Because Pat Parelli’s approach is unique, we are often asked questions about methods and philosophy

Q: Can you describe how Pat Parelli’s methods are so different from others?

The basic tenant of the Parelli philosophy is not to use any mechanical aids or artificial gadgets to force a horse to do anything. We must use psychology to figure out how to communicate with our horse and understand why he’s doing these dangerous actions. Then and only then can we convince him to stop.

Q: I am not familiar with the Parelli method, but I have seen some of the John Lyons methods. Can you tell me what the difference is in the two methods? And please kill my curiosity – what is the Yo Yo game? That sounds like a fun way to train! ~Jimmy

I’m not going to repeat explaining the game, but I will add that it is called “yo-yo” because the horse goes back and forward, like a yo-yo. Parelli teaches us this game for safety. By teaching the horse a cue to back up away from us, it keeps it from rushing past us, crowding your space, or running into you, etc. without jerking on his head all the time.

Also, the cues are accompanied by facial expressions. Parelli stresses repeatedly that we are to smile at our horse when relaxed. Horses pay attention to our body language, so a certain look in our eyes along with a cue will cause the horse to respond the way we want. The horse becomes more responsive to us without physical cues. Eventually your horse will respond to your body language at liberty.

I haven’t seen or heard John Lyons talk much about that kind of communication, although he too uses body language, but in a different way. That is the main difference I see in them. However, John Lyons and Parelli are similar in that they both use the “advance and retreat” and “conditioned response” methods. However, John Lyons uses “round pen reasoning” to get the horse to bond with you by asking the horse to move when he won’t stand still, and keep moving until you ask it to stop; the horse learns that it is much easier to stand still when asked.

Parelli uses “reverse psychology” and the horse will soon follow you because of its herd instinct. I saw him do this with an untouchable mare, and it was awesome! I can’t get it to work as well as the round pen method–yet.

As far as ground work is concerned, Lyons and Parelli just have different terminology for the same thing:

Desensitizing: Lyons–sacking out; Parelli–friendly game.

Giving to pressure: Lyons–spot control; Parelli–porcupine game.

Focusing on you: Lyons–turn and face; Parelli–hide your hiney.

No ropes attached: Lyons–no contact control; Parelli–at liberty.

There’s lots more, but you get the idea. Also playing the games gives you finesse and grace with you horse; it’s beautiful to watch. John Lyons and Parelli both teach techniques without force, fear or intimidation.

Q: I need to ask your opinion. I was working with Cisco and he is doing great on the games, so I decided to try having him walk over a tarp. He wouldn’t cross it and he kept trying to run into me. I would wave my arms and do jumping jacks and shake the rope to make him back up but he would just run me over. Three times, and on the last one he knocked me over and ran over me. I am okay, sore but ok. I can’t figure out what to do. He deliberately aims for me. I did get him to step on the tarp. I did roll the tarp up so he could easily just walk over it. Any ideas? Thanks.  ~ Kelly

Oh man, I’m glad you’re all right! Slow down. It may be too soon to ask him to do more challenging things. He does not know you have a new approach to things.

He is testing you. First, you have to earn his respect, so he knows that running into you is the wrong option and there are consequences for it. Work with him away from the tarp, and play the driving game, yo-yo game, the circling game, and then the sideways game in that order. Practice having him move away from you when you say. This is your safety net. He has to get real good at this before you enter something new into the game. This may take a few sessions. Play a game every time you are around him. When you feed, when you groom, etc. Let him know this is a consistent rule.

At what phase does he respond? He should respond to the games at phase one or at least two. For no response to the yo-yo game, tap on the lead rope with the carrot stick three times and stop, and that should cause him to back up. This is his cue that he needs to move away from you NOW. If he still doesn’t back up or he comes toward you, tap him under the chin with it, but make sure you do not hit him hard. This is a sensitive area, and you want him to learn that that action comes from not responding to the first phase. Unfortunately there can’t be any consequences until he does something wrong, which is running into you. If he does it again, be prepared and make sure you get out of the way, let him by, then correct him by IMMEDIATELY do yo-yo asking him to back away from you by hitting the lead rope with your carrot stick again. As soon as he backs up a few steps, let him rest, and praise him.

You have to make sure he KNOWS to stay out of your space and that running into you is breaking the rules, before adding the tarp. Remember, the tarp is another challenge. If he plays the games well, and you think he is ready just lay it down and leave him alone. Let him investigate it on his own. Make sure it can’t move from wind and scare him. No loose corners, etc. Observe his body language. What are his ears doing? They will tell you what he is thinking. Respect his fears and listen to him. This is a tarp to you with solid ground under it, but he doesn’t know that. To him it is a deep hole that goes to the bottom of the earth and is certain death. If he goes up to it, or walks on it by himself he knows better and is not scared of it. If he is scared of it, play the friendly game. He has to get used to its’ sight and sound.

I know this is a long answer, but I have lots of ideas!

Let him watch you play with it. From a long distance away from him, but close enough that he is watching. Rustle it, walk over it yourself, pick it up, lay it down, play with it, etc. Believe me, you will look silly and he will be watching.  🙂  If he shies away or looks concerned, you’re too close. Back off. Act like what you are doing has nothing to do with him. Do this until he doesn’t care what you do with it. then….

Take him a few feet away from the tarp and play the circling game so he gets closer and closer to it each time. Do the game at a walk. You do not want him trotting over it because the noise will scare him or he could trip on it and really freak him out. He needs to be paying more attention to you than the tarp. If he shies away from the tarp when he walks by it, take him a little further away from it, till he can circle by it comfortably, focused on you, then work on getting closer until he steps on it more and more.

Do not ask him to do more than he is willing, and don’t ask him to back up onto it yet. That’s too much new stuff for him to learn. If the session takes a long time and you need to quit, go back and ask him to do something that you know he will do when asked and then quit. He does not have to do everything you intended to do, but he does have to obey a command before you end a session.

If he does step on the tarp and will stand still for one minute, end the session. Ask for more next time. Either more steps, or stand for a longer time. Let him smell it if he wants to, and leave him alone. I hope this helps. Just go slow.

Here are some John Lyons tips:

Rule # 1: “You don’t get hurt”. Don’t do anything that is going to cause you get hurt. If he rushes through you let him go. You can do the lesson another day, but not if you’re hurt.

Rule #2: “Your horse does not get hurt”. Do not let him get scared, because fear overrides all sense of danger. He will run through a fence to avoid something he is scared of.

Q: I just ordered the partnership kit. I would love to train horses someday myself, so this is my first step. I can hardly wait to get started. . . Thought maybe If you’re close I could take some lessons, then if I have problems figuring it all out. I’m in Illinois  ~Kelly

We could do a weekend clinic, and I could show you how to play the 7 games with my horse,that does them easily, and perhaps I could take you to where these colts are, and show you how the learning process works. We could also go to Pine Dell, and you can see what they do. By the way, tell me about you and your horse?  ~Barbara

Q: How do I find a Parelli Instructor in my area?

Here’s the site where all the official Parelli instructor’s contact information is located. If the name isn’t on the list, it’s not a certified Parelli instructor —

Q: Is “level one” just completing the games?

No, there is more to level one than that. There are actually 4 categories at the first level. Liberty, Finesse, Free-style riding, and on-line. On line is the 7 games.