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Hartley Farm, Australia 2010

by Maggie Holley
Hartley Farm, NSW, Australia

Franklin Levinson is a quiet American who dislikes the term 'Horse Whisperer' because of all the hype that lately has come to be associated with it- but still...it suits him.

I had the great pleasure of organizing some clinics at the Hartley Farm with him recently, which proved he is that rare combination of both gifted horseman and teacher-as well as a warm, compassionate man.

We had an all day clinic on Saturday for 16 adults that started in the morning session with ground skills (something many of us sorely need at Hartley) and included the basics on establishing boundaries, so the horse respects your space, to backing up, correct leading & picking up all 4 feet confidently- amongst many others!

We moved to riding in the afternoon session learning more finesse and control of brakes and steering, including that important intermittent 'bumping' or tugging upwards of the inside rein when turning a tight circle, if the horse has started to run away with you! A further improvement on the 1 rein stop).

On Sunday morning Franklin conducted a clinic for 10 children, that ranged from a complete beginners to more experienced older kids. It was amazing to see the courage of some of the youngsters on the lunge line as they trotted and cantered -for some on their very first ride on a horse! To watch their confidence grow, as they also learned to handle the horse more competently on the ground, was terrific. A wonderful lesson in being 'safe' around a large animal!

Franklin also managed to fit in some private riding lessons with a few lucky people- and if the big grins that were on Guy Mckanna's, Denise Boyd's (and my own) face are any indication, they were a huge success!! We were all on the lunge with no reins, hands on our legs- trotting and cantering! Woo Hooo!

It is always tricky for a visiting trainer/coach to satisfy the diverse needs of the 'horsey folk' at Hartley, but I think Franklin structured his work with us so well, that all had a 'fair go' judging from the feedback I have so far received.....

Franklin has had 50+ years with horses from many diverse backgrounds and is often called in,as a last resort, to deal with a horse that is considered dangerous. He is astonishingly accurate in his 'read' of problems (especially physical) that the horse may have been trying to communicate to the rider – with what may have seemed 'bad' behaviour – and assisted a few private owners with specific problems whilst at the Farm!

One key thing that I took away from working with him is Franklin's thought :

"The horse is an innocent being and should ALWAYS be treated as such, no matter WHAT the behaviour may be that it exhibits!"

He went on to explain that the "naughty, disobedient, stubborn" and rearing, bucking, bolting behaviour results from either fear or pain- and always a lack of trust...In other words- they do not feel safe!

Franklin always says " YOU must be the Leader of the 'Dance' of all movement with the horse."...Thinking of behaviours in this way and my interaction as a dance, also helped put things in perspective for me.

As we humans find it so easy to quickly get frustrated and 'blame or judge' the horse, let's remember Franklin's 4 C's for communication with the horse with wisdom and compassion :

Calm, Clear, Concise and Consistent!

We plan on asking Franklin back next year in January (and possibly at the end of his trip in March as well) to do more clinics/lessons, so if you are interested, please let the office or myself know, as many missed out this time!

My heartfelt thanks to Franklin , all that participated- and of course, to our own 'quiet achievers'-our wonderful manager Gordon and the hard working wranglers!