First snow

Winter is officially here! Days are short and we waited for the snow to fall. During winter if we don't make it to the stables before sun set we ride in the woods after dark. Snow makes everything look bright at night. It also makes the woods look magical.

Every time we ride at night in snow the forest is so quiet. Horses are relaxed and seem very happy. They don't spook at all. Most of the people say that we are crazy to ride at night and are surprised every time they see us leave into the woods. On our first night ride I was a bit worried but soon found out there is nothing to worry about. Horses never trip or miss a road and they seem to be looking after us on their backs as they tend to steer clear of trees with branches at rider level. Its truly a magical feeling - dark forest, white carpet of snow and just the sound of horses snorting in trot.



Few years back I studied equine iridology with Ellen Collinson. I wanted to study iridology as at Technical University of Szczecin, where I graduated IT, our professors created a diagnostic tool for humans based on changes visable in the iris. It was also the time when I met Juliano. Thanks to Ellen I could learn more about iridology for horses. I soon found out that it is very accurate and can help horses and their owners with a lot of problems.

Once in a while I take photos of Juliano's eyes up close. I keep them on my computer and compare from time to time. If I see that something is happening in the eye (discoloration, stress lines, spots) I try to work out what's wrong either alone or with Ellen on the phone. It's a great way to prevent problems, cause you will see it in the eye before any other symptoms occur. For example calcium deficiency, stress in back muscles, problems in lungs etc. Also if you are unsure what's the source of lameness the eye will show where the problems lies. Pretty cool stuff.

The story I wanted to tell you is about Juliano and his mysterious colic in 2007. One day I came to the stables to discover that J didn't drink any water for almost a day. He pooped into his automatic drinker and no one noticed this. As he filled himself with hay and had no water to drink he soon started to show signs of impaction. I called Anna and we started standard colic procedures. He got better after few hours. So we went home after making sure he is ok. The next day J was fine, went out for a bit, got hay and bran mash but in the evening the same thing happened. He looked disinterested, sad which I know means he is not well. This scenario continued for another day, ok during day, sick in the evening. At that time we knew this was not to do with impaction any more. We consulted another vet and started thinking of going to an equine clinic in Berlin. I decided to take photos of his eyes and give Ellen a quick call. She was home and quickly downloaded J's photos. We both looked at them and Ellen said "There is something going on with his spleen, it's under too much stress even for a horse after colic". Ellen suggested giving him spleen and liver herbs, the build up of toxins also started putting liver under pressure. Ellen posted the herbs to me and soon J was on them. He was not feeling well for 5 days at that time. But after 2 days of feeding him herbs with mash he started to improve. On the 3rd day he was fine both day and evening. The herbs worked. Thanks to Ellen he was fine again cause who know what might have happened next.

Juliano never stands still like this unless he is napping

This exhausting week for both of us tough me two things:
1. Always put an extra bucket of fresh water and don't depend only on automatic drinkers.
2. Horses are never sad without a good reason, so if you know your horse well never ignore even the slightes change in behavior when the horse is at home.


Savvy string trail riding

When I first started riding Juliano I didn't even dream about riding him bridleless. I longed for the day when I would have just slight control over what J was doing and how fast he was going.

Today we went for another savvy string hack. Two horses, two dogs and us. Juliano was calm and maintained gait that I picked. What's amazing is that he can be in front of other horses now with just savvy string on his neck and I have no problems with control.


More Polo

We are getting better at polo. Juliano learned quickly to follow the ball but not to go directly over it. We practice polo with just savvy string on J's neck. J treats his responsibilities seriusly: don't change gait, follow the ball.

I must say that for me polo has proven to be a great way to practice focus. When you sit on a horse and you want to go to the ball you simply have to focus on it. Your body automatically turns towards the ball, the eyes on your shoulders, knees and bellybutton as Linda often says do the trick. You don't have to imagine a point on the ground, which is also great but you can easily get distracted or if you land near the spot you think "Oh well, good enough". Here you have to get to the ball, hit it and than again travel point to point.


Autumn is here - time to upgrade On-Line

It was hard to focus on on-line during summer. Heat and bugs, bugs and heat. It was much easier to go for a quick dip in the lake and horses loved the cool water after long days of sun.

Now, days are cooler and we can start working on out ground skills. So we picked up from where we left off: level 2++. Today we worked mainly on sideways, circling and than stick to me. Juliano did a great sideways in trot. Circling was a bit tricky cause J was full of energy, bucking and all. I was very pleased with stick to me at liberty. Juliano followed me around the field in trot, stopped when I stopped. Than he left me for a great big circle of gallop, but to my surprise trotted back to me after one lap.

Great day!



