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The Story of Royal

Royal is our loved Arabian stallion. He was won by Paolo in a very special bet on ..... his LIFE.
He is a very high pedigrè Egyptian arabian who was born in U.S.A. in 2004. In 2007 he won the AMERICAN FUTURITY in MORPHOLOGY and was the beginning of his descent to HELL .......


Very soon photos will be add. Later a video.

I wrote this article below as an Interview with Paolo done by a Journalist. This article is going to be pubblished on different European Horse magazines in the next months. Pictures are coming soon. This story is 100% like it is shown in the article and it tells and explain a lot about how our dearest horses are cared and trained by us.

Hat, chaps and boots were like a cow boy, as his fluid movements and acute eyes. His way to give instructions to the horse was accurate, gentle, harmonious but firm. In that grey and overcast afternoon was like to be in a ranch in Wyoming looking at Paolo Cricchio his horse farm, in the Madonie mountains of Sicily, where he trains horses and colts for his horseback trips and his customers.

Franco Barbagallo, his friend, partner and mentor, when was accompanying me to the arena from the parking lot told me that Paolo was teaching to go up into the trailer to an Arabian stallion that, just few weeks before, was absolutely impossible to handle in any way. After 6 weeks of work, Paolo was able to eliminate all the huge amount of principal behavioral problems of Royal and to put on, for the first time in his 7 years long life, blanket, saddle and bridle to ride him at walk, trot and canter. This seventh week of work was the right time to teach him to go up and down ..... again ..... on a trailer.

After less than one hour of "for me strange exercises" from the ground, accomplished using only a rope halter with Paolo and the horse always very close to the entrance of the trailer opened into the arena, Paolo literally "send" the horse inside it after few minutes of work. Slowly the horse came on the ramp with the front legs, then with the rear and walked inside with only one timid stop in the middle of the ramp. Paolo remained always outside the trailer and when Royal was all inside, he asked him to exit just gently shaking the rope halter and Royal came out backing. Then he repeated the sequence 3 times before to end the working session. A man seated close to me and Franco was "the ex- owner of the horse", could not believe at his eyes. He jumped around jelling:- "No, noooo, NO! it is NOT PO – SSI - BLE ...!" . And then came back close to us talking also with his hands as only Italians are able to do. The translation from Sicilian dialect made me by Franco of his frenetic speech was more or less: " It is the same horse but till a month  ago was impossible even to put on the halter, taking him out of the box normally, nobody could go inside his box ... I really can't believe that this is still Royal .... EVEN able now to go quietly up and down inside a trailer like was moved by a remote control ... before any trailer was the most hated place on earth for him ... I could not believe my eyes ... is not my horse anymore but I never was so happy. I'm not ashamed to admit that I thought few week ago that he was good only for the slaughter house .... metaphorically !". Then he rushed down to the arena to hug Paolo, shaking hands, giving him five, ending up to gently rub Royal on the left side of the neck, as Paolo was doing. Franco told me that he was never able to rub his horse before that Royal was working with Paolo: Paolo Cricchio became the trainer of all the Arabian horses of his very well known Sicilian haras.

10 minutes later, a smiling Paolo came to me to shake hands. His simple and basic English with a really strong Sicilian accent did not left any doubt about his origins, despite a look and a mountain environment so western all around.

