The Inferior Teacher vs The Superior Teacher

By: Franklin Levinson

“The inferior teacher tells you that something is wrong with you and offers to fix it. The superior teacher tells you that something is right with you and helps you bring it forth.” — Alan Cohen


I really like this quote from my good friend Alan Cohen

The teacher really does make a big difference in how a student will learn. It’s like the difference between positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement when training horses. When we have equine behavior that is not what we want, it is easy to judge the animal as bad and either punish it or reprimand it. This is the same as a teacher trying to fix what is wrong with a student. We can make the choice to understand that most often the student (horse or human) has within them exactly the right behavior, the behavior best for themselves and us. Figuring out how to bring that desirable behavior forward is the key. Establishing that behavior as being the student’s own idea and choice really initiates a higher level of learning. Rather like it being a student’s own idea to study their lessons or practice the piano. The big question is how to have this result.


I think a real key to this is the attitude of the teacher. It is not so much what the teacher knows but how they teach what they do know. Some teachers are able to inspire students to take the initiative to learn and others make learning drudgery. Rather than focusing on what we do not want from the student, teachers can choose focus on what the student can do and then expand on that. This way the teacher does not have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ so to speak. Allowing the wheel to keep rolling, but perhaps modifying the direction or speed could be the answer.


Teachers might consider offering suggestions and various choices to students (again humans or horses) rather than telling them what to do. An interesting skill for the teacher is to know when a particular choice that is offered has a natural block to forward movement or progress. An example with a horse might be that if the horse wants only to move to the right and not turn to the left, the trainer can, when holding the horse with a long line, position themselves and the horse so that the horse moves at a walk or slow trot, without excitement, into a fence or wall every time it goes to the right. When it goes to the left the horse is offered open space and removal of the pressure (a calm few moments) of the request as its reward. Thus the trainer makes what they want easy and pleasant for the horse and what they do not want somewhat difficult without imposing a reprimand or punishment. A horse most often will look for the easy way out or the way of least resistance to its movement.


Additionally, recognizing and rewarding effort by a student is extremely important. For a horse, rewarding the effort is how to keep the animal trying. If it keeps trying it will eventually succeed and begin to learn of its own accord, which is always best. The same goes for a human student. Saying “good boy” or “good job” is like a pat on the back and positive reinforcement. Removal of pressure and a few moments of total peace is a super reward for the horse. Offering children praise for decent effort is a good thing. Being careful not to bribe a child, or horse, is important. Focusing on what is right is a great way to motivate learning and to build on an individual’s good effort.


I think another aspect of a superior teacher would be to not bring personal problems, upset and angry feelings into the classroom. Certainly we can all have off days. There are days when we would rather be somewhere else other than where we are. The ability to focus in the ‘present’ can do wonders to assist us in keeping a decent attitude. There is an old horseman saying that goes “leave your problems at the barn door.” While I think most would agree that not bringing our personal problems to our students is a good idea, hiding a down day behind a false smile is not so great either. Nobody can feel up all the time. But teachers who allow too much of a negative attitude into their teaching area, classroom or arena, show little self-awareness or awareness of the detrimental effects their attitudes can have their students. Attitudes tend to be contagious. So teachers/trainers need to be mindful of how their mood affects students, as well as finding appropriate ways to be honest with their feelings. The lack of integrity behind a false smile is often obvious and can turn off the desire to learn from that teacher. I think being true to our feelings and yet not laying them on others is a learnable skill that takes practice and awareness.


Another great way to teach is by example. For instance, if we want a calm horse we need to be calm when interacting with it. If we desire our students to be more focused we, as teachers/trainers, need to develop our own ability to remain focused. When we are consistent we support those around us in being consistent. When a teacher/trainer is consistent in a positive way the odds at success are greatly increased. For me it was always better if I was asked to do something rather than told to do it. A suggestion gave me the freedom to really do something because I wanted to. I think it is best to make any request very precise with a horse as they get confused easily. Confusion creates fear within a horse. Also, a request tends to have better energy than telling or giving a command or order. Precision in the communication is a more important than forceful or loud energy. The story about an English speaking person trying to talk to a Japanese speaking person and eventually shouting trying to be understood is often the reality of not being understood.  A common language is very important. The same situation with a horse is when we make a request in a normal tone and volume (asking calmly), and if we do not get a good response we begin to use more and more volume, energy and then force. This is shouting to a horse.  It is not the volume of the speech; it is the clarity that gets the point across. This goes for human students too.


