Archives MAIN PAGE

Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

Professional support for you and your horse!

Training problem with my mare

Hi Franklin,

I’ve dealt with horses for only 3 years and have had my own mare for 1 year. I’ve gone through a long way with her and actually the relationship is quite good now. I’m writing to you because I’m interested in achieving 100% J and sometimes I don’t have an answer, as in this case.

Having a horse is never about only riding for me. The relationship is on the first place. I devote a lot of time to groundwork, correct leading and walks in the field.

My mare is moody, and dominant. But the strange and funny thing is that she is on the bottom (or almost on the bottom) of the hierarchy in the herd. But she never stops trying to dominate other horses because it is so important for her. She is simply not able to be on the top. She of course tries to dominate people as well. She is good-natured but sometimes can show ‘dry’ aggression, which can scare inexperienced people, scared me a year ago, and makes me frustrated sometimes now.

I know that if you dominate (in the positive sense) a horse completely and gain its trust, the horse will go whenever and wherever with you, and will feel safe even in ‘scary’ situations. Because they trust you and know that they will survive with you.

That is what I want to achieve. But dominating a horse 100% is difficult. And horses which are not completely dominated will always be disobedient from time to time.

I wish to have such a relationship with a horse to be able to go for a long walk far away without a lead line, or go for a hack without a halter and reins (I don’t use a bit).

I approach my mare with calmness, respect and patience. Sometimes it’s difficult and I might got tensed but I never lose control now. A few months ago yes, but now calmness, no frustration and anger is the priority. Recently (about 3 weeks) I was very particularly satisfied because I thought I had made a progress. I inclined (not forced) the horse to do more in the arena.

She is lazy, so my challenge is to make her ‘dance’ but with joy and out of her volition. And recently I have managed to achieved that. She showed some nice gaits and sometimes very animated. I was very happy. I devoted more time and patience to her problems – girth and saddling- trying to show her that I understand her problems and will devote as much time as needed to solve them. And one day I decided that it is time to start riding without a halter, without reins (in the arena). And I was successful. My happiness was even greater. Next day I went for a walk to the meadows. Because of the weather I had had a break in the walks. And on the meadow she suddenly became violent, started running and even rear a little, coming definitely too close to me. Not that she was scared, she is not spooky, she could see something scary but she felt safe enough to try to eat the grass at same time! She definitely tried to dominate me. And what surprised me is that it was so sudden. I did not overlook small signs, like pushing at me a little. I correct that at once by keeping a distance (wiggling a line or using gestures with my hand). Maybe she knew that only with such a sudden violent reaction she could win a point? I did not get emotional, stayed calm, but I could not help becoming tensed and confused, and a little little afraid.

I concentrated on making her return to the state of calmness, by showing her my posture, and keeping a distance. And we returned to the stable calm and relaxed. I went for a walk next day- the same scenario. I went for a walk on the third day and even worse – she tried to dominate not far from the stable, but 100 meters away. I treated her the same- trying to be calm, and keep the distance. And I always win in the end, because she’s calm and obedient. And I must emphasize- the problem does not exist in the arena or with routine activities. Of course she tries checking- what if I don’t do what she asks, what will happen, if I try nipping her. But on the other hand all horses check even among each other. What surprises me is her violent sudden reaction.

I suppose that the problem arises from the fact that I have not dominated her completely and, what is sad to admit, I am not the true leader for her (yetJ). Does she feel some weakness in me that I’m not strong enough to lead her?

Her character might contribute to that as well . No other horse fights so persistently for dominance, horses which are on top in hierarchy only maintain their position (peacefully), and those that are on the bottom have accepted the fact more less.

Am I responsible for such behavior? Will it stop once I’ve become good enough? Or is it normal for horses to protest so violently from time to time? Do horse masters have such problems with horses or are their horses are cooperative and obedient all the time?

I’ve watched lots of wonderful ‘shows’ but I always wonder whether these people’s horses always behave in such a way, or are a bit uncontrollable from time to time.

One more point is that such a horse as mine is unreliable, because I have really got used to the fact that she is calm, I go on hacks with a halter, go for a walk even without a line sometimes, and in fact I did not have such a situation as this one for over half a year. Sometimes when I asked her to gallop when lunging on the meadow she got overemotional, but that was it. Sometimes she got a little pushy but that was easy to handle. But what has happened this week is amazing for me. Might it be the final test perhaps? Or does it mean that things have gone worse?

I’m looking forward to your advice!

