The Art of Natural Dressage

1: Playing - Wild games
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Author:  admin [ Mon Jun 11, 2007 2:55 pm ]
Post subject:  1: Playing - Wild games

The wild games

First of all, the wild games don't need to be that wild. 8) The wild games aren't a goal in themselves; the goal is not to have a horse who madly runs and bucks around as soon as you take off the cordeo or give the signal. The wild games instead are a means of teaching the horse that more energetic, 'wild' mimicry of your behavior is very much appreciated by you. This way you can stimulate him to show more energetic, collected movements, which you can then put on a cue and incorporate into the more mentally and emotionally collected part of the training (the exercises of level 1 and further) so that he is concentrated enough to listen to your suggestions on how to perform these movements better and even more healthy than he does now.

But first you need to teach him that he can be energetic and wild at all, and that's where the run to me, run with me and run away from me comes into play. You can start with the first run to me game as soon as your first training of teaching the cordeo (if are using a cordeo). You can take the cordeo off or leave it on, just as your horse likes best. Some feel more free to react without any tack, others will feel more concentrated and connected with you when they wear something that means that you're training.

Run to you
The first wilder game actually immediately starts with what you want to achieve: mimicry. You don't commando him to run, or pressure him into running, but instead you show your horse that running is fun - by running yourself. Run and walk in big circles around your horse, and as soon as he starts to show interest in you (looking at you, or taking a step towards you), you stop, walk towards him and reward him with your attention. Stay with him for a short while, and then go and do your thing again - untill he shows interest again! If you or your horse get bored, then walk or run around while playing with a ball or stick. As soon as he gets interested, you stop what you're doing, pay him a visit, and then go and play on your own again.

Quite soon your horse will want to share in what you're doing. Because he notices two things: 1) you're having fun doing something without him, and more important, 2) you're not asking/forcing him to join. So it must be something interesting - as not-work related - indeed. So the key is to always walk away from him before he does! When he shows interest in you, you go to him and stay with him untill he gets bored and walks away, you need quite some time to get him interested in you again. Make yourself interesting, and therefore scarce.

When he realises you're fun to be with (having fun on your own when he's not with you, and rewarding him with attention when he shows interest), he will want to do more to earn your attention - by starting to walk to you. If he does so, now stand still where you are or walk a couple of steps towards him, but not the entire stretch anymore. Now he knows that if he wants to earn your attention, he needs to come to you in order to earn it. He can realise this in a couple of minutes or a couple of training sessions. Give him the time, don't demand too much from him - and especially don't make the training sessions last too long! Because when you bore your horse, he certainly won't get inspired by you. 8)

When he eagerly walks towards you, you can ask for more: now ask him to trot towards you. The way to ask him to do this, is again by making yourself scarce: When he now walks towards you, you walk backwards while rewarding him with your voice for coming to you. The rules now are: when he walks to you, you walk backwards; when he starts to trot towards you, you stop or even walk towards him in order to reward him big time. If you are consequent in this and walk back whenever he just walks towards you, soon your horse will start to trot towards you whenever you call him and take a step backwards - something that not only teaches him to move around more, but also can be used when asking him to walk towards you while lungeing.

Run with you
When your horse starts running towards you, you can ask him to run with you. You can train this by asking him to run towards you by walking backwards, and when he's nearly there with you you turn around and run away from him. If he does follow you in a trot or canter, you stop after a few steps already and reward him big time. Then you can slightly run more steps together before you stop - but do keep in mind that you always have to be the one who stops first! If your horse slouches to a walk or halt before you do, it means that you've lost precious signals that he was bored before that moment, and he will start to doubt you - because how much fun is spending energy when it's boring?

(addition by Bianca:)
You can also just start with rewarding your horse to walk with you. So when your horse is not running towards you, you can walk alongside your horse and reward when your horse follows you.

When you walk alongside your horse you can teach them to run/walk at the distance of your fingers with a stretched arm. You can see this in the AND video when you see Evita and Bianca run together. You can start relaxed with this and speed up in trot when you feel the horse totally understands it. Teaching this makes the wild games safer.

Learning to walk on your right and left side depending (switching sides behind you) on which arm is stretched out provides a very fun game.

