Northern Dancer

I have found an interesting documentary about Northern Dancer - Juliano's great-great-grandfather. It's very interesting how his owners and handlers keep saying that he was a celebrity, he demanded attention and was very naughty. Well, Juliano is the same way, simply has to be in the center of attention. Hmm, how interesting...

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4


Skijoring - test run

Wow, what a weekend it has been! We finally had time and good weather to try skijoring. It was amazing fun. As it was our first attempt at skijoring we've decided to go: horse, rider and skier behind. In the future we want to teach Dum and Juliano driving from zone 5 and loose the rider part - just ski or snowboard behind the horse. But this weekend we wanted to see if our horses can handle pulling someone both mentally and physically.

On Saturday I went snowboarding behind Dum and Adam went skiing behind Zawieja. Dum was on fire, he cantered very fast and was happy with his new job. Zawieja did also well but got tired. After we have finished I saddled up Juliano for Pawel. Juliano struggled as Pawel is quite heavy and I guess his weight and mine combined was a bit too much for poor Juliano. The good thing is J always expresses his disapproval for certain things and started tossing his head and bucking in canter. This was a sign for me to stop. I didn't push him and decided not to use him for skijoring until I have the right equipment and he can pull me alone.

Next day we took Dum, Eparol and a trotter called Lulek. You could tell Lulek was bread for the job, he trotted with ease through the snow with Justyna skiing behind him. I went for few spins behind Eparol and Dum. All the time we were skiing and snowboarding Juliano and Lama were watching us from the next paddock. Later I rode Juliano bareback in snowboarding boots which was also fun but a bit extreme, the good thing was Juliano didn't mind.

Justyna behind Lulek
Me behind Eparol
Juliano relaxes after a day of snow fun

I'm very happy with the way all the horses handled skijoring and although for Juliano it was a bit hard now I know he doesn't mind pulling something he just minds the weight. This weekend gave us a green light to try driving in the next couple of weeks. Just need to buy a breast collar from a driving harness and of we go skijoring again :)

Magical winter scenery


Trail ride in the snow - night version

Today I woke up at 6AM to discover that last night's snow fall was quite intense. I went outside and there was fresh powder up to my knees. After a while I dug myself out and could drive to the stables. When I got there Juliano was waiting to go out and was very happy about the snow. As I was leading Juliano and Dum J got so excited that he started biting Dum's tail to harry him to the paddock. And in the paddock... boys had so much fun. Dum covered his whole head while rolling, Juliano run and bucked. Pure snow fun!

This is Juliano running to me when he got scared - one of the highlights of the day, my horse runs to me for safety :)

I went back to the stables after dark to go with Magda for a hack. We love out winter, evening rides in the woods. The snow and the moon made the forest bright and magical. I've decided to ride bareback with a savvy string and it was an excellent choice. Juliano was amazing, calm, focused and so happy. To tell you the truth I can't think of anything better than cantering through snow covered woods, the only noise is the snorting of horses and the moon reflecting on snow is truly magical. I have never felt so much in harmony with Juliano - we went together and stopped together.


Trail ride in the snow

Here is a short film from our last walk in the woods :)


First snow

Thing are very slow with Juliano, we have nothing to do due to very cold weather. With temperatures falling below -10C the ground both outside and in the indoor arena is frozen solid. Maybe today's snow will bring us some relief and we will at least have a chance to turn our horses into the paddock safely. I really hope so because the energy in Juliano is building up. Over past few days as he couldn't move his feet much he found another way to exercise - he is more mouthy than ever. He picks things up from the ground like lead-ropes, rugs etc and plays with them. The excess energy now comes out in a form of extreme mouthiness.


Autumn blues

As the weather gets worse and worse I have less creative ways to play with Juliano. Yesterday, for example, it was raining cats and dogs all day. We couldn't ride outside and the indoor arena is leaking and there are paddles there as well so there is not much room to do anything. To avoid, boredom which is destructive both for me and J, I've decided to focus on bareback freestyle. I tried not to use both the stick and the string and the result was pretty good. I've asked Juliano to maneuver around the paddles with just my feel and my seat and it worked. Then we advanced our trot sideways. Overall I think this session went very well even though we were both under the weather.