He was born 26 years ago in Castelbuono, in the Madonie mountains, but with horses he is already a veteran. He do not even remember at which age he rode for a first time a horse " I guess I was 5 years and I galloped bareback from the very first day the horses of my uncle" and he was 13 when he started alone his first colt with a sort of primitive, rough, very basic, "do it yourself", personal way. "My life as horseman changed completely only four years ago". It was at that moment that Paolo was introduced to Ed Dabney by Franco Barbagallo, old friend of him. Ed Dabney is one of the most credited so called "horse whisperer" of USA (, in reality Ed is a real top "Gentle Horsemanship trainer". In 2007 he won the "East Coast Trainer championship of USA", a title that can be compared to the winning of Champion's League in football for his importance. He does many clinics in Europe about his method of training horses that he called "The Six Keys of Harmony" and about "Ranch Work and Roping for Beginners". More than three years ago Ed Dabney came to Sicily leading a group of 10 of his American clients to do a week long horseback trip in the Madonie natural park, hosted by Franco and Paolo as local outfitters. Ed recognized immediately the natural talent of Paolo as "rough" rider and "self made" horse trainer and after seeing how quick and good Paolo was learning his method during a clinic made in Sicily, Ed proposed him to go to work in his training Ranch in Georgia for four months.

Q. Paolo, how was this USA experience?
R. Really incredible, it changed my life and myself completely. Now after more than 3 years of experience with the training method of Ed Dabney I'm, first of all, totally another man and, only then, another trainer, horseman and stable manager. Now respect and real wellbeing of the horse is my goal number one, always, especially before, during and after our horseback trips. We had a collaboration, now totally ended, with another partner and one of the issues that decided me and Franco to quit with him was just about how to feed horses before, during and after a trip, Our goal is that they do not lose too much weight, recover better, be fit before departure and not "sold out" at end. You absolutely can't try to make more money saving on quality and quantity of food with hard working horses as ours. To exploit horses is the worst thing that can be done to them. We do not buy and sale horses after a season. When a horse is good to be absorbed in our herd and good for our job they are part of our family, they have to stay with us for life and stay at best.

Q. What mean to have the opportunity to go to learn directly and for some months from a trainer as ED Dabney?
A. Means to change completely the vision of the relation man/horse. Mean to learn to communicate with horses using the only language that they can understand: their own horse language, a silence way to communicate with them formed by body language, postures, focalization of energies, pressures and releases, balance, intents, rhythm. Mean to be able to establish a gentle but absolutely firm leadership into the micro-herd formed by a man and a horse to allow the horse to give to the man all his trust, to stay in peace , happy and able to learn easily under that leadership all movements needed to be ridden with precision, elegance and safety. With " The Six Keys of Harmony" of Ed Dabney, gradually it is easily possible to establish communication and leadership with the horse to teach him all he need to learn to be ridden properly in each specialty of equitation or horse work. Mean also which one is the best way to manage stables to take care of horses for their wellbeing. Means to learn all about saddles and tacks and their maintenance. Means to learn how to teach to other riders to ride with an independent seat. Means a full time, deep, total immersion in "All the best for the horse and the rider"!

Q. I saw that in a little more than 1 hour you was able to teach to Royal to go into a trailer, something that six week ago was absolutely impossible and the old owner told me that before that horse was absolutely impossible to handle at all. What is the secret to be able to transform like that a sort of "completely lost" horse?
A. Well, Royal is a very special case, a really limit situation. With him the really big problems were to put on his head for the first time a rope halter without to be hardly bitten or kicked – the classic strap halter he was wearing on his head was never touched by humans in the last three years - and let him allow me to go inside his box without to try to kill me: I'm not kidding, it was exactly like that. These are things that normally did not happen with a horse on training and with a lot less level of difficulties with a troubled horse. I will tell you later about the specific case of Royal. In general the majority of "normal horses" often adopt anyway one or more disrespectful behaviors with their owners which are less deadly dangerous but not acceptable anyway. There is the horse that do not want to go up on a trailer, that one who moves up and down his head when is the moment to put on the bridle or the halter, another one who drags or push or steps on the owner when he is lead from the ground , or who bite when groomed, or who kicks or bite at other horses, or move forward or backward when you want to mount on the saddle, that steps away from a mounting block or a rock if you want to mount from there, that create problems when is horseshoed, that do not want to slow down at gallop or starts at trot or gallop on his own, or others that even rear up, kick , buck or bite as they wish or refuse to cross a creek or are scared of plastic bags along the trails. All this and a lot of other bud behaviors can be easily eliminated making a sort of reset of the horse to establish a completely new relationship between him and his owner based on real communication, trust and respect. This can be done using, as a "bridge of communication" with the horse, "the Six Keys of Harmony" and all other teaching that Ed gave me during his clinics and then with my long stay in his ranch in Georgia. He developed his method mainly after long studies of the behaviors and hierarchy inside the   herds of wild horses in the mountains of Wyoming, were he was working as horse trainer for big working ranches before to move more south.