Before exercises like rearing I would suggest to teach your horse to keep a bigger distance. You can do this by running back and forth in straight lines (A X C .. C X A) and asking your horse 'distance' and praising when he/she does. You can just halt and give a treat when your horse increases the distance from your stretched out arm, make sure you walk towards your horse when you give the treat. But before this the horse must know not to walk too far in front or behind you. Make sure your horse knows to stay at shoulder/shoulder or head shoulder position. **

Run towards and away
If your horse gladly runs towards and with you, you can try to see if you can ask him to run further away from you, and then back again. You can do this by running/walking with him, and then suddenly turn 180 degrees and run away to the other side. Your horse will follow you first maybe just slowly because he's confused with this change of plan, but soon it will become more comfortable and he will start to use this freedom to get more wild and unpredictable himself too. He actually mimicks your behavior. When he runs away or towards you, ask him to run to you again and reward him. When this is really settled, you can ask him to run away by not only turning away from him and run away, but next also run a bit towards him for a couple of steps when he runs towards you too soon for your liking. Do be very carefull with this! It's very easy to place too much pressure on your horse like this, and he can get easily get overexited, stressed, scared or even agressive. When he does show signs of being stressed, immediately stop the game, walk backwards and ask him to come towards you, comfort him and then do low-energy exercises only in order to let him regain his trust in you and the training again. You might discover that the running away doesn't suit your horse mentally because it makes him too agressive, stressed or insecure. In that case, believe him and just practice the running towards you and running along with you. Those exercises too can give you the key to collected movements because your horse still mimicks you. So what happens when you start running slower, more upwards, or jump up and down next to you horse?

Important: Don't overdo the wild games!
As already written down in this topic, the wild games aren't a goal in itself. The reason for that is that the advanced wild games (you moving only a little, your horse moving a lot, running and jumping around you) raise the adrenaline level in your horse to quite an extent. This means two things: some horses will lose themselves in this play, suddenly get scared and try to flee, while others suddenly get angry and (pretend to) attack you. This is because your horse in the wild only shows this level of energy when in play, flight or fight, and there's a thin line between them.

So don't do the wild running or chasing games a lot or a long time (only three to four minutes at a time) because they not only make the horse more alert, but very easily agitate him towards being stressed too. Playing is fun, but it also means that things become unpredictable - and when you as teacher become too unpredictable, it stresses or even scares the horse because he has to watch your moves all the time. He can't blindly trust you and your movements anymore. That causes the adrenaline level to raise which means that the horse can't relax anymore. If the adrenaline gets too high, some horses will want to flee, others want to fight. So if your horse during the wild games suddenly bolts off, or tries to nip you, see that as a sign that he gets stressed and learn from that: make the wild games at least shorter and maybe also less during a training.

Another thing to keep in mind is that a high-adrenaline horse won't be able to think straight and concentrate anymore, just as a highly agitated or scared horse can't eat anymore. So the wild games do stimulate him to get more active and bold, but it's on the same time a game that's not really concentrated. So even though it can produce collected movements, for example the passage, it won't be done consciously and not on cue, and he won't be really conscious of the way he performs the movements. So in order to make these high energy movements more conscious, in control and also more healthy. Because the 'wild variety' ;) of the passage will probably be with a hollow, tense back and a too high neck. When that's put on cue during the wild games, you take it out of the wild games and incorporate it into the calmer part of the training in order to shape them into a more conscious, healthy collection. That way your physical collection still benefits from this high-energy play, but you also keep the mental and emotional collection your horse needs in order to keep focused and concentrated.

Edit by Romy: Here you can find a related discussion where some of our members describe how exactly they get their horses to play: Running and play

Author:  Bianca [ Wed Jun 13, 2007 7:12 am ]
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With this it can also be recommended to learn the prase "careful" when a horse looses him/herself in play or is very young and unexperienced in playing with humans and comes too close to you. I reward any expressive movements out of my 1 m. zone and when it gets closer I just say "be careful" very calmly. Also when running towards you you can ask this when they tend to bump into you. At the end they will be more careful when they are in your zone.

Be aware not to run towards your horse facing him/het straight and looking them straight in the eye. They probably know they can trust you but this is at nature a way of attacking. I always with me sideways towards them or to their schoulder and bend a little bit forward myself.

Author:  Karen [ Fri Jul 13, 2007 10:33 pm ]
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While working in-hand, my horses learn that when I raise my hand, it means "stop". I try to be very consistent in this. Then, as we learn to trot or run together at liberty, we practice a little on our "stop". Also, when the horse trots or gallops TO me, I practice raising my hand to "stop".

It's a very visual signal and both horses can see it even if they are very excited. If developed gradually as a natural part of learning to move together, it works very well to stop the play time if and when needed.

Author:  Amiro [ Sat Jul 14, 2007 5:13 pm ]
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I notice that I did them in the wrong order. These are things I have always done with Amiro. We started running together. It was the only way of getting him excited. He would not come to me if I was just standing.

