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.


Great day!

Today we've had a perfect ride. We started off on a 22" line with few games to get Juliano into a more collected and settled state of mind. From the first moment I saw Juliano at his stall today I knew he is very playful and a bit naughty. He finished his lunch and wanted to go out immediately he was very anxious. That's why I wanted to check him out on-line first.

We started off with a falling leaf pattern. We did 4-5 changes of direction and in the middle of the 5 change Juliano stopped and dropped to the ground and decided to roll. I found that very funny. The ground was freshly harrowed and I guess he just couldn't resist it.

Look at J's face on this photo, this is a very dominant J

After that we continued with the pattern and few seconds later I had Juliano's eyes and mind. I got on and was surprised how obedient and responsive he was. We played with sideways here, sideways there. Than Juliano did the most calm and collected walk-canter, canter-walk transitions. He was truly magnificent. I got off and Juliano followed me to the pasture at liberty.

And here you have sweet J


Mushroom picking with Juliano

It was raining cats and dogs all day today and the first thought in a Polish mind when it's raining in autumn is - mushrooms! I arrived at the stables and Juliano was clearly ready to go out and do something. So we've decided to take our horses mushroom picking with us. I took Juliano and headed into the woods with Wojtek and Eparol. Both horses were following us through trees, bushes and some very uneven ground. There were a lot of situations where we all had to squeeze under very low branches. Both Juliano and Eparol soon learned to follow our footsteps and avoid going on the other side of trees. They also learned not to step on mushrooms. Juliano has contributed to mushroom picking by putting grass into the bucket. Every time I would put a mushroom into the bucket he would put his mouth full of grass in it to check on our progress.


Liberty Day 2

Today I walked into the field, where Juliano was grazing with his friends, to fix our round corral after a windy night. As I was moving the posts and fixing the tape I saw Juliano walk toward the round corral. He walked in and stopped in the middle with a face saying "What are we going to do today?". I took it as a great compliment and stood there with him for a while enjoying his company.

After our long friendly game I checked the things we've learned yesterday:
  • Stick to me was even better
  • Following the feel was much better
  • Figure 8 was starting to take shape
  • Juliano even offered side-ways without a fence, jupii

I was focusing on J so hard I didn't even notice that few of his pasture friends we trying to get into the corral. As Justyna was also there and her horse (Lama) wanted to join Juliano in the corral we've let her in.

Juliano greeting Lama in the corral

Now I had 2 horses to play with. It was great fun. Lama is a young left brain horse, she is curious what makes her a fast learner. I sent both horses on a circle a couple of times. Juliano would make one lap and join me in the center, Lama would continue and than come in. Soon I realized Juliano would rather stand with me and watch Lama run around. It was amazing how glued he was to me. Great day!

Both horses on the circle

Now only Lama

Juliano with me, Lama on the circle

Justyna with Lama

Me and Juliano

Lama enjoying a scratch


Love, language and leadership - Liberty Day 1

We are revisiting Liberty after a long break. Yesterday I took things real slow and it payed off, Juliano wanted to stay with me and was thinking a lot. In fact we were both licking and chewing, have a look at the photos :)

I'm happy to report our partnership and harmony is growing and we've even synchronized our face expressions. In my post describing RFOH I mentioned that a lot of instructors and their horses share the same face expression when they play together.


Polite and passive persistence - Green ball breakthrough

It took us 2 years to tackle the scariness of the green ball. I must confess I never gave Juliano enough time to conquer his fears. I always reckoned he is too scared and I didn't want to push him. Yesterday we finally got over our fears: Juliano's fear of the ball, my fear of pushing him of a cliff.

Here's how it went over these 2(!) years:

First Juliano was scared to death. There was no way he would approach the ball and if I tried to encourage him he would back up and I couldn't stop him to back up. Joanna helped me one day and did a circling game and squeeze game with Juliano next to the ball. He got a bit more confident but he was still very right-brain.

No Way!

Then I just gave up, I didn't know any better. After some time I've got Juliano a rock'n'roll ball which you can put treats into and if the horse rolls it they pop out. He was scared of that too but when he saw Dum eating treats next to the ball he decided to give it a go. Now the ball is his and he will not share it with anyone not even Dum. So we've got Dum a second ball. First time Juliano was very frustrated and was running from one ball to another and attacking Dum. He soon figured out a way to roll the balls close together and keep both of them for himself.

This year I bought a big Parelli Green Ball and started working with that. I've decided to use the same tactics as with the rock'n'roll ball, make it about reward and use Juliano's food orientation. I covered it with molasses and soon both Juliano and Dum were drawn to it like bears to honey. Juliano was fine with rolling the ball but if the ball rolled on its own or was pushed by someone he would run away. So the ball in motion was still a big issue.

Yesterday I've planned to be persistent. Juliano was very right-brain at first so I took the time he needed. We approached and if I could feel him getting close to his threshold I would retreat. Than a friend came to talk to me. Over the time I was doing the talking, Juliano was doing the thinking and vuala, after my friend left Juliano was ready to sniff the ball. From there it went nose-neck-maybe the feat and soon Juliano was pushing the ball himself. I encouraged him to follow me with the ball between us. He would kick the ball and follow it. At the end Juliano kicked the ball into a big puddle. Now, this was a challenge! Before, he was not very happy about both balls and puddles. But this time he went into the water and pushed the ball onto dry land. I guess the Green Ball is not a threat to us any more.

It's funny, because when I've heard Pat say "polite and passive persistence" I thought "Ok, this makes sense". I thought I knew what I knew but I didn't. To really understand and know you have to go out there and make it happen. Juliano taught me that today. If I didn't go passive I'm sure I would have quit at some stage and we would be back at square 1!