Putting the Relationship First
What does this mean? How do you do it? What happens if you don’t?
by Linda Parelli
This article was originally published in the February 2009 issue of Savvy Times magazine. Recent back-issues of Savvy Times are available for Parelli members in the Resources section of Parelli Connect.
You know you are putting the relationship first when rapport, connection, trust and confidence are more important than achieving the task or goal itself.
When you make your horse’s needs more important than the task at hand, you’ll be amazed at how that changes your horse’s feelings about you. That’s why we so often say, Putting the Relationship First “It’s not about the . . .” It really isn’t. When your horse won’t get on the trailer, it’s probably because he lacks self-confidence. He doesn’t trust your leadership, so the more you push him, the more convinced he is that he shouldn’t trust you, and his confidence in you deteriorates.
Anyone can make a horse do something, but can your relationship be so good that your horse offers to do things for you? It’s the most amazing feeling when you walk past a trailer and your horse offers to get in it, or when he pops over those barrels or slips into that canter or offers you a flying change. When your horse becomes this willing, you know the relationship is in great shape; but to achieve this, your goals have to change. You have to put your horse’s needs first, and everything else will follow.
Take the time it takes
My two biggest breakthroughs in this past three years came from finally understanding how to put the relationship first at a level I had not been able to achieve before. The first was during demonstrations in the arena with Pat.
You might remember when both Pat and I would play with a problem horse at our tour events. Well, even though I knew it was not about the trailer, I couldn’t help putting a little pressure on myself at first, because I really wanted to get the horse to go into the trailer within the hour or two that we had.
It took me several sessions to wake up to the truth that, no matter how small my thought about the trailer was, the horse would feel it. He would feel my intent, and it always led to a little distance between us.
One day I had a really tough horse, and suddenly I realized I was worrying about time running out, and there it was, loud and clear: I cared more about the trailer than about the horse’s trust and confidence. Sheesh.
After that I made a big shift in my horsemanship, because I could truly focus on the confidence, or the motivation, or the calmness, or the play—whatever it was the horse needed—and everything would just fall into place. Easily! More easily than I’d ever experienced before.
The second breakthrough was with Remmer. My relationship with Remmer was really good, and I didn’t have any problems or frustrations, or so I thought!
One day I was playing with him at Liberty, trying to develop his halt-to-canter transitions, when all of a sudden I noticed he was a little tense. Aaargh . . . I felt terrible that I hadn’t thought it a big deal, and I also realized this had been going on for some time. So I immediately changed my approach.
Instead of asking Remmer to canter again after the halt, I just waited. I waited for what seemed like an eternity, until he finally looked at me and took a big breath. Then I smiled and asked him to canter. What a difference! The next transitions came smoothly, and he stayed connected; no more tension.
But the best was yet to come. The next day he met me at the gate with the most enthusiastic look on his face! It blew me away that something that appeared to be so minor had made such a big difference in his feelings for me.
My not waiting until Remmer was mentally and emotionally ready to canter made him feel I was pressuring him, so he was getting a little less enthusiastic about being with me. But I never connected the dots, because I didn’t think it was that bad.
In truth, I was not concerned about it, because we were doing more advanced things. I can’t believe I thought that! From that day on I put his confidence and motivation first, and look at what he’s giving me today! Our relationship has never been better, and he has never been more exuberant.
When Pat Parelli says, “Take the time it takes so it takes less time,”this is what he means. It feels like it takes a long time in the beginning,but all of sudden things start cooking along. Best of all, you don’t create new problems, because you are taking care of the little things; you are taking care of the inner horse.
Here is a list of some “little” things that will help make a big difference.
- Wait until your horse comes to you instead of catching him. Even if he stands there and allows you to approach, there is something preventing him from coming to you. Is it trust? Is it motivation or desire? That will depend on his Horsenality™—trust issues are usually Right-Brain; motivation issues are usually Left-Brain.
- Don’t just put the halter on him; feel what it feels like. Is he putting his head in there eagerly, or is he braced against you, or shut down and non-reactive? If you can make the haltering/grooming/bridling/saddling experience as important as the things you want to go have fun with or train for, your horse will give you more.
- Don’t push him. You need to notice when your horse is reluctant to do something and figure out if it is a confidence issue or a lack of trust in your leadership. Most people just increase the pressure until the horse does it. You can torture your horse with Phase 1 because you are still coaxing him forward when you actually need to back off. Right-Brain horses lose their confidence easily, and Left-Brain horses are always challenging the validity of your leadership. When you treat the reluctance or resistance properly, the relationship improves, and pretty soon your horse becomes more calm and willing. If you don’t do this, things get progressively worse until one day you are fed up with being frustrated or your horse blows up.
- Give him what he needs right now. The moment he gets upset, calm him. If he gets tense and loses trust, back off, relax and reassure him. If he loses motivation, get it back. If he is naughty, play with him until he can concentrate again. This is taking care of the inner horse.
Gain rapport by:
- Being appropriate for his Horsenality™. If your horse needs to think before he can move his feet, you need to give him the time to think(Introvert). If he needs to move and play before he can think, you have to encourage his activity (Ex- trovert). If your horse is not confident, then coaxing him to do it, no matter how gently, is distressing. And if he is confident, then being conservative or tentative will frustrate him or make him dull.
- Knowing what is important to your horse, what makes him tick. Right-Brain Extroverts need to feel safe. Right-Brain Introverts need to feel confident. Left-Brain Introverts need mental connection. Left-Brain Extroverts need to be physical.
Help him to feel safe by:
- Retreating when he’s scared.
- Being a confident and considerate leader.
- Respecting thresholds (see Fear article).
- Making his fear more important than anything else and doing what it takes to get him calm.
Gain trust and confidence by:
- Not pushing or forcing your horse. No matter how gently you encourage, you are pushing a reluctant horse whose mind or heart is not in it.
- Giving him choices and allowing him to make decisions.
- Retreating whenever he loses confidence, no matter how subtly.
- Not tricking him (halter behind back, luring or bribing with treats, etc.)
- Repeating things until your horse is relaxed and confident.
- Being consistent.
Get mental connection by:
- Realizing it is a game. Don’t get frustrated or impatient, or you’ll lose his respect. Remember the saying “How interesting!” You’ll use this a lot.
- Doing the opposite of what he expects. Humans can be so predictable!
- Being subtler. When your horse gets you to move more than he does, you’re losing the game!
- Not repeating things over and over. Left-Brain horses are fast learners.
- Enjoying the challenge. Mental connection leads to motivation.
Get physical connection by:
- Encouraging your horse to use his energy.
- Giving him constructive things to do with it (Patterns).
- Being progressive.
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