Juliano in his autumn outfit

By the way Juliano has a new friend, 3 year-old Hanoverian gelding. Juliano is teching him the basics of porcupine game and has a very positive attitude towards him. It is very pleasing for me because few years ago Juliano would beat up every new horse that showed up.

Juliano and his new friend


Expect the unexpected

Our recent learning experiences with Juliano convinced me that „never say never” is spot on right also with horses. Every day with Juliano brings us something new and even though sometimes I can't name the direction in which we took a step it is always a piece of a puzzle which will fall into place later in our journey. We learn a lot with our horses and even more from them but what goes on in our human mind when we come across an obstacle? Can we teach all horses the same things? Can my horse do that? These are the questions we face at some point of our journey, sooner or later, it doesn't matter. The important thing is how we handle new situations. Do we give up or go on?

I bet most of us have a savvy, game or a task which we stray from. In the beginning we say „Oh, I'm never going to ride with just a savvy string”, „My horse will never do lead-changes on-line” etc. but time goes by and we find ourselves riding our horse bareback and bridle-less. It is like a dream come true and we remember the times when we thought it's never going to happen for us. In our heads we know we have accomplished something amazing but we still limit our selves when next challenge comes. For us this limitation was sideways towards me. Juliano is master of sideways away from me, he can do walk, trot and canter sideways. This is now easy for him and I take that for granted.

Juliano going sideways away from me in canter

However, I couldn't picture him doing sideways towards me. I thought this is not going to happen and I even started giving myself absurd explanations for that. The truth is, every healthy horse can go sideways left, right, away and towards a human, but I still believed it is to difficult for us. I didn't even think of trying. Few days ago I finally gave it a shot. I was forced to do it really. It is raining a lot here and we only have a few dry, not slippery spots to play on, one is against a fence. So I found myself on that tiny spot of dry land with Juliano. I was thinking what to do there, jojo, tiny change of direction in walk... Juliano was bored to death, he knows it all. For Juliano boredom is worst enemy and his respect for me goes way down when I ask him for things he knows over and over. Then I thought „Oh, OK! I will try the sideways towards me. I will fail but I will try”. I asked Juliano once, twice and there it was, a step of sideways towards me! 5 minutes later Juliano was going sideways towards me in both directions with no support of carrot stick just my hand in the air. It was so easy and all this time I had it in my head marked as „impossible”. We have learned something new and Juliano was as proud as a peacock. How silly of me not to give it a shot before.

It is amazing how many things we are afraid of. We limit both ourselves and our horses with our own fear of failure. For example some horses are afraid when something touches their feet, a rope, branch etc. For a human this can mean a stop sign for sideways over a pole or a barrel. Then we say things like „My horse can't go sideways over a pole because he will get scared if he steps on the pole”. Well, why not work on the feet first, show the horse there is nothing to be afraid of. Get him comfortable with things touching his feet and then do sideways over the pole. The first step might take a while, some horses are very panicky about their feet but the next step, the actual sideways may be as easy as it was for Juliano. The point is - help your horse don't limit him. So next time you think „This is not for us” pause for a minute because your horse will most likely do it and it is only your judgment which is blocking the progress. Give it a shot, take it slow and be patient – it's all it takes.


Savvy Times article

I'm super excited! November Savvy Times is just out with my article about Juliano in it. It starts of with my favorite photo of me and J. I do hope you enjoy it.

More about Savvy Club and Savvy Times


Autumn hacking

Two quite interesting things happened today. First of we went for a hack with Magda. It has been a while since we both had time to go for a trail ride with the boys during the day. Now with the time change we will have to hack out in the darkness more often. Today however, we could finally take things slow and the weather was perfect. Both Juliano and Dum were very energetic. We could feel they would just love to gallop and buck but they were very obedient and respected our choices of pace. Juliano was leading and at first Dum was not happy with slow trot but soon he learned that J would not give up the lead and just went with the flow. After a long walk we went down our small cross country road where we allowed the boys to canter and blow off steam. Than trotted deeper into the forest to arrive at a field for a bit of grazing. Juliano spooked a few times but it looked more like he wanted to do something crazy then actual spooking out of fear. He would jump, buck, canter few strides and than stop and turn his head toward me with a face saying "Look how cool that was now give me a treat woman". We both agreed with Magda that with this amount of energy in our horses we would probably have ended in a dead gallop if we had less respect from our horses. So, well done to them for putting their relationship with us before their need to run.