I see our relationship as a quite good one, and it is growing each day. I'm very happy with it. When I call him now he runs to me, when I point away he runs to the direction I point out, but we still enjoy running together the best.

I think we don't have to focus so much on the right order but look how it goes. The wild games came very naturally for me, I had no reason to do it in an other way... Instructions are good, but I'm very flexible with them :wink:

Author:  admin [ Wed Jul 25, 2007 9:26 am ]
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There really is no order, just a suggestion of an order that will work for most people and horses because it's safe. And I guess you and your horse had quite a good relationship established at liberty before you started running around with him, which is really the message behind this system: don't ambush your horse with the demand for wild games when he doesn't fully trust you yet, because then he can easily feel threatened by it as he seems to be hunted down by you.

But it's good to emphasise that there's no strict order indeed: if you want your horse to follow you, first you need to follow your horse. In his energy and movements, but also in his emotional and mental demands. Some high-spirited horses can really find their peace by working on the low-energy, concentrated exercises instead of playing the wild gamesat first. while others will soon become bored to death with it, they want to play! The same goes for less energetic horses: some of them will thrive at the focused, calm exercises in the beginning, while others need the wild games first in order to realise that this isn't work, but fun and that they are allowed to think for themselves and express themselves.

It all depends on the horse. :)

Author:  danee [ Tue Oct 02, 2007 4:13 am ]
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Important: Don't overdo the wild games!

When I know I am going to be giving a demo with my horse, I purposely "work" on the more boring stuff the week before and don't really do much of any liberty because than when I walk into the arena and cut her loose she is so happy about running around with and to me that the spectators can very obviously see the excitement and joy.

It is very easy to "drill" the "games", which of course totally defeats the purpose!

Of course, that is my horse and me. I'm sure not everyone has the same experience- horsemanship wouldn't be so much fun if we did!

Author:  Faith [ Sat Oct 06, 2007 4:56 am ]
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Brandy is really good at this. She does not get wild like AN's horses, she just likes to canter and then show off her fancy moves (like piaffe and super-collected trot etc.)

Cody has a more "let's not and say we did" attitude about it. Mostly at first it was because his feet hurt. He'll trot with me some, but nothing else. And to ask him to go away from me. :shock: It'd break his little pony heart. He only will trot with me because he wants to stay close, not because it is actually fun. He doesn't even play with Brandy in the pasture (she thinks I brought her home the dullest pet ever :wink: ). At most he will trot with her, maybe buck 1-2 times. And only rarely. So are the wild games really nessecary? I was assured on the NHE forum they are absolutely nessecary and I'm not doing it right. But if he doesn't like it, why make him? What will he miss by not doing this? Will it actually harm his training, or him, to not play like this?

Author:  Karen [ Sat Oct 06, 2007 1:58 pm ]
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It won't harm anyone NOT to play the wild games. Cisco won't play wild either - normally. Three times he has got into the spirit of it, but this translates to throwing the head, only one little buck, twice in his life throwing a little sideways kick in for good measure, and rearing up. All this with as little cantering as is possible for a horse having a good time! Cisco's preferred top speed is a trot!

I can annoy him into more...and there are sometimes that I will do running (if I can get him into that gear) beside me, I'll reach the whip over and tickle his belly. Mostly he'll just toss his head in response.

And if I stop, he'll stop. No way he's going to expend all those hard-earned calories in playing by himself!

I was never clear in NHE, just how you got the really wild play. I suspect, but I do not know for sure. For one, I suspect we never got a clear and true answer on the NHE forum.

Author:  Kirsti [ Sat Oct 06, 2007 2:40 pm ]
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I had a really hard time with this in NHE too.... My horses also hardly plays together (I hope on some improvement with my little Spirit back home, because he and Lisa used to play - but no one is playing yet...). A few times they run together (as the day they took off in the forest :lol: ), but it is very very rare.

I did manage to get Vilja and Lisa in play finally, then by chasing my jacket in a rope (like a dog or cat, they really got pretty wild... :shock: ).

Spirit I don't play with yet, because he is in a stage when he is trying to play too hard with the small kids, so he has to learn a little selfcontrol first... :lol:

It is so relaxed in here... I love it when all horses are not drawn into the same square, as I sometimes actually think thay are in NHE (the horses HAVE to play, wether they like it or not...).

