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Principle Number 4: Horses and Humans Have Mutual Responsibilities

presso Parelli Professionals su Apr 17, 2024

Principle Number 4: Horses and Humans Have Mutual Responsibilities

By Neil Pye - Instructor Emeritus

We are joined today by Neil Pye to talk about the 8 Principles of the Parelli Program, with today’s focus being on Principal Number 4: Horses and Humans Have Mutual Responsibilities. 

Neil, can you share a little more about your understanding of this principle? And how we, as students, can apply this principle in our horsemanship.

Neil Pye: Principle Number 4: Horses and Humans have Mutual Responsibilities, like all eight of them; they all stand out alone, and I could talk about them at length. I've mentioned in other articles that each principle seems to be my favorite at different times.

There are four responsibilities the human must stick to, and then there are four for the horse. Now we can't expect the horse to pin a sign up on his barn wall to remind himself each day of his responsibilities. We're responsible for our four, and then we are responsible for teaching the horses their four.

First, let’s look at mutual responsibilities from the human’s point of view, remembering that the human is the orchestrator of all training regarding the horse-human relationship. 

For me, the ones for the human are pivotal in a program with so much detail and information. There are many variables depending on any situation, but the essence is to look at life from the horse's point of view. 

One of the downsides of so much information at our fingertips is that we've got to be careful not to get paralysis by analysis.

The good thing about the four responsibilities for the human is they are a great summarizer for me as a coach for nearly 30 years. It's helped me keep it simple. Some of our students get so bogged down in the detail or overwhelmed by so much information they often don't know what to do. So, I usually bring it back to these responsibilities.

They're so strong and so categorical. There are only four! 

  •  Don't act like a predator.

  • I know in the early days, myself included, and for many others, they say. “Oh, I’d never act like a predator. I love my horse. I'd never be mean to him.”

    But, ‘don’t act like a predator’ is not that simple. It is, in fact, the hardest one. And even now, decades in, it's still the hardest I find because it's only a tiny part. “Don't get cranky with your horse,” but it's much deeper, and more responsibility is holding us humans to account.

    Don't act like a predator means many things; I'll summarize a couple. 

    • It means to be present
    • To look at life from the horse’s point of view
    • Do things long enough for the horse to learn, 
    • Don't overdo it just because you want to practice it.
    • Do your best not to bring energy or attitude that will negatively affect your horse. (Something most of us, struggle with in life, and now you tell me it’s detrimental to my relationship with my horse? Yes, it is.)

    Don’t act like a predator means you've got to be working on yourself and be calm and centered. A predator makes quick judgments. We tend to blame or criticize things and situations. You could go into the whole human condition, couldn't you?


    Then we have a horse who is uncomplicated, reads our energy, and doesn't care who you had dinner with last night, how much money you've got, or what sort of car you own. He just reads your energy at the moment. So, if we do turn up like a predator with the worries of the world, a bad day at the office, or an argument with our spouse, we've got to clear that before we interact with the horse. Otherwise, we bring our emotional baggage to our horse. Your horse only gets to experience a little time with you, so you need to be calm and centered.

    The only reason they're there with us is our choice, not theirs. They are there because we wanted them. Often, and no one means to, but in acting like a predator and an unconscious one, we usually buy a horse like we purchase a handbag. We talk about the color, breed, and height, and it's almost like buying a fashion accessory.

    That’s one small example of what you could touch on when it talks about ‘don't act like a predator.’ It means so much more than the obvious. How do we remain calm and centered? How do we ensure we're in charge, have a plan, and are consistent?

    How can we show up in a way that doesn’t put the horse off? We don't realize until we get into the depths of this program that just turning up and being a human is what we are. But as much as we have to learn about the horse, we also need to come to terms with ourselves and realize a lot of what we do in our direct line, anthropomorphic, chauvinistic way, often put horses off. 

    As I wrap up the first responsibility, we must spend an inordinate amount of time studying the human condition so we can get rid of the grabbiness and the direct line approach, the judgmental behaviors, and past experiences.  

    To be calm, centered, and present is a big discussion, and I think the hardest one. I think you'll spend this life and another coming to terms with your predatory nature.