Never taking anything a horse or human does personally can help us to be calm and precise in our communication. If we take anyone’s behavior, or what they say, personally, it is easy to get angry, upset and lash out to get back at them. I believe the truth in this situation is that the speaker is saying more about themselves than who they are speaking to. Also, it is helpful to have the understanding that there is possibly something inside of us that relates to what the other has said or done and this has prompted our negative reaction. Taking a look at what is not pretty or nice within us can be very upsetting. In this case, it is actually ourselves we are angry at and not the other. But often it is their ‘baggage’ that is prompting their outburst or attack. If we can accept that any perceived aggression or attack is actually a call for help from someone who is suffering, then we can more often maintain our own inner peace and perhaps find a way to help that individual find there’s. This requires a lot of kindness and compassion which are always good things for us to develop more of. Never get angry at or blame a horse for its behavior. All unwanted equine behavior is the animal showing its fear. If we are afraid, we are suffering and it is the same for the horse. In the face of suffering it is easier to respond with compassion. If we take the horse’s behavior personally, it is easy to get angry, judge the animal as bad and seek to punish them. Horses are always innocent, no matter what the situation.


In conclusion, I think it is obviously desirable to want to be a good and effective teacher or trainer and to work at it. This takes patience, time and attention to achieve. Most important is to simply do our best all the time. Consider the wonderful benefits for the human or equine student, and the teacher, by taking this path as trainers and educators. We are all students and teachers for each other (from the Principles of Attitudinal Healing


Franklin Levinson is back and still Free, on Reaching Out with Anna Twinney!

February 25th ~ March 4th

Franklin Levinson – International Horseman and the Creator of the Beyond Natural Horsemanship Program

Once again Anna and Vin enjoy the wise and compassionate words of Franklin Levinson.  Franklin gives us an update on his exciting venture in Corfu, Greece, helping to create a better world for horses and humans.  Then he and Anna move to the world of equine training and have an honest discussion about the use and effectiveness of punishment, reprimands and consequences and share more useful, insightful and trust-based tips for your own training and relationship with your horse.  These conversations are jam-packed with lots of great tips and information that you can apply to your horsemanship and to your life.  You don’t want to miss these episodes.

And best of all, it’s completely FREE!

Click Here to register and listen on
The Reaching Out with Anna Twinney Podcast
There’s nothing like it anywhere!

This is your opportunity to learn from the best of the best! You will hear interviews of legends in Natural Horsemanship and Training, Animal Communication, Healing, Alternative Modalities and more.  Nowhere else will you find this caliber of guests in one spot… Anywhere!

People like Madeleine Pickens, Frank Weller, Linda Tellinton-Jones, Carolyn Resnick, and Franklin Levinson… just to name a few.

And the best part is that it’s FREE!

All interviews are free up until a week after all the episodes of each guest are aired.  Then, if you should happen to miss them, you can download the entire conversation for a small fee.  All you need is a computer and an internet connection (which you already have if you are reading this), and you can take advantage of this incredible resource.  So go to, tune in and get informed and inspired!

About Your Host:
Anna Twinney is an internationally respected Animal Communicator, Equine Specialist, Natural Horsemanship Clinician, and Reiki Master.  She has been featured on TV, national and international magazines and travels the world educating people and horses working in the horse’s own language.  As the founder of the Reach Out to Horses® program, she remains on the cutting-edge of genuine, gentle communication techniques with all our planetary companions.  For more information on Anna & the Reach Out to Horses program go to

Reach Out to Horses            Golden, Colorado




Franklin Levinson

If we step on the paw of a dog or cat it squeals. If someone steps on our toes or we close a door on our hand we make a sound that says; “that hurts!” Often we use an expletive, four letter words we would not use unless something is really painful physically. Horses do not do this. They communicate very little with sound. The reason for this aspect of their evolution is the wide open spaces the wild horse herds existed in until rather recent history. Additionally, as they are prey animals (eaten by predators), they did not want to make many sounds as that might alert a lion or some other carnivore that a possible dinner was in the area. Their vision evolved from this existence in vast, open spaces as well. They see very good detail of movement that is far away as well as noticing all detailed movement that is relatively close to their proximity. Perhaps a wolf is hiding behind a rustling bush. Thus, it can be easily understood that the language of horses has evolved via their sight rather than making sounds to communicate. Their acute senses of sight, hearing and smell were a result of their big, open environment and the fact that they were hunted and eaten by predators and the horses needed to be able to see, hear or smell a predator lurking in their area. Their developed senses helped them to survive. We will focus on the importance of ‘sight’ for now.