After the hack I took Juliano to the paddock where Marta was playing with Drezyna. I turned J loose and helped Marta with the idea of sideways game. Drezyna was doing great. She was trying so hard and understood the game very quickly. At first we thought she will have problems with her blind side but even though she could not see us she felt our "go sideways" energy very well and when she got confused she would turn her other eye to us. In the meantime Juliano got bored with no one paying attention to him and started showing off. He started putting his feet on the palettes which were scattered around the paddock. He than stood on one and was looking at me if I was watching or not. He is a true rock star and constantly needs to shine. By the way, yesterday Juliano learned sideways towards me which I thought we would never do. So for Drezyna it was the first day of sideways and for Juliano sideways towards a person. One interesting note: even though you thing something is impossible to do, especially with a horse, if you give yourself time and take it slow at first it all falls into place pretty quickly. Just go out there and try it, you will be amazed.


On-line Sunday

A short clip from our on-line fun on Sunday. Quite a few "Oh-boys" on the way and tons of things to work on. Soon we are going to have our brand new round corral so now is it time to polish our on-line and be ready for liberty.


Freestyle - consistently amazing Juliano

We've been doing a lot of freestyle and had a good finesse session. In freestyle he is amazing. He is relaxed, balanced, doesn't speed up when confused and even when he does speed up he relaxes few seconds later. In fact he is so relaxed most of the time he looks like this:

It is great and when I ride him bareback I can feel he is using his back correctly and floats in the trot. The only problem is I can get his head up :) and 80% of our rides are in this "trailing hound" position. This worries me, maybe he is sad, maybe under the weather. To have a crazy ex-race horse change into a perfect partner is still surreal for me and that is why I'm obsessing a bit.

Yesterday, again Juliano was very obedient and again he was doing a slow, almost western pleasure like trot, balanced and collected canter. He did everything I asked him for and I started missing Juliano's own inventions and ideas. But than along came Marta (Drezyna's owner) and said "Be more provocative" and sat there throwing ideas at me. Do a serpentine, stop, canter, trot, change direction... she was spot on right. Juliano woke up and started having fun again. It is funny how sometimes you need someone else to remind you things you know so well.


Sunday hack

Like every Sunday, we went on a hack and allowed our horses to choose which way they wanted to go. We ended up in the big field. Juliano and Dum love to go there. I think they like the open space, tons of grass and visiting 3 gray Arabians who live there. Seeing other horses used to be very nerve recking for Juliano before, he would get very excited, shake and sweet. Now he likes to visit other stables and observes other horses.


Video of Juliano playing with a ball

Finally a video of Juliano playing with a jumping ball during our play day a month ago.

Video from our last warm days

I've managed to upload a short clip from our last hack to the lake. It was so much fun!


First rides in the indoor arena

We are having a beautiful autumn this year in Poland. Clear skies mostly with an occasional shower. But this soon will be over, it is going to get colder and what's more important after the time change it will be dark just after 4PM. The season of indoor riding is about to start. I've never been a fan of riding in our indoor arena. Juliano used to spook there and with other people riding it was hard to ride bridle-less. One mistake and it is all on you, after all it may seem you have less control over your horse if you go bit-less. This is how we left things last year - indoor arena last place we wanted to ride in.

This year after first two rides there I'm pleasantly surprised. Juliano is calm, doesn't spook, is not bothered with other horses riding by. He is finally OK with riding inside even when the arena gets crowded. He follows the walls of the arena perfectly, last year it was impossible to keep him straight on the line and we would end up on a circle in the middle trying to regain control and a calm pace.

A thing that led to this breakthrough in Juliano's attitude towards the indoor school is the fact that our horses were allowed to go into the arena during the summer months. The arena was open at all times as we stored hay there. Our horses would graze in the filed just next to the arena and this gave them an opportunity to regularly jump out of the paddock and run into the arena. At first it was a mystery to us, why they wanted to go in there and eat hay instead of fresh grass. It was so hot underneath this big balloon, almost like in a sauna. Soon we realised there were no insects there and that's why our horses liked it so much. They chose heat over flies. I guess now they associate the indoor arena with a fun place. All these times they went into the school as a herd with no humans made them feel safe and comfortable.

