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7 Games of Parelli Natural Horsemanship Training

Famous horse trainers Pat and Linda Parelli’s natural horsemanship program has gained popularity all around the world for improving humans’ relationships with their horses. Their unique techniques start with the concepts of love, language, and leadership.

The Parelli 7 Games are Friendly, Porcupine, Driving, Yo-Yo, Circling, Sideways, and Squeeze. They are the basis of true communication with horses, both in and out of the saddle. After learning the basic techniques of the seven games, owners are encouraged to use some imagination and expand them with a variety of obstacles.

The Parelli games should be studied and played in order, as every game builds on the one prior to it. This allows the games to make sense to your horse when they are presented in the correct order. The better you and your horse gets at them, the better results you will see and the more fun you will have.

Here are the Parelli 7 Games:

  1. Friendly Games
  2. Porcupine Game
  3. Driving Game
  4. Yo-Yo Game
  5. Circling Game
  6. Sideways Game
  7. Squeeze Game

Click on the links above to take you directly to each game in the article. We have detailed each game below for you.

1. Friendly Game

The first of the Seven Parelli Games is the Friendly Game, which is about making a good impression. It focuses on introducing yourself to your horse in a positive way in order to start off on good terms.

As the most important of all the Seven Games, the Friendly Game starts by rubbing your horse in a way they find enjoyable. After starting with these areas, gradually move on to the areas where your horse is more defensive. When your horse no longer acts defensive when you touch these areas, you have gained their trust.

After that, move on to other stimuli like swinging ropes, jumping up and down and skipping around them. This should be done until your horse is confident and relaxed. It is important to do all this with a smile on your face and relaxed, non-threatening body language.

You can play The Friendly Game with a lead rope, carrot stick, your bare hands or even with anything you have. Play the game from the tip of your horse’s ears, down their legs, to their tail and even inside their mouth. You should be able to be friendly with every part of your horse’s body.

2. Porcupine Game

The Porcupine Game helps your horse overcome fearful, defensive reactions to pressure, learning how to yield and move away from it. This step is important to a strong partnership, as horses naturally push into steady pressure, moving through it or against it.

In the Porcupine Game, there are four principles: intention, steady pressure, four phases of friendly firmness and rub-press-rub. To accelerate the Porcupine Game, you can use a carrot stick. The carrot stick allows you to apply pressure to your horse’s chest, neck and hip from a safe distance. After using the carrot stick, use your fingertips to refine.

Principle 1: Intention

In principle one, intention, you need to clearly convey your intentions through your body language. In order not to confuse your horse, your need to differentiate your very soft look in the Friendly Game from your body language in the Porcupine Game.

Principle 2: Steady Pressure

Principle two, steady pressure, is straightforward, as it reinforces the importance of applying steady pressure. It is an important component of playing the game.

Principle 3: Four Phases of Friendly Firmness

 For principle three, four phases of friendly firmness, there are four components of applying pressure. Phase one is to press the hair, phase two is to press the skin, phase three is to press the muscle and phase four is to press the bone.

Each of the phases in principle three pushes a little harder each time, making it increasingly uncomfortable to the horse if they don’t move from the pressure. As soon as your horse responds by moving away, immediately release all pressure. By releasing the pressure you are telling your horse they did the right thing.

Principle 4: Rub-Press-Rub

In principle four, rub-press-rub, you need to prepare your horse to play the Porcupine Game by rubbing them first. Then every time your horse responds to applying pressure, rub that spot again. If you do not rub, your horse is going to become defensive.

3. Driving Game

The Driving Game teaches your horse to yield from suggestion, with no use of physical touch. The objective is to use rhythmic pressure, which horses are naturally inclined to move quickly away from.

When teaching this Parelli horse game, you need to use rhythm in your hands. There are four phases that make up this game.

Phase 1

Gently beat the air with your hands, but do not touch your horse, staying about 1-2 feet away from them. Act like there are a couple of small bongo drums in between you and your horse’s nose, softly beating them in unison.

Phase 2

Continue on by increasing the intensity of the rhythm, but refrain from moving closer to your horse.

Phase 3

Begin to move closer to your horse, slowly and meaningfully, all while giving them a hard look.

Phase 4

Tap your horse’s nose, on either side of the bridge, using the same rhythm until they back up one step. Your feet should stay in place once you begin to make contact with your horse.

You can get more intense with the contact, but keep your feet still the entire time. When your horse takes a step back, they gain comfort and release from the physical pressure. Your horse will learn the discomfort stops when moving away.

Whenever your horse takes a step backward, release by quitting, relaxing and smiling. Give your horse a moment to think when they do the right thing before starting back up. Continue with this game until your horse goes backward at least five or six steps in a row.

4. Yo-Yo Game

The Yo-Yo Game works to balance your horse’s backward and forward movements. Most horses don’t have any difficulties going forward, but backward can be a totally different thing.

