The Savvy Station

Positive Pattern Integration

vid Pat Parelli Sep 20, 2023

Positive Pattern Integration

By Pat Parelli

What in the world is that? When I first realized I was interested in training horses professionally after my rodeo career, it didn't take me long to realize that just because I was a good rider did not mean I knew what in the world I was doing.  Lucky for me, an opportunity came by in 1976, and his name was Troy Henry. Mr. Henry was one of the best western horsemen of his time in the United States. He was known for producing well-trained horses and had developed many successful champions on the West Coast in the Western performance world. 


One of the first things he made indelible in my mind was teaching a horse to follow the rail. Every horse, not just a Western pleasure horse, should follow the rail without being micromanaged. You have to make a game out of it. If he leaves the rail, you either put your leg back toward his hindquarters and move his hindquarters away from the rail until he goes back on it or use a leg-yield and leg-yield him back to the rail or teach him to stop in the corners or whatever it takes to help the horse learn to follow the rail on his own. He will find comfort in being in harmony with his rider and this will become his new pattern. 


The second pattern I learned from Mr. Henry was teaching a horse to go high in the corners by stopping in the corners and playing the corners game. And the third pattern was crisscrossing the arena in a cloverleaf. Every time you got to the center of the long or short side, you turned and headed around through the cloverleaf back toward the center of the arena. Eventually, you'd stop in the center of the arena. The horse soon started asking, “Are we gonna stop in the center?” And you might say, “Yes.”


So consistency is a great teacher, but variety is the spice of life. Horses soon start seeing the pattern and thinking, “As long as I understand what pattern we're on and I put effort into it, we are both gonna be in harmony, and we're gonna have a good horse day.” It was that simple. 


But then, the brilliance was adding variety after they got very consistent. What do I mean by that? Well, sometimes we stop in the corners, sometimes we don't. Sometimes we circle in the corners, and sometimes we don't. Sometimes we stay on the cloverleaf pattern and stop on the sides rather than go to the center of the arena right away. Sometimes we start going down the rail but do a leg-yield away from the rail, leg-yield back to the rail, get to the corner and stop, get to the next corner and circle, or go to the corner and stop. 


After four decades of traveling all around the world and helping people with their horses, 80% of the people I see don't use patterns, and the 20% that do use patterns, overdo it and don't add in variety. I remember when I was down in Southern California for a clinic. There was a dressage barn and a nice dressage arena. I had the most fun getting my horse to jump out of the corners. Then we’d head down the long side and crisscross the little boundary fence. It was about one foot high, and pretty soon I was doing flying lead changes. The stables' owner was upset because I wasn't keeping my horse inside the dressage arena.


This addiction to linear thinking is very rampant. So if you get anything from this blog, remember that consistency's a great teacher but variety is the spice of life. It's worked for me and thousands of horses and students all around the world of every breed, specialization, and level. 


But remember one last thing, start these patterns with your horse on the ground first because the only job in the world you can start at the top is called post-hole digging.

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