During winter there will be no hay in the arena but I think our horses will still enjoy it. Soon, when the snow falls, it will be the only place where they can roll in sand.


Happy hackers

For these past few days Juliano has been amazing! He is so obedient and focused. I'm still a bit puzzled by that. Now I have to be careful not be a direct line thinker and not to take too much advantage of his obedience. I also have to think of something new for Juliano to learn. In the meantime we have focused on the fun part of riding - trail riding!

Last week we went on 3 trail rides. One was with Pressing which was fun and quite exciting as we ended up on a big field where Juliano could show off his speed. Juliano came back home wet, all the excitement of running in the field and bucking got him tired a bit or that's what I thought. I got of him after our last trot to help him cool down faster. When we arrived back at the stables he still wanted to go out and play with Dum. Maybe he wasn't as tired as I thought after all.

Next two days we've spent hacking out with Magda and Dum. Both horses were perfect. We allowed them to choose their own speed in trot and canter. They've done a wonderful job keeping their paces rythmic and calm. One thing worth mentioning is Juliano's motivation to keep Dum under control. Dum is a LBI but when he starts cantering in the woods he easily goes into "I'm not stopping" mode. There is nothing a rider can do to stop him because his neck is so tense that you can't bend him. Juliano on the other hand is more likely to explode, go very fast but he soon slows down or looses interest in running all together and stops. So we've always had our back-up plan if things went wrong with Dum and Juliano was our secret weapon. When Dum was out of control I would overtake him on Juliano, stop Juliano and J would stop Dum with a kick. Now Juliano thinks it is his responsibility to keep Dum under control and I don't have to ask him or guide him. It even got to the point where Juliano learned to canter sideways in order to keep Dum second and prevent him from over-taking. It's one of these things I mentioned in my past posts. You don't even sometimes realise what you are teaching your horse. I used him before to stop Dum but I didn't think I could teach him that. Juliano understood his task very well, him dominating nature kicked in very fast and now he thinks it is his responsibility to control the situation.


4 years together – how things have changed

I bought Juliano exactly 4 years ago on the day of my birthday. I've had him on loan for some time before but the day I bought him meant it was only me and him from that day on. No one else would ride him, no one else would train him, it was all up to us how we would interact with each other in the future. I knew I wanted to be the best human for Juliano on the face of the World but I wasn't sure how to do that. Then I got inspired, I saw a video of Pat riding a gray horse bareback and bride-less (even „string-less”) than I saw Mikey and Red Sun and I was hooked. I wanted to have a connection with my horse just like they did with their horses. „I want us to be just like that”, I thought, where do I sign in.

We've had a long and twisted journey. I was rediscovering horses again, as I thought I knew horses well before I've met Juliano. Juliano on the other hand was rediscovering humans as he wasn't the greatest fun of people before. We've had moments of horror, galloping in the woods, with no control, moments of my tears when I thought I would never be able to ride him and be safe. After some time we've started making progress. Small steps at first, then big breakthroughs, then few steps back. Juliano was always a 9 on a scale go=whoa. His impulsiveness was something I had most troubles with because how can you organize yourself in your body when every time you move your legs or your seat the horse jumps from underneath you. Let's just put it this way, we've had tons of uncontrollable canters in the first two years. In the next two years I knew I've had some control over Juliano's impulsiveness but it still looked uncontrollable to the outside world.

On the day of our 4th 'anniversary' I've realised something very important has happened. Juliano is no longer a 9 on the scale! Over this past week I've been riding him bareback with a string and day after day his go matched his whoa. He is a 5/6 and for an owner of an ex-race horse this is the best birthday present ever!

Happy canter

Yesterday our ride started to resemble the video I saw 4 years ago of Pat. I didn't have to use the string or the stick to do a trot-walk-backup jojo's. Juliano followed my focus, was very relaxed and went down from a canter to halt immediately after I took my energy down. He was so obedient that I started drilling my friend who was watching us ride „Is Juliano sad, does he look bored?”. I was so shocked and pleased with him that it didn't occur to me he was happy, relaxed and obedient. I was used to this crazy ball of energy underneath me. Now I still have an extroverted, energetic horse but we finally can start shaping this energy together into something great. It took us 4 years, for some this can seem a very long time, others might say „You could have done it in a week if you just slapped draw reins on that horse”. For me it is a dream come true, 4 years ago I couldn't even imagine riding Juliano in a halter.