Humans initially familiarize themselves with their surroundings via their eyesight. Person to person communication has hearing as its main functioning sense because we primarily use a verbal language. For the horse the medium of communication for individual to individual, or individual to the group, uses the language of the body as perceived by their sight. Theirs is a visual language based on body postures and bodily displays with more variations than there are words in all dictionaries in all languages. If humans are not conscious and aware of this fact and understand at least some of the meaning our various physical postures and movements have for horses, it is easy for us to communicate incorrectly, inaccurately, improperly and unintentionally alienate a horse that we want successful activities with. Unfortunately, humans do not seem to exhibit self-awareness of their movements most all the time and especially when around horses. Living unconsciously of our physical and even mental and emotional states produces huge gaps in communication, enormous misunderstandings, much unhappiness, stress and suffering for humans. When we are unconscious of what our body is conveying to our horses we create fear, because horses believe and react to what they see and sense from the humans around them.

Many people I speak to have not heard of ‘The Golden Rule’ which is actually biblical in its origin. This rule says: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. This implies and necessitates that we be conscious of how others respond or react to how we are speaking and behaving so as to show kindness, thoughtfulness, respect and a desire for a good experience for all. What I see is mostly behavior and communication that is self-serving, self-centered and with the intention of us getting something or showing ourselves to be superior to others. When we communicate unconsciously with horses, we create fear, separation and non-cooperation.

Today horses are our captives. Their existence in vast, open spaces is over. They live in cells mostly, with no freedom of choice, little if any freedom of movement. In fact, it could be said that the domesticated horse is not much more than a well-kept slave. It is expected to perform on demand, be obedient, submit to the will of humans and punished if it disobeys or shows resistance to compliance because of fear. I find this a very sad commentary on human compassion, kindness, awareness and the lack of desire to really understand this noble, magnificent creature that is the horse. Our focus is on us riding our equine servants, winning ribbons, trophies and accolades which enhance our egos, often times at the expense and to the detriment of our horses. Equines, when communicated with appropriately with kindness, respect and with precise understanding of the animal and its language, will actually partner with and follow a human to, through and over something that normally would scare it so much that running away as fast as possible would be its only response.

So, the question might be asked: “How can we communicate with horses in such a way as to develop this sort of trusting partnership?” The answer is relatively simple.  It begins with a desire to not always put our big agenda ahead of the horse and to understand how a horse perceives the world around it and its responses to those perceptions. It does this through sight. It observes and sees every movement that is made around them. This means that if a human enters the personal space of a horse unconsciously and reaches to the animal’s nose to pet it (something the vast majority of humans do), the horse’s reaction might be a fearful one. A fearful reaction can mean the animal could possibly bite, kick or somehow defend itself from this uninvited individual’s intrusion into its space. This would be an instinctive reaction by the horse so it feels it will survive the invasion and its defensive act is not deserving of punishment. We must not be unaware or unconscious of what we do with our bodies when around horses.

They notice where we are looking, which is mainly at their face unfortunately. This can seem aggressive to the horse. They notice our posture and how we move our arms, hands and legs and they react to that stance and movement. What we do with our bodies and how our emotions are when near horses communicates to them. This communication either produces feelings of safety within the horse or feelings of fear. Our emotions are often displayed through our bodies. This should be easily understood. We are also very unconscious of this fact. Again, self-awareness becomes an essential ingredient for successful communication with horses. When we are angry, stressed, hurried or unsettled emotionally, our bodies show it through how we move. The horses see this movement and interpret it relative to its feelings of safety or fear.

