Relaxation Is Number One

Hi everyone,

It’s been a little while since my last post what with Sydney travel for our recent event there.  We had a wonderful two days, met lots of new students to Parelli and of course reconnected with many long-standing students we’ve known for some years now.  That part is always fun for me especially.

On the Saturday I ran the section explaining the Seven Games and how they work with the help of four Level 2-3 students who volunteered to be the ‘savvy team’.  Some of them had never been in front of a big crowd so they and their horses were understandably a little nervous, but they still did a super job and I think people really loved the fact that these were not professionals, but people just like them.

I told them to go to liberty if they felt they could, but hardly anyone was really ready by the end of the music.  So I encouraged them to do it, and took the risk that some of the horses might leave but how fun and educational it would be for everyone to see how to get them back.  It was so much fun, lots of laughter from the audience as I helped young Mel (14) to get her naughty Welsh pony back!  They were all just super.

On the Sunday, Pat gave a lesson to Mel on getting her pony to bond more with her.  That’s not easy with a LBE acting RBE, but by the end he did not want to leave her.  The afternoon lesson was with me and one of the Savvy Team members from the day before.  Clare’s RBE thoroughbred mare had some issues with tension.

So what did we do?  You might have guessed it… Partial Disengagement!  I actually coached her with this a little bit on the Friday night before the event when she was riding and it went quite quickly.  Clare was thrilled with how relaxed her horse felt and said that even though things were so much better, she had never experienced that level of relaxation when riding her.  Much to the delight of the group, things did not quite go that easily, however, on the Sunday!

First of all, they were in the arena alone and even though the Gold Members were sitting quietly and all in one spot, Clare’s horse was very distracted with the activity up on the walkways and was totally obsessed with getting out of the arena and back to the other horses.

We started on the ground and it wasn’t too bad so I had Clare play the Circling Game on a 45′ line and encourage her forwardness by asking her to make canter and gallop transitions.  When you have an impulsive horse, it’s common to want to go slower and keep things calm and avoid anything that is fast.  The good thing about this technique is that it actually is calming for the horse because you run off the adrenaline (of course the Circling Game must be established before you can use this technique).  You ask the horse to go faster than it wants to and then relax and wait for it to slow down to a canter again, repeating this several times until the horse is really left brain, almost a little reluctant to gallop and wants to come to you more than stay out there.

This went super and pretty soon Clare’s horse was just lovely, so on went the bridle and I began to coach her through the Partial Disengagement to get the relaxation when riding.  This took AGES.  Even though her horse was walking on a loose rein and not trying to run off, she was very tense.  Clare bent her slightly towards the wall and pushed on zone 3 with her leg (the one closest to the wall, on the inside of the bend) putting a curve in her ribs and making it difficult for her to hold tension there… but she held on and held on, almost releasing it then tensing up again.  Clare was wonderfully patient and we all rode with her mentally and emotionally as we pursued relaxation as the number one goal.  I lost track of time, but it was probably 40 minutes!

Her horse would almost make it, start to make little groaning noises, pre-blowing sounds, but not actually going all the way and blowing out.  Then all of a sudden, somebody started making a lot of noise up on the walkway and her horse got really frightened.  Clare reached down, bent her with one rein and got off, it was beautifully done.  As Clare was obviously a bit shaken I asked her if I could continue with her horse… it was so important to make the breakthrough.

I began on the ground, she was certainly not safe to get on, and I kept up the Partial Disengagement by walking next to her, bending her slightly with the rein and pushing my hand on her ribs just behind the girth.  She was so tight, so wound up, she brought back memories of Regalo for me!

As we came to one end of the arena, more noises appeared from the walkway and she froze and stared up towards it.  I made the point that she can look but not get fixated because that’s dangerous and can quickly turn into a panic attack.  It’s important to interrupt that pattern, so I flapped the rein against her neck to get her attention and to get her moving forwards again.  This only had to happen a few times and then she was refocused and soon after she made the big breakthrough and started blowing big time, dropped her head and relaxed.

Now she looked rideable!  I stepped up and walked her on a loose rein.  She strode along, head down, back swinging, totally relaxed.  It was wonderful.  I told the group that Clare had really done all the hard work but I looked like the hero, I just helped at the end!  After a couple of laps, she wanted to stop which I welcomed and as I talked to Clare she started to walk in tiny circles and I felt she wanted to roll so I allowed that too.  As she dropped to the ground I stepped off and she released her body of every last little bit of emotional tension and adrenaline.  It was quite moving that a horse so afraid just a short time ago was now so confident, trusting and relaxed to be with us.  What was even better was that everyone got to see the whole process.

