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Dear Franklin,

I would like to ask you for your advice, I understand you are a very busy man and must get emails from people all over the word all the time. But I have always been a believer in “there's no harm in trying.”

My name is Emily, I am a New Zealander currently living in Canada. I have had a great adventure with horses through my life and come now to a place where I would like to help horses while helping humans. I have worked with troubled teenagers & horses in a program in New Zealand where I truly felt and saw the beauty of the interaction between horse and human. I would love to devote my life to this if I can figure out how to.

I came from a very traditional English horse riding background and without writing an essay, I changed my ways. I changed them so dramatically that I see myself as a total ‘beginner’ with horses again. The relationship I would like to have with them; doing liberty work, riding without equipment…having a willing partner who isn’t my slave but wants to enjoy time with me just as I do with them, that is my dream. However I am finding this very difficult.

A couple of months ago I ‘rescued’ a horse that came into the vet clinic I work at to be euthanized. The owner could no longer take care of her. She has a mild intermittent lameness but is by no means in pain and ready to die (I had her vet checked for this reason). From the moment I met her I could see fear in her, more than I have seen in any other horse. She looked ready to explode when I approached her in the paddock, holding her breath in anxiety. For a couple of days she wouldn’t let me near her. I kept talking to her, telling her all was ok, she was safe now.

Since spending time ‘working’ with her for the last couple of months I have seen definite improvements, she used to be sedated for her hooves to be trimmed – she now quietly holds them up for me and my patient trimmer friend. However more recently as I have been ‘pushing her’ a little more, going for walks further afield on the farm together…she snorts the whole time…attempting some liberty work in the round pen, asking her to walk alongside me without halter and lead…she trots away and even does laps around the pen with absolutely no pressure from me – I had my eyes closed and stood softly in the middle as she lapped me…I am feeling quite lost and upset that I might not be able to have the relationship I dream of with her or any horse.

Questions come to my mind like…why would she want to spend time with me? The paddock has her friends, food and peace and quiet. With me I ask her for something, I try to give her as many pleasurable experiences as I can by massaging her and grooming her. But there is a point where I would like to do something that I find fun and interesting…but I’m not sure she does, like going for a walk, working together at liberty, putting gear on her, riding?…I guess my biggest confusion is around being the “mentor” as you mentioned in one of your essays…do I need to ‘push her’ a little at this stage to then reach the other side and perhaps see her move beyond her fear and become open to enjoying the activities I ask of her? Or as I sometimes consider, do horses never really enjoy what we enjoy…are they forced even with gentle methods to do what we would like of them…wouldn’t they rather be with their herd…left in peace?

I love my horse and sometimes it breaks my heart to think I am forcing my will and my dream on her.

I would be so so appreciative to hear your thoughts on this Franklin, I am hoping you have an answer I have not thought of…

Many many Thanks,

Emily and Amber.

Hi Emily,

Feelings of safety and peace are the most important things in the life of a horse as it is a prey animal (eaten by meat eating animals). A horse will always choose to be with its good leader over anything else. So, if you have your big agenda become feelings of safety and peace for your horse, above all else, you will eventually became that trusted leader. The leader controls all spatial aspects of the herd, the food and movements. Also, it can take quite a while for the horse to accept your leadership, especially if it has any abuse by humans in its background. This is much easier to do with a reasonably young horse. A ‘rescued’ horse has experiences in its background that might prevent such trust from forming for a long time. Rehabilitating a rescued horse really can be a project over years.

Horses such as your MAY be very difficult as their response to any requests will be a fearful one. So, putting a mild bit of pressure to the horse may be essential to it getting over this fear. My way of working with rescued horses is to only ask for one or two steps at a time and then immediate reward of removal of all pressure. See attached essays. The timing of the reward is crucial. Removal of pressure means no petting, no looking at it and no talking to it. Hands down, look at the surroundings (soft eyes so you can still see what the horse is doing), BREATH. Then ask for a coupe of more steps and reward any effort. This gradual approach to leadership has worked in extremely fearful and previously abused horses. Do not have expectations or assumptions. See more of my essays on my website. It is all there for free and there is a lot (including a free help center with over 1000 archived Q & As with its own search engine feature.

Thank you for emailing me and please do keep me posted and ask me questions if you get stumped. The horse will decide how long it will all take. Like a human with PTSD, no guarantees they will become fully functional or healed. You have a project on your hands. Release agenda other than good feelings.

Sincerely, Franklin

Dear Franklin,

Thank you so much for your reply to my email. I have to say I was very happily surprised to see you had responded. There are plenty of 'big noters' out there who would not take the time. That really shows your genuine passion and interest in horses and the way they are treated worldwide, which in turn makes the advice you give that much more meaningful and trustworthy. I will be sure to direct as many like minded people as I can to your website and FB page and let them know you are the real deal!

I printed out your email response and the articles you recommended to me so I have them to look over as often as I like. I have been out to my horse several times since reading them and kept your words in mind.

I think your point about an older rescue/abused horse taking a long time to trust is something I need to remind myself of constantly. It is very easy for me to take her behaviour personally and reflect it back on myself and see myself as a poor 'trainer' and almost want to give up.

She definitely responds with fear to every new experience small or big. So as you say I may need to help her though that by putting her in uncomfortable situations so she will hopefully then learn that there is no need to worry (pressure then reward). And hopefully there will be a point (probably a long way down the track) where she may even begin to enjoy what we do together. I will certainly do my best to create a safe and peaceful place for her in my company.

Thank you so much again Franklin, you have helped give me some hope!

Emily M.
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