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Franklin Levinson's

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Untouchable Horse

Dear Franklin,

I have a girlfriend who said she would give me an Arabian horse if I would work with him. The problem is she does not know the horse's history or background and she said that when she puts the saddle on him (western rig) he is fine along with his halter. She said if she goes to physically touch the horse, she can't get near him for he doesn't like to be touched by human hands. My assumption is that this horse may have been mistreated or mishandled in some way but I may be wrong.

My question is what measures would I have to take in order to work with this horse in order to train him to accept a humans touch on his body with out saddles, bridles halters etc. so that I may be able to brush him down and bathe him, etc. He is otherwise a good horse, smart, intelligent, and does obey to commands when being ridden. He is a beautiful horse and I do want him very badly and since she told me that I would be able to have him, if I could work with him, to train him to a human's touch. I would like to take her up on her offer. She has a round pen. The horse is three years old so I know and feel he can be trained of this problem. I worked with horses many years ago the last in 1992 before I moved to Georgia.

Any and all help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


Hi Debbie,

Well, as you have surmised, it's all about trust. It is likely the horse was abused. The round pen is a wonderful tool for establishing trust. It is not to tire out horses so they become worn down. It is so we can turn the horse loose without him going too far away.

When I take a horse into a round pen it is so I can set him/her free. Sometimes I just stand in the middle or kneel down on one knee and let the horse go around until it is ready to stop. It will want to sooner or later. When it does, depending on whether it faces me or not, I will either just wait until the horse's natural curiosity gets the best of him and he comes to investigate me or I may very gently request he keep moving. Then I may turn away from him suggesting that he can stop. When he does I will just wait, turned sideways or back to the horse and frequently the horse will come to me to investigate. Assuming he does come at some point, I do not try to touch his face as a lot of trainers do. I may talk a bit softly to him, give him a "Good Boy" or two and back away from his shoulder and invite the horse to turn towards me. If he does I give "Whoa" and stop all movement (I may raise my hand slightly in a 'stop' position). If he stops with me, which he will if he turned towards me, he gets a "Good Boy". If he has not turned towards me I may suggest he go around the pen a couple of more times and then suggest he can stop and do the procedure again. Once he turns to me, it is just a little step backwards for me to get the horse to begin to come to me while I am facing him but backing up. Once he does that I turn forward and invite the horse to begin to walk around with me. I occasionally give a "Whoa" and stop all movement. The horse will always stop. That gives me the chance to give him a "Good Boy." I have not touched the horse yet, but he has begun to 'dance' with me at this point.

Sooner or later, while I am standing by his shoulder, I will gently and slowly reach to scratch the horse by its withers or on its shoulder. Its mare (Mom) scratched it there and it is the most respectful place to begin to touch a horse. It is also the safest for you both. He would have a hard time kicking you if you are standing by his shoulder. He cannot strike out at you and hit you with his front feet and he would have to bring his head away around to the side to bite you. Always know that 'by the shoulder' is the safest place for you to stand with a horse.

Once I can scratch his withers and shoulder, I begin to touch the horse in various areas of its body. I remain very sensitive to the horse's responses and back off a whole step quickly if he moves away from me even just slightly. If he even turns his head away from me, I back off. I wait for him to relax with each step before I go to the next step. I offer him my hand to sniff regularly so he smells himself on me. Using this method I have handled horses that were untouchable a few minutes before I began the procedure. However, it requires the handler releasing all attachment to a quick resolution. The horse's feelings of safety and trust are the main and only goal. Once he trusts, he'll accept more and more new touching and everything else. It is how to turn fear into trust.

Always keep a compassionate and kind attitude. Be clear and precise in your intention and movement. Move slowly and thoughtfully. Be self-aware and sensitive all the time. Wait to be invited to advance the steps by the horse's demeanor and softness.

Part of the skill is in learning to determine when the horse is inviting the next 'step'. This takes practice and patience. This is how I would begin to re-train this horse back to 'trust'.

I have several folks I 'coach' in training horses and horsemanship over the telephone once a week. Perhaps you may be interested in more very effective, direct, practical applied gentle horsemanship and training techniques? I would be happy to help. Just let me know. Meanwhile, thank you again for your question and let me know how it all goes.

Sincerely, Franklin

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