Juliano – left-brain extrovert (used to be right-brain extrovert)
Way more “go” than “whoa” not only because he used to race.

EXTROVERT features

High energy, more "go", tendency to run:
As Juliano is a thoroughbred he has few hundred years of breeding to back his high energy levels. He used to be very explosive and still tends to be quite rushy when he is learning new things. His answer to all new things is: speed up, run. Now he has learned that after running he can stop and face feared thing. He is much more confident and I can see he gets curious about things and situation that could potentially have scare dhim in the past. The biggest challenge for him is to stand still.

Quick: He is quick in everything he does, whether it is getting from point A to B in the pasture, eating grass. His best friend is a left-brain introvert so it is very interesting for us to watch them in similar situations and how they react to it.


Dominant: He tries to dominate every horse, big, small, stallion, mare - he thinks and acts like THE BOSS. Few years back he treated me like a private carrot dispenser. He still tries to dominate me but in more subtle way.

Pushy: Same as with dominance, he pushes geldings and mares around in the pasture. "You stand there. You! Stop eating grass". When people came with carrots to the fence J pushes all the other horses away, same thing happens when standing before the gate, he has to be first one to go to the stables.

Tolerant: He is very tolerant towards his herd. When he plays with geldings he will allow biting on the rump or hocks to some extent. He is very tolerant to my mistakes. Just the other day we were jumping with two carrots and I accidentally put a carrot stick in his face. He put his head way up but just few seconds later I could do a friendly game with the stick and I guess he understood this was not on purpose.

Unconcerned: He can sometimes go into this "I can't see you, not interested" mode when playing on the ground and things are going to slow for him. If you are not moving his feet and asking him to do different things his mind just drifts away.

Confident: This switches from confident to unconfined depending on situation. I'm happy he is much more confident now than he used to be and in new situations he tries very hard not to loose it.

Curious: He is very curious. If he is unsure about something you can see in his eyes that he is scared but at the same time wants to approach scary thing and smell it. When we go into the woods he often suggests that we choose paths we've never walked before.

Playful: At pasture he has to be everywhere at the same time. He plays with Dum one minute, next minute he is eating grass, gets bored, runs up and down the fence. Under saddle you sometimes get a feeling he is not sure what he wants, weather to canter, trot, eat grass or go sideways. On trail rides he can gallop one way, slide-stop, turn and gallop in the opposite direction, not because he got scared, he just felt like it. Funny little horse.

Smart: He learns very fast. You want him to put his leg on a pedestal, next thing you know he puts his leg on a chair and tries to balance with two front feet on a lying pole. He saw me once getting carrots out of my car, same day he run away from his stall, stood by my car ant tried to brake in. He knew exactly which car to pick from 20 others. So once he overcomes his fear issues he gets everything very fast.

Charismatic: Always the leader, most horses answer to him. He is the first one to greet the new horse in the herd. Liked by all geldings, adored by all mares.

Naughty: Oh, yes! As soon as he realizes you can't handle him he is over your head. When bored in his stall and there is a saddle or head-collar he can grab he will grab it and throw it. He undresses horses from rugs in the paddock and bites tails and manes off.

Mischievous: When he learns a new thing and is confident about it he will use it against you. When we started learning sideways he started doing beautiful half-passes toward grass. Now that he likes standing on the pedestal he wrestles with me on it when I ask him to get off. Best scenario: he will get off and than back on in few seconds when I'm not looking. He knows the rules of catching game very well. Once he run away from his pasture and wanted to play catching game in the woods. Every time I lost interest and tried to walk away he would gallop past me, stop and face me within 10 meters from me. He loves to change my games into his which makes it even more interesting for both of us.

Tendency to bite:
Not so much any more. He used to strike very often few years ago.

Mouthy: If I ignore him and leave the saddle on his door I can be sure to find saddle on the ground and saddle pad in the water bucket. If he is not out in the pasture after lunch by 3pm he grabs and throws his head-collar in front off his stall. Than he pulls down the rugs. Usually by than people who work in the stable are so annoyed that they take him out.

Willful: He knows when he is "naughty" and he does it on purpose. Sometimes you can see in his eyes that he is laughing at you.

Exuberant: He can be very exuberant, especially when he is in his stallion like mood. When playing on line or at liberty it is very easy to ask him for collected trot. He likes showing of both around horses and humans.

Friendly: He is friendly towards horses now. He used to be very aggressive but now he is friendly towards all geldings who accept his leadership. He is getting more and more friendly towards people.


Juliano the Stallion

For past few months of summer I wondered where did the stallion in Juliano go. He was gelded at the ago of 8 so from time to time he remembers good, old times and turns into this crazy, wild stallion. But this didn't happen for a while. Is it that he is older or maybe he settled so much his spirit also went down automatically? Well, little did I know, thought the "beast" inside was idle for a while, he's now back, full strength.