    The best thing about acting less like a predator is any progress you make in a positive direction will not only help you with your horse but will also drastically improve the rest of your life outside of horses. Bonus!

    The second one is simpler, though huge. 

  • Have an independent Seat, or be developing one 

  • We all love our horses, and you all worry about them. We want to do so much for them. 

    If the horse could speak to you, he would say, really focus on responsibility Number One, and then everyone seems to forget about Number Two, which is to have an independent seat. This means keeping yourself fit and balanced. Do things like, ride a bike or walk along a fence rail (not too high up, so you don't fall off and hurt yourself) to develop your poise and balance. You don't have to be an Olympic gymnast, but fitness, body posture, and awareness are important when you ride a horse. We just think we're forking the leg over. We're just riding.

    From the horse's point of view, we're enveloping their major organs with our legs. If we ride a horse with less than an independent seat, what do we use to save ourselves from falling off? We grip with our hands. We grip them with our legs, encompassing and enveloping their organs. As Pat jokes, the hole under our tail gets so tight you couldn't pull a turkey feather out of there with a John Deere Tractor.

    So, we get grabby, we get scared, and we get into a fetal position. Then, we start to dictate the horse. “No, don't do this. No, don't do that. Don't move, Don't. No, No!” All because we are frightened of falling off or not being in control.

    If the horses could vote, they would say, “Please do something to be fitter so you can learn to balance. Your presence scares me, let alone your presence when it grips and grabs in an “oh no” situation.”

    Being with a horse, especially riding, is a physical act. They are such large, powerful animals but are also prey animals. Their whole instinct is to move and escape danger, and then we get on and clamp down. We don't mean to, but we often forget we're not frightened so much about the horse. We're frightened we might get hurt.

    We tend to blame and not do enough to develop an independent seat. We ride for extraordinary amounts of time, not even knowing what diagonal we're on.

    I see people worry about what they will feed their horse, what color rug they'll get, and things like that. But when they're riding, they don't even stop to remember, to make it comfortable, more palatable for the horse, to be on the correct diagonal.

    It’s not a thing you're going to learn straight away. But it's one you can learn. If you care for your horse, try to see if you're on the correct diagonal. That will make his life more comfortable, given he has to carry you around and remember he didn't pick you. You picked him!

    Then the third one, which is all-encompassing.

  • Look at life from the horse's point of view. 

  • We can wear the T-shirt, write the theory, test, and answer it. But in the moment, put the horse’s needs first and look at life from their point of view. That's hard and relates to the first responsibility because we're acting like predators. It's all about us!

    We subconsciously think it’s our horse’s job to make us feel good or happy. It’s a bit like when we purchase anything. It’s often all about us and how it makes us feel.

    Unintentionally, part of us wants it all our way, if only to keep us safe.

    With Number Three, it's theoretically easy to sign up for, but it’s hard to put into practice when a horse gets scared or pushy. It means we've had to do a lot of work away from the horse and understand the theory side early in the program. When something happens with the horse, we must have it clear in our minds. What strategy can we present that means something to the horse? Where do we bring psychology to cause our idea to become his idea?

    The way you communicate through the Seven Games is forever setting something up, so you're not forcing him to do anything. He makes a decision set up by you for him to find the easiest course of action. 

    The funny thing is when we truly put the horse's needs first, paradoxically, we get exactly what we want!

    That brings us to the fourth principle for the human, which is great. Even the name of it gets me: the POWER of focus.

  • The Power of Focus

  • What’s funny is people can recite the fourth responsibility of the human. But nearly always, when you watch people ride, they look down at their horse, not up.

    They're not looking up and allowing their pro-perception process to kick in. Think of a toddler taking their first steps; they never look down. Mother Nature has provided that little toddler with the instinct to look up.

    Yet when we get on a horse, we look down. We look down because we're trying to second guess what the horse will do, which comes back to fear, lack of an ‘independent seat,’ and not looking at life from the horse’s point of view. So, naturally, we don't switch on the power of focus and look up. 

    As a coach of many years, I see instructors trying to teach people advanced things, and they haven't dealt with the rider looking down. This means they're putting weight on the horse's forehand, making it uncomfortable for the horse to carry them around. 

    So, it's two-fold, not only does the ‘power of focus’ center your weight on the horse’s back, but you can also develop feel. Focus is the gateway and the portal into feel. 

    Focus, Feel, Timing, and Balance. Pat often talks about the power of focus. If you are not looking up and considering where you are riding and reading the entire situation, how can you be the senior partner?

    The power of focus is a huge responsibility. To develop, feel, and timing, you must be looking up so you can feel down. 

    The four responsibilities of the human are all interlinked. Don't act like a Predator is still the biggest one. Be working on an independent seat, so you're not scaring your horse while riding them. Number Three, are you using psychology and putting the horse's needs first? Cause versus Make. And, the Power of Focus: look up so you can feel down. The only way we could talk to our horses is through feel, and if we're not looking up, we will not have feel. 

    That covers the four responsibilities for the human. The four for the horse are our responsibility to teach them, and I love their simplicity:

  • Don’t act like a Prey animal

  • We need to teach the horse to use the positive thinking side of his brain. How do we do that? We do it initially on the ground, through On Line and Liberty.

    Pat has taught us that On Line and Liberty teaches the horse to use the thinking side of his brain. We diminish the prey animal (snort), the scared force that goes to flight or fight, and teach them to think their way out of trouble. 

    Don't act like a prey animal is life work, and if you don't enjoy that, well, I don't think you really should have horses. You will forever spend your time helping a horse relax around his natural-born enemy, a predator.

    Horses are there because of our needs, so it's up to us to help them find the partnership side of their brain and teach them through experience, process, and levels. They gradually get braver. Do we develop their bravery or their relaxation muscles first? Or do we forget about that? Just try and get performance? That's often the downfall of the competitive world. They worry about what the horse is doing more than how he feels.

  • Don’t change gaits

  • Don't change gaits, and when it comes to training horses, it's important. I never get on a horse without a plan. People say, “Oh, I don't know what to do with my horse today!” Whether on the ground or in the saddle, you are always working on Don't change gaits

    You've got to teach them that if I say ‘walk,’ you stay at the walk. You set the speed. They don't. The horse realizes if he sticks to the gait, you leave him alone, so you use the psychology given in comfort if he stays at the speed you set.

  •  Don't change direction

  • Now that we’ve taught the horse we are in charge of speed, he learns we are in charge of the direction in Number Three.

    One of the first patterns we teach is follow a rail and eventually follow a trail. From there, the horse understands we set both the speed and direction as the senior partner. Your horse learns that by staying on the rail, we leave him alone. He starts to understand that if he stays between our legs, eyes, shoulder, and under our hips, he gets left alone. There is a sweet spot there. He learns all this as a result of the first three responsibilities.

    4) Look where you are going

    The final one is self-evident: look where you are going. He's got the feet, and we have the brain. We set the speed and course, but we must allow him to navigate what's in front of him, whether flat ground, broken ground, a jump, or an obstacle. He's managed himself through time and space long before we sat on him. We can set the speed and the direction but have to trust he'll navigate an obstacle. 

    The human's ongoing role is to teach and maintain so his horse understands to act like a partner, maintain gait and direction, and look where he is going.

    Now you have developed a happy, safe, and willing partner both on the ground and in the saddle, who is also using the positive thinking side of his brain. 

    The four responsibilities for the human are simple but not easy and come to define a horsewoman and horseman.

    There are only four, but I never play with my horse or teach a lesson without thinking about them. What can I do with this class to help them accept their full responsibilities? Then I teach them to teach their horse’s responsibilities. 

    When I’m training my horse, I ask what I can do to help him act like a partner, not a prey animal. How do I maintain and get him to understand that I decide on the speed and direction, and it's his job to look where he's going? It's simple. I just work on that every time. 

    From little things, big things grow. I love how Pat has taken a complex, mutual responsibility subject and broken it down into four key areas for the horse and the human. 

    You can spend a lifetime studying those things and be on the right track. I hope that helps!

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