Q You mean that a horse with whatever problem can became a "normal" well behaving horse?
A. Yes, definitively! Need to start rebuilding in the horse a correct and balanced relationship with the man that in 99,99 % of the cases had a very bud, wrong, beginning caused by men. It needs only the right time and right method. Certainly starting the training with a green horse all is a lot easier, quicker and smooth but it works for any kind of horse, age, sex, experience, degree or kind of training and any past good or bud history.

Q. And this works for any kind of English or Western riding horse?
A. Absolutely. I train lots of horses destined or that are already competing in show jumping, dressage, horse races, reining but with some troubles. Ed says: "do not exist English or Western style riding. Exist only good and bud riding!" I agree 100%. As Ed teaches in his conferences before clinics, all our modern riding descent from very far away times, from the classical riding schools developed in Sicily, in Naples, in Versailles, in Spain. Even Natural horsemanship comes from more then 2500 years ago. Ed says: "Natural horsemanship was not born by me or Monty Roberts or Pat Parelli, it comes from the Nubian and Greeks cavalry men and even earlier riders". With the "Six Keys of Harmony" we build the fundaments of a horse. We teach him to be able to move independently and individually all his body parts: head and neck, front legs, rear legs and ribs, to obtain a more and more accurate and precise foot placement to accomplish a riding which results always better, safer, smooth, fluid, lighter in the arena as in the mountains . Then the horse can be instructed to do what we want: show jumping, reining, dressage, ranch work, roping, wagons, vaulting, endurance, trekking, whatever. It is like a student that before to go to university, first need to learn properly at primary, secondary and college schools. The method of Ed Dabney it is finalized only to achieve "better riding" and a better relationship with the horse. Other natural horsemanship trainers teach to horses a lots of things just to enjoining "to play on the ground" with the horse but not related at all with riding. The exercises developed by ED are teach first from the ground and then the same exercises and movements will be teach and repeated from the saddle, always with a very strict relation with what need to ride better and better a horse, with more precision and accuracy, with a perfect foot placement to do what need in his equitation specialty for sport, pleasure or work. Ed is the only trainer with western background, as far as I know, that had also a deep formal preparation studying with top classical trainers as Philippe Karl and Craig Stevens. Was funny to see some videos and pictures of Ed Dabney participating as student in advanced clinics of classical riding and dressage with these and other top classical riding trainers: he was the only one participating wearing a cow boy hat, on a quarter horse with a McCall working western saddle dancing in the arena doing reverse canter, diagonal canter, piaf, lateral pass and so long! This hypothetic differences are just ridiculous. What any cow boy working horse must be able to do to open and close a gate? To do properly roping and work with cattle in and out a ranch? Dressage side pass and just the basic movements and transitions done by all dressage horses. And what about the vaquero tradition of Mexico and California? They came directly from the Spanish High School. To start horses Ed do not use a round pen. He uses a "picadero", which is a square pen, like used by vaqueros in Hispanic world of horses. I have a round pen here but I will build soon a picadero too.

Q. There is a big difference?
A. Yes. In a round pen the horse goes only in circles. In a Picadero, he does 4 curves and 4 very short straight sections. This help really a lot to have a more flexible, balanced, fit and "easy to move properly his feet" horse.