Here are a few general suggestion of how we humans can appropriately and effectively use our bodies to successfully communicate to our horses. First, as the animal generally sees you near it, be thoughtful in your approach by moving slowly towards the animals shoulder and not its head. Keep your arms down and speak calmly, thoughtfully and reassuringly as you approach the horse. Do not reach into the animal’s face. It is better and safer to gently stroke it on the neck, shoulder or give a gentle scratch on the withers. Horses greet each other and humans by bringing their noses to them. The animal is not saying pet my nose or face. It is investigating who is there and greeting them the way horses do. When the animal does this keep you hands down or offer the horse the back of your hand to sniff. This is safer for you and the back of your hand is a more benign position of the hand for the horse. To reward a horse for anything it does that you like, immediately take a step away form the horse. Being close to the horse puts pressure on it.

Backing away a step removes the pressure and rewards the horse for having done something you want. This principle of immediate reward by removal of pressure will work successfully through all training with horses. Additionally, learn to develop ‘soft eyes’ when with and around horses. Soft eyes see more of the peripheral space (i.e. the whole horse) we are in. Very focused, somewhat piercing eyes are predator like. Soft eyes are kinder eyes as well. There is an old horseman’s expression that says: “this horse has a kind eye.” It means the demeanor of the animal is gentle. It means the same for us.

These are just a few suggestions of how we humans can more effectively communicate with horses. Books are written on this topic. But to sum it up for the purpose of this short essay, pay attention to how we move, our posture, where we look and how we act when around horses. They will respond or react to everything. If they react is will probably some action we would rather not have and be out of fear. If they respond it will generally be an action or movement that is gentle, inviting and has begun to develop some trust and feelings of safety for the horse. Be self-aware and not unconscious. This alone will provide more success in all our endeavors with or without horses.

An Amazing Horse Needs an Amazing Home

As you may, or may not, know, our good friend, Franklin Levinson is going to Greece for an amazing project.  But that means his dear horse Sweet Pete needs a home.  This is a very special horse and Franklin wants to make sure he finds a special home.  Not only is Franklin allowing Pete to go to his new home at no cost, in order to ensure Pete has a good home, if you live in Colorado, Franklin will also transport him, free of charge in Colorado in April/May.  If Pete speaks to you, you might be his next partner.  So read his incredible story below and email Franklin for more information.

Franklin Levinson
(970) 948-4886 Mobile

The Story of Pete
By Franklin Levinson

When I first was invited to Colorado to work on a ranch I kept hearing the other cowboys talk about an “outlaw” horse that was there.  They were full of stories about how dangerous and aggressive he was: he couldn’t be caught, wouldn’t be loaded, reared and split his owner’s head open, pulled back so hard when he was tied that he’d taken the shed with him, and dragged a guy who’d roped him all around a rocky field.

I heard the horse was going to be put down and sold for dog food because the owner didn’t feel he was safe enough to sell to anybody.  Since I know that a “mean horse” is often just a very scared horse, I was anxious to see this animal.  So I immediately headed out the corral for a look.

Way over in a corner of the corral, I saw a really cute quarter horse, and I could tell by the way he was acting – nervously looking around, swishing his tail, twitching his ears and wide eyed – that he was terrified of everything and anything.  My heart went out to him and I wanted to give him a chance.  So I asked his owner if I could work with him a bit.

The owner said, “I take no responsibility for what this horse does to you, how badly he hurts you or your hospital bills.  Fine with me if you want to get yourself banged up. But don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”

The next day, I got up early and went on down to the round corral they had Pete confined in.  I didn’t really have a specific plan for the horse. But I knew I needed to somehow gain his trust that he would be safe with me and that I would never hurt him.

The first thing I did was nothing.  I simply observed the horse.  I observed him for about two hours watching how his movements were: whether quick and nervous, lazy, agitated, anything I could notice.  And also his overall attitude; like if he showed any interest in anything and would move towards it or if he jumped away from little things he perceived as scary like noises or shadows.

What I believed I saw in this horse was the most fear I had seen in any horse I had come across in my life.  The slightest movement near him would send him running around the round corral looking for escape.  Any little noise prompted the same reaction.  My heart went out to this fearful animal.  I felt so much compassion for him that my heart became a lump my throat.

What could have happened to this horse to make him so afraid?  I could only imagine, and then I wanted to stop imagining it.

That first day I only stayed by the corral gate on the outside.  I left the corral feeling thoughtful and yet excited at the possibilities of somehow turning this great fear I was seeing into great trust.  I had worked with a lot of horses in my life, but none so fearful as this one.

