Juliane Dykiel's Horsemanship Blog

Archive for the category “Natural Horsemanship”

Rocío’s Quiet Transformation From Subordinate to Alpha Mare

First of all, I’d like your input on turnout preferences. I’d love to see how the horse community feels about this issue.

While most things we have introduced Rocío to since her arrival have been new to her, turning her out with another horse was not. She had spent 5 years in a holding pen full of other mustangs, and, for this reason, we were sure that turning her out with another horse at Windflower would be a smooth process.

We chose Tica, Ainslie’s calmest mare, to be the first horse to turn Rocío out with.

“Patriotica,” Ainslie’s Andalusian mare.

We waited until the two had been properly introduced through the fence before introducing them. Additionally, the two had bonded from going out on trail walks together, where Ainslie would lead Tica and Rocío and I would follow.

One of Tica and Rocío’s first interactions.

One of Tica and Rocío’s first interactions, courtesy of Sheridan Studio.

However, it turned out that Rocío’s interaction with Tica was one of the most fascinating bits of herd dynamics I have ever observed.

When we were picking up Rocío from Orange on April 10th, we noticed that she was at the bottom of the pecking order. The other mares pushed her around. As a result, Rocío had gotten used to eating old, muddy scraps of hay because she usually couldn’t reach the good hay. We theorized that this was one of the reasons she had been so skinny when she arrived.

To observe this for yourself, you can take a peek at the pick-up video here. If you skip ahead to 0:27, you’ll see how shy she is compared to the other mares.

This is why we wanted her to be out with Tica specifically. Ainslie’s mare is very aloof in a herd and has “adopted” several of Ainslie’s young horses throughout the seventeen years Ainslie has owned her. She usually dominates but is not aggressive.

Tica establishing her role as herd leader early on. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

Tica establishing her role as herd leader early on. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

As soon as we were out together, the mares behaved just as we had predicted. Tica, the flashy Andalusian, pranced around the paddock, shooting warning faces at Rocío while Rocío tried to follow her around. In these first few minutes, Rocío accepted her place as subordinate mare very quickly.


Tica bossing Rocío around. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Then, Tica settled down and ate some hay, while Rocío circled her for a few minutes. Tica wasn’t letting her approach the hay, and Rocío’s behavior was odd. She seemed to be approaching and retreating Tica from different angles.

All of a sudden, minutes later, Rocío backed up into Tica and kicked her! With a squeal, Tica backed off from the hay, and before we knew it, Rocío was chasing her around!

Rocío changing her place in the herd rather suddenly. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

Rocío changing her place in the herd rather suddenly. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

We were shocked at this quick transformation, and Rocío’s methodical, quiet, relatively drama-free way of switching the dynamic. I’ve seen horses fight for dominance before, and sometimes those fights escalate. Usually, a complete switch from subordinate to alpha mare could be very explosive, but Rocío proved to be extremely calculated.

Both mares were at peace very quickly. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

Both mares were at peace very quickly. Photo by Sheridan Studio.

The fact that she had been out with her herd in Orange, MA for days and stayed at the bottom of the pecking order told me that she has gained a lot of confidence at Windflower since she has arrived. She became the bold lead mare within twenty minutes or less.

Both girls trotting around in harmony. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

Both girls trotting around in harmony. Photo by Waxler Imagery.

This made me feel very happy for her, as well as reinforcing my opinion of how intelligent and sensible this little mare is.

Photo by Anne Dykiel.

Photo by Anne Dykiel.

If you like these updates, and haven’t already, please consider donating to our cause so that we can give this mare the best care possible.

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As usual, I’d like to thank Sheridan Studio and Waxler Imagery for capturing all of these important moments. These photographers are truly gifted.


How To Replace Your Leather Popper

Over time, the leather popper on your training rope or string can get worn down. You could replace the entire rope, but if the rope and snap are still in good condition you can buy a new popper and easily replace it.

How To Replace Your Leather Popper
(your speakers are working OK, this video has no sound)

Take it one step further and have your initials stamped on the leather popper so you know which rope is yours at the barn. Check out our poppers at

Spooky Horses & Exercise

By Hadrien Dykiel

The bucking and crow hopping thoroughbred or warmblood on the lunge line is a common sight at barns. After the rather high energy lunging session, the rider gets on the horse for a somewhat safer ride.