It’s all part of a grander plan that is coming true.


Play Day - 4 years with Juliano

We've had a brilliant play day, it was great fun mixed with learning. Few of our "classical" friends joined us with their horses and we ended up with 6 humans and 7 horses in our play field at one point.

Exactly 4 years ago from today I've bought Juliano. Buying him was the best decision I've ever made and I couldn't have wished for a better horse. Today he was going around the field, exploring all the balls, tarps and other scary things and it was amazing to observe how much he has changed over these years. He was very confident and in fact he was trying to show other horses what to do with the toys. I also brought a thick foam for horses to stand on. Juliano was very curious. He immediately wanted to stand on it but when he did the foam flattened underneath his hoof. He was surprised but few seconds later he was standing on the foam with both feet. It was so cool. He was at liberty most of our play day.

Here are some photos, you can see more on my Flickr photostream

Juliano with the Green Ball

Eparol with the Green Ball

Juliano exploring foam

Juliano destroying the tarp

Hula Dum

Drezyna with foam


Dum and Impet

Happy J

J bringing Justyna to her knees

Justyna riding Zawieja bitless


Plan vs reality

Every time I go to see Juliano I seem to have a plan. A plan to ride, play on-line, do liberty, work on a pattern etc. If I have time before making my way down to the stables I watch a DVD of Pat or Linda or read an article and then I visualize how will I teach Juliano and myself that concept. I think of a blueprint of what small things we have to work on. I go to the stables with all these ideas and plans for our session. It's all easy and picture perfect in my mind but then the reality verifies my plans. There are so many factors that can influence what we do on that day: time span, the weather, Juliano's mood, my mood, farriers visit, friends and so on. So how to plan your and your horses progress and not make it a goal before principle? Tricky question and even trickier answer. I recently discovered that the greatest plan is not to have a plan at all.

Being Parelli students we have so many things to work on, so many ideas and fun things to do, that sometimes I have a feeling I should play with Juliano a few times a day to cover all areas. There is on-line, liberty, freestyle and finesse and a million exciting challenges in each savvy. You travel up the levels with your horse and after each you think "Now, now we know everything!". Soon after that, another door of another level opens and you know it's just the tip of an ice-berg. Again you have so many things to learn and it gets more and more exciting each step of the way. For most of us horsemanship is our passion, something we want to learn every day and we devote a big part of our life to it. We go to see our horses eager to learn, eager to ride and then...

… then there is the horse - our beloved animal, which has it's own needs, ideas and preferences. Now comes the tricky part, the part where our human plans meet the state of mind in which our horse is in. Do we continue with our plan for the day? If we are at home with our horse, not on a course does it go: Monday – freestyle, Tuesday – finesse, Wednesday -on-line, Thursday – Liberty, Friday – Hack, Saturday – Play Day, Sunday – off? From what I've observed in interacting with Juliano, 9 out of 10 times I have had to change my plan. Lets say I want to ride, do some finesse and I go to get Juliano from the field but I can clearly see he is in a super playful mood and I don't have time to do both, play and ride. Do I continue with my plan and say "OK, knock it off, we are going to do lead changes today" or do I take this playfulness, grab a 22" foot line and just go play? The answer is simple, I abandon my plan and follow Juliano's idea. This is easier said than done, at first I was a bit angry with myself, I thought "I didn't do anything special with Juliano, we didn't learn anything". After some time I started to realise I actually learned a lot more and so did my horse. By allowing him to choose his "plan" he actually offered more and learned faster. There were times when we didn't ride for a week or two but we've had breakthrough after breakthrough on the ground. These were the most amazing sessions. Just yesterday, I wanted to ride but we ended up doing Liberty. Liberty is not my strongest savvy yet but I was blown away by Juliano's focus on me. He would trot back to me when I asked him to disengage from the end of the arena, not round corral, arena! Our draw has never been so powerful. In the photo, you can see the exact moment in which I've asked Juliano to come to me. His feet were still moving away but I got his mind and few seconds later he was standing next to me.