The next day, I got up early and went down to the corral gate.  Pete (actually his name at the time was Pistol Pete, but I did not like the reference to a gun) saw me and was actually looking at me with a tiny bit of curiosity.  As is my way, I remained very quiet and calm and went inside the enclosure.  I did not focus any attention on the horse other than a polite initial, verbal greeting.  I never really looked at the horse’s face or head at all.

My intention was to have a completely neutral presence. Just being quiet in a small area with a horse can maybe prompt some interest or, at least a little curiosity.  I walked around the corral and just looked at different areas, without putting any attention to Pete. Well, this went on for about 20 minutes and darned if that horse didn’t start to follow me around the corral.  He kept what he thought was a safe distance, but he sure did come along.  After a bit of time doing that, I began to praise him when I stopped by saying, “good boy.”

The following day, Pete was actually at the gate waiting for me and it was then that I could see that he was going to make it.  I continued on with what I had done the previous day and Pete got closer and closer as he followed me around the corral. Eventually he would walk right with me and be quite close, and he would stop and go when I did.  I continued speaking to him in a calm and reassuring voice.

Towards the end of that second day, when Pete and I had stopped walking, I gave him a first little scratch on the withers and a “good boy.” Just at that time Pete’s owner happened to come by the corral to check things out.  He saw this “outlaw” horse, which nobody could get near, standing about a foot to my right receiving quiet praise and a gentle scratch.  And then he saw the horse following me around the corral, moving as I moved, changing directions and stopping when I did.

Well, the owner, who was a well-meaning fellow, said he couldn’t believe his eyes.  It was only a few days ago that he was considering putting Pete down because he was so dangerous to be near and he felt he would never be safe for anyone.

“Dang it!  If that don’t beat all!  How’d you get that ‘ol horse to do that?”
“Well, Sir,” I said, “I just let him get used to me being around him without asking anything from him.   I gave him bit of praise and space enough for him to not think I was going to try anything funny with him.  I was patient and kind in my thoughts and actions.  I knew he was just afraid and that all that dangerous behavior was the only way that he thought he could protect himself.  He was like a little kid with a set of 6-shooters strapped to his hip.  If you make him afraid he might just up and shoot you.   So I made certain I did nothing that would make the horse think he needed to be afraid of me.  If I had more time with him, I think he could turn out to be a pretty decent horse.”

“Well, Franklin, I sure am liking what I have seen here with you and this horse.  I never would have believed this horse would have settled down so fast with any human.  Tell you what. I’ll sell him to you for what he would have brought me if I had him put down at the killers.”

So Pete became my horse and partner.  He taught me even more about the importance of the roles of compassion and kindness, patience, calm and good leadership with horses.  Pete took plenty of time to fully come around, but that was OK with me.

We still had our share of interesting challenges like when it came to trailer loading. I had managed to somehow load him up for the haul to the trailhead for a mountain ride. After the three hour ride and we got back to the trailhead I could not get him back into the trailer.  I had to ride him the three additional hours it took to get back to the ranch, most of it along a busy roadway.  I decided then and there that he needed to go to trailer loading school.  It took me four long, hard hours to get him to trust that the trailer wasn’t going to swallow him whole and for him to walk in.

Now if he and I are near an open trailer door he wants to hop right in.  Seems he has also developed a taste for adventure with me.  We go off into the mountain wilderness together a lot.  We have encountered bears, large herds of deer and elk and other wild animals.  Pete – I now call him Sweet Pete – has never tried to dump me because he was so afraid of something or pull away from me out of fear.  He may make a little jump if something startles him, but he never wants to leave my side.  He watches my every move when I am anywhere he can see me.  We share our emotions (horses are very empathetic) and we have a bond that will last all our lives.

These days Pete and I teach kids how to be kinder to animals and how to become a great leader for a horse in order to develop trust and respect with them.   Because of the way I was able to help Pete, folks around the area began to ask me to help them with their problem horses.  So ‘Sweet Pete’ and I have built a fine life together and we’re still carrying our message of trust and love to as many people as we can.

