Game #4: Focus on the Yo-Yo Game
by Pat Parelli
This is the fourth in a horse training series examining the Parelli Seven Games and their role in establishing leadership as well as building a language between you and a horse – any horse.
Have you ever wished that your horse had more suspension, stopped easily with a light cue, could do a slide stop, moved straighter or could back up quickly? The Yo-Yo Game is the key to developing all these things in your horse… and more. Imagine if you could balance your horse’s go and whoa so well that it took only your thoughts to move him forward or bring him to a screeching halt.
How do you develop these things in your horse? All of the Seven Games combined is the real answer but in particular the Yo-Yo Game helps balance your horse’s backward and forward movements. Most horses will go forwards without any difficulties, but backwards can be an entirely different matter. They have a good forwards "Yo" but their backwards "Yo" is broken. They need to be balanced to make a "Yo-Yo" and a good Yo-Yo Game is a key to building straightness, respect and impulsion in your horse. It will also help you cure such problems in your horse as running you over, running in front of you while leading, nipping, biting or getting heavy on the forehand.
Parelli Horse Training Games – Principles and Purpose
The Yo-Yo Game is the fourth of the Seven Games. Games #1 (Friendly), #2 (Porcupine) and #3 (Driving) are called the "principle games" because they establish the fundamental "alphabet" for communicating with your horse.
Games #4 (Yo-Yo), #5 (Circling), #6 (Sideways) and #7 (Squeeze) are known as the "purpose games" because they incorporate combinations of the first three Games and put them to purpose.
Each Game builds on the one before it, so getting good at Games 1, 2 and 3 before teaching your horse the Yo-Yo Game (#4) is going to be very important if you want results. Also if you wind up having problems and the Yo-Yo Game isn’t working so well, go back to the earlier Games and get them a bit better. You will find throughout all of the Seven Games that when you are having trouble in one, you can fix the problem by going back to the Games before it.
Why Yo-Yo, and Why Learn It?
Why such a funny name for this technique? I called it the Yo-Yo Game for a couple of reasons. One is that the name easily sticks in your head so you won’t forget it (!) and two, the Game is all about sending your horse back and bringing him forwards in a straight line and with equal force… just like a Yo-Yo. Your horse develops balance, lightness and suspension because he learns to be just as ready to go backwards as he is to go forwards. Since horses are naturally forward-a-holics (especially when they go right-brain) learning to think about backwards can balance them mentally and emotionally as well as physically.
Understanding why you would want to learn this game and where it can take you is the first step to success. As I often say, process and product are two very different things! Most people run into frustration with horses because they are constantly working on product. They practice spins, flying lead changes, jumping or barrel racing over and over thinking that things will get better. They can’t understand why their horse has a good day one day and falls apart the next or why it only gets a little bit better every year no matter how much they practice. What if those things could get a lot better each month instead of waiting for years for your horse to get it.
People have only tapped a very small amount of the potential with horses. This is because they are not looking outside their specialty, they are not paying attention the horse’s foundation. That’s why I developed the first three Levels of my program the way I did. They provide a solid foundation for any horse, no matter what he is going to do as a "profession". It’s like giving your child a good education throughout grade school before you ask him to do high school courses. How well would your child do if you just stuck him right in a high school English or math class at 3 years old and expected him to "get it" by practicing sentences or equations over and over. Horses need the same type of developmental time. That’s why there are certain tasks I ask people to do with their horses throughout the first three levels. The Levels, like the Seven Games are progressive with each Level building on what you learned in the one before it.
In the early stages, the Yo-Yo Game is taught on a 12-foot line (Level 1). Since the movements are exaggerated when you start, there will probably be lots of rope wiggling! As you and your horse advance (to Levels 2 and 3), you will play the Yo-Yo Game on a 22-foot line, a 45-foot line, without a line at all and while you are on your horse’s back, all with very little rope wiggling. The Game is the same, what changes is how you play, where you play and where you are in relation to your horse while you play.
Get Started with the Yo-Yo Game
The first step in teaching the Yo-Yo Game to start on the ground and make sure your horse has pretty good Friendly, Porcupine and Driving. Then you need to practice the phases for sending your horse backwards and bringing him back to you.
The Four Phases for sending your horse backwards
As soon as your horse takes even one little step – at any phase – stop immediately and relax your body. This is how he will know that he did the right thing. When he moves, even at phase 2 or 3, stop there and then start over again at phase 1 until he is all the way out to the end of the lead rope.
The Four Phases for bringing your horse forward
Again, you will release and go back to phase 1 whenever your horse takes a step forward. Some horses may never experience phase 4 because they love coming to you.
Once you have taught your horse how to back up and come forward, you can use the back up part to cure your horse of nipping, biting and running you over. If ever your horse goes to nip at you, back him up right away and in a hurry using phase 4 of the backup. Every time he even thinks about biting or nipping, send him backwards. Pretty soon he will start to keep his mouth at a respectful distance. If your horse is constantly running you over on the ground, just back him up every time he comes into your ‘personal space’. You can visually define your personal space by drawing a circle around your body with one of your feet. If your horse puts his nose, a foot or any other body part over that line, back him up using phase 4. It won’t take long at all for him to find it more comfortable to stay at a respectful distance from you.
As you and your horse get really good at this, you can add in lots of challenges to test your horse’s mental, emotional and physical fitness. Try playing it in a variety of situations and with different obstacles.
Get the picture? You can use this Game to build your horse’s confidence while you are improving his back up. This is only the beginning of the Yo-Yo Game. At every Level in my program you learn how to take this Game further and improve it. Soon you’ll progress to learning how to use the same principles for teaching your horse to slide to a stop, do the piaffe, or sit on his hindquarter and burn a hole in the ground spinning… but that comes later.
All of the refinement and specialization starts with a good foundation and lots of rope wiggling.
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 ParelliConnect.com.