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.
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.