The game is key to building straightness, impulsion and respect in your horse. In addition, it will also help you fix such problems as your horse running over or ahead of you while leading, nipping, biting or even getting heavy on the forehand.

Four Phases of Sending Your Horse Backwards

To begin, start with your horse’s nose at about arm’s length from you and hold the end of the lead rope in your hand. Give your horse an intense look, as is if you are a horse pinning back your ears. Lift your hand up and wiggle your index finger at them without moving the lead rope.

Then, close your fingers on the rope and shake only your wrist. The rope will move a little, but the halter shouldn’t move. Next, lock your wrist tight and bend your elbow, moving your forearm back and forth. This will cause the lead rope and halter to move so your horse can feel it.

Now, lock your arm really straight, swinging your entire arm from your shoulder joint. Your horse will really feel this motion, as the rope and the halter will be moving quite a bit.

When your horse takes one step back, at any phase, stop what you are doing and relax your body. This will teach your horse to do the right thing. Whenever they move, start over until they are all the way out at the end of the lead rope.

The Four Phases for Bringing Your Horse Forward

When your horse is at the end of the lead rope, let them rest for 1-2 minutes before having them come back to you. When ready, smile and look at your horse in a friendly manner. Lift the lead rope while motioning them to come towards you.

Continue to smile and comb the rope lightly with your fingers open. Next, close your fingers while you comb the rope, causing your horse to feel some pull on their halter. Keep on smiling as you plant your feet, bending your elbows as you hold the rope steadily. Whenever your horse takes a step forward, release and go back to the beginning.

5. Circling Game

The Circling Game teaches your horse to understand that their job consists of maintaining gait, direction and watching where they are going. This all is done while your horse directs their center of attention to you.

The point of this Parelli horse game is to have your horse willingly and gladly do what you ask. This includes heading off in the direction you say, maintaining gait and direction once on the circle, and coming back in with the slightest suggestion. It is broken into three distinct parts: the send, the allow, and the bring back.

Lead your horse with just a light pull on the lead rope in the direction you want them in. Use a carrot stick or the end of your lead rope in the other hand to support them in that direction. If they haven’t moved, swing the carrot stick or lead rope.

Touch your horse on the neck with your rope or stick if they are standing looking at you. If your horse still won’t move, start again from leading, adding more energy and determination.

If at any point of the four phases, your horse tries to go in the direction you instructed, allow them to go on the circle. During the allow phase, simply pass the rope behind your back without turning, talking, clucking or using the carrot stick. You only move when your horse stops, then you send them out again.

Only ask for the bring back once your horse has completed at least two laps at any gait. Don’t do any more than four laps, as your horse will begin to check out mentally. To lead your horse in, run your hand down the lead rope, bringing it to your belly button.

Bring your hand all the way in and lift the carrot stick or rope at your horse’s hip a few times. Next, touch your horse on the top of their hip to get them to face you. If they don’t respond, go through the phases again.

6. Sideways Game

During the Sideways Game, you will teach your horse how to straighten and have them yield laterally with softness and respect. This builds the foundation for teaching your horse to sidepass, as well as developing suspension, spins and flying lead changes.

To begin, make sure you can yield your horse’s hindquarters and forehand separate from each other. Once you are ready, ask your horse to go sideways. Use a halter and lead rope and have them stand with their nose on a fence or wall. Place yourself facing their mid-section and ask your horse to move one end, a step or two at a time.

Begin by moving your horse’s forehand slightly, then the hindquarters and then the forehand again. If using a carrot stick, move it slowly back and forth like a windshield wiper. Move the forehand then hindquarters until your horse is going sideways.

Ask your horse to do just a few steps to start off with. Then, build up to where you can send them sideways for 20, 30 or even up to 50 feet at a time. Begin using the Driving Game technique to move them sideways before trying the Porcupine Game technique.

7. Squeeze Game

The Squeeze Game helps your horse to overcome claustrophobic spaces by teaching them to be calmer, smarter and braver. By doing this, they will learn to squeeze through narrow spots without concern.

Last of the seven Parelli Games, the Squeeze Game uses the same techniques as the Circle Game, but instead of playing the game in a circle, you play it in a straight line. Begin the game by standing by your horse approximately 6-8 feet from a fence. If your horse appears nervous, you may widen the space.

Send your horse through this narrow space by leading their nose and driving them forward from their hindquarters by using a lead rope or carrot stick. Once moving, simply allow your horse to go through.

Then, turn with your horse and once on the other side, ask for the bring back. Bring your hand to your belly button in order to lead your horse’s nose, pushing the hindquarters away.

Once you have both of your horse’s eyes focused on you, send them back through the other way. Keep asking your horse to go back and forth across the narrow area, giving short rests on each end to provide incentive.

When your horse is confident with that space, try with a narrower space. Allow them to get comfortable before narrowing the space again until there is just a three-foot distance between you and the fence. This can take several weeks and is important to always remember to end every session on a good note.

Here is a video of the seven Parelli horse games:

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