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.
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.