Q. Which was the situation of Royal before your training?
A. I'll try to be short because is a long story and there is a very long work done on him. In 2007 Royal won the USA Morphology American Futurity for Arabian stallions of 2 years. He was bought by a European breeder for 70.000 € and moved overseas. He won all over Europe. He was really a champion in morphology but he was put more and more under pressure and stressed – as it happen often with morphology horses - with too many and too long travels in trailers and trucks, too many competitions, too many mounts, too much time into a box, too isolated by other horses. And so Royal became more and more disrespectful, angry, difficult to handle...dangerous. A Sicilian breeder of top Arabians bought him and moved to Sicily hoping to solve the problems of the horse using some Italian and European trainers that he was working with: the final result was that Royal became a sort of "really dangerous killing monster"! It was absolutely impossible to lead him. Was impossible to groom. Was impossible for anyone even to go inside his box, that became his personal territory were nobody was allowed to entry for any reason and time. To clean the box there were only 2 ways: to make with fences a corridor from his box to the box in front of it and then let him run there using whips to move him out his personal box. Other way was to use a sort of long and strong steel tube with inside a rope –like the ones used for big fighting dogs- to capture Royal by the neck and be able to maintain him at a safety distance to move him to another box to clean his own. It was completely impossible to even think to put on a blanket and a saddle to ride him. To work him in a round pen was totally avoided after Royal attacked and injured really badly two trainers when they tried to work with him inside.

Q. So the horse was completely gone crazy, totally useless?
A. Totally! He lost his mind he was hating all men and all about his life. Also impossible to do with him any artificial extraction of his sperm and also to do classic mounts became impossible without to be able to handle him.

Q. So the owner asked you to try to fix it?
A. No... When I know the situation of Royal from a common friend, I went to see the horse in the breeding farm and I proposed to owner to fix Royal in a couple of months but he did not wanted even a try because for the owner was too dangerous for a young trainer like me and because he was absolutely sure that was not anymore possible to have back a horse that was minimally possible to handle. After some talking we arrived at this agreement, a sort of bet: if in 2 months I was able to ride Royal at walk in the village of Lascari, close to this place, the property of Royal was mine and then I had to train for free two of his top mares. If I was not able to do that with Royal I should train free anyway the two mares.... He was 100% sure to win exactly as ...  I was.

Q. So now you are the owner of Royal?
A. Yes! It was funny the way how the old owner had the evidence that he lost the bet and the horse. A week ago, after a little more then five weeks of hard work with Royal every day, I went on horseback with Royal walking "almost" calmly in the streets between cars & trucks. In the village of Lascari everybody has an horse, all of them know about the bet and they all recognized Royal and me going around the streets. So many people immediately phoned to the owner telling: " We saw Royal ridden by Paolo in the village! How can be possible...may be is a horse which is identical to Royal?". This was the way how he, very happily, lost his stallion! Last Sunday he came to visit me with a group of more than 20 of his friends and customers from all over Sicily to see me and Royal perform in the arena. They all know as was Royal and they could not believe at their eyes too. You have to see their faces when, at the end, I did a complete tour of the arena riding Royal backing (going backwards) as he was doing that by very long time! When the owner is around here he comes like to day to see, delighted, Royal's improvements.

