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A Parent’s Reflections on
Learning Horsemanship from Franklin Levinson

By Bryant Cruse

When my 18 year-old daughter, Emma, told me she wanted to go to Colorado to study “natural horsemanship “, one-on-one with a man named Franklin Levinson, I was a little taken aback. Not that she wanted to go, after a semester in India and one in Greece nothing that Emma would come up with would likely surprise me, but in her other adventures she had the support and security of being with an established group or institution.  Who is this Franklin guy I wondered? I needed to check this out but I remember thinking that if horses trusted him, people could probably trust him as well.

Franklin Levinson is a Horse Whisperer. He doesn’t call himself that, in fact he gets a little impatient (rare for him) when he talks about some of the hype and commercialism that have lately begun to be associated with the term.  But after watching him in the round-pen with a horse – I call him that. Horses do trust him. More than trust really – around Franklin horses are allowed to be horses, comfortable in their own skins but living in the human world. The results are a little short of miraculous.

Shortly after we arrived in Colorado (my wife, Ann, and I stayed on a few days after getting Emma settled), Franklin invited us to dinner at a very nice restaurant in the small and not- yet- too-gentrified town of Basalt. I was a little amused at first, totally relaxed in his cowboy hat and jeans, Franklin looked a little like someone who had just walked off the set of an Old Western movie (in fact, as I was to learn later – he was). A strange transformation for someone from Detroit who was the youngest rated Polo player in the US at 13 years of age.  As we walked down the street everybody we passed seem to know Franklin and was eager to greet him, we felt like we were in the company of a celebrity.

He certainly doesn’t act like a celebrity. We sat outside in the early evening sunshine and Franklin began to tell us about his lifelong passion for horses and in no time we felt as comfortable as one of his horses ourselves.  Horses are prey animals, he explained, their natural instinct whenever confronted with uncertainty is to take flight. When people think a horse is being stubborn or willful or hostile it is always fear not those other motivations, that’s why the traditional approach to horse training – to dominate or “break” the horse is so wrong headed.

I learned that the motions, the posture, the other aspects of body language but most of all the kindness and inner calmness that Franklin was teaching Emma would be responded to by any horse that hadn’t been made neurotic by previous mishandling.Bryant C.

Franklin explained to us that the way to a horse is through compassion and kindness combined with a thorough understanding of horse psychology.  He also spoke of the precision and inner clarity the trainer must bring to the relationship.  It soon became evident that “inner clarity” was something that Franklin possessed in abundance.  For only the second time in my life I had the realization that I was in the presence of a truly spiritual person.

For the next three weeks Emma spent each day with Franklin, watching and learning as he went about his business up and down Roaring Fork Valley, training horses for clients, giving lessons in both training and riding and generally being a one-man equestrian resource center.  Emma felt very fortunate to see Franklin work with some of the very best horses in the world as Franklin’s client list can be somewhat “rarified” especially at the Aspen end of the valley. I later teased Emma that she was working with the “Horse Whisper of the Rich and Famous”.  If so, it is a testament to his skill and his deserved reputation.  There is nothing pretentious about Franklin. In fact it is difficult to imagine anyone even being pretentious around Franklin – he would see right through it.

In between his regular clients Franklin worked one-on-one with Emma on both training and riding and I got to sit in on a couple of those sessions.  I saw firsthand what he was talking about in terms of the results you get when you bring kindness, compassion and trust to a relationship – with Emma I mean, - I know he treats horses that way too.

I watched as Emma and Jet, a big beautiful quarter horse, regarded one another from some distance across the round-pen. After a while he walked over and stopped very close to her, his neck bent slightly down, his head about 12 inches from her. I expected her to put her arms around his neck and fuss over him. She didn’t - they just stood calmly beside one another for a few moments. Then Emma backed away a few steps and to my amazement Jet followed her keeping his head exactly the same 12 inches from her shoulders.  When she reversed direction and walked towards him, he backed up still maintaining his relative position – Emma and Jet were “hooked”.

I should explain that Emma is not an experienced horsewoman.  She is at that stage in her life where, faced with a world of exciting opportunities, she is seeking the one that will truly bring focus to her talents and energies. That is why she was in Colorado; to learn firsthand if she it could connect with horses in way that was fundamentally different from her limited previous experiences - but she was there as a beginner.

I assumed that Jet must be highly trained in Franklin’s methods to respond to Emma in such an amazing way but this turned out not to be the case. I learned that the motions, the posture, the other aspects of body language but most of all the kindness and inner calmness that Franklin was teaching Emma would be responded to by any horse that hadn’t been made neurotic by previous mishandling.

Every evening Emma would describe the day’s experiences with ever increasing excitement and talk with increasing confidence about what her own future would entail.  Franklin says that the qualities needed to have a successful relationship with a horse are the same as needed to be a great parent. It hasn’t always been clear to me how to be a great parent but one idea that Ann and I have always been clear about was that our role was to help Emma “find her bliss”. Within days of her first lesson, I watched Emma cantering Jet around the round-pen, her arms held out straight from her shoulders as perfectly poised as a ballerina, with expression on her face that can only be called “blissful”.

That first truly spiritual person, that I have known was fond of quoting the Buddhist saying, ”When the student is ready, the teacher will come”.  It is still too early to tell if Emma has truly found her bliss with horses but I am sure she could never find a better teacher. I do know she has found a friend for life and so has Franklin Levinson.

Bryant Cruse
parent of an Immersion Student
Annapolis, Maryland
October 15, 2007