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Unpredictable in Ireland.

Hello Franklin
Ireland calling here, Happy New Year.

We have a small livery yard up here in the north east corner of Ireland and I am lucky enough to have two of my own horses. My husband is the real equestrian in the family, he competes, teaches, the full monty! I just love them lots, do what I can on board and have fun along the way. I take lessons weekly, I have no grand ambitions other than to enjoy mountain trek and some amateur x-country. I rode as a child and came back to it a few years ago (cue new husband).

One of my boys (the horses, two geldings) is rising 17, I have had him for two and a half years. I travel a lot with work so my life with him is interrupted sometimes but he has made a lot of fans in this past few years who like to ride him when I'm not home...until very recently.

This is his story. He had a bad past, was not gelded until he was five or six, was locked up and abused to fix him, you know the awful scenario (it happens even here in horsey Ireland) then he was bought by a man who thought he would 'sort him out'. No he didn't. My horse almost killed the guy in the process but he was then sold on, luckily, to a very compassionate girl who bought him but who became very ill and was unable to spend all the time he needed with him. My husband weas friend of his mom's and became his caretaker, so I sort of inherited him.

I spent a long year and a half under my husband's tutelage learning how to ride him. I was beaten up, emotionally and physically. He would be fine for weeks and then out of the blue, on the beach, on a lane, in the arena, would just explode, several times damaging me very colourfully in the process. I have tweaked all his tack (at no small expense) until declared perfect by our saddler. We have done the chiropractor, the dentist, the acupuncturist (sinus problem) you name it. The first year was hell. I got dumped, carted, bruised, battered and brought to the very brink. I have never even carried a stick on him, I wanted to be sure he knew this was a friendship without strings. But he continued to be unpredicatble. A year ago last summer, we put him out for the fall with my husband's horse, his best friend. When we brought him in, it was as if there was a different horse home. It seemed as if he had decided OK, you're my person, let's do everything and have fun! And so it was, a magical, wonderful year - perfect! Oh it was just wonderful, a dream come true.

Everything sorted, right? I thought so.

We brought him and his best friend (my husband's horse) down the beach last week, like we have been doing for two years now, and were having a lovely relaxed canter along the sand when my horse exploded, out of the blue veered sharp left and changed to gallop without conferring with me. He was in front, by the way. I luckily stayed on board and managed to get back in charge (to my husband's relief, his horse was up on two legs at that point). Bad day, right? We chalked it up to that, freshly clipped, feeling good in himself, getting lots of good food. My husband decided to cool down his feed a bit, make sure that wasn't an issue.

I became brave enough again two days ago to venture down the beach with my husband and his horse again, all seemd to be well. We jumped a few small breakwaters (my horse LOVES to jump) everything was fine, first one super, second one also perfect, we were all delighted! 50 yards further along, another little breakwater and boom - two strides out from the jump, he veered wildly right, jumped twice the height I was asking him to, and then on landing began a gallop towards the open sands. Again, truly through more luck than ability, I managed to stay on board and collect us to steer him back in towards a wall that broke his run.

I am so sad. I have worked so incredibly hard to be the best friend this horse could have, I don't know what I have done wrong for him to have regressed like this. In fairness, he has been near nigh perfect for a year. I am completely stunped, and so is my husband.

I am hoping that you may somehow glean an insight into some reason why my horse is mad at the world again and why he has forgotten we're best pals - which is how I feel, I'm afraid, at the moment. I very much look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards, Trish

Hi Trish,

You have sent me quite a story. For horses with problems such as the ones you are describing, I take them back to the basics of their training. I stop trying to do what does not work. I change everything for a while. I begin again to establish trust and a deep bond based on respect. This is done first and foremost in handling the horse on the ground. I won't ride the horse for a month or more sometimes. I do extensive ground play, schooling, games, train at liberty, teach a few tricks, do a lot of ground driving with single and double lines, extensively 'sack-out' the horse and basically re-do everything with an emphasis on developing a relationship as opposed to getting ready to ride the horse. Once I do begin to ride him/her, it is with a rope halter and leadrope tied up as reins. I need a horse to stay with me and be compliant because he wants to and trusts me enough to be trust worthy. I begin in a small arena or suitable round pen. If it is a mature horse I am rehabilitating/training, I will start to ride the horse in the rope halter and lead and, when he is ready, in only a neck rope in a small arena. For younger horses I stay in a halter or side-pull for a good while. But the older horses really seem to take to being very free while ridden (no bridle or bit) quite well actually once they get used to it. I teach bridle-less riding and have had students (junior Olympic contenders as well as many adults), take jump courses with only a neck rope after completing my course. Their horses are reliable, track well and perform wonderfully. They seem to thrive on more freedom when being ridden. Can you imagine that with your horse? It is possible.

I don't get that you have much of a two way, mutually successful, relationship with your horse. It seems somewhat lopsided. You give a lot of love to him, but he is not giving you all that much. Perhaps what you are giving him is not exactly what he needs to trust you and bond that closely with you. I suggest getting off his back for a while and focus on your relationship rather than you riding him, which is mainly only about .... you riding him. There is no 'dancing' going on. Riding should be the icing on the cake of your relationship. Like a marriage, you really need to become good friends who trust and rely on each other to be more successful in the 'dance.' After all, it is a dance. All relationships are a dance. Are you the trusted leader? Are you really leading the dance? The dance begins on the ground and not in the saddle. You will come to know your horse (and he you) so much better through extensive time playing and dancing on the ground with him. This is what I would suggest. If you do not have the knowledge of the various games and dances on the ground, let me know. I can help. I am due for my fifth visit to the UK in May. I sure wouldn't mind coming to Ireland around that time, if you are really interested. Just let me know. The best of good wishes to you in the New Year.

Sincerely, Franklin

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