© 2009 All Rights Reserved

Firmness & Precision with Horses by Franklin Levinson

Firmness & Precision with Horses

by Franklin Levinson

I recently had a discussion with a friend who is professional instructor/trainer about the relevance of precision and firmness when communicating with, training and riding horses. I had asked if one was more important than the other. We both decided that precision in the ability to make clear requests and explicit communication with the horse was more important than being firm. Precision can exist without firmness. But firmness without precision and clarity in requests should not exist. Of course appropriate firmness is very important at the right time. Not making commands, but rather the ability to have good and steady resolve when precisely asking for something from our horses is very important. But if an error is made in the communication and the animal becomes confused and the human continues the firmness (force) in asking the horse to comply, frustration is created within the horse and the human alike. Frustration leads to angry feelings for the human and fear within the horse and unwanted, aberrant and potentially dangerous behavior by the horse is the result. Traditionally, methods of dealing with horses contain a lot of firmness, force and “show them who is boss” paradigms. There is little to no mention of clarity, wisdom, compassion or developed skill.

Many of us who spend time with horses have experienced resistance from the horse to comply with a request. Just as many of us have attempted to push the horse forward towards what we want the horse to do, despite the animal showing it is confused and afraid. Continued use of firmness, or outright force, when the animal does not understand the request creates more fear. The fact that we may have been lacking precision in our request and communication with the horse eludes us and is often not even considered. We rush to judge the horse as stubborn, willful, having its own mind (like that is supposed to be a bad thing) and intentionally going against our wishes and showing disrespect for us personally. This allows us humans to not take responsibility for what is happening with our horse. We can tend to make an unfulfilled request the fault of a bad horse and certainly not because of something lacking in our horsemanship, knowledge or skills. This is a sad but true fact everywhere in the world where humans are with horses, no matter what the activity.

My approach to training horses is very calm and quiet. I have said that watching me train a horse can be like watching grass grow.  Slow and steady gets it right for me. This calm, quiet approach helps me be a better and more precise communicator with the horse. Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who is speaking too fast? It’s not easy and can be a frustrating and confusing experience. As horses do not speak English and have a distinctive language of their own based on body language (posturing and spatial aspects), sounds, shared feelings (empathy and intuition) and developed trust, it is so very easy to have a miscommunication with a horse. It is simple to unintentionally confuse this flight prone animal and cause it to experience fear. Thus, extreme caution and awareness should be exercised when we apply firmness and repetition to requests we make of our horses to make certain the animal actually understands the request. It is very important to not rush to judge the horse as bad if we are not getting compliance. Horses want to comply with their good leader. They unfailingly follow the leader of their herd in the wild as this supports their survival. They move aside when that leader (lead mare) wishes to move through the herd. They willingly comply with any and all requests made by this good, herd leader. Her communication is always precise and clear and only extremely rarely does she need to apply any firmness to her requests, and then only to a youngster perhaps. The firmness applied by the leader of the herd in the wild more often takes the form of intention and resolve rather than firmness.

A good way to have consistently better communication with a horse is to ask for something small and easy at first, being as precise as possible. If the animal understands and tries to comply, and then immediately gets rewarded for its effort (release of all pressure), afterwards we can ask for a little more. Asking for too much too fast, with or without precision in the communication, is a common error humans make with horses. I think this is the cause of the majority of problems humans have with their equines. Additionally, the absence, of steady and consistent positive reinforcement (reward of short breaks from all pressure) is part of failed communication/interaction with a horse as well. Without the reward the horse doesn’t know it has done or tried to do as requested. The human’s communications then become an endless stream of frustrating feelings and fear for the horse. Without the consistent reward for its efforts at compliance the horse will always become confused, frustrated and, therefore, fearful.

Another word for precision in communication could be clarity. Obtaining clarity is very desirable in most anything. When confusion is present chaos can happen easily. Chaos creates a fearful situation not only for horses but for us humans as well. Clarity of what we want in our minds, before we ask for it, is certain to provide a better chance for a positive and successful outcome in all circumstances, especially when we ask for something from our horses. Often times we are not really certain of what we want to ask of a horse. We have more of a general feeling than a specific image. It’s like asking a human what they want in life. Some people will say just to be happy, which is rather vague. Others may say a great marriage or career which is more specific and sends a clearer communication to the listener. Another may say to be an author and write a bestseller. That is being very specific and precise. I think the clearer and more precise we can picture or think of what we want, the better chance we have of receiving it. I know that the more precise the request made of a horse, the less firmness is needed and the chances of the horse trying to provide the request are greatly enhanced.