At the end I asked how you would be different after watching this and there were super comments about how now they get it, that this HAS to be the most important thing.  My favorite was this one:  “I now know that I can have the relationship I’ve always dreamed of with my retired dressage horse.  Even though we’ve come a long way, for the 18 years I’ve owned him I know he’s never really been relaxed with me.”

Relaxation needs to be number one.  When you learn the secret of achieving this with horses the world opens up.  Partial Disengagement will be such a powerful tool for you – on the ground and riding, and I’ve written an article on it that’s coming out in the May Savvy Times magazine.  I hope you put it to great use and you’d better let me know how it goes!

Keep it natural,



Filed under Horsemanship, Teaching

45 responses to “Relaxation Is Number One

  1. Fleta

    Is it possible to get a short you tube clip of partial disengagements on the ground? The picture in the article was on a circle but Linda said she was walking next to the horse in this case. It would be nice to see the techniques.

    • Hi Fleta,

      I checked with your daughter (who works for us!) and she confirmed that there is one photo in the magazine that shows PD on a straight line. The others are on a circle, but the concept is the same. Don’t let your horse go straight and influence zone 3 until they can’t hold their tension there anymore.
      Try this: sit up, hold your breath and breathe shallow and rapidly. Make your ribs very tense.
      Now… start bending to one side. Go very slowly and keep going until all of a sudden you find you can’t hold the tension anymore and take a big deep breath.
      This is exactly what happens when you do it with your horse. Take it slow and feel for when it will happen. It might take a while the first time, but after that you both ‘get it’ and it takes minutes. Horses love it! Like us, they hate being tense and appreciate being given a way to get out of it.
      I’ve made a couple of DVDs for Gold Members on this because it’s a very new concept, but Savvy Club will have one soon – we already filmed it.

      • Fleta

        Thank you Linda. I have been using the partial disengagement technique in the saddle but just started using it on the ground. After a lesson with Don Jessop last Sunday I have another arrow to use that is working very well. When my horse Feliz tenses under saddle I ask for alternating lateral flexion until she relaxes her head down and releases her tension. By making sure she is relaxed before asking for any transition and returns to relaxation during the transition we are getting smoother walk, trot, canter transitions. I have able to canter without a buck or kick all weekend:) I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

  2. Chris Pope

    Hi Linda,

    I love reading your blogs, and I so wished that we could have come to Sydney to see you work with Clare and her LBE/RBE which is exactly what my TB ex race horse mare is. I have been using the partial disengagement when I take her out online and am hoping its going to encourage Lara to relax when we are out and trust me a little more. My question was going to be is there any chance of you and Pat doing something similar in England? I am sure I am not alone in saying that I would love to bring my Lara to an event like that and have some help from you and/or Pat himself with her, my friend and I started doing Parelli two years ago (she has an LBI) and we love it and we have often said that it would be great to see people who have been ‘doing’ parelli at events and see you and Pat help bring them on further if they are having problems or issues as you learn so much from that. The other question I wanted to ask is – is there any way of watching the footage from the event in Sydney where you helped Clare – I think that would help me a lot with Lara.

    Thanks Linda
    Look forward to reading your next blog.
    Chris x

    • Hi Chris,

      I’m not sure yet of our program in UK, shall keep everyone posted and your suggestion is taken on board :)
      Unfortunately we did not tape the Sydney event, I wish we did! There’ll be more on this for sure. For now, the instructions are in the latest Savvy Times.


  3. Julia Field

    Dear Linda,
    Thank you for writing this and reminding me that when my horse goes RB I need to help him by being more proactive rather than getting quieter. My boy also holds a lot of tension. Even when he can stand still there is always something moving. He plays with the bit or shakes his head. Now I know to get rid of the adrenaline…then see what happens after that.
    The more I read the more I feel equipped to help this horse who has led me to learn more and more.
    I owe a debt of gratitude to him, his biggest compliment to me yet is he is now allowing me to sit with him when he lies down. A lovely show of trust and relaxation.
    Through him I am going to be a better horseman for many more horses.
    Thank you.
    Julia Field

  4. Hi Linda,Yes, thank you for your information on partial disengagement. I have a LBI on the ground which goes to a moderate RBE at times when I’m on her back. Which i might add has been really challenging for me 1. I’m a Mum and feel a bit vulnerable on a horse these days & 2. Lace is my first horse after a 10 year break from horses. 3. It was completely oposite to her horsenality on the ground. (Which makes me second guess what horsenality she truly is – oh the confusion).So after watching your segment on Relaxation through partial disengagement I feel armed and ready to try this new technique with Lace and hopefully help her to “relax”.Thanks again!Jaz from Australia.

