About two years ago Jim came to Winsong Farm to watch the horses play. Jim is probably almost as old as I am and he has bred horses for decades. He made a very interesting comment after the horses were done. “Zelador is the smartest horse I’ve ever seen.”

I’d never thought about Zelador being smart, let alone “the smartest”. I didn’t comment. But as time has passed and I’ve worked at liberty/games/tricks with more and more horses I keep thinking back to Jim’s words.

So when Zelador did something that required thought the other day I emailed Jim asking if he could come to the farm and talk with me about this horse. He agreed. I’m really looking forward to his insights!

I emailed him today with a few recent “Zeladorisms”:

-two days ago, at the end of our session, I picked up the special beige whip I use for the piaffe in-hand work. Almost always I do this at the end of our session. I also picked up his halter and lead line. I walked to him and raised the halter to place it on his head. He quietly and slowly turned his head away. I stood still, then positioned the halter again. He moved his head away. I left him and placed the halter along the side of the arena. I returned to Zelador and set him up for the piaffe practice. He did the best he’d ever done…totally at liberty. I know I’ve mentioned that doing the piaffe at liberty is a goal, but I didn’t realize Zelador was listening…or that he understood!

-Yesterday I had the Bitless Bridle on him because he’d made it very clear that the bit on the bitted bridle was not warm enough for him to put in his mouth (this was after I’d put considerable effort into warming it!!!). What he did was: he didn’t open his mouth to accept the bit. When the bit got close to his mouth he exhaled a bit bigger than normal to warm up the metal. When he thought it just might be warm enough he opened his mouth and held the bit between his teeth to check the temperature. It wasn’t to his liking so he continued to hold it and breathe on the bit. At that point I took the bridle away and fetched the Bitless.

We went to the arena. Bill was on Kye, Allen Kalpin was riding Blue. Bill stopped and watched as I attempted (for the first time) to do piaffe/passage/piaffe/passage along the wall. Zelador was amazing. Bill was impressed. As I was preparing to leave I asked Allen if he’d seen it. He hadn’t. So, Zelador did it again. Even better.

-Today Ann was in the arena and she watched him doing the piaffe/passage/piaffe with the halter on, then at liberty. I realized that I was asking for too much forward movement in the passage. I wasn’t allowing him enough time to raise his knees parallel to the ground. I slowed down the rhythm and also brought the beige whip to the front, encouraging knee lift. He went into the Spanish Trot which quickly slowed to the Spanish Walk. Back on the pedestal I stood beside him and I did the piaffe (calling out the word “piaffe”) and then I did the passage with the higher knee lift (calling out the word “passage”). He left the pedestal, we went along the wall and at liberty repeated the piaffe/passage/piaffe/passage. He lifted his knees that little bit higher for the passage. Wow!