Exercise leads to calmer horses. Spooky horses believe their survival depends on over reacting to any potential danger. With bottled up excess energy, it’s easy for them to do so. On the flip side, a horse that’s been exercised will be more conservative with their “flight” response. They will save their precious energy to run away from real danger, like mountain lions, instead of spooking at everything, including the shadow of a butterfly.

This is why many of us resort to lunging difficult horses prior to riding, it works. However, it is more of a temporary solution. It is possible to condition your horse to remain calm instead of spooking through desensitizing. You can see our mini course on growing your horse’s comfort zone here:

If practiced, you may no longer need to lunge your horse prior to riding one day.

Groundwork: Working with a Rearing Horse

By Hadrien Dykiel

The feisty off the track thoroughbred reared once, then twice, and then another time. And then again, and again. By the end of our groundwork session, I lost count of how many times “Lulu” had reared.

In my experience, I have seen horses rear for two main reasons:

1) The horse is feeling trapped and confused


2) The horse is challenging you

There are ways to determine if the horse is just scared or actually belligerent. In both cases, we will address the problem immediately and similarly. However, trying your best to understand the reason behind your horse’s rearing will help you respond more appropriately.

The first factor to consider is how confused might your horse be. This was my second time working with Lulu, and she was still learning what the groundwork exercises meant, such as lunging. At times, a horse may feel trapped and overwhelmed and may try to defend themselves. The best way to rule out confusion is to make sure you have taken the necessary steps to teach new exercises to your horse properly. If I ask a wild mustang to lunge from me, that horse is more likely to misbehave than a horse who already understands the principle of moving away from pressure and trusts me. Fear often accompanies confusion, so look for signs such as wide eyes and frenziness. The truth is, it is necessary to push our horses out of their comfort zones for them to learn new things. There will always be some confusion, especially when introducing a new exercise. How far out of their comfort zone you push your horse has to be reasonable, a little stress improves attention and retention, while too much stress inhibits learning.

Another factor to consider is the horse’s temperament. As it turns out, Lulu has a history of attacking people. “She sizes you up then charges. It’s calculated” her owner tells me. A dominant natured horse is more likely to challenge you, especially the more you ask from them. Some horses are more inclined to lead, while others are more likely to follow. A dominant horse like Lulu is not willing to give up her leadership easily, I had to convince her that I was fit to lead. It is common for aggressive behavior, such as rearing and striking out, to emerge when you are establishing yourself as your horse’s leader via groundwork. In the horse’s eyes, you are positioning yourself as the leader by asking them to move away from you. Some will agree to this with no resistance, while others will test your leadership abilities. For safety, it is absolutely necessary for people to always be in the leadership position. You will find that horses will often find relief in relinquishing their leadership role to you, even if they initially appeared reluctant, because it takes a big responsibility off of their shoulders.

When Lulu reared, I gave her the benefit of the doubt that perhaps she was confused and flustered. You can see how I handled it in the short video clip below by not increasing the pressure more but not backing off either.

Even if confused, rearing is not acceptable behavior. Notice how I ignored the behavior and continued applying pressure with my stick and string by hitting the ground next to her. My goal was to get her to yield her shoulder away from the stick and string. I released the pressure, aka stopped waving my stick and string around, as soon she moved from from the pressure and began lunging. In the past, I would be willing to bet that people unintentionally rewarded Lulu for rearing by releasing the pressure when she would rear. This has taught Lulu that rearing can get her out of doing things. For that reason, it is important to remain consistent and continue applying pressure until she moves away from it and stops fighting it.

At times, a horse may rear more because they are challenging you rather than because they feel a need to defend themselves. Knowing your horse’s temperament and disposition is helpful. Prior to the exercises, did they already show signs of disrespect such as pinning their ears, nipping, or crowding your space? If those behaviors were present, it increases the chance that their rearing is a result of them challenging you more. When you horse rears, notice their expression. Seeing the whites of their eyes may be a sign of fear, while their ears pinned back, striking out, kicking, and even charging are more likely signs of them testing your leadership. In this scenario, especially if the horse understands the exercises, it is appropriate to increase the pressure as much as necessary to drive them away from you. This is similar to two horses in the field challenging each other: Buttercup pins his ears, Pretty Girl bites him, he backs up towards her, and she kicks him away. Each horse escalates their energy levels until one moves away. Make sure you are like Pretty Girl, not Buttercup.

