, he doesn't like it and gets pretty upset and does everything he can to avoid it. He is scared and I understand that, I try to be confident and let him know its okay but, my instructor tells me that I have to make him stay on the rail and to circle him and make him listen to my leg. If he doesn't respond by the 3rd time she wanted me to "pony kick" him? I am not a violent person and I really feel uncomfortable "pony kicking" or striking an animal (of any kind). So I told her I would feel more comfortable if she worked him through it. She got him to do it but, he fought her alot, it just seemed like an argument and I thought it was unnecessary.

Sorry I am getting to my question, this horse seems so bitter and when you go get him, you can see his disdain for the whole process. He is also very dull to your leg (it may be because I am just getting my legs back, but I don't remember ever using that much pressure to make a horse go. I am told to keep my leg on him the whole time, shouldn't there be a release of pressure? I want to do the right thing by my horse, I don't want him to be bitter like the other horse seems to be. I did buy some training videos from Frank bell, to assist me. She has also called him stubborn and she hasn't really worked with him except for loading and he wouldn't do it with her. She circled him back and tried again, she also tried food but, he didn't want to move. She went to get the lunge whip to coerce him in, so I tried. I was holding him and she jiggled the lunge whip by his backside, he didn't care. It took me about 6 min but, was able to load him, I circled him and did a little jog and he jumped in with me. I want to make sure I am not being too sensitive, my husband says I am, and that I have to be firm and make the horse listen. I know I need to be confident, a good leader, and earn my horses trust, we are working on that. But I don't want to undo everything we do accomplish with bad and over aggressive training. Should I talk to her about it? Should I try to do this myself or keep my trainer? A couple people said to try 1 or 2 sessions, but, I don't know if I want to. Also what exactly is playing at liberty and how do you do it? I think it would benifit us. Sorry for the long letter but, any insight or help you I have to offer would be greatly appreciated. Do you know any natural horse trainers in this area?

Thanks so much
th and Gotham

Dear Jerry,

   You have not bothered me and do not need to apologize for anything. I loved your email. Another testimonial to the magic of horses and the incredible and almost unbelievable responses certain learning disabled children can have in the presence of specific horses, even without guidence or a facilitator. I have experienced these occurances numerous times now and I cannot clinically explain it. But it happens. I am delighted you got to view it first hand. It is actually a 'hard sell' to many people involved with horses. It is especially difficult with academics who only believe in case studies over a long period of time. Miracles are not in their sphere of reference. But miracles do happen, and particularly with horses and children.

   You do not need to give up riding your horse or give up anything for that matter. In fact, you have just gained a whole lot of experiential knowledge. I think that allowing your horse to experience this child will only advance its confidence, socialization to humans, demeanor, good behavior and more. I do suggest viewing some actual sessions of Equine Facilitated Learning. Unfortunately I do not know of any place you can do this easily. Most places that have horses involved in therapies are all about riding for the disabled. There are programs utilizing something called Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. These programs are geared mainly as self-help and sensitivity enhancement courses for "normal" humans and are very expensive (geared to make a lot of money generally). There is a world-wide bandwagon of such programs going on. Sadly, there is little out there for the learning disabled child, autistic child, etc. involving the experience you and the child had with your horse. I am one of only a handful doing this. Probably because there is no money in it. Agencies for learning disabled children never have any money. Parents are so strapped financially that they can only try to survive. Generally I end up giving these programs away or only charging the bare minimum (less than a piano lesson). I wish that were not the case. But I still love doing this. You are lucky that you have a great horse for this. Most are not that good. Some are OK and can be conditioned for it. But your horse is a natural.

   I strongly urge you to continue to allow regular visits between your horse and this child. Keep a constant eye on everything as safety is the most important part of putting humans and horses together. Step in if you feel the horse getting any angst at all. If you can, practice a few simple ground movements with your horse. On a slack leadrope, ask for the animal to come forward a few steps and stop (Whoa means the human stops and the horse stops). You could put your right hand up as a hand cue to stop as well. Do just this for ten minutes and only a few steps at a time. Then advance to leading left and right turns so that the horse is very respectful and moves away if you step into its head space and comes along easily while respecting your boundries appropriately. Be gentle. Practice asking the horse to gently back up on the lightest cue possible. Only a couple of steps is required. Practice leading the horse through a maze of cones. Practice lungeing the horse around you....These are all things you may be able to guide the child to do with the horse. Activities are only limited by your imagination and skill level.

If you are interested you can purchase the Equine Facilitated Learning DVD through my website's shopping corral. I do think you would enjoy it immensely as would the parents of the child. It is an eye opener indeed. Have some tissue handy to mod up the tears. With some basic horse skills, you can help and continue to provide these experiences for this child. I urge you to do it. Your horse will really enjoy it and it will be wonderful for the child and the family. God Bless You Sir....

Sincerely, Franklin

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