The Ultimate Training Formula
Seeing What The Horse Needs
-by Linda Parelli
This article was originally published in the May 2009 issue of Savvy Times magazine. Recent back-issues of Savvy Times are available for Parelli members in the Resources section of Parelli Connect.
For almost 20 years I've been watching Pat with horses in many different situations of all levels and wondered why he stopped so soon or kept on going with a horse.
"It's what the horse needed," he would tell me, but I couldn't see what he was reading in the horse that told him it was the right time—until the Horsenality™ Profile was born. Now it's as clear as day to me, because I know what the goal is for each Horsenality.
If you look at the Goals chart on the next page, you'll see that he goal with a Right-Brain Extrovert is to get him calm. For the Right-Brain Introvert, the goal is to increase his trust and confidence. The goal with a Left-Brain Introvert is to get him motivated, and with a Left-Brain Extrovert it is to increase his willing obedience. I say willing obedience because he's got to want to rather than be made to behave. There's a big difference. Now look at those four elements—calm, trusting, motivated, willing. Sounds like the perfect horse, doesn't it? You just have to find it, reveal it, then keep it.
You have the power to reveal the perfect inner horse by getting him more emotionally balanced in these four areas, and then it's your responsibility to not push him off balance when you are teaching him.
The formula to use is this: first make sure your horse is calm, then build his trust, then increase his motivation and finally gain his willing obedience.
The entire time you play with your horse you have to be checking on these things, just like the performing platespinner who balances plates on the top of sticks and then spins them. First he gets one plate balanced and spinning. Then he starts another. Then another, then another, and finally he's got all the plates spinning at the same time. His job then is to see which ones are slowing down or getting off balance and immediately fix them so they all keep spinning in perfect harmony. That's what you need to do with your horse. You need to see which element is getting out of balance, and the moment you notice it you have to address it. Mastery in horsemanship is taking care of the little things, and as Pat says, "Do less sooner rather than more later."
What does a calm horse look like? Can you recognize calmness and not confuse it with laziness? Can you see when your horse is more trusting or gaining confidence? Can you recognize motivation and not confuse it with overexcitement? And do you know what willing obedience looks like? Even though at first each one is going to be very specific to each Horsenality, pretty soon every one of them applies to every Horsenality, and you'll use the Horsenality concept to define the training stages.
Stage #1 CALM
You are aiming for a calm, relaxed horse. Level-headed, no tension anywhere, happy to stand still, soft eyes, soft ears, soft tail, relaxed way of moving.
Many people get confused because when their Right- Brain Extrovert horse gets calm, he no longer looks like the same horse! "I think he's sick today" is something I hear from students, and I've even said that myself, because when your Right-Brain Extrovert finally gets calm it's a total surprise, and he doesn't seem like himself! In fact, some people think that he's turned into a Left-Brain Introvert, but that's usually not the case. He's just calm.
Calm your horse by first getting control through rapid hindquarter disengagement/change of direction and then giving his distracted and fearful energy a focus (e.g., Figure 8 Pattern).
When Stage #1 of the ultimate training formula has been achieved, you need to progress to Stage #2.
Stage #2 TRUST /CONFIDENCE
It's often easier to identify a horse that doesn't trust you and lacks confidence because he is hesitant, tense, shy, reserved and spooky. He tends to withdraw, quietly having trouble with your requests. If you don't realize what's going on and up your phases, things tend to get worse, and all of a sudden the horse is upset and you've lost calmness.
If you misread this one, progress grinds to a halt. You might still be able to get your horse to do things out of obedience, but without quality. His ears are back, and he doesn't want to look at you; or he has trouble coming to you, and you're having to do a lot of coaxing or micromanaging because, although obedient, the horse actually offers you nothing and seems shut down. This is not disrespect; this is a horse freezing up with fear, running away inside himself and shutting out the external pressure.
A trusting horse is more bonded to you, engages and asks questions (looks at you, ears forward, waiting for direction), has a positive expression and offers to do things for you. When you get it right you'll feel him open up to you because he no longer feels vulnerable around you. He knows, without a doubt, that you would never force him to do something he was not ready to do; and that, my friend, is what builds unshakable trust.
Build trust by waiting for your horse to respond , or start again rather than hurrying or pushing through. Use a lot of gentle repetition, and repeat until the horse is relaxed. Pretty soon he'll start to open up and offer things to you, and he'll feel confident enough to keep moving.
Don't confuse calmness for a lack of motivation, because although at first they seem to look the same, they are two completely different states.
Stage #3 MOTIVATED
Another word for motivation is enthusiasm. How enthusiastic is your horse? Does he put energy into the things you ask him to do? Does he look forward to doing things with you, whinny or come to you—run to you—when he sees you? Does he want to be with you more than with his pasture mates?