Next time I work with Lulu, I will know that she has respect issues and that she understand the concept of lunging. I can be pretty sure that her rearing is not from fear, but from belligerence. I will respond by increasing the pressure, aka whacking her with my string on her shoulder, until she moves away respectfully. If you are not comfortable with that, get control of her feet somehow. Her owner told me she’s backed Lulu up the entire length of the arena after Lulu reared and hopped forward to strike. Increase the pressure and get the horse to move way from you energetically. Stay consistent, and the horse will learn that there is no point in rearing since you are not going to back down. You can gauge the effectiveness of your training by noticing if the frequency and intensity of the aggressive behavior decreases over time. Remember to continue pushing your horse out of their comfort zone by gradually asking more from them.

Above all, stay safe. A rearing horse can be very dangerous. Always maintain a safe distance between yourself and the horse, which is why I like using the training stick. I would not use something shorter, like a dressage whip, for this kind of situation. Also be aware of the people and horses around you. As you can tell from the video, my friend had to move out of the way while video taping. Please post with comments or questions. You can visit our store for groundwork tools, please get in touch as well if you have any questions.

The Key To A Better Back Up

By Hadrien Dykiel

When I teach people how to back their horses up on the ground, the same question keeps popping up: “How do I back up my horse with more energy?” The nice thing is, most people actually already know how to do this without realizing it.

To back your horse up, first you ask gently by creating a little bit of energy in front of them, such as by wiggling the lead rope. If they do not listen or the back up is too slow, you gradually raise the pressure until your horse responds. As soon as they do, you release the pressure to reward the horse for backing up.

But what if you actually want your horse to continue backing up? Think about how you press down the gas pedal in order to accelerate when you are driving your car. When you want to go faster, most people usually don’t slam the pedal to the metal. Instead, you gradually press it harder until you get the acceleration you’re looking for. Once you’ve reached the speed you want, you don’t just take your foot off the pedal because your car will start to slow again. Instead, you ease off the gas but keep pressing the gas pedal a little bit to maintain your speed. You can do the same with your horse to maintain a quick and energetic back up. Gradually increase the pressure until you get the back up speed you are looking for, the same as if you are giving your car more gas. Once you’ve reached that speed, release the majority of the pressure to reward your horse but continue exerting a little bit of energy, like wiggling the lead rope and walking towards them, to let them know they should keep going. If your horse starts to slow again, do not hesitate to increase the pressure again.

Just like driving a car, it takes some time to get the timing down. Keep practicing, and make sure you do not ask your horse too much too fast. Eventually, your goal should be to have your horse back away from you while you simply march towards them.

Living Relaxed In A Stressful Life

By Hadrien Dykiel

Stress management is a great skill, both for horses and people. With experience and a little help from others to guide us in the right direction, it is a skill that can be practiced and developed over time.

As horse owners and riders, we can help our horses deal with stress in healthy ways. Mojito is a 4 year old rescue horse that came to me last year. He had never been traumatized, simply neglected. He just did not know much. Throughout his training, I helped build up his confidence by pushing him out of his comfort zone gradually.

Horse Crossing Stream

Mojito and Hadrien

Gradually is the key point here. Mojito was scared of crossing the stream when he first saw it. On the first day, he got within 10 yards of it. He was nervous, pawing and snorting. He learned, however, that there was no water monster living in it. He also learned that when scared, it is a better choice to stop and think instead of over-react by bolting to the side or rearing up. On day 2, Mojito got his foot in the water. On day 3, he went through it.

The important point is how Mojito was pushed out of his comfort zone and taught to deal with stress in a productive way. The next time Mojito encountered a stressful situation, a dog who jumped out of the bushes, he turned around to face the dog and stood still. The other horses, who were older and more experienced than Mojito, bolted and ran away. Many parents teach their kids how to handle stress by providing them with tools, such as exercise and constructive communication. You can do the same with your horse, teaching your horse to automatically respond to stress by stopping and thinking instead of bolting and over-reacting. One great way to do this is through desensitizing, which will help your horse develop a safe way to react to stress.

