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Franklin Levinson's

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Spooky Ex-Racehorse

We just got a 13 y.o., gelding, standardbred. He has been retired from racing for a year. His prior owners did tell us that he is difficult in doorways. They demonstrated bringing him to his door, stepping back and letting him enter on his own. He would then hesitate and then bound in/out. He's been with us for two weeks. He will not enter his stall and has remained outside. Taking him in/out of outdoor gates is proving just as difficult. The first time he spooked and ran through. Since, we have decided to take him through the gate with a lead, but he bounds through the entry pulling to one side or the other, creating a dangerous situation. We are seeking professional direction for this problem.

Thank you,

Thank you for your question. It is certainly understandable for your horse to have these challenges in light of his former career. I have worked with quite a few horses 'off the track' and their list of neurosis can be extensive.

I would not lead him into spaces (places); I would 'send' him in. Get your horse lunging really well on a long line and a short line (lead rope). Get him so he yields his front end and his hind end to you easily and willingly. Try to keep this very soft and gentle. Do you understand what I mean by yielding the front and the hind ends? Once he lunges well you can begin to 'send' him into places such as through gates and back out again with you standing in one spot. Practice this a lot. Once he will go through a gate and come back out again confidently, try lunging him in front of his stall door for a session or two. Once he is OK doing that, lung him closer to the stall entrance. At some point you will be able to stop him right in front of the stall door. Then you again gently ask him to go in the stall, on his own. If he backs away or refuses (this is because he is afraid and not being stubborn), lung him more in both directions for a few minutes.

Then direct him into the stall again. If he balks, lung him more. Repeat the process, as much as it takes for him to walk in. If he goes in a little and comes out, that is still a try and should be rewarded with a "good boy" and given a break for a minute or two. Then begin the process again.

Any effort by the horse to take a step towards where you want deserves a reward (a "good boy" and a minute break from the work of lunging or you asking him to do anything). What you are doing is making what you don't want from him hard (because he goes to work when he does not do as you request) and what you do want easy (he gets a "Good Boy” and some rest if he tries to go where you want). This principle and technique works in numerous situations with your horse and is non-abusive. It also builds trust between your horse and you. You become more of the great leader than a disciplinarian. It is not about making your horse do anything. It is about developing enough trust that your horse does what you request because he trusts you so much he wants to comply and cooperate.

Good luck and let me know how it all goes.

Sincerely, Franklin

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