Don't confuse calmness for a lack of motivation, because although at first they seem to look the same, they are two completely different states. Calmness indicates a lack of fear and is a state of relaxation. Until you have a calm, trusting horse, it's impossible to develop motivation without it feeling like pressure.
When your horse is motivated, he is magnificent, powerful and full of energy, so you'll need to know what to do with all that, or your horse could take over and dominate you. Build motivation by giving him responsibility (Patterns); support his ideas, do the unexpected, be provocative, keep it short, make it interesting— and quit before you overdo it!
Stage #4 OBEDIENT and WILLING
An obedient horse is a well-trained horse but can lack exuberance if the other parts of the ultimate formula are missing. You've seen it—he's a Stepford horse! He dutifully does everything he's asked, but there is no light in his eye. He's a robot. Many of these horses develop psychoses from being so suppressed. The tail is de-nerved or injected with alcohol to stop it swishing from too much spur, head tied down, mouth tied shut, and he's longed in mindless circles until he is too exhausted to play up. This glorious animal is robbed of his spirit and is empty inside. He's even too broken to protest anymore.
So when we talk about obedience, this has to be his gift to us because we help him feel safe . . . because we gain his trust . . . because we encourage him to play. He will want to do what we want.
Have you ever felt that in a horse? All of a sudden he walks calmly into the trailer or offers you something incredible like flying changes or a beautiful trot, yet just moments before he was cavorting around, flying through the air and being thoroughly naughty.
Obedience comes from encouraging your horse's wants. When you help him do what he wants to do he will all of a sudden get interested in you. It really works! However, what tends to be hard for us is letting go of the need toimmediately control him and make him behave; we pull him back when he wants to leave and criticize him for doing something when we didn't want it. If you encourage his ideas in the beginning, he will have a completely different opinion of you and stop being argumentative and resistant. Receive willing obedience by supporting and encouraging his ideas. The next time your horse decides to change direction, support it. When he wants to canter or gallop and buck, encourage it—on the ground, of course! Just don't let him near you until he's settled down, and don't try to teach him anything or ask him to do anything until you see that he's in a learning frame of mind. And when he's there, know that he's a super-learner!
Don't Blow It!
As a horseman in the making it's inevitable that you're going to misread some situations or do the exact wrong thing at the right time. So here is a brief guide for you that will help prevent things from going backward! Remember: A mistake is only something you make when you know better, so treat everything that doesn't go quite right as a learning experience. It's valuable!
One of my favorite quotes is from Buckminster Fuller, the great philosopher, architect, global thinker, inventor and futurist: "I've made more mistakes than anyone I know . . . that's why I know so much."
Upsetting the Calm
Not enough consistency, too much variety too soon
Not recognizing and addressing early tension
Over-facing: asking the horse do to something he wasn't prepared for
Lack of leadership/plan
Blowing the Trust
Proceeding without permission
Hurrying the horse when he hesitates
Pushing /coaxing rather than waiting and allowing; this equates to force
Not enough retreat
Not waiting until the horse has let go of the tension—sighs, blows, breathes
Misreading obedience for willingness
Ruining the Motivation
Too much repetition (once the horse is confident); in Left-Brain mode, horses learn fast
Being too direct-line (use more reverse psychology—for example, when your horse doesn't want to go faster, ask him to go slower; it builds mental curiosity)
Bribing with food rather than using it for incentive (see the article "Bribe vs. Bonus" in the next issue)
No sense of humor (frustration on your part will signal to your horse that he's more dominant—he's gotcha!)
Lack of creativity and imagination
Lack of a plan and lack of flexibility in this plan
Physical exercise—he's got to be mentally involved (Patterns)
Micro-management—give him responsibility (Patterns)
Asking for things before you've got him in the mood
Asking for his all every time—if you overdo it, your horse will become dull or develop performance anxiety
Perfectionism—you have to know that as the relationship improves, your precision will, too; it's not the other way around
Too much discipline too early—preventing your horse from doing something will usually lead to an argument (Left-Brain horses love to argue, so when you try to make them do things or make them feel wrong for doing something you didn't want, it will create disobedience, it will create an argument; just say "How interesting!" and then encourage him—"Go ahead, do it . . . and then some!")
Not enough variety; you need consistency and variety for this horse, but more variety first
Perfectionism—allow it to develop, don't demand it; have a sense of humor
Lack of a plan: As soon as he is in the learning frame of mind, give him something to do (Patterns); you have to be one step ahead (or more!) in this quick-thinking state
Too much precision, not enough relaxation to keep a balance; there are Four Savvys for a reason— use all of them!
Asking for too much for too long; don't wear him out; stay this side of trouble so it is provocative but not pressure.
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