Regards, Beata

Hello Beata,

Quite an email you have sent me. First of all, our language totally reflects our beliefs and attitudes, even if we think it doesn’t. So, you use the words ‘dominant’ and ‘dominance’ and similar words quite a bit. I suggest you stop using those words and begin using great ‘leadership’ and trust. Forget about any words like dominance or alpha or the like. I also suggest you show this skillful and precise leadership the very instant you get with the horse. This means immediately setting an appropriate boundary and keeping it every second. So, the horse should remain exactly where you want it before you go out any gate and even as you go through the gate. Ask for a lot of stops, sometimes every two or three steps and stand and breath calmly for 30 seconds. Do quite a bit of precise and slow backing up for 4-5 steps. I suggest no allowing the mare off the line for a while when in the field with you. In a smaller enclosure, is the time to practice your liberty training where you can actually send the horse away a bit and invite her back. She can run back to you, but you need to raise your hand while she is still 10-15 yards away from you. She can rear up or anything if she is this distance away. Mostly I think it is the horse being playful (treating you like another horse which you are not). If you set and keep a good boundary she can play around all she wants and you are safe. This can be loads of fun too. Do not lunge her in such an open place as the meadow yet. She is not ready. What you seen in these great shows with horses at liberty takes a lot more than three years. Most of these folks, although many are relatively young, grew up with horses and often they raise their own. So, do not be too hard on yourself as it seems you are doing quite well given your limited experience. It can take many years to develop these horses into what you see in the shows. Not months, but years and years. Raising your own horses is helpful if you are very experienced.

I also feel you are wanting too much too quickly. Practice setting and keeping good boundaries for 6 months specifically. You could forget most anything else but that. Even setting and keeping boundaries around food when it is feeding time. Just doing and perfecting this will deepen your bond and trust level tremendously. When it is great it will look like all you do is turn your body a little, use your eyes a certain way or slightly raise a hand and the horse will stop or step back. She will walk where you want and not leave your side. When the cues get very good and subtle, you are moving along nicely. It is imperative you remain calm and your breathing remain calm. You never dominate a horse 100% as you say. NEVER! This is very inappropriate thinking. It is true you do need to be extremely consistent in your leadership. Don't try. BE! The horse is never being bad, wrong, willful, stubborn, or any such negative human trait. It is not really wanting to dominate you. It wants you to be the great leader. But it will check to see if you can be the leader everyday. This is to be expected and part of survival. But the more consistent you get and confident and self-assured with your leadership, these challenges will get less and less. She will absolutely know if you are are not confident or fearful etc. This is part of their survival mechanism. One day you will not be able to be the leader and they, or another horse, will have to take over. Do not look for obedience. Horses are not meant to be obedient. They are meant to be partners. Like dance partners is how your relationship is to be. The human is always the great leader of the dance. The horse is already a professional dancer and knows the dance well. It is the human who does not know the dance or how to lead it. The dance is one of action/movement, emotion, energy and communication (like all dancing).

The horses in shows are mostly always compliant, especially if they receive time out just to be horses and not perform. A few days performance and two week off. Something like that. Training periods last maybe an hour tops at a session. Perhaps as short as 30 minutes or even less. If the horse really does what you ask, even if it does it in just two minutes, end the session and put the animal away. This is how they learn really well. Mostly we are asking too much from our horses in any one session. Never keep trying to repeat something whether it works or not. All you can reasonably look for is effort and all effort should be rewarded immediately with a removal of all pressure and offering total peace for 30 seconds. Totally successful effort should be rewarded by immediately ending the session. When training, change what you are doing/asking every few matter what. You need to change something (speed, direction, action, etc.). Changing something keeps the animal from being distracted and bored. Especially when lungeing, do a lot of directional and speed changes and lots of stops. No more than one complete circle and then make a change of some sort. Practice slow and very precise movement. You can always speed a horse up. It is very hard to calm them down. This is why a habit of calmness is so essential. You see this with all the horses in those big shows. The ones being ridden with no bridle, etc. are basically calm and lazy horses. This is what is needed to do this sort of stuff. Practice very slow precise one-step-at-a-time movements. This is so much fun when the horse really gets it. Don’t try to accomplish 100% of anything. Simply give the animal 100% of your very best effort accompanied by 100% of your kindness and compassion.

So that’s all for now. teaching horsemanship this way is like teaching you to tango in an email. consider some training DVDs. Many are found in all horse magazines. I have several that would prove very helpful to you. Keep me posted and keep well and happy......

Sincerely, Franklin

Look for: