Parelli Questions & Answers

ArticleHow to - horse trainingMonday 14 June 2010
This month Pat and Linda Parelli answer a couple of Horsemart users questions...
During the 2009 UK Parelli Celebration, Lauren Barwick said that one of her challenges with her Paralympic horse Maille was that she was threatened by other horses in the collecting ring, amongst other things. She explained how Pat helped with the fear of cows but could you elaborate on the solutions to a fear of collecting rings with many other horses. How would Pat recommend we approach and deal with this kind of issue?
Pat and Linda's Answer:
Horses need to develop confidence in five areas:
1.  Self confidence.
2.  Confidence in their leader (you)
3.  Confidence as a learner 
4.  Confidence in new environments
5.  Confidence with other horses.
So when a horse has trouble with other horses around him or coming towards him, this exposes a lack of confidence in three areas - self confidence, leadership and other horses.  (New environments may also be a factor which will intensify the others!).
How to improve your horse's confidence in the collecting ring:
First of all, it starts at home.  You have to learn how to develop your horse's self confidence which is best done on the ground.  In the Parelli approach we build the relationship and develop communication and confidence on the ground first, playing the Seven Games and then progressing level by level.  At first it is very basic, but quickly you can advance to more challenging requests such as sending the horse out on longer lines towards targets or in specific patterns.  Pretty soon the horse feels different about you as his leader and his self confidence grows.
Once these have improved, he will already be better, but you still need to help him in the area concerning other horses.  When your horse is afraid of other horses around him this is usually because he's afraid of being dominated and attacked by another horse.  Confident, dominant horses don't usually feel this way, it's the unconfident, fearful and submissive horse that does.  Additionally, if you are riding your horse on the bit and his head is down or low, his vision is limited and that can increase his fears.
Some ideas to develop here...
1.  Practice at home.  Get some friends to ride with you and simulate the situation, but have them be stationary and ride your horse in and around them.  Once your horse relaxes into that, ask them to walk around the arena to the right or left and stay like that.  Then do the same, starting with following and passing, and then going around, and finally towards.  If your horse has trouble, don't force him.  Simply turn the other way and come up behind again, or let him go wide.  Pretty soon it won't be a problem, but if you force him, it will.  Gradually you'll be able to do this at trot and canter while they are walking, and then they can increase their speed too.  The most important thing is to not do it all at once, pass each test one at a time and don't proceed until then.  This may be accomplished in one session, but it might take several.  You can have the objective, but allow the horse to be in charge of the time line.
2.  When at the event, walk your horse in the collecting ring on a loose rein.  Don't have his head down or tucked, especially at first, because it does limit his range of vision to an extent and this can increase fear.  And if you can't walk him on a loose rein, take him outside of the arena and do it there.  There is no sense in forcing a horse through his fear because it doesn't really work.  You might get him to move around, but his fear will intensify and it will be worse the next time or some time after that, like an unexploded bomb!  
Another strategy is to follow another horse for a while, preferably one that is going slowly!  Slow and right beats fast and wrong, but getting it right beats everything. Your horse depends on you as his leader to keep him safe and to build his confidence, and that needs to happen way in advance of getting him to the event.
NOTE:  Parelli is not at all in favour of hyperflexion.  When we talk about the horse's head being tucked, or head down, we are referring to a collected position or a long and low position, but where the nose is still slightly in front of the vertical.  In this way the horse can use his topline, his vision is functional and most of all, his dignity is preserved.
We are buying a six-year-old Haflinger mare that has only had Parelli training. Will this pose a problem?
Parelli Natural Horsemanship Answer:
To take on a Haflinger that has only had Parelli training could be a fascination for you or a frustration depending on how you choose to approach it.   Parelli allows people to develop a relationship to build a partnership with their horse.  The mare’s experience of humans will have been a positive one and she’ll have gained an understanding that humans are not out to hurt her as nature would have her believe as horses are prey animals and we humans are predators.   Not only will she have learnt that we’re not going to hurt her but she will have also learnt how to respond to communication in the way of the Parelli Seven Games.  
Will this pose a problem to you?    
The overall answer would be no.  It may benefit you to have an understanding of the process in which she’s gone through to get to where she is now.   It would be like getting into a car which is different from the model you usually drive.  It looks similar, you know it’s a car and it has a gear lever, a brake pedal, gas pedal and clutch, just like your car.  When you go to drive it, it’s sensitive, it doesn’t take much to turn it, it slows with just a touch on the brakes and goes with little pressure on the gas pedal.    That’s the picture that you’re potentially going to experience with her.    But with cars, you need to keep checking the oil levels and make sure it’s got water and fuel so things stay in tune.  It’s going to be the same with her, in the sense that her human has had an understanding of leadership and how to be a leader for her.   She’s going to start testing your leadership as horses choose their leaders every day.
The outcome of this varies on the horse, you may not notice any changes and then again you may notice bigger changes.  Again, it’s not going to be a “problem” to you but having an understanding will certainly help both you and her in developing your relationship together.  
To find out more about Parelli Natural Horsemanship visit

*Material supplied courtesy of the Horsemart National magazine, June 2010 – available at all good stockists nationwide. Email [email protected] today for more info!

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