Usually his herd consists of Juliano, Dum (another gelding) and four mares. Few days ago, three out of four mares came into season. So Juliano was busy for few days jumping from mare to mare. It was interesting to watch herd dynamics change. Dum, best friend was now the worst enemy. By the way poor Dum, he was so lonely and every time he tried to as much as look at one of the mares Juliano gave him the "Schwiegermutter" look.

It all came to a point that I couldn't ride or play with J one day cause he was too tired from all the covering, prancing and bossing around. I even had problems taking photos of him as girls were surrounding him all the time.

Happy Hackers

Happy hackers, that's what we are, now. It makes me even more happy when I think how much progress we've made as far as trail riding is concerned. It used to be part of riding that I feared the most with Juliano. Two things used to go wrong when we entered the woods. One was that Juliano didn't want to go there and would rather stay near the stable. He didn't trust me and every time roads crosses and there was an option for going home he would strongly oppose if I wanted to go away from the stables. So we used to go round and round in circles and whoever got dizzy last won the fight and we either went back home or went on to the next crossing. The second thing was J's speed. When it was just the two of us I could only let him walk, trot ended up in dead gallop. When we went with other horses he would race everyone, he wouldn't even let dogs go in front of him. And of course, Juliano spooked at everything.

We've worked hard for the last two years to make the woods a friendly place and trail riding fun, cause that's what it should be. First year I would only take Juliano on walks in hand. A lot of grass eating, smelling things and exploring took place. He got more and more confident. After a year of confidence building and showing J that the best grass grows between the trees it was time to start riding in all three gaits. We've done millions of transitions and it worked. We could now walk and trot, but canter was still a big issue. Juliano would cover a lot of ground with every stride and would speed up if I let him canter for more than 10 seconds. Working on canter took us a bit little longer. Just this summer it all came together. I would ask Juliano to canter for few strides and by the time I could reach down one rein we would be already on the verge of gallop. In time, I've learned to go through my fazes quicker and finally understood what we needed is the good old faze 4! I've never been the greatest fan of faze 4, cause I never knew when it is necessary and fair. After trying it once in the trail-canter situation I was amazed, sad at first that I had to use it, but oh-boy what difference did it make.

So now we are happy hackers, and yesterdays trail ride was like a dream come true! We went for a ride with Madga & Dum, didn't expect much, just a relaxing ride in the woods. Juliano and Dum love to ride with us and they choose paths that lead away from home. We now have to ask them to go home, otherwise hacks would take 3-4 hours. So we've decided to let the boys choose route yesterday. Both Juliano and Dum wanted to go on the trail that goes past a lake, that we bathed in whole summer and into the woods we discovered this year. Off we went. The path leads through the villige, a place where Juliano reared up and fell down with his previous owner. Now Juliano is as cools as a cucumber there, though there are dogs jumping out and barking, cars, construction sites, you name it. At the lake our horses insisted that we stop there for a quick hoof-dip. We did and after few minutes continued on. When we started trotting and Juliano wanted to visit every path that he wasn't on before. Strange, huh? Is that the horse that hated exporing? After few de-tours we finally got to the long, wide road that we know. Juliano was leading in trot. But what A trot it was, fast, powerful, extended. I turned to Magda to see if she was OK and if Dum was still trotting or breaking into canter. Everything was fine so we continued on for 10 minutes. We stopped for a bit of grass. Both Dum and Juliano were happy, snorting, stretching and what surprised us most they didn't sweat at all. Ready to go again. We were now on the path leading home, both on horses that had a bad reputation of "Not stoppable when going home". Again Juliano was in front doing his huge trot. We went up and down hills and they didn't break the gait. Amazing! I was holding the rains of natural hackamore in one hand, by the very end and Juliano didn't even think of cantering. Again after 10 minutes we went down to a walk. We both said "there is no way they are dry now". Well, both horses didn't sweat a bit.

This is the moment that you work and ride for. Juliano is just over 15 hands, Dum is 17'2", both doing extended trot, towards the stables, Dum at the back keeping his distance all the time, J in front keeping the same pace and rhythm. We were trying to keep up with rising from the saddle, no holding or pulling on the reins, we could just as well be bridleless. At the end of the road I've let my energy out a bit and Juliano slowed down and stretched into a slow trot and than into a walk. We could tell both horses were very relaxed, although one could think traveling at that speedy trot would me a horse tense. I'm 100% positive that the boys were very happy and we ... we were just happy hackers.


