Game #1: Focus on the Friendly Game
by Pat Parelli
Note: This is the first in a series examining the Seven Games and their role in establishing leadership as well as building a language between you and a horse – any horse.
The Friendly Game is the first of the Seven Games because nothing beats a good first impression. When you want to meet someone, how would you first approach him? I like to think about introducing myself to a horse as positively as I would another person.
Unfortunately, horses are often assaulted and abused during an introduction. People trap them, force them into squeeze chutes, tie them up, tie them down, tie up a leg, blindfold them, throw a saddle on, get on and ride the buck out of them.
For a moment, let’s consider that a particular horse has already been ridden. Most of the riders he’s encountered just saddled up and got on, as if no preparation was needed. Then they kick him to go, pull him to stop, and yank the horse around to turn. If the poor horse objects and misbehaves at this kind of treatment, then out comes the armory of gadgets. The gadget may shut his mouth, tie down his head, hold him in a frame or provide more leverage to the rider in order to correct this behavior and have the horse submit.
In my view, studded reins and chains near a horse’s mouth are downright cruel. But, hey, it’s normal, so very few people ever question it. Yet with a little of the Friendly Game, so much of this forceful, mechanical equipment and the militaristic attitude that goes with it can be avoided for a more positive result.
I believe if people could see things from the horse’s point of view, and if they knew of an alternative way to get results, they would choose it.
No Force Neccessary
Horses don’t need to be forced to behave. They can be convinced naturally to become our willing partners.
The Seven Games were developed as a result of observing how horses communicate with each other. This system allows you to know not only what kind of games to play, but in what order and for what purpose.
Game #1 is the Friendly Game. It is, without a doubt, the most important of the Seven Games. You need to play it with your horse first, before anything else, and then you need to continue to play it before, during and after each of the other Seven Games. You can play the Friendly Game with your 12- foot lead rope, with a Savvy String, with a Carrot Stick, with a plastic bag on the end of a stick, with a saddle pad, with your bare hand or with anything you have. Play it from the tip of your horse’s ears, inside his mouth, down all his legs to the end of his tail. There is no part of your horse’s body you should not be able to be friendly with.
To emphasize the power of the Friendly Game, let me give you an example of getting on a horse that’s never been ridden. All this involves is being able to play the Friendly Game at a high level.
I have two focuses in mind:
I start by rubbing the horse in a pleasurable way wherever the horse will allow me. I begin with these areas and gradually move to the ones he feels more defensive about. These are the “Wait a minute! I don’t know you that well yet!” spots. I take note of those areas and I use them to measure how far I’m progressing.
When the horse is no longer defensive, he is telling me that he trusts his body in my hands.
From there I increase the stimulus to see how much the horse can stand. Some horses are okay as long as everything is slow and quiet. These are horses people learn to sneak around. I do the opposite. This technique will actually keep horses like that from becoming scared and flighty.
I swing ropes. I skip around. I jump up and down. I stagger around until the horse gets desensitized. All the while I have a smile on my face and a non-threatening, relaxed body language. Pretty soon the horse is convinced that I’m harmless. He can get pretty scared until he works through his emotions and my experience and savvy level allows me to understand that.
I persist through the process until the horse becomes confident and relaxed.
To leave the horse feeling scared is just not fair. Life as a prey animal is scary enough, having to watch out every moment to survive. Horses need to get over their innate fears and skepticism if they’re going to become our partners. The first step is that I have to prove I’m a friend no matter what.
Once I feel the horse is making mental changes and begins to look at me differently, lowering his head and relaxing his muscles, only then will I take the next step and ask permission to jump onto his back.
His back is a whole new area that needs more Friendly Game and desensitization. But since I started on the ground, most of the work has already been done. Within a very short time the horse will allow me to lie on his back, kneel on it, stand on it, slide off his rump, disengage his hindquarters… and only then will I fork my legs over his back. This is actually the most vulnerable position.
This entire process has been nothing but the Friendly Game. If I get this right, everything else will come quickly and easily because I’ve earned the horse’s trust. While I’ve been insistent, at no time have I invaded without asking permission. I never acted like a predator.
Horses are amazingly adaptable animals and are very quick to make changes, probably quicker than any other living creature.
Here are some ways to make a good
Pat Parelli, coiner of the term “natural horsemanship”, founded his program based on a foundation of love, language and leadership. Parelli Natural Horsemanship allows horse owners at all levels of experience to achieve success with their at-home educational program. Together with his wife Linda, Pat has spread PNH across the globe with campuses in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. Newly launched in 2011, parelliconnect.com provides an online social forum packed with training tools, step-by-step to do lists, video and more. Log on today for your FREE 30-day trial at www.parelliconnect.com.