Preparing Your Horse for the Squeeze Game
by Parelli Natural Horsemanship on Feb 22, 2023
By Ryan Pfouts
Horses are naturally claustrophobic and afraid of narrow spaces and traps. They are plains animals and feel safest in wide open spaces. The human environment is full of traps, and narrow spaces horses must squeeze through or into, including stables, gates, passageways, wash racks, trailers, veterinary stocks, jumps, and ditches. Even accepting the girth and riding with contact falls into the squeeze category. That’s why it is important to help horses become more confident and not feel threatened in these situations.
For example, one of the most challenging Squeeze Games for a horse is getting into the horse trailer. Trailers are the ultimate trap. It locks them in on all four sides, just like a cave.
When we learn the Squeeze Game in Level 1, sending your horse between the fence might not seem relevant, but it teaches your horse to overcome their natural tendency to panic in claustrophobic situations. As the seventh game in the sequence, it uses Games 1-6 to create these positive habits.
Let’s look at the Seven Games and the positive patterns they create.
GAME PURPOSE - Both on the ground and in the saddle
- Friendly Game - Trust, don’t fear. Come from your heart. RELAX. Feel safe, relieve tension, release the brace, seek relief/comfort, seek harmony, gain confidence, stand still, think before you react, etc. Trust me. Don’t fear me, my equipment, the bit, my hands, my aids, the environment, and other horses. Relax. Rub. Retreat. Give relief from pressure. Extreme Friendly Games.
- Porcupine Game - Seek relief from light, steady pressure. Make sense of steady pressure & release: DON’T LEAN: Expect a positive and light response in yielding to halter, seat, leg, rein, bit, etc. Check all zones in isolation. When the horse doesn’t respond, tap once with the stick or the rope end. Repeat every 3 seconds, calmly, until the horse responds.
- Driving Game - Respond to soft rhythmic pressure & energy. Make sense of rhythmic pressure & release: Respond to Energy. DON’T RUN/PUSH THROUGH PRESSURE: Move without touching – or from rhythmic pressure: tapping, vibration, energy. Check all zones in isolation.
- Yo-Yo Game - Ready to go and slow, EQUALIZE FORWARDS and BACKWARDS (north & south): Be ready to go forwards when you go backward and backward when you go forwards. Transitions in and within all gaits, impulsion, collection, active hind leg, engagement.
- Circling Game - You do your part; I do mine. MUTUAL RESPONSIBILITIES of a PARTNERSHIP: Maintain gait, maintain direction, maintain energy, maintain rhythm, maintain shape (straight on the circle), pirouettes, spins. Power of neutral/passive aids.
- Sideways Game Straight, equal STRAIGHTNESS, EQUALIZE RIGHT & LEFT: Straight from nose to tail. Sideways, laterals, canter leads & Flying changes, suspension, rider position.
- Squeeze Game - Enjoy compression. ENJOY COMPRESSION. Know the pattern, stay calm: Trot through the squeeze, turn-face-wait. Seek the space/spot, and overcome claustrophobic situations: trailer loading, contact, collection, cinch/girth, jumps, etc.
Games 1-6 teach your horse not to panic, yield to the halter, maintain gait, move away from the stick, and drift away from you and not crowd you. When you combine these skills with “squeeze, turn, face, and wait,” you’ll develop a positive pattern when your horse feels claustrophobic. When you break down the pattern, you can use anything that is a squeeze.
Start the squeeze, give your horse enough space, and send your horse onto a half circle. If your horse stops in the squeeze any time, DON’T PUSH! Your horse stops because it feels like it can’t move, so instead retreat, ask your horse to back up a few steps, and resend. Once the horse goes through the squeeze, disengage, causing your horse to turn and face the squeeze. Often, when horses feel trapped, they’ll flee or run, which is why you disengage after the squeeze in this exercise. The disengagement causes your horse to think for a split second if they’re emotional; over time, this will teach your horse not to panic. Repeat this pattern several times, getting into a rhythm and developing relaxation. This simple pattern has many psychological benefits and can rewire your horse’s relationship with tight spaces and compression.