I've been away for almost a week and both Juliano and I got much needed vacation. He spent whole days in the pasture, I went windsurfing, hiking and mushroom picking. I had daily reports from my stable friends on how Juliano is doing and I can see a certain pattern. When I'm away Juliano is very obedient, calm and quiet. Like he is not there. He goes out, comes in, gets his feed and days flow. When I come back he has this one day of joy and craziness in him. He is very exuberant, mischievous and "naughty".

This time, when I came back on Sunday he was like living fire. Shouting from his stall whenever I left him. Observing my every move. We went on a slow trail ride with Magda and Juliano didn't know what to do with his energy, he would do this beautiful suspended trot and toss his head. He was also quite jealous because when we were getting ready for our hack he attacked Dum for getting closer to me. Hmmmm, how interesting. I wonder what is going to happen after I leave him for a month next year to go to Pagosa.


Talk to your horse

I have recently noticed that Juliano is getting quite fat. With the fatness came laziness and this caused an alarm to go off in my head. My horse not only looks like a sack of hay on 4 thin legs but he plays less with his pasture mates and bucks less when we ride (he does this funny dolphin like canter with tiny bucks when he is happy). Is this another level 4 „Oh boy” or is he just getting old? Or maybe he is so fit emotionally these days and it is his calmness? Well I have just figured out the answer and of course I blame myself.

Fat Juliano

When you start playing with your horse on Level 1 you not only start building rapport, gaining respect, working on your horses mental and emotional fitness but you also start to develop a language. Just like Pat says, first comes the alphabet (Level 1), then words (Level 2), thaen sentences (Refinement – Level 3) and the most exciting part the conversation (Level 4). You go through your levels and changes start to happen, then you land at level 4 and finally you can „talk” to your horse and you accomplish things with him you would never dream of. But what if you don't talk enough or you try to have a conversation about the weather and your horse is clearly ready to discuss more serious issues. Well, you get into trouble and your horse gets fat :)

Just like with human relationships, you need to look after the relationship you have with your horse. You have to nurture it in order to make it blossom. Let's say you meet someone and later this someone turns out to be your best friend for life. The scenario usually goes like this: introduction (Level 1), small-talk (Level 2), then comes the need to tell this person your life's story (Level 3), then you share everything together, talk about everything etc. (Level 4). I have noticed, with horses, it works the same way and you can't let go when you are on level 3/4. Just like with human friends you have to check in once in a while and with best friends you have to do way more. Unfortunately I have miss-understood my purpose and role in Juliano's life. This moment of being lost in translation lasted only a while but still managed to bring Juliano's energy down and made him less happy with his life. I started to observe him and he wasn't as mentally active, creative and naughty as before. I didn't see him play with other horses for few weeks, I didn't see him flirt with the mares, he didn't even buck and run in the pasture. I had no idea what was going on.

I always looked after Juliano's needs and I wanted him to be able to act like a horse, not a robot. I wanted him to spend as much time as possible with his herd. I wanted him to have a herd with mares and geldings. I didn't stop him from covering mares and fighting for his herd rights. I wanted him to be a horse but in the meantime I have also worked on our horse-man relationship. When I got to level 3/4 our play sessions and rides become much shorter. He was in a learning state of mind from the very moment I got on him. I asked him for something, lets say walk-canter, canter-walk transitions and he delivered so I got off, thanked him and left him for the day. I figured, why ask for more. I was certain he would rather be with his friends. This went on for few months, but I finally realised that this is not the way you should treat a friend. My horse was ready to have a complex conversation and I would hang up on him after his first sentence. I have worked on our language very hard for past few years and in that time I became, believe it or not, important to him. And yes, I should still let him be a horse and give him as much time as he needs with his herd, but he also needs his time with me now.

Recently, I have changed my tactics and I'm not afraid to ask him to spend time with me instead of his herd. I've started asking for more, flying lead changes, side-pass in canter on-line, Spanish walk and other complex issues. I don't talk to Juliano about the weather any more, I have long conversations with him. I ask him to figure out puzzles and to be mentally active. This has caused two amazing things to happen. First of all, the old Juliano is back, he plays with other horses, runs and bucks and is noticing the mares again. The second change is in our relationship. When I play with him he has this special look on his face, I can see he is with me with all his hart and he wants to continue talking to me. I'm also sure Juliano will loose his pot belly pretty soon.

A conclusion to all this can be scary for some, just like in our human relationships. You have to COMMIT to your horse once you've got his friendship. Sometimes you will both agree and you will have a great session and sometimes you will have a bad one. It is a relationship, it has it's ups and downs but it carries on day by day, week by week, year by year. You have to be there for your horse if you want him to be there for you. I would never imagine it to be true but it is – by becoming horseman we become an important part of our horses lives.


Juliano is a super horse!

I'm still smiling after today's ride in the woods. I went on a hack with Juliano and an Arabian gelding called Eparol. Both horses used to race so you can only imagine what could happen on a long straight trail in the wood if both horses decided to have a little race.

