The Savvy Station

The Difference Between Training and Playing with Your Horse

vid Parelli Natural Horsemanship May 25, 2022

The Difference Between Training and Playing with Your Horse

By Pat Parelli

What is the difference between playing and training? Well, to me, if I go back to the first weekend of March 1982, I was putting on my first seminar. My opening statement was: “Horsemanship can be obtained naturally through communication, understanding, and psychology versus mechanics, fear, and intimidation."

The Parelli Program has become the world's largest train-your-horse-at-home, web-based program with over 200,000 students. Parelli students apply the principles of communication, understanding, and psychology versus mechanics, fear, and intimidation. If I look at the “traditional” training tactics, and see where they get overdone, I can easily see how it’s perceived by the horse as torture. On the other hand, the word “play” indicates a joyful experience that creates behavior that is positive and highly functional.

Let’s take our children, for example. If we take children and put them on a playground, and there are lines drawn on the ground for hopscotch, basketball, and volleyball, then also give them things to play with like monkey bars, a box full of balls, and jump ropes, the children can go out and have organized fun. They can do anything they want as long as they are within the guidelines of the playground. Learning to use guidelines helps them become good citizens. We all live within the guidelines of our families and our societies, and horses are no different.

Let’s say you take those same children and put them onto a lot where there are no lines, no balls, no jump ropes, no basketball hoops, no volleyball court, and just turn them loose. It won't be very long before they start being destructive or endangering themselves. You might see rocks being thrown through the window, fighting with each other, and so on. Unfortunately, this is simply human nature.

We've probably all heard the saying, “idle mind is the devil's workshop.” The idea is to keep our minds, and our horse's minds, focused on positive patterns.

Whether you know it or not, I am the self-acclaimed President of the “Coalition Against Lunging”. In the mid-1980s, when I started doing clinics, I tried to get people to understand that the act of lunging a horse around in a circle micromanaging him is only exercising his body—Therefore, his heart and his mind will probably “leave”. (If you don't believe me, try lunging a horse for seven days in a row, then drop the rope, and see what happens.)

Versus, play the Circling Game for four to seven days in a row on a 22-foot rope, then drop the rope, and see what happens. The horse will probably come back, or at least, you will have a better chance of him wanting to come back. See, you can use applied horse psychology to create more desire.

Imagine how it would feel if your horse desired to be with you.

I have been quoted saying, “If you exercise the horse's mind and emotions, the body will follow.” Playing with your horse uses psychology by influencing your horse's behavior through positive patterns. Horses, being equids, are pattern animals. We've all seen National Geographic, where all the zebras on migratory patterns move as a herd, in the same way, year over year. Many of us have probably experienced similar behavior on a trail ride.

Horses have a great instinct of knowing where their icon of safety is at all times, whether it be the horse trailer, the barn, or the herd. Applying understanding is one of the first steps in using communication, understanding, and psychology. In other words, the fact that we can create patterns on the ground and in the saddle that build upon one another—similar to the seven notes in the scale of music—can create a beautiful harmony.

When I was young, my grandmother was a piano teacher. All the grandkids and cousins would visit and enter the piano room. Most of the kids would pound on the keys with both fists. There was still a beautiful piano with seven notes available underneath the chaos of pounding keys—Despite the beating. This is the same disharmony that occurs when people don't have a program using positive behavior patterns, such as those we find in the Seven Games.

It should be noted that the Seven Games are not only something you do on the ground with a 12-foot or 22-foot rope. The Seven Games need to be applied in all Four Savvys. On Line builds to Liberty, On Line and Liberty build positive patterns, so that when you go to ride on a loose rein, your horse knows the boundaries and the concepts. Before you know it, the positive and progressive patterns keep building, and one day, you’re riding with Finesse and Precision without micromanagement. That’s the secret to harmony.

Now, let's flip the coin over, and talk about training. The secret to a balanced life is 80% consistency and 20% variety. Oftentimes, training turns into 99% consistency and 1% variety. It brings to mind the classic movie, The Sound of Music. In the movie, the military father would blow the whistle, and all the children had to come out and act like little soldiers. As you may remember, Julie Andrews comes along—Bringing fun, joy, and variety to the children. In the end, the father learns to soften from his 99% obedience and 1% variety tactics of the children, and everyone lives a more peaceful and happier life.

My mission is to share the ways to get your horse to want to become a willing, joyful, and exuberant partner that wants to be with you. The secret ingredients to this are bonding, obedience, and exuberance. We can have safety, fun, and achieve excellence with our horses in a way that our horses feel like the luckiest equine on the planet.

And it all starts with you.

Keep it natural.


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