  5. Deb

    Linda says “I made the point that she can look but not get fixated because that’s dangerous and can quickly turn into a panic attack.”

    I’m currently expanding my horses environment by taking her out online. She is very LBI but is showing some RBE tendancies out in the world. I get confused whether to get her busy if she gets focused on something or if I am blowing through her thresholds by not waiting. Any advice?

    • Ilka

      Deb, this is the same question that I have. My LBI will also go RBI/RBE when taken out of his comfort zone and it’s always hard to know what to do when he starts starring at things that concern him.

      Wonderful blog, as always, Linda! I hope you can help us with this question.

      Thank you!

    • When your horse acts RBE, that’s the behavior you need to address.. you cannot at this moment treat her as LBI.
      Here’s the hard part… LB horses take a LOT more leadership savvy because being left brain, they are not looking for a leader, so when they get RB, it’s harder to convince them that we can help as compared to dealing with an innately RB horse.
      Here are some things to think about:
      1. You have to be bigger than her reactions. Sometimes we are too quiet and calm.
      2. Retreat for sure. Pushing across a threshold can make things much worse.
      3. You can still use all the strategies we teach, just do them behind the threshold. You can ‘work the line’ of the threshold, or retreat to a spot where it feels more manageable for you. Much as we’d all like to think we can do what Pat Parelli does, some of us need to have a horse a little less disturbed in order to be effective and manage the process!

  6. Janice

    Hi Linda,
    I so look forward to, and enjoy reading your blog. It really enhances my learning.

    As I was reading your latest entry, a question popped into my head. In this entry you state:

    “As we came to one end of the arena, more noises appeared from the walkway and she froze and stared up towards it. I made the point that she can look but not get fixated because that’s dangerous and can quickly turn into a panic attack. It’s important to interrupt that pattern, so I flapped the rein against her neck to get her attention and to get her moving forwards again.”

    What got me thinking, is that I recalled reading in another blog entry (“Recalling My Dream” from 4/25/10) where you let Remmer do this:

    “Remmer is so funny, he is the most perceptive horse I’ve ever owned, noticing the tiniest changes and differences and always making sure they are not life threatening! Our neighbors have some goats (weren’t there last summer) and he saw them from the hill almost half a mile away and was frozen in place for a good 2 minutes.”

    Why would you let Remmer stand and stare, but Clare’s horse you interrupted the pattern? Is it because of the difference between a LBI and a RBE? If they’re tense and staring you break the pattern, but if they’re relaxed and staring you let them look?

    I ask because I’ve been playing with this with my LBI mare while out trail riding. If my mare stops to look at something, I give her time to look rather than asking for forward right away, in order to help her gain more confidence out on the trail. It did seem to be helping until the day she fixated on some wild turkeys (that she sees all the time), and turned RBE and wanted to turn and head back home.

    Hoping you can clarify. Thanks!

    • Astute question! And it’s obvious you are not just reading my blogs, you are STUDYING! Good for you, I’m impressed.

      The reason I didn’t allow the RBE horse in Sydney to fixate was because she was already high on adrenaline, so I knew it could only get worse. Plus, I know Remmer. So that makes a difference. Whenever I play with a horse I don’t know, I’m going to err on the side of caution.

      Sounds like you learned something about your horse… and consider this – the goats were a long ways off. Maybe the turkeys were closer?
      You just have to try to make the right decision, and sometimes the first thought that pops into your head is the right one. You have to have the presence of mind and humility to follow those instincts. In fact, a couple of weeks ago I had my first ride on Remmer since arriving in Pagosa, and some horses suddenly ran around our indoor arena and he got excited. Then there was some commotion behind him in Zone 5 – his most bothersome zone. I knew I should get off right away, but I waited about 20 seconds too long… so it was a little harder than it should have been had I done it the moment I knew he was upset.

  7. Lori Granberg

    Thank you for this great story. Partial disengagement is something we’ve been working on and I would love to learn more about it. My May Savvy Times just arrived, but I don’t see the article???