I have to caution you, however, at how much stress we subject our horses to. Too much stress at once can be a bad thing. Mojito was doing really good with his training when one day, he pulled back in the cross-ties. The cross-ties snapped and hit him in the head. He then tried to turn around and ended up running into saddles and grooming boxes in the hallway as he darted out.

Too much stress can lead to negative results. After the little cross-tie incident, Mojito became nervous of the saddle in the cross ties. He associated tacking up with the feeling of fear and distress he felt when he broke the cross-ties. It took a while to rewire his brain to think “relax and think this through” instead of “I gotta get out of here” when tacking up. Mojito’s reaction to tacking up displays the importance of pushing our horses out of their comfort zone gradually and always ending on a good note.

Living in a sheltered bubble, on the other hand, prevents our horses from improving their stress handling skills. A horse who has not practiced those skills will most likely not know how to react when confronted with stressors, like a dog startling them. The same goes for us. Everyone has to deal with stress sooner or later, whether it is taking an exam or losing a loved one. Someone who has not developed strong stress coping skills might have a much harder time dealing with with some of the ugly things in life we all encounter sooner or later. Like horses, we can train ourselves to respond positively to stress.

What are some of your tactics for living relaxed in a stressful life?

Dog On Horse

Mojito with “Bear” the puppy – Photo Credit Alice Adams

Teach Your Horse To Side Pass On The Ground

By Hadrien Dykiel

Have you ever envisioned training your horse to side pass?

If so, follow these 2 step by step exercises and pretty soon your horse will know how to side pass on the ground. In addition to increasing respect and control, teaching your horse to side pass on the ground will make teaching him side passing under saddle a breeze.

Part One: Side Passing on the Ground with a Fence in Front

Part Two: Side Passing on the Ground with no Fence

As with almost any horse training exercise, there are some important principles to remember when training your horse.

1) Break it down – before you learn how to divide, you need to learn addition and subtraction. Horses are the same way. Try to be creative and break down exercises into as many little steps as you can. If you do, gluing the pieces together will be easier for your horse.

2) Increase pressure gradually – use rhythm and be consistent. Make sure you release the pressure immediately as soon as your horse makes an effort.

3) Keep your horse thinking – keep them focused, calm, and interested. Do not overwhelm them. A little bit of stress can help them learn, too much will scare them and turn their mind off.

4) Set them up for success – before asking your horse to perform an exercise, make sure you have taught your horse that exercise in a safe and controlled environment.

To get the same training equipment I was using in the video, go to our store

Best of luck with your training, please feel free to leave us comments or questions!

Training Your Horse To Stand Still For Mounting

By Hadrien Dykiel

I love being able to get on my horses without having to worry about them walking-off with me, even on a loose rein. There are several ways to teach a horse to stand still and wait for you, the one I demonstrate in the video below is very effective and especially great for your more sensitive horses.

Teaching your horse how to flex will make the mounting exercise easier:

To learn another method to teach your horse to stand still for mounting, read our other article: Training the (Pushy/Disrespectful) Horse To Stand Still For Mounting

Hadrien Dykiel Connemara Thoroughbred

Hadrien and Henley with Doobie the dog

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Your Emergency Brake on Horseback: the One-Rein Stop

By Juliane Dykiel

Why do the one-rein stop?

A horse’s speed is one of its most intimidating factors. Therefore, imagine being able to ride a young or untrained horse with minimal fear of being run away with. To many horse people that I know, this would be a relief.

marika gerhart bridleless riding

Natural Horsemanship Trainer Marika Gerhart and her horse Masq

However, this does not come magically. It is helpful to employ a structured exercise.

One of the most basic, yet important, exercises is the one-rein stop. I teach every single horse I work with on a regular basis this exercise. The one-rein stop will increase your safety in the saddle, and most likely your confidence. You can use it to stop your horse, whether he is going too quickly, spooking, or misbehaving. Another fantastic benefit of the one-rein stop is that it will help your horse become much more supple, as it isolates his neck from the rest of his body.

juliane dykiel natural horsemanship

Juliane and 4 year old Morab mare MTS Jets Royal Envii.