The most successful trainers, equestrians (riders) and horse people I have seen strive to have their relationships with their horses to have these very significant elements (provided in order of importance): compassion, wisdom of horses (not opinions or projections of human behavior), learned and well-practiced skills (excellent and very clear communication), earned and developed trust. Personally, I feel the two most important things listed here are the first (compassion) and the last (trust). If compassion and developed trust are main factors in the relationship, the other elements seem to appear simultaneously.

A Natural Way to Improved Mental Health, Successful Relationships and Balance in One’s Life

A Natural Way to Improved Mental Health,
Successful Relationships and Balance in One’s Life

by Franklin Levinson

Equine Facilitated Learning

Horses are like magnets for humans. People of all ages have drawn to the horse because of their beauty, grace, power, majestic stature and the mystery of their noble being. It’s been that way throughout recorded history. In modern times, it has been clinically documented that just being around horses changes the brain wave patterns of humans. We calm down and become more centered and focused in the present when we are with horses. We are transformed in a very positive way when in the presence of horses. It is no wonder that the beneficial effects of positive and appropriate interaction with horses should prove therapeutic to grownups and children alike.

I first discovered Equine Facilitated Learning nearly twenty years ago when I began researching, via the internet, various ways people were interacting with horses. The North America Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), a non-profit, national organization here in the United States, had a new mental health ‘arm’ called the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association (EFMHA). These particular programs sought to focus help not so much for individuals with physical challenges, but rather centered on the emotional and mental health development of children and adults when they were put in the company of horses and guided appropriately through positive interaction. Startling improvement was observed in children with various mental and emotional challenges from A.D.D. to Autism, to anti-social violent behavior. Great improvement was seen ‘across the board’. This interested me a lot as I have always believed that horses can produce positive mental and emotional effects within the humans around them if the interaction was appropriate. So I visited several places offering training in this new field and took their courses.

Upon returning to my ranch on Maui I began The Maui Horse Whisperer Experience, which was an experiential, interactive, hands-on experience of horses for non-horse people (experienced horse people and horse owners were invited as well). The positive effects of this type of successful inter-species communication were immediate and, sometimes, life altering. The confidence and self-esteem of individuals who were able bond and communicate with the horses dramatically improved and the improvement was immediate. People would drop their projections, misconceptions and judgments about the horse and themselves once the communication became conscious, mutual and appropriate.

For children with mental and emotional disorders the positive benefits of the experience with the horses was frequently profound. Children with Attention Deficit Disorder would magically focus on the horse for long periods of time when either grooming or leading the horses. Once they understood how to ask for and receive cooperation from the horse, their self-esteem went sky high. What a wonderful sight it is when I see a shy, withdrawn, fearful child standing tall and confident as they lead a 1200 pound animal through an obstacle course of a series of twists, turns and stops. Autistic children who would come to me mostly withdrawn and very much in their own world, would begin to say new words and attempt to express themselves as rarely seen by their parents and therapists. Given the lead rope of a horse they would proudly lead the horse around the ranch for extended periods of time and not want to give them up. Observers would stand there with mouths a gasp and tears streaming down their faces to see such profound and wonderful response in their children and wards. Once again the horse is easily recognized as a positive force and influence for humans.

Equine Facilitated Learning is gaining popularity across this country and around the world. Prisons have instituted similar programs to assist in the rehabilitation of inmates. Wild horses are given over to some prisons so the prisoners can train and gentle them to get them ready to be adopted out. Techniques are shown the prisoners on how to gently communicate with a fearful horse and develop the trust needed to help the horse accept human contact and interaction. The inmates discover that respect, gentleness, mindfulness, compassion and kindness go a lot farther than brutality, dominance and force. These programs are so successful as to have become the single most effective form of rehabilitation for the penal system today.

At about the same time The Maui Horse Whisperer Experience came about, I began ‘Leading With Quiet Strength‘. This is a leadership/teambuilding program developed for corporations seeking to advance the leadership qualities and skills of top executives. There are now a few programs across the country that focus on these goals for the corporate world utilizing guided, successful interaction with horses. In this age of corporate greed, poor management, distrust, and wide spread fraud, a program that teaches responsibility, accountability, respect, trust and mindful interaction was a natural development for Equine Facilitated Learning. My current list of clients includes; AT&T Wireless, GM, Charles Schwab & Associates, Murtiz Group and others. Enlightened leadership is a goal being pursued by many top organizations around the world. Accountability and responsibility are taught through interaction with horses and the feedback is immediate. Success or failure of the interaction and communication is tossed back into the face of the human right away in the response of the horse. If there is a problem, it can be quickly recognized and corrected by the human. Once everything is back on track, the interaction again becomes successful. A horse forgives us our mistakes. If a horse is abused by a human and eventually the human changes their way of dealing with the horse, the horse will forgive the human their mistakes and accept the friendship if it is offered appropriately.