  8. Cindy

    Wow!!! I bet this was amazing to watch. I do hope someday that is put on a savvy club dvd, as we all know there are alot of rbe horses out there, and so many people have had there horses act like this. And to be able to witness this from the start to finish in how it was handled. :) As we have all seen,or even experienced how extreme horses can get. Thank you once again for all you do to help the relationship between horses and humans.

  9. Thank you for this lovely article, it is so easy to forget relaxation. Not just with the horse either but in our self, I get tense so easily when I feel I’m messing up and that spiral is never good.
    Got to slow down and reach for it, making that the goal today!

  10. I really must stop reading your blog at work. This is so moving I’m actually crying and it’s really not a good look in an office! :)

    Thank you!

    • Thank goodness someone else cries! I was just saying to the audience at our event in Oregon on the weekend that I’m not tired, I’ve just been crying all day thanks to all the wonderful students who line up to tell me how Parelli has changed their life and recount some of the most AMAZING, moving and wonderful stories.
      And no, it’s not just because I’m in my 50’s now, I’ve been crying tears of joy sharing stories since 1990!

      • Ilka

        Oh…don’t worry, Linda and Sara, we are all crying….even my boyfriend gets teary when he watches some of the DVD footage and he isn’t even doing Parelli!!

        I can hardly go through any Parelli horse story, video or photos without crying, and I am not even 50 years old. The worst was last year’s Celebration!! Here’s hoping to be moved to tears for many more years to come…truly inspirational. Thank you, Linda and Pat!


  11. Veronica Hill

    I look forward to reading this article, I find it very difficult to get my high energy, dominant, unconfidant, LBE mare to relax, its lovely when she does, she goes sort of sedated and calm but willing. We have a long way to go!
    PS, I think I may have had something to do with the confidance issues…

  12. caroline

    would it be right to say that its not about any task at all until you have relaxation ?

    • Yes, especially if your horse is RB.
      LB horses are so easy to teach because fear is not an issue. Respect is though! And you can’t smack respect in to a horse, you have to earn it by being more interesting!!!
      It is NOT about the task, the task just gives you something to talk about, and it reveals any and all of the underlying issues.

  13. Becca

    Wow – sounds wonderful and very inspiring :-) I LOVE the fact that level 2/3 students got to be ‘the savvy team’. What an opportunity!!
    Anytime that happens in the UK please let us know!!!

  14. Shawne

    Hi Linda,

    I loved this article, and sooo wish I had been there to see the demonstration. Are there plans for this to come out on a future Savvy Club DVD?

  15. Jaz Dennis

    Hi Linda,
    Yes, thank you for your information on partial disengagement. I have a LBI on the ground which goes to a moderate RBE at times when I’m on her back. Which i might add has been really challenging for me 1. I’m a Mum and feel a bit vulnerable on a horse these days & 2. Lace is my first horse after a 10 year break from horses. 3. It was completely oposite to her horsenality on the ground. (Which makes me second guess what horsenality she truly is – oh the confusion).So after watching your segment on Relaxation through partial disengagement I feel armed and ready to try this new technique with Lace and hopefully help her to “relax”.
    Thanks again!
    Jaz from Australia.

  16. Oh my goodness, I am crying again!! I was there on Sunday and it was such a moving session – thank you Linda! Cheers Paulette

  17. Jeanne B.

    Linda, thank you for posting this. A couple of things you wrote resulted in a BFO for me, namely the bit about encouraging an impulsive horse to go faster than he wants to (even if it means galloping) and about allowing him to look but not fixate (interrupting the pattern before he becomes panicked). I will keep these in mind; I’ve a feeling they’ll come in handy next time I’m playing with my LBI (who becomes LBE when bored).

  18. Pat & Mel Miller

    This was the most SPECIAL weekend for Mel and Patchie!..a dream come true!!
    Thank you Linda and Pat for helping Mel so much with her naughty, but FUN LBE partner Patchie.

    Both Mel and Patch are still licking their lips after such wonderful lessons from you both, and very much appreciate this wonderful opportunity that you both gave to them in Sydney…
    MANY MANY Thanks!
    Pat & Mel
    PS: I know Mel wishes she was 14!!..but she just turned 12 a few days before the Share Parelli event in Sydney. :)

    • Hi Pat and Mel!
      how wonderful to be Mel’s age and get a lesson from the master himself, but even more exciting is the fact that she had already learned so much from the program beforehand.
      Tell them both ‘hi’ from us – they were both excellent students.

  19. Barbara

    Great article and can’t wait to read the rest of the story in the May Savvