The Savvy Station

Principle Number 2 - Don't Teach or Make Assumptions.

bij Parelli Professionals op Apr 03, 2024

Principle Number 2 - Don't Teach or Make Assumptions.

By Neil Pye - Instructor Emeritus

Sam  - As we explore the 8 Principles of the Parelli Program, I wanted to chat with Neil Pye about Principle number 2. I was looking at it from his experiences as a teacher and student. What does that principle mean to him today?

Neil - Well, firstly, it's good that you ask because I think all the principles are timeless, and they cause you to revisit them regularly because they are so deep and meaningful. 

With the passing of time and experience, good and bad, what “Don’t teach or Make assumptions” means something different to me today compared to what it did many years ago. As the decades have passed, I have had many students talk about making assumptions, and I have made many myself.

In its simplicity, we have got to be fresh with the horse daily. We can't assume anything from yesterday about the human or the horse.

In our daily lives, we can make many assumptions, we spend a lot of time thinking about the past,  we spend a lot of time thinking about the future, and we struggle very hard to be in the moment.  I think that's where we make the mistake of making many assumptions because we're not present. We're not reading the moment. We're assuming that something that happened yesterday is relevant today, which, as we should know, it doesn't.

But in our desire to have everything predictable, secure, and consistent and not be shocked by a change. We cling to “everything will be like it was and be predictable.”

Well, I always remember the first time I heard Pat talk about don't make or teach assumptions. I realized that that was very much me. That was my human condition. I wanted the security of knowing.  I didn't want to have to be in the moment. I wanted a sure-fire answer. But here I am all these decades later, and knowing that things aren’t always consistent comforts me, and I try to stay in the moment. I can't assume that just because the horse did something a certain way yesterday or he accepted something yesterday and wasn't frightened by something. That tomorrow he will be the same, then wonder why is he suddenly frightened by today.

I get that deeper because that's the nature of horses. They live in the moment; they have a defensive side. They have a thinking side. They have a reactive side and a responsive side. We are forever called upon to be developing and continue to develop the responsive side and mitigate the reactionary side. 

The biggest problem I see is when students and humans, and I’ve done it myself, is that we want to always want to have it a certain way, and the greatest example is when people put their hands on hips and with indignation say, “I don't understand he's so good at home.”

That is a flashing red light that says - Well, you may love horses, but you don't understand their nature. Because the nature of horses is yes, at home, where they are safe and comfortable, where there are no distractions and have a routine, they can do things.

The depth of horse training is not just getting them to understand something. The real depth of it and the strength of your training is, can he do something under distraction? 

At home, there is no distraction. 

So, a large part of teaching a horse and us not to make assumptions is that after we've trained a horse to do something. We've now got to do the real work and teach them to do it under varying degrees of distraction.

Don’t assume that they could do it in a peaceful, quiet arena., that they can now do it with 2 or 3 other horses, or with the wind blowing, etc., because that is where a horseman or a horsewoman earns their trade or their spurs if you like. 

Because it's teaching them to do it under distraction, that is the mastery side of it.

You must embrace that horses live in the moment and have just got to deal with the horse that turns up, which requires a huge amount of discipline and presence on the part of the human.

Sam: As an instructor, you are meeting students for the first time, and you talk about the Prey – v- Predator concept and Body language. You talk about the Seven Games. As a beginner to the program, should these principles be on our radar as a student? 

Neil: That’s tough, but it's a good question. We have so much material available. When do people start getting into the depth of it all or simply getting confused?

There is a real challenge. Look, I think it's something you have to hear early on. “Don't make assumptions” is such a practical thing. For example, when you bring a horse out, and he's not scared by anything, and then one day, he is.

Although it can be very destabilizing for a human who is new to horses, you just must accept horses are that way. They're not as predictable as we would like them to be, and you must accept that, which is hard, but it's an important one to know in the early stages

Know this principle will grow, reverberate, and get deeper over the passing decades for you.

Sam: The above helps us understand why we can’t make assumptions, but can we also teach our horses assumptions?

I think teaching assumptions is easy. It's funny, you know, it's through repetition and patterns that we teach horses. You know we're comfort lies, and we get them to choose that, and then we use some discomfort to get them to choose comfort. I mean, that's the yin and yang of training a horse. People call it negative reinforcement, which some interpret with a negative connotation. But negative means we just remove something, and in this case, we just remove the stimulus, and when the horse does what we want, we give him peace because that motivates them. So that's the whole context of teaching horses. So, I think the second principle is critical. We can't assume anything. But having said that, we must use patterns and repetitive patterns for the horse to choose comfort and reject levels of discomfort.

So, in the Don't Teach Assumptions, we use repetition to cause our idea to become his. But then there is a stage in your training, and I think this is the key.  You've got to know when it's time to change something. Your training must evolve to the next stage, when the horse starts to see the pattern.

You've used enough consistency in the pattern to teach him something, and now he's starting to choose it, so to make sure it's not a trick, you've now got to change the consistency of your patterns and in your teaching to now add variety, so he must wait and not assume what you are going to ask.

It’s a sophisticated point in your horsemanship where you go. Oh, I've got to use repetition to teach the idea and cause it to become his, which is a massive tenant of what we do – Psychology - cause my idea to become his. But then you've got to shift from knowing that, so now I've got a use variety so they don't make assumptions and don't do it as a party trick. They have to wait now and confirm that that's what I want.

For example, putting their hoof on a pedestal. They put their foot on the pedestal. They get rewarded with peace.

But then, eventually, you can't have it that as soon as they feel pressure, they run and put their hoof on the pedestal. That's when it becomes a trick, not a communication.

Another practical example of teaching assumptions is when we go from Games four to five. 

Everyone backs their horse up in Game Four, and the second part of the yo is to draw them back to you. But I have seen with many students that they back their horse up as they learn Game Five. And then they send their horses left. They send them right many times as they practice their skills for Game Five.

But what tends to happen is they back their horse up, which is half of Game Four, and then all of a sudden, he runs left and right. He doesn't even wait. Because in our desire to perfect Game Five, we put so much consistency to our circle game that they now make assumptions, and soon as you back them up, they run left or right instead of considering another option, which would be returned to the human as the second part of the yo-yo.

When I teach, I'm forever saying back them up, bring them to you, and send them off. Keep them between Four and Five consistently, so they don't make the assumption. This is apparent once we go to liberty. As Pat says, we are left with the truth once we take the halter and lead rope off.

So by using repetition to teach them where comfort lives., then evolving and bringing in variety to get them to wait and not to make assumptions. It becomes a thoughtful, connected process where they look at us, which is the key because if we do it right, it enhances our connection and conversation. They think they know what we want, but they'll have to wait to ensure that we're interesting enough now and not always to be so predictable.

By staying interesting and having them wait for us to give the final indication of what we want. I will teach them not to make assumptions, take over, or take off in their desire to be comfortable.

They've got to receive that through affirmation from us. In the herd of 2, we've got to be the senior partner. We've got to be leading the dance, so I think it holds us to a higher order of our awareness, our being in the moment and knowing what stage the horse is at because you know the stages of learning, teaching, controlling, reinforcing, refining and that all falls under the banner of “Don't. Teach and make assumptions.” 

I have days where this Principle,” Don’t teach or make assumptions,” is my life's meaning.

Another time I see that in the “attitude of justice is effective,” Each Principle screams at me loudly, and that's what I love about them. You think… Oh, that's my favorite one, it's got to be the best one.

But then that's the typical human predator nature. We always think one is better than the other. When really, they all co-exist happily as the eight principles.

This is my favorite one of the eight principles when you ask me today. That'll become my favorite when you ask me about the next one. What I'm trying to say is they mean the world to me.

They were once Pats, but now they have soaked into the fabric of my training and being with horses and people, and they truly are universal.

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