Juliano was leading and he was quite energetic but instead of going fast he would go more up, he was very exuberant in his trot and in canter he would collect himself. I could feel his energy but it was more of a playful, fun energy. It was quite windy so there were times when I felt Juliano was loosing confidence, but a gentle stroke on his neck and me saying "It's OK"and he would march on as nothing was happening. He was very brave. He also went through paddles which is very rare for him.

You probably wonder why I call Juliano a super horse after just a simple hack. Well to ride an off-track TB on a windy day on a trail and have a calm ride is pretty amazing. Today I didn't use reins of the hackamore to control J, we did all our transitions just with my energy going up or down. Juliano also did a canter-stop transition which made my day. Canter-stop transition on a long, straight path, without using reins - I have a super horse :)


I know that game, I invented that game

Welcome to the "new" me. Remember my last post was about me not being assertive enough with Juliano and overprotective. Well, I'm trying to change that and I can see the first results. The first big change is our catching game.

Juliano is very creative when it comes to playing games with humans. He took catching game into the next level for me. We both know well the "standard" scenario of the catching game so for some time now Juliano was telling me this is not enough for him. He has reversed my reversed psychology. I don't know if he is keeping the score but I think lately it was something close to 10:0 for him. Juliano knows what I want, I want him to come to me, and this is what he does, he walks to me. But at that point the game is not over yet. A horse can either come to you and stay or come to you and do something you don't want or you didn't plan. So how can a horse win the catching game with a human that knows the ground rules of the game? It's quite simple really. This is Juliano's formula of winning the catching game (at this point I'm glad Juliano doesn't have a blog and he won't share this with your horses):

1. Pretend you are doing what your human wants, walk towards.
2. Your human will turn around and wait for you.
3. Walk as silently as you can and when you reach your human's shoulder, run!
4. Run as fast as you can and than turn and face.

You can clearly see it on this short clip (0:30sec):

The first time Juliano did this I was surprised, the second time I started laughing but the third time got me thinking. Is this disrespect or maybe he knows I want to ride and he is trying to avoid that. I was on the verge of fixating about this, but that I remembered that I shouldn't worry because it's just a game. Next time I went to the paddock with a more playful attitude. I suggested to Juliano that I would like him to come to me. I got his attention and waited. I listened for his hoof steps. When he was close enough and I knew one more step and he will be gone I decided to do the opposite of what I would usually do. I didn't face him, I run! I run just as Juliano would and it blew his mind. He started running behind me and wouldn't leave my side. It must have looked insane to other people. I was running and J was chasing me.

I think we humans tend to think "one game at a time", we focus on a certain game when we play with our horses and we expect a certain outcome. Our horses, on the other hand, play multiple games with us. Whats more they can also play with other horses at the same time. With a horse like Juliano you have to think "game" all the time. I won the catching game this time because I "flirted" with Juliano a bit. It's a bit like being in high school again, games that boys play with girls and vice versa. I want your attention when you ignore me, when I have your attention I ignore you.


Where did our rapport go - the story of an overprotective mother

We've had plenty of rain today, great relief after yet another week of scorching sun. Perfect time to play on-line. With no bugs I could focus and so could both of my horses for today.

First up - Ben. It was day two for Ben and I (our first session was yesterday), but today I didn't even bother to get his bridle, we went "natural" from the very beginning. Yesterday we've finished of in a good, positive place so I've decided not to take him to the round corral. We played in the open today. I got his focus right away - hide your hiney and vuala I had 2 eyes, 2 ears, full concentration. What's interesting he didn't call out to any of the horses during our whole session. We started playing the 7 games. It was going so great that I started thinking about J and how difficult our first sessions had been. I know I had no experience at all when I started with Juliano but something else was missing, something else was different about me. Ben was keeping up with his responsibilities, maintaining gait and direction on a circle. I was standing on a tire, he was going round than he wanted to come in so I took it, rubbed him and sent him of again. He went on a circle and I drifted back to Juliano in my thoughts. What are we missing? Our friendly game is fine, Juliano is very obedient when we ride, all seems to be fine but this spark in Juliano's eyes is missing and he is becoming disinterested in me. He is not asking me questions any more and this gray horse I have going around me now is asking and asking. Then it struck me, I'm not being assertive and provocative enough with Juliano and this is making our rapport go up in flames. Ben is a stallion so I automatically have a different approach to him. When I ask him to back up he's better back up, if I ask him to go onto a circle he'd better... I'm being assertive because I know that if I hesitate and 'maybe' ask him to 'maybe' move away he won't, what's more he will be more than happy to move me. With Juliano I'm different. I'm overprotective and obsessed. Juliano doesn't want to back up at phase 1? Oh, I'm sure he has a good reason for that, I'm not going to up my phases because I'm sure I will offend him. So with Juliano our relationship lately looks like this:

Me: Son, I've made you soup, good soup. Eat it, it's healthy for you. Come on son, eat it while it's hot. Soup, good, hot!
J: Are you crazy, woman! What do you want? Can't you see I'm hanging out with the guys!