The principles of Equine Facilitated Learning are basic and easy to understand. The horse is the perfect mirror of the human that is with it (horses do not lie). The horse is looking to have feelings of safety and peace always. This is because the horse is a ‘prey’ animal always looking over its shoulder for the ‘predator’. If the human is trying to control the animal for whatever reason, this produces fear within the horse. If the human is unconscious around the horse, this makes the horse fearful as well. If the human is disrespectful of the horse (inappropriate touching, movements, sounds, thoughts or feelings), this produces fear with the horse too. When the human begins to make conscious and appropriate requests, rather than demands, of the horse cooperation begins to happen. When a human waits for and notices responses of the horse to the human’s communication, that is showing acknowledgement and respect for the horse. Trust and respect are earned with horses in much the same way as with people. The ‘golden rule’ applies to horses. However, with the added aspect of great guidance and leadership coming forward from the human. It is the human’s responsibility to approach the horse as a great parent approaches a child. Along with the love, compassion, patience and consistency of a great parent, comes confident, skillful, knowledgeable guidance and leadership.

In the wild the horse gets its sense of peace and safety from the herd leader. Unfortunately for the domesticated horse, there usually is no great human leader filling that role of the herd leader. Relationships developing between domesticated horses can be somewhat abnormal, as stables and barns are an un-natural environment for horses. There are frequently no humans around making appropriate requests and decisions that the horse can follow and comply with. Horses miss this good leadership. What normally is the case are humans making unconscious, inappropriate demands, trying to control this big beast through dominance, punishment and restraint and abusing the animal through ignorance and misconception. Compliance is frequently done through bribing with food or inducing fear. A child, even one with mental or emotional disorders, given a little insight and/or guidance into joining appropriately with a horse, becomes the natural leader the horse is looking for. Peace abounds and cooperation and compliance come forth from the horse when the communication from the human is kind and appropriate. Actually, children can become successful with a horse quicker and easier than with many adults. This is because children are frequently less judgmental and more open to ‘heart to heart’ forms of communication than adults who seek ‘to control’ much of the time. The children often just want to be there next to the horse and have no agenda.

Simple, clear, conscious requests are what the horse is looking for. Stop, go, backup and turn this way or that, are examples of simple requests that a human can make of a horse, clearly and consciously. When the horse complies a thank you in the form of a “Good Boy”and a short reprieve from the pressure of the request, is all that is needed. Horses understand acknowledgement. They know that they are being respected and acknowledged when praise is offered. I am not talking about fawning over a horse because it is compliant. Overdone praise becomes shallow and meaningless. A simple “Good Boy (or Girl)” and the short time it takes to say these words, is really all that is required. There is a balance to be struck. We humans seem to have a tendency to either over do or under do something. Being out of balance has become our way of being in the world. There is a natural balance to a horse’s being. There is to ours as well but we do not see or feel it because of our need to ‘control’. This puts us out of balance a lot in our lives. We are either too much or too little. Or, at least it seems that way. Appropriate, successful interaction with horses can lead us back to that natural balance because to be successful with a horse that balance has to be present in the communication. Equine Facilitated Learning supports natural balance coming forward in all those participating. A natural balance begins to appear when there is consideration, thoughtfulness, awareness and kindness present in the interaction. ‘Balance’ is another great lesson and attribute taught by Equine Facilitated Learning.

When I teach the gentle horse training techniques through my ‘Way of the Horse/Training Thru Trust‘ seminars I am constantly using Equine Facilitated Learning. Children coming to me for emotional or mental health development experience this Equine Facilitated Learning too. CEO’s coming for leadership/teambuilding improvement, experience Equine Facilitated Learning as well. The benefits of this type of simple, yet successful interaction with horses is immediate, profound and wide reaching. It is part of my personal mission to bring Equine Facilitated Learning to other parts of the world to benefit as many people (and horses) as possible.