This was a dream Liberty session and I wanted to ride instead!

I now have a golden formula for me and Juliano. I keep a blueprint in my mind of patterns and ideas to play around in all four savvies. I try to be one step ahead with my part of the learning and the information that I may need. I don't make plans for particular days, I allow Juliano to do that for me. I go to the stables, greet him and observe him for a bit. After short time I know what he wants to do, what mood he is in. It's his idea and his choice of a classroom in which he wants to be on that day: on-line, liberty, freestyle or finesse. It took me some time to figure out how to be flexible and as Pat says „put principles before goals”. How do you plan your sessions? I can't wait to read your ideas.


Juliano is a rock star

I just got a book that I was dying to get my hands on - "Is Your Horse a Rock Star? Understanding Your Horse's Personality" by Dessa Hockley. It's a book that describes Horsenalities in a fun way for example: The Rock Star, The Goddess, The Macho Man or The Steady Eddy. The book is a fun addition to the Horsenality chart and all the information from Linda.

Based on the description in the book Juliano is a Rock Star! He loves the attention, has a strong ego, is very cocky but charming at the same time. "The Rock Star wants to live large and along the way enjoy freedom, fun and friendship". That's Juliano alright :)

Juliano - I do all my own stunts!

"If this horse has come into your life, it is time to widen your horizons and go play!" No doubt Parelli is the way forward!


The moment I've been waiting for

Today, I've focused on out freestyle again. To be honest I'm not happy with my saddle lately, I'm not sure it fits J and it puts me in a strange riding position that's why I do most of my riding bareback now. That's one of the reasons I'm focusing on freestyle, besides it's just so much fun.

Juliano was simply brilliant. I think it was the first time he was so responsive and thinking in canter. We could speed up and slow down, speed up and slow down again and this was all based on my suggestions - phase 1 with the string. For some this can be a very simple exercise but for us there was fast canter or no canter at all. Today Juliano was very focused on me and he delivered a great slow and rhythmic canter. One screw up on my part though. We were doing figure eights with a simple lead change in the middle. After few simple changes Juliano offered a flying lead change but I shut him down. I made him go back to a trot after he changed leads and I should have allowed him to continue with the canter. I should have trusted him that he will make it, instead I thought he is not going to change leads and he will only speed up. My bad! The good news is he offered and he wasn't upset after I didn't take it.

Horses Never Forget Human Friends

I came across a very interesting article on horse behavior:
Horses Never Forget Human Friends. I recommend you also read it.

"From our results, it appears that horses are no different than humans (in terms of positive reinforcement teachings)," according to the researchers. "They behave, learn and memorize better when learning is associated with a positive situation."


Play Day Saturday

This Saturday worked out just great. I wanted to ride, but Juliano was in a playful mood and Magda wasn't in a mood to ride, so two words "Play Day" and we were running around gathering our big balls, tarps and other scary gizmos. Our little Play Day had an unexpected big turnout as Justyna joined us with her two mares, Kamila took Eparol and Impet and Marta brought Drezyna.

Juliano and Dum decided to test our Liberty. There were a lot of toys in the paddock so at one point of our finger Juliano and Dum would go to the tarp or one of the balls. At one point they started fighting over the tarp and than started ripping it to shred. The green ball was also very popular. Most of our horses feared the ball so much they would not approach it, they would keep at least 20-50 meter distance depending on the horse. Not today, today all our horses loved the green ball. Juliano is getting better and better at playing "hoofball" with it. He kicks it, then follows, then kicks it again.

At the end Juliano made all of us cry. We also have a jumping ball for kids with two horns on it. Juliano grabbed the ball by one of it's horns and started tossing it around while still holding it. Than he started putting it on Lama's back just like I put the green ball on his. In the end Juliano wanted to hit Dum Dum with the ball but he lost grip and let go. The ball flew up in the air couple of meters and landed on Juliano's rump. Julino was shocked, jumped and then blamed Dum for the whole thing. It was so funny I couldn't hold the camcorder still.