There is a great thought in Mastery Manual #10
"A worried leader is not going to win horses repport and respect".
Juliano was very right-brain when I met him, fact. But now I feel me worrying about his feelings is driving him crazy. He needs a cool, confident leader, not an overprotective mum with a bowl of soup following him around the pasture. I didn't know when to quit doing what I was doing. I was calming Juliano down all the time and what he needed was for me to use his LBE energy in a creative way. He is a left-brain extrovert! He needs a challenge!

Ben was getting bored with circling. I invited him in (don't worry, he wasn't going round for ages, my thought process was quick, I'm a LBE, too). Ben desperately wanted to roll in the mud. I drove him away from me and allowed him to roll. When he was done, he got up, put in a small rear and a buck, than started walking directly at me tossing his head. The stallion finally showed his true colors and now I was in trouble! Thank God I found my hidden layers of assertiveness that day. I looked at Ben and wiggled the rope. You'd better... ahh yes, back-up, good boy. I took Ben back to the stables and I didn't feel like leading a stallion any more. He was walking with me, when I stopped he would do the same and wait.

Now it was time for Juliano. I wanted to be the same assertive person with Juliano as I was with Ben few minutes ago. I have a weakness for Juliano and I let a lot of things slide with him. I've decided to ask more from Juliano today and make things happen by being persistent. If things went wrong I would stop and play friendly game. We went to our play field with Magda and our horses and after quick friendly game I asked Juliano to back up. What I got from him was "In a minute". I asked him again but this time I was imagining Ben was standing in front of me. Juliano backed up, stopped and looked at me. His ears were forward and the sparkle in his eyes was back. From that point our session went great. Juliano changed directions with a flying-lead change, he did a canter side-ways and other fancy things. Every time I invited him in he would run back to me with a face saying "What's next, what's next". It was an amazing session with an amazing ending. We walked home at liberty and Juliano got so stuck to me he didn't even think of eating grass or running back to the stables, where supper was just beeing served. I've tested the bond by turning back to the play field. Juliano didn't folow the road home on his own, he turned with me. I was finally worth following.

Today I've learned a life-changing lesson. All that time I was thinking the nicer I'm to my horse the more he would like me. This is a human way of thinking and I followed this path because Juliano had plenty of bad human experiences before and I thought this is the right way to handle him. Horses need more than just being nice to them, they need a good leader. A leader who is fair and knows how to balance the carrot and the sick. We have to adapt to changes we've made in our horses. Juliano needed me to be calm and patient some time ago, now he is ready to go further and I have to match him. I watched Juliano with his pasture mates before we played today. There were 6 horses standing by the fence, Juliano decided to go between the horses and the fence. He moved all 6 horses with just a look on his face, and they didn't kinda move, they would run back when J was approaching them. So how can I be a good leader for a horse that all the other horses answer to? Well, now I know, I have to be more assertive and provocative. It may sound obvious to you but until today I always thought I was putting just enough pressure on Juliano but it turns out I was nagging. I'm glad I had a chance to learn how assertive I should be from Ben, now I can work on it with Juliano. Ben is dominant because he is a stallion, Juliano is dominant because he is Juliano and treating him like a horse lower down the herd hierarchy is insulting him.

Another gray stallion

I've been asked (again) to look after a gray stallion. Not Pressing this time but a 5 year-old Arabian-cross called The Kairo (stable name Ben). It is a totally different horse, not like Pressing in any way. He is more confident and a bit less sensitive to pressure. I'm going to play with him on-line for few days and maybe I'll get on him if I find him rideable.

Joanna and Ben

Today we've started the 7 games and I must say all went well, except bucking up. That was Ben's Achilles' heel. I did expect that, he is a stallion and I knew he wouldn't jump at the idea of me asking him to go backwards. I've spent quite some time at the round-corral trying to show him an open door if he backed a little, and by "little" I mean shift his weight back. From there we've made a quick progress and soon he was backing-up at phase 1 and 2. On the other hand I was amazed how light he was at porcupine game right from the beginning. I like this horses spirit and I think we will get along fine, I was a bit worried at first as I did hear quite a few horror stories about him.

Juliano on the other hand surprised me today. After I've finished with Ben I took Juliano back to his stall and noticed a long cut on his hind leg. After I've cleaned the wound J would kick out cause it was itching him, but when I went out the stable he would stop. I came back few minutes later and he started kicking again. I've noticed lately that if he gets hurt or gets into trouble he has to share that with me and starts acting like a little baby foal. Hmmmm, how interesting?

We than went for a quick ride into the woods with Magda. We expected an impulsive ride as we don't ride much this summer due to the weather. Of Course we were wrong. Boys were happy, relaxed and maintaining a rhythmic medium trot. There was no need to slow them down or correct them. Juliano was in the lead and he chose a path with a lot of branches on the ground. Every time we went that way before he would try to avoid what was in his way but this time he would slow down a bit to have a better look and go over obstacles. Does this mean J likes jumping now? I'm not getting my hopes up but who knows... maybe, just maybe his attitude towards jumping had changed. He certainly started looking where he is going which is great.