Frankie wasn’t always such an agreeable guy.
The fiery black gelding had the impish little habit of grabbing the bit, rearing, and taking off with his rider as if galloping with the Headless Horseman through the streets of Sleepy Hollow.
“He was pretty intense,” says Kristen Savage, an elementary school teacher from Indiana who has owned and ridden the horse she calls Frankie, on and off, since she was 13.
Frankie was 7 when he came into the young teen’s life. And though Savage lacked the skills to correct his sometimes-frightening behavior, she was determined to make the most of it.
“I liked him for his good and bad parts, and I felt that this was my horse, and I’ll take him for what I can get.”
After years of dealing with his rearing and running off, and his irascible but somehow loveable personality, Savage headed off to college to pursue her elementary teaching education, while Frankie was leased out to another rider.
While away, Savage availed herself of a chance to learn natural horsemanship techniques that, when applied later to her hot-blooded steed, would mellow him into a mount so pliant that she now does yoga on him, and rides him without tack.
“While I was in college, I had the opportunity to apprentice at a natural horsemanship facility that focuses on bringing along young horses and fixing their problems,” Savage says. “Through these horses, and my personal studies, I finally learned the tools to help Frankie, and I felt it was my duty to bring him back into my life.”
So during her final year of college, after his other rider had given up her lease on him, Savage’s high-strung mount arrived sweaty and scared after enduring a trek from Ohio to Indiana in a trailer, which made him nervous. It was May 2012, and Frankie was now 15.
And like before, he dove into the same bag of tricks he had always wielded. But unlike the last time, Savage knew just what to do.
“A big problem was that he would always take off on me,” she says. “If I didn’t have constant contact through his bit, he would speed up to the point that we’d be galloping around the arena. And he used to paw so much on the cross ties—he wouldn’t stand still —that I’d tack him up as fast as I could, and then canter him right away so he could blow off steam.”
Oh how the mighty will mellow.
Savage began retraining Frankie on the ground. And by applying her new techniques, the little games and cues she learned through the study of Parelli Natural Horsemanship, Savage soon had a new equine partner.
“The most important thing I taught him was to trust me and to communicate without using force,” she says. In this way, her horse quickly learned to slow down, stop, change direction, and speed up, all by responding to cues.
As soon as he learned to respect her on the ground, Savage climbed into the saddle and eventually taught him to canter on a loose rein. After that, her trouble child was the teacher’s pet.
Today, Savage rides Frankie all the time without a saddle or bridle, and even does yoga poses on his bare back. He is such a good boy, that he is an easy ride for just about everyone, from very young children and beginners to more advanced riders.
“He has become my amazing, versatile horse,” she says. “If someone had told me a year ago that I’d be riding him bareback and bridle-less, I would have laughed at them.”
Now there are smiles all around as children and adults partake in the joys of horsemanship on an animal who has given up his bad-boy spooky ways to become a faithful horse, willing and happy.