Sunny autumn day at the lake

I really wanted to do finesse today, but... it was sunny and warm so I've quickly changed my mind and decided to go to the lake with other two horses. It was amazing fun. Juliano was more than happy to go into the lake, in fact he dragged me into it to eat reed. I think photos will give away the spirit of the day better than words.


Horsenality frenzy

Today I was supposed to play with only 3 horses, Juliano mostly and two of Justyna's and Marta's mares as they are both on holidays. As the day went by I got asked to look after another two horses. At first I thought "Oh boy, what did I get into", but soon I realised this day could be a great learning opportunity. I started thinking of something all 5 horses would cope with and something they didn't do with their owners before. Figure 8! I've cleared my schedule for the rest of the day, made a thermos of coffee for me, a thermos of linseed for J and headed off to the stables. I've written "Don't make assumptions" on my hand as I caught myself thinking which horse will do best and which will have troubles with the task. I've decided not to assume anything, not to pressure any horse as they are all used to other types of handling. Figure 8 would be a concept to play around not a goal.

First up, Ben the stallion. I've played with Ben few times before and it seems to me he is mainly a left-brain introvert. When he gets excited he goes into extrovert mode of course. Ben came out of his stall with a very dominant attitude. He wouldn't respect my personal space and would ignore me. This went on for quite a while until I got my act together. We've revisited jo-jo game, hide your hiney and changes of direction on a circle. I soon found out Ben was pushing with his nose way into my personal space when he was asked to face me and change direction. It was quite a challenge to get his attention then change direction and not get run over by him in the process. I knew that timing was everything here, if I went to fast up my phases I would provoke him and have a massive stallion argument on my hands. So I would maneuver around faze 1,2,3 with a quick faze 4 if he totally ignored me. I used a quick flick of a string on his chest for faze 4. This didn't get him all excited and what's more important it didn't give him an excuse to rear up. After he got tagged he would stand and start to ask questions. When we got our ground rules figured I've introduced him to the figure 8 pattern. Ben couldn't do it at a walk, after each loop of an eight he would go into either trot or canter. I took it and didn't mind his impulsion. It was his zone 1 I was focusing on. After a while of defending my space he relaxed and did a figure 8 without putting pressure on me. He faced me with his ears forward asking a question "Which way now?". I took it and Ben finally got it. He licked his lips, stood with me for few minutes, didn't try to chew on me. So figure 8 with Ben was more about his attitude then anything else. One would expect that with a LBI/LBE it would be about fun and play but is wasn't. Don't make assumptions. I've quit when I saw Ben offered his attention and positive attitude.

Ben the LB stallion

Second in line was Drezyna - a right-brain extrovert mare which went through a lot in her live. Her owner did an amazing job in making her calm and confident. Few years ago Drezyna lost her right eye due to large sarcoid that grew into her eyelid. Keeping all of that in mind I started of with a lot of friendly with the stick, especially on the side that she couldn't see me. I was pleasantly surprised that she wouldn't mind me rubbing her on her "blind" side and would respond in a very calm way to the lightest porcupine. After making sure she was OK with me and my tools I showed her around our little play field and what figure 8 pattern is all about. I was taking things very slow and rewarded her slightest try. 5 minutes later she was doing a perfect figure 8. She was checking in with me very often and was positive and responsive even when I had to dive her away from her "blind" side. What a brave little mare. This experience was so much different to Ben. With Drezyna it was about making my signals as clear but at the same time as light as possible. She remained left brain from the beginning till the end of the session and I was very happy with that. Sometimes we get caught in a trap of categorizing horses. "You are a RBE, show me RBE behavior" and we push horses into the right-brain of thinking because than we know what we are dealing with. "Play with a horse that shows up that day" - that's so important. I must admit, I was thinking of asking Drezyna to do the figure 8 in trot, but I wasn't there to test which horse could learn the figure 8 the fastest. I wanted to see what each horse would offer. Drezyna offered her confidence and I was thrilled with that.

