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."