There are many ways to do the one-rein stop, but I tend to follow a fairly specific and structured method.

The most straightforward way to share this method, I realized, would be on video, so I put together a video of me teaching a horse the one-rein stop for the first time. I’ll explain the exercise below, as well, to give you the clearest idea possible.


Remember that it’s very helpful to teach your horse to flex on the ground before teaching this exercise.

natural horsemanship

Mercedes flexing

This way, your horse will understand that he has to give to pressure, and if he reacts dangerously to you asking him to give for the first time, you can be safe on the ground. Here is a video that explains this.

Step-by-step Instructions for the Mounted One-Rein-Stop:

1) First, hold the reins on the buckle with one hand. Then, raise your hand so that you can slide your other hand down the rein without having to lean forward and putting yourself off balance.

juliane dykiel natural horsemanship

Juliane raising and sliding on Envii.

Then, pull your hand to your hip, and wait for two things: for your horse to stop moving his feet, as many will walk in a circle at first, and for your horse to give to the pressure. As soon as both of those things happen, drop the rein like it’s burning. Timing is very important. This will encourage him to do the right thing.

2) Practice this a lot on both sides. You will know that you are ready to move on to the next step when your horse is light and gives completely, turning his head all the way around and practically turning your head, without moving his feet at all. It’s all right if he moves around a bit at first, but this should stop once he understands that you will give as soon as he stops. It’s a good idea to make sure he understands that this is a stopping exercise, not just flexing, before moving on to the next step.

3) The next step is to do it from the walk. First, ask your horse to walk off. When you’re ready to ask him for the one-rein stop, ask him first with your body, not the reins. Make yourself a little bit heavier in the saddle, put your toes up, and maybe use a vocal command…I like “Woah” or “Hoe.” Most likely, your horse won’t respond to this at all the first time, so often people give up on this step, but I find it very important. Whether or not your horse stops, then, do the one-rein stop. If you do this often and consistently, your horse will learn to stop simply from your body language, and you won’t even need reins. Kira, in the video, begins to do this. Now that we have practiced more, we can be cantering around in the big arena, and I’ll say “Hoe” and make myself heavy in the saddle, and she’ll stop right away. I always do the one-rein stop after, though, to clarify this to Kira.

4) When your horse is listening to your body language successfully at the walk, move on to the trot. When the trot has become very good, eventually the canter. Make sure that your horse is listening to your body.

Use caution when doing the one-rein at a full gallop if your horse is running away with you so as not to pull your horse off-balance. If his canter is too quick and he’s not listening to you, it helps to circle him a bit first, which will force him to slow down, before doing the one-rein stop. Pay attention to leads as well; it’s better to do a one-rein stop to the left if your horse is on the left lead, and vice versa.

5) When you do a one-rein from the walk, trot, or canter, always mix up how many you do. Only doing one might cause some horses to anticipate and walk off after the first one, so I usually do between two and four.

I always do between two and four one-rein stops right after I get on a horse. This keeps a horse from walking off as soon as I’ve mounted, as he’ll anticipate the one-rein stop instead of walking off.

Happy training, and e-mail me at or comment on this blog with any questions!

For more videos and articles, visit

Training Your Horse To Think Instead Of Over Reacting

By Hadrien Dykiel

I want to share with you a really effective training exercise you can do with your own horse which will help build confidence in your horse in addition to increasing their trust.This is an exercise that we practiced with Merci, a young horse we are starting under saddle.

Some key points to remember about this desensitizing exercise are:

  • Make sure your horse respects your personal space before working on this.
  • Gradually push your horse out of their comfort zone, do not scare them too much too fast.
  • Reward your horse for thinking by retreating the scary object or stopping the scary action.
  • Some signs of a thinking and relaxed horse are: the horse is standing still, lowers their head, breathes out, or rests a leg.

I would love to hear about how this exercise worked or did not work with your horse. Please let me know, especially if you have video or photos!

The training stick I am using in the video is our Lightweight Training Stick which I find easier to manipulate than the slightly heavier regular training sticks.

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