RB Drezyna

Zawieja - 20 year-old mare LBI mostly, sometimes very right-brain and spooky. Zawieja is a horse I've known for a very long time, when she was younger she was a threat to all riders, she would buck most people off. Now as Zawieja is older and wiser and you have to work for every step that she takes. Today, Zawieja was lacking character a bit with the figure 8. She would do it, but it wasn't very exciting for her. Every change of direction she would go on to do another loop of an eight with a face saying "Blah, blah, I'm moving my feat" but her mind was somewhere else. So I've quit doing the pattern with her and moved on to the ball. Zawieja used to be as afraid of the ball as Juliano was. I asked her to approach it, she did, I asked her to touch it, she did. I soon found out that ball on the ground wasn't a problem any more and she is ready for the next level - ball in the air. I played the friendly game by rubbing the ball on her feet, than shoulders as she wasn't allowing me to go for the withers yet. Soon that also changed. The ball was on Zawieja's back and she was confident. Zawieja offered me trust, trust that the ball in my hands will not hurt her. In the future I would love to see Zawieja get interested in the pattern, but who knows maybe she will and after obedience exuberance will come.

20 year-old Zawieja

Juliano was the horse I was waiting to play with all day. We had some unresolved issues from yesterday and I was anxious to see what state of mind he was in. Yesterday he was very playful with the catching game. Yes, he came to me when he first saw me in the paddock but soon started his usual routine "Not gonna catch me, not gonna catch me". He would come to me and than take off bucking and stop at the other end of the field. This went on for 30 minutes. After a while Juliano came to me again, but I knew he would take of just as soon as he reached me. I gave him a treat, didn't face him, instead I run across the paddock, over the fence and didn't stop until I knew Juliano couldn't see me. I hid behind some trees and looked back, he was standing there shocked. He stood there for at least 5 minutes, trying to figure out where I went, he even walked toward the fence. Of course I came back after a while and the roles finally changed, Juliano wouldn't leave my side. This was yesterday. Today I could see Juliano standing at the gate every time I came back from playing with first Ben, than Drezyna and Zawieja. He was ready, he wanted to do something with me and he was more and more anxious every time I walked by. I took it as a great compliment and finally after 3 hours with the other horses went to pick him up from the paddock. He pushed his head into the halter and was almost prancing with joy when we were walking to the play field. If I was to judge him by his performance on the figure 8 he would get a 2 maybe a 3 but he offered me something that I liked even better. His mind was with me straight away, he was asking me questions and wanted to put his feet on everything. It looked as if he was asking me questions about each foot, for the very first time I could direct him to put either right or left foot on something. He was amazing! He was exuberant and obedient and this doesn't happen very often. I was so pleased with him, he was showing me all the time "Look I can do this and this, look, look". I was pleasantly surprised by yet another horse. I didn't expect Juliano to be so connected. He has given me trust, confidence and exuberance plenty of times before but today he gave me his heart and mind.

At the end of the session we went crazy with Juliano :)

The last horse I've had a chance to play with was Eparol. A beautiful Arabian gelding who is a mystery to me. Just like Juliano he is an ex-race horse. He is a LBE around horses but with humans he tends to go RBI. A very hard horse to read and I must admit I always have doubt whether he is obedient or introverted and is hiding inside himself. It was very hard for me to disengage his hind-quarters and get a connection. He was obedient and he would do as asked but I could feel that he does not trust me. I would love to see more playfulness in him around people. After a while Eparol started looking at me with a bit more sparkle in his eye. He would even through in a question or two. It was very subtle and shy and hard to read but it was there. Eparol still remains unclear to me and I guess it would take a lot more time for him to open up to me. He offered a tiny window into his heart today and for me this was plenty enough for that session.

Arabian gelding - Eparol

It was a long and exciting day. A lot of horsenalities and a lot of changes in horsenalities as we went along. I didn't want to assume anything and expect or demand anything from any horse. I think I've done a good job at that. What I've learned today I will use with Juliano from now on.

1. Take what the horse is offering you, even if you didn't want it at the time. If he offers, take it and appreciate it because if you shut him down next time he might be to shy to offer.

2. In the boldest print of all - Play with a horse that shows up that day. Juliano is LBE most of the time, but he can go RBE and even sometimes LBI. Treating him always like you should treat a LBE would be a mistake. If he goes RBE I help him get his confidence back by retreating for example. If he goes LBI I help him get his mojo back by giving him a purpose.

3. If you have a chance, play with different horses, you don't have to teach them or set goals for them. Most of us have one horse and we become experts in one horsenality. Observe other horsenalities as one day your horse may need your support of a flexible horseman.