Rearing racehorse eases into work without tack

Kristen and Frankie enjoy a peaceful ride. The year before, he reared and ran away with her.

Kristen and Frankie enjoy a peaceful ride. The year before, he reared and ran away with her.

Frankie wasn’t always such an agreeable guy.

Hell no.

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.

Frankie was reunited with Kristen a year ago, and was a sweated-up wreck after his trailer ride

Frankie was reunited with Kristen a year ago, and was a sweated-up wreck after his trailer ride

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.

There is a connection between the horse and rider that formed with natural horsemanship training

There is a connection between the horse and rider that formed with natural horsemanship training

“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.

Frankie hangs out while Kristen does yoga stretches

Frankie hangs out while Kristen does yoga stretches

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.

9 responses to “Rearing racehorse eases into work without tack”

  1. Lori

    Way to go Kristen – so glad to see another positive story involving NH. It’s funny how people are so quick to judge and condemn this training method. Funny because it usually takes time for some people to pick it up and they are willing to take the time it takes to work their horse instead of force them into things (as if you could force a 1200# animal lol). The trainer I work with does 3-Day Eventing – she’s actually had a horse that someone GAVE her because he was so rotten, strung out and bad (hhmm – wonder “who” got him that way) and she’s let him “sit” for a year to just be a horse and she’s started him back slowly and he finished in the top 10 in his division at AEC’s this year. Here’s wishing you years of fun and continued progress with your boy! He’s gorgeous!

  2. karja

    I have never seen a Parelli follower actually ride a horse.. this is nice to see… most of the gals that follow Parelli where I live never get past the round pen training from the ground.. frustrates the hell outta me when I see a great horse.. and an owner who is so afraid.. they wont get help to go further and get the bond this gal shares with her horse… so.. I don’t recommend Parelli for anyone… glad it worked for you.. but all you did, was learn horse 101.

  3. Susan Duby

    My OTTB was bracy, skittish, untrusting and many other things including bolting and running off but Parelli Natural Horsemanship changed all of that. Today he is a wonderful guy and very mellow. When you look at the pics of poor Frankie after his trailer ride your heart really has to go out to him. Lucky him and lucky you to have each other to trust and love.

  4. Jennifer Lamm

    congratulations with Frankie… “) I use a method called horses teaching people…. my trainer actually started my horse bareback and bitless but I’m learning how to ride him like this because my hands are not good enough to use a bit….. let’s face it… I bet the horses love this way better.. I recommend it, give it a try.. you have to really sit a horse well to ride like this.. can’t wait for my horse to teach me.. and sally swift, centered riding…

  5. Charlotte

    This sounds like my Buggs! He is the last racehorse I thought could ever be retrained, but I trail-rode him yesterday, just months after he last raced.

  6. NicosMom

    Wow are those even sandles she’s wearing?! She must trust him not to step on her toes! 🙂

  7. Valerie

    great job Kristen! I too am using Parelli Natural Horsemanship in my efforts to retrain and find new homes for OTTB’s, it’s amazing how mutual respect, good leadership, and communication can make a better partner in these horses! YEAH!

  8. jon

    Sometimes one must approach the problem from a different path. Not all horses respond to the standard training methods. Well done!

  9. sybil

    great story! and how many “bad” horses are out there that are truly just misunderstood!!!!! BIG thumbs up for Kristen not giving up on him, and instead learning what she need to know so she could have the horse he always was!

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