Game#3 in the series of The Seven Games with Pat Parelli
Have you ever wondered how “horse whisperers” are able to magically communicate with horses from across a pen? With suggestions that are imperceptible, skilled horsemen are able to have a horse respond as if it was the horse’s instinct to do so. The Driving Game develops these skills, in you and your horse, to such a degree and with such subtle communication, that people will think your horse is reading your mind.
The Driving Game teaches your horse how to yield from a “suggestion” with no physical touching involved. In the beginning, driving is done at a reasonably close range, but as you progress, you can actually drive (or suggest) from quite a distance. The ability to communicate this way becomes especially useful when you need to direct your horse away from you, maneuver him around obstacles, move him out of your space or ask him to perform a task without the ability to touch him.
Horses play the Driving Game with each other all the time. The alpha, or lead horse, only has to give a meaningful ‘look’ and a swish of the tail to drive another horse away. Watch horses interacting with each other. When the more dominant horse drives another horse out of his space, he brings up his energy, puts his ears back and “tells” that other horse to move away with a scowl on his face. The horse’s body language, expression and intention is very clear: “move out of my space before 1 bite or kick you!” This is usually enough to get the other horse to move. If not, the dominant horse will steadily and progressively add more pressure to get a response. He’ll approach with greater threat and if necessary, finally make contact with his teeth or hooves.
In Parelli Natural HorseManShip (PNH), we call this progressive, on-coming pressure “the Four Phases.” Asking a horse to do something using as little pressure as possible and then following through until you are effective will teach him to pay attention to your slightest suggestion. When you and your horse experience how this feels, you will be able to move your horse around with the slightest and simplest suggestions.
Becoming an expert on the ground with the Driving Game is key to riding a horse bridle-less. Once your horse learns to respond to your slightest suggestions on the ground, he is able to understand your suggestions from the saddle. Sensitizing your horse this way translates into invisible aids. What looks like magic or a seriously dangerous situation to most normal people, becomes quite a simple matter to you because you have taken the time to establish faultless communication and eliminated the risks.
How the Driving Game works
Horses are naturally inclined to move away from flapping objects or rhythmic pressure (as used in the Driving Game) whereas they tend to lean into steady pressure (like that used in the Porcupine Game, Game #2). When first beginning, your horse may be a little reactive to the rhythmic pressure of the Driving Game. He may scoot around, trying to escape your suggestion, rather than moving away calmly and with respect. You just need to stay with him, stay in position and continue to drive him with passive persistence until he is calm and thinking.
Be careful of becoming too critical or asking for too much too soon. Take things at your horse’s pace and incorporate plenty of Friendly Game (game # 1) by relaxing and rubbing him when he stops. Your horse will quickly learn not to be scared and will begin to confidently understand that you are asking him to move away from you, not run off.
Because the Driving Game is relatively easy to teach your horse, be careful not to use it instead of the Porcupine Game. You and your horse need to become adept at all of the Seven Games.
It’s like learning the alphabet. Once you have every letter mastered, you can build complete words and sentences and have intelligent conversations. Just imagine what your conversations would be like if you never mastered the letter A or the letter 0? All the words containing those letters would be unavailable to you. Wouldn’t that make your communications far more limited; and in turn, limit what you could do?
Each one of the Seven Games is a vital part of your horsemanship alphabet, so don’t cut corners. Each game builds on the one before it so that it makes perfect sense to the horse. Remember when you learned about vowels and consonants? They were taught to you in a specific order so that it would make sense. Learning and using the Seven Games is how you develop a great language and sophisticated communication system with a horse. They will also help you learn to effectively diagnose and solve “behavior” problems in horses with ease.
When first teaching your horse to understand the human version of playing the Driving Game (as opposed to what it looks like coming from another horse), use rhythm in your hands. The beat should be like the Indian drums in grade “B” western movies! Move your hands in little sets of four beats, emphasizing the first beat of each set: “BOOM boom boom boom … BOOM boom boom boom … ” This rhythm is something your horse will learn to recognize and understand without fearing it.
A horse only knows he did the right thing according to when you quit asking for something or release the pressure. By this I mean that you stop (quit) the driving action with your hands and just relax (release the horse from pressure) as soon as he even tries to do what you asked.
You could release your horse by stroking him in the same area you were just driving (incorporating the Friendly Game as a reward). Or, sometimes just stopping completely, relaxing and doing nothing is even better than trying to pet your horse. You can always pet him later and some horses actually feel more comfort not being touched.
Next month, we’ll get into the Four Phases, which are the key to being firm, fair and friendly, while being polite, clear and totally effective in your communication with a horse. Phases mean that you start as politely as possible and progress slowly and steadily until you get a response. The only thing that should change is the level of intensity. The biggest secret of the Four Phases is to use them, and next month we’ll go into that in detail.
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Want to know more? You will find more detailed information on the Driving Game, and any of the Seven Games in the Partnership pack, part 1 of Pat Parelli’s Savvy System. Call Parelli Natural HorseManShip at 1-800-642-3335 or visit www.parelli.com for a .free brochure.
Published in the May 2003 Issue
Pat Parelli is an American horse trainer who practices natural horsemanship and founded the Parelli Natural Horsemanship program.