Q. How you was able to reach this results?
A. Just using "The Six Keys of Harmony", naturally after I studied a way to be able to put easily the halter on Royal wherever I wanted and then to became able to go inside his box without to be killed, plus able to touch him in the body wherever I wanted without ... bleeding. I needed five days to reach the first goal and three days for the second. At beginning, when I was opening the window of the box, Royal was going with the head in an angle of the box showing me the back, ready to kick me savagely if I was trying to go inside or facing the door trying to bite me using his front legs to knock me down. So the first things to tell and teach him was this: "when I open the window of your box I want that you put your head out and stay there calmly". To accomplish this I started to open the window and then, when he was going in one of his deadly defensive/battle positions, I rope him with my lariat. Then I moved him with the rope having his head out of the window, then when he was with head out, immediately I was releasing him. This was done around every 20 minutes. After the second day he started understand that with head out and be calm all was ok and no rope. After six days, as soon as I was opening the window, he was coming out his head immediately staying there calmly. Then I had to tell and teach him " Now I can also touch your head and hears all over" then "You must not be scared of rope halter and I must be allowed to put it in your head normally". So I introduced these concepts in his mind one at the time. Always very slowly, I released him immediately from pressures of my touches and desensitization of halter and rope at any small advance in the processes. This every 30/60 minutes. After almost another two days of meticulous work I was able to touch him in the head and to put the halter, rub him in the neck as much as I wished. I think that nobody was able to do that in all his history excluding when he was a fool ... may be. Then I started to open the door and tell and teach him that "When I open the door you have to face the door calmly and wait anytime, then I'll come in without you moving to put on your head the halter as I do from outside when I open the window. Then I want to became able to touch all of your body parts without problems as now I touch your head and hears". In a total of around six working days I solved all these major issues. After, all was a lot easier but the first time I took Royal into the round pen he tried to attack me anyway, as he was used to do with all others trainers before. The round pen was his "trainer's death chamber". At first I had to escape running away and hiding in a refuge I builds inside like the one used in the arenas' of Spanish corrida and then I managed to remain untouched inside the pen, I was always able to put some meters between me and him using the lariat in one hand in fast movements in front of his nose as it was a sort of shield between me and him, I stopped him, forced to go back and then I started to send him free to run around the pen starting the so called "join up", a way to establish your leadership on a horse that Ed Dabney uses only in very specific cases and that worked very well with a desperate case as Royal was. Then I put on back the halter and I teach him "backing" from the ground, the first, most important exercise. Two days after he recognized my leadership always and completely and all became a lot easier. I went forward quickly with the other five keys of harmony exercise. Royal is a very intelligent horse and learned really quickly. Then was the moment of blanket, saddle and first rides. Was a lot less problematic then my best imagination. He never really tried to buck me off. This because Royal fully already recognized my established leadership and was starting to give me already a pretty good amount of his trust which nowadays is TOTAL. Soon I started even to go on short trail rides. At beginning alone and now also with other horses and riders, with the only precaution to stay away from others, for the moment, at least 5 meters. I guess will need another 4 weeks of work to have him fully recovered and able to be used by expert riders as a normal horse. Must be an expert rider because Royal is a really sensitive and hyper quick reacting horse and must be used with him always exactly the same orders with legs and hands, with exactly the same total gentle lightness. A not precise or more heavy hands and legs rider will destroy quick the work done and probably he will learn "parachuting without parachute".

Q. Royal still has some more problems?
A. Yes, only one, the most sad: he need to learn how to be a horse, to stay with other horses. He never had this opportunity and now need to teach him how to deal with normal horses behaviors when with other "equine beings". I started taking him one week in a corral with Totuccio, a12 years old, very experienced gelding that we use in our horseback trips. First time Royal came into the corral as he was a sort of King Louis XVI, looking at Totuccio as a low cast, down to the earth, poor, disgraced and ugly creature. In the first hour together, Royal earned so much kicks and bites from Totuccio - was taken in without horseshoes obviously- that from hour 2 Royal understood a lot about "respect for older, professional and experienced horses", "waiting lists to eat and drink first and better", "rights to choose the grass spots and the shadow locations of the day", "reciprocal grooming do not mean that I want to bite you" and so long. The last days of the week passed without any major lessons from Totuccio to Royal about "to be a normal equine being between other horses". Next time I'll put Royal again with Totuccio and Mulan, the Franco's horse, an Arabian gelded horse with strong character so Royal will be in a more complicate situation dealing with other 2 horses. He have to learn to deal inside a thicker group of may be six , eight gelded horses capable to survive and may be establishing his leadership on some or may be all of them in a normal horse way: obtaining that mostly from the respect of the others, not for beauty, force, violence, brutality, pedigree. Exactly as need to be done by men that want to obtains the acceptance of their leadership from their horses: by respect, not fear. In 2 or 3 more months may be Royal will have some more scares for bites and kicks on his skin but will became again a normal horse capable to stay with other horses and then, only then, to do without problems may be endurance races, as I wish to do ... naturally to win! I never saw an horse with his stamina. A pity to use him only for his beauty. He is a top horse and deserve to live as a real horse, not as a beautiful movie star without good manners and a totally lost brain as it was. At the endurance gates of control I want to show a very well behaving, calm and professional sport horse no matter the heart beats and the stamina surcharged in the blood by the race. With Ed Dabney's method is easily possible. How many times you saw sport horses, even at Olympic Games, after the performance dragging the rider when he wanted to lead them on the ground, always moving around, or bouncing the head around when mounted, difficult to be mounted or impossible to go close and so long? Well If I will compete I will compete also in good manners and respect of me and others around and perfect control any time of my horse before, during and after his performance.

