Positive Pattern Integration
by Pat Parelli on Jan 18, 2023
By Pat Parelli
Horsemanship is the perpetual series of habits and skills horses and humans need to become partners. Horses are pattern animals. Have you noticed your horse walks a specific path along the fence line or begins pawing the gate at a certain time of day for feeding? This is one example of horses developing patterns. These are potentially negative patterns, but we can easily use this instinct to cultivate positive behavior patterns. Pattern integration means you begin using a strategic approach to blending and applying patterns to develop certain attributes in your horse’s development, most commonly, impulsion. Horses with a short flight line are often under impulsive, while horses with a longer flight line are over impulsive. Using patterns can help to engage your horse’s brain by developing positive habits and expectations without forcing the issue.
The Parelli Patterns are a great way to help your horse progress mentally, emotionally, and physically. They are the perfect exercise and development program.
Because a horse learns patterns easily, he will start to know what to do and even begin to take more responsibility as a partner and focus on doing the pattern himself. You need to practice the pattern daily, seven times in a row, for your horse to learn a pattern.
Repetition is a vital piece of the puzzle.
Plan to do each pattern as a program daily, then every other day for a couple of weeks. After that, you can do them occasionally and enjoy yourself because you’ll feel your horse knows them.
When to Add a New Pattern
After four times on one pattern, you will be ready to add a new pattern. You will end up working on two or three patterns at the same time, on the ground and/or riding. But at first, do one. Then after four times, start another one, and after four times with the second one, you can add another, and so on.
This way, you’ll play with at least two patterns consistently, which keeps things interesting for your sessions. Later, you can do any pattern you feel will be the most valuable that day or for what is needed right now.
Use the patterns as your warm-up exercises before teaching your horse a new task or going on a trail ride. It will get your horse mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared.
Remember: The Parelli Patterns are my secret for developing my horses. I don’t just play or just ride. I have a plan with both short and long-term goals.
Extrovert and Introvert Savvy on the Patterns
Here are some examples for you to consider:
Extroverts love this game because it gets them to go somewhere, but you’ll find they pick up speed easily. Rather than hold them back, try to keep Zone 1 lined up with the target. This will automatically help them regulate their speed.
Introverts benefit hugely from this game. It builds confidence (for Right-Brain Introverts) and motivation (for Left- Brain Introverts). Don’t ask for speed; allow it to develop.
Extroverts will need smaller, rounder circles in the eights.
Introverts need an elongated Figure Eight to have the markers spaced wider apart. You can also play tag on the ground after they pass through the middle, as in the video clip. This helps make it more of a game, which is more motivating and fun for your horse—plus, it gets him to think about the “allow” being his responsibility instead of you constantly asking him to keep moving (which is a Driving Game!).
Extroverts benefit a lot from this pattern because it contains lots of turns and changes of direction. They may need you to slow down so they can actually make the turns, so play a lot at the walk.
Left-Brain Introverts need to do less with lower phases and have you expect them to think more. A rest at each end will motivate them well at first, or combine the weave with a little trek around the arena or field.
Right-Brain Introverts will appreciate the rest as a form of retreat. They will also gain relaxation through the repetition of this infinity pattern.
Extroverts learn a lot from traveling circles because they must move, stay focused, and get variety. They may try to change direction a lot because their adrenaline is up but don’t make a big deal about it. Simply encourage them to go the other way. Pretty soon, they’ll maintain the gait and direction because they’re more confident and focused.
Left-Brain Introverts tend to find traveling circles a lot more interesting, but be careful you don’t just do these and forget the value of teaching your horse to hold up his responsibility on the static circle.
Follow the Rail
Extroverts will need you to do small circles if they get too fast. That’s much better than holding them back and trying to stay slow, making them claustrophobic and more impulsive.
Introverts will need you to allow them to break gait before asking them to regain it. Don’t try to prevent it—hold him responsible!
A Million Transitions
Extroverts will need to do a transition every time they think about getting faster. Use one rein, do it smoothly and effectively (don’t pull or be rough), and use partial disengagements to relieve tension.
Introverts will need you to ask for a downward transition before they think of it. This is a key to keeping it interesting and getting to their minds. Do not wait until they break gait or try to prevent it. You’ll end up working harder and getting frustrated.
Extroverts—Smaller is better at first; otherwise, they can build up too much speed. Be very particular about your turns and go high in the corners. That will help with control because it gets your horse more focused and being particular without being critical builds respect.
Introverts—For Left-Brain Introverts, the bigger, the better. Once you are both familiar with the pattern, spice it up by asking him to go faster through the middle. Right-Brain Introverts are better on smaller patterns. Once they become more confident, you can make larger patterns on a different day.
Extroverts—more frequent changes of direction are better at first. It helps you quickly get focus and control. As they get steadier, you can lengthen the space between changes. For Left-Brain Extroverts, think about a variety of close and further away.
Introverts—Left-Brain Introverts need a lot of variety. Keep them guessing as to when you are going to ask for the 180. Right-Brain Introverts need more predictable consistency, especially at first.
Extroverts —The faster they want to go, the smaller you should make the circle. Stay on the circle until they want to go to the center. If you go there too soon, you may find they cannot stand still. The longer it took to get there, the longer you should stay.
Introverts—Right-Brain Introverts love circles. Circles are very calming. Small to medium size is best at first, progressing to larger ones as the horse gets more confident. You can even switch between smaller and larger in the same session, which is a kind of approach and retreat. Left-Brain Introverts can have a lot of trouble with this pattern. This is why we don’t do them until Level Three. And make them very large or do only a few. You may find they quickly learn going to the middle is the goal. If that becomes too strong, mix it up and stop him out on the circle to balance the tendency and keep him guessing.
As you begin teaching your horse these patterns, you’ll see there will naturally be a focus on quality, not just completing a task. Because the pattern gives purpose, your horse will naturally begin to own their responsibilities, such as maintaining gait and direction. The patterns also help you stay focused, improving your timing and expectation. Give it a try and write down what improves over time. You might be surprised how focusing on patterns improves your horse's response quality.