A little bit of Finesse at a time

We've started working with bridle and bit last winter. I was always afraid to go back on the bit cause I thought Juliano will get tense and unhappy. So we took it slow. When I felt we had all the pieces of puzzle in place on natural hackamore I re-introduced the bit. At that time I realized it was me who had the issues. I was afraid to pick up the rains and to use the bit in any way. I always recalled an image of J stiff with a hollow back and fear in his the eyes. Before I got him he was ridden on draw rains and called crazy and unridable. And as he is an ex-race horse the one thing he knew was how to lean on the bit to get this extra kick out of his hind legs and go even faster. Not a pretty picture.

So, we've been doing bits and pieces with the bit for the last 3-4 months. A bit of fluid rein, a bit of serpentines and 8's to relax, all on loose rains. Than I've added few minutes every session on concentrated rein.

Today I could feel the progress. For the first time Juliano seeked the bit when saddling. He took it just like piece of carrot. Our warm up was very relaxed, with few breaks which we took standing on a pedestal. By the way, not long ago Juliano was so afraid of the pedestal he would not go near it. Now not only he loves it, he seeks other things to stand on. There are few chairs in the open arena and he dragged me to one and offered to stand on it :) how cool is that.

After warming up on loose reins it was time to ask Juliano to shorten his frame a bit. A couple of serpentines, smaller circles and random sideways and shoulder-ins here and there my concentrated reins were loose again. Juliano got much shorter and more collected. Even in canter he wasn't speeding up and our walk-canter transitions got much more supple and smooth. Before, going into canter felt like sitting on a speeding motor bike going from 0 to 100mph. I was so happy with that I decided to visit the pedestal for the last time, take the bridle off and go for a walk in the woods. By the way, we have invented a new hackamore with Joanna and Wiselka. Happened by accident of course. I took of the bridle and than swung the finesse reins over his head to have them on Juliano's neck. They got stuck on his nose, so I thought "Ok, lets play friendly with them on his nose". It turn out there are no problems with riding like this :) good to know.

Freestyle vs. polo

No day of the week is now the same for us. Trail rides, freestyle, riding with 1 or 2 carrot sticks, finesse, on-line, liberty – we mix, mix, mix to keep this playful brain oh J's busy. I'm getting better and better at surprising him with new challenges so I've decided to make our warm up time at freestyle a bit more creative. My first thought: polo! So after few hours of looking for an on-line shop with decent and affordable mallets I bought one in Argentina. Couple of days later my “weapon of choice” arrived. I was both excited and puzzled, long, much heavier than carrot stick of course. How am I going to ride with this on J? How is he going to react? I had millions of similar questions in my head on my way to see him that day.

To my surprise, Juliano was very confident around the mallet, curious at first. He tried to bite it, maybe he thought is was a carrot? When he realised he can't eat it he started to act just as it was a carrot stick with an expression on his face “No biggie, just another stick, what are we going to do with it?”

Just to be on a safe side we played a little friendly game with it and it was time to get on. We went to warm up to the woods with Joanna and Wiselka. Juliano was fine with me swinging the mallet on both sides and in front of his face. Wisełka on the other hand was very surprised. She imidetly spoted the difference and got a bit tense when I gave the mallet to Joanna.

After our unusual warm up we came back to the arena, switched the mallet back to carrot stick and tried playing with a ball and stick. We approached the ball at walk and trot with me leaning a bit to touch the ball. J was fine with that, didn't change gait and direction. I think we are now ready to try hitting the ball with the mallet. So guess what are we going to do at our next freestyle session :)


Level 2++ pass :)

We have officially passed our Level 2 with Juliano, huray! Now it’s time to move on to the fun and challenging Level 3.

Freestyle L2 comments:
You are very close to level 3, great balance and fluidity! Just focus on doing more of the Level 3 patterns and getting your phases of turning more snappy (where you don’t have to use your stick often). Also, don’t release your aids for indirect and direct until your horse has put a lot of effort in.

On-line L2 comments:
I can tell you have a good relationship and clear conversation happening between you and your horse. To progress towards level 3, do things at faster gaits, using more of your rope, in particular your circling and sideways games. For circling, stay in neutral, showing your horses responsibilities.”

A long and tricky road lead to where we are now. Being an ex-race horse Juliano was very impulsive, every sudden move in the saddle ended up in canter or gallop. When he got confused he run. When he run I got out of balance so he run even more. At some point I thought, there is no way we are going to settle. I watched other horses and classical riders at our stables and envied the way they could just canter slowly and than stop. Now the impossible became possible. We sorted out our impulsion issues with thousands of bulls-eyes and consistency. Juliano switched from Right Brain Extrovert the Left Brain Extrovert, and OH BOY no more consistency, it’s time for creativity.