Q. So now you became too an "Horse whisperer"?
A. If we want to joke, OK. The truth is that before to met Ed I was like all the others: when I was training an horse I was "talking" a lot, sometimes using even some "dirty words", loosing my patience , thinking that was the horse "to do not understand" and, I'm very sorry now, sometimes even using some light corporal punishing. After ED I understood very well that all that staff is totally useless and create only more and more troubles. I never use verbal commands excluding "Woow!" used when I want that my horses stops. This lack of verbal queues is something that Ed decided to include in his method in the last two years. The why is too long to explain now but in this way it is a lot better and logic to do just if you think a little bit. One example: If I teach my horse to start moving using also a "clack" by voice or to go from trot to gallop with a "clack" by voice: what happens if another rider of my group starts to move his horse with a "clack" by voice? Also my horse will start or gallop! Crazy! Me and only me must take all decisions about speed and direction so I have to use only queues always under my only control: hands, legs, balance, weight: nothing else, never voice. If I fall down, with or without I'm attached with one foot in a stirrup, it is very good to be able to stop my horse with my voice and so with a "Wooow". That's it. Working a lot on myself I learned how to be totally emotionally stable: never angry, never tired of bud responses, never impatient, never violent, never distracted. If something goes wrong I always think: what I'm doing wrong? How I can help better this precise horse to understand better what I wanted him to do? If you see a horse trainer or a horse instructor using a lot his mouth, jelling to horses (and riders), losing his temper, be violent, mean that he had not understood nothing about the real nature of horses. Then go to look at his saddlery. If you find on the wall many different types of bits, gadgets, ropes, martingales, long straps is another sign that he is someone to be quickly avoided. In the saddlery of ED Dabney , and in mine, you will find ONLY classic D ring not pitching snaffle bits, no curb or spade bits, ONLY rope halters and dressage medium lengths whips. We use this last with a plastic bag tied at end to reinforce the primary queues from the ground and, without plastic bag, from the saddle. Spurs? I do not use spurs on a horse on training and on the trail, in training better to use dressage whip to enforce the primary queues that MUST remain ALWAYS as light as possible and became lighter and lighter using constant reduction of pressures. When the horse is finished, I teach the horse at the correct use of the spur as secondary queue instead of the dressage whip. Really do not need to use any of all the gadgets on the market and in most of the saddlery, never. Believe me! The motto of Ed is: ONLY IN LIGHTNESS THERE IS DIGNITY FOR HORSE AND RIDER! In these few words there is all about Ed Dabney philosophy ... and now mine. What can be said more? All our horses used in our horseback trips are trained by me with the help of Franco with "the Six Keys of Harmony" and all our customers were always astonished by their perfect behaviors from the ground and saddle, how they turn on the hunches or from front legs easily on the spot, how they go backwards if need, how it is easy to control their speeds and directions, how they are serene and in peace under the human leadership. For next season we will have soon 4 or 5 new horses coming in. I want to form quickly a string of at least 16 all gelding perfect trekking horses for our 2014 Sicilian trips.




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