I can also draw a parallell to dog-training (wich I have done a lot). Some dogs LOVE to play - and some don't.... They are not useless, maybe they prefer food or a scratch.. Some loves to play with YOU, some with a ball, some with something in a rope (like my horses). Some loves of course to play with anything... Some will play if you do it "right", and some would prefer not to no matter how "right" you do it. It has also been told a lot of years in dog-training you HAVE to get them to play. But actually - you don't. You find what YOUR dog likes, and use that in your training. And I guess it's very much the same with horses....

Author:  danee [ Mon Oct 08, 2007 1:36 am ]
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The way NHE horses play reminds me of horses that are cooped up for a week and then suddenly alllowed out- let the rodeo begin. I used to have jumpers and boarded where turnout was a pain, only for one ohour a day, and political on who turned out when- well, it wasn't as important to me than- my horses always got hurt when turned out anyway (I wonder why :roll: ), so when they did go out once a month they acted like lunatics!!! Now my horses live out and they hardly ever run around or play.

It makes me wonder if AN horses get out a lot?

Author:  horsefever [ Sat Nov 03, 2007 10:35 pm ]
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today for the first time I played with my T-B at liberty without having any knowledge of this topic.
My T-B never played before with me. I tried, and tried. He would play with his pasture buddy, Shrek the pony. But not with me.
I've been practicing NHE and AND for about 3 weeks now and have seen remarkable changes in his personality. but today was fantastic.
My objective today was to play with a ball. No way, he wasn't interested. But, when I started mimicking him and walking beside him mimicking every step, I saw a reaction. He walked faster, I walked faster, he sniffed the ground, so did I (tried). He didn't seem angry just looking at me while walking. The I gave him a treat. Oh boy, he was happy. So then I walked, he followed me, I ran a little faster, he trotted behind me, and then he saw the game. I have never seen him lift his front legs off the ground (I've had him for two years)but today he did (only about one foot). I was impressed and gave him a treat. Wow! I'm not sure though if he wanted to attack me (playfully mind you)because later on I brought him to his friend in the paddock and we played abit. Again he was very lively but this time he left me and went to Shrek and played with him. So they both reared and had fun. Good thing he didn't try this on me.
I would have never thought my horse was a playful one but with treats, he has changed completely.
I'll keep reading this topic because I know I have alot to learn to stay safe but it was pretty exciting.

Author:  admin [ Sun Nov 04, 2007 6:02 pm ]
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You did almost exactly what was written over here - that's amazing! :D

But indeed, mimicking is a really powerful tool. Over here I wrote about moving yourself and rewarding your horse when he mimicks you, but a really great tool to get your horse interesting in mimicking you in the first place, is by mimicking him. Wonderful, please keep writing about your progress. :)

Author:  Makana [ Tue Feb 19, 2008 1:29 am ]
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What great information, Miriam! Thank you!

My question lies with the "run away from me" part. Caspian loves running with me, and to me -- almost too much -- he gets mentally "stuck" to me and has a hard time venturing out on his own. He can be pretty unconfident, and independence has never been his strong point. When I do a 180* turn he just whips around and follows me, and if I "send" him away he just runs in a circle around me. I've done chase the tiger to develop independence, but he constantly forgets about the tiger and starts playing with me, "sticking" on me again. :?

He really plays more freely when he's far away from me and I know he'd love to be free to run and play by himself well away from me... he just mentally can't fathom that.

How can I help him develop more independence? I'm wondering if it's a matter of time... since I've started AND he's definitely gotten more independent. Perhaps I am being impatient. :oops:

Author:  BladeRunner [ Tue Feb 19, 2008 3:10 am ]
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Hi Hannah,
Blade was like that in the beginning. He would forget about the tiger and just run after me instead. As we play more and more, he is gaining the confidence to play a little bit further away from me. I don't know how you started playing with the tiger, but it helped me and Blade to first start with the bag in my hand, and then gradually move to putting it on a stick out away from me. Now he chases that tiger everywhere. :lol: Don't worry, the more you play with him in the AND state of mind, the more confident he will get. :wink:

Author:  Mare-n-Bear [ Thu Apr 03, 2008 4:54 pm ]
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I have to share! Yestarday was amazing! We've been in the program a couple of weeks now and yestarday we where out side grazing. I took off the cordeo and lead line and went about 6 acers away from him. Then I made some noise with my lunge whip and and gave the head up cue. To my surprise he didn't trot to me he GALLOPED to me I mean he came so fst I didn't know he would stop. He looked so happy to come to me it took everything I did not to squal with glee. When he got there he put his head through the cordeo and we walked back to my chair. AHHHH I'm just so happy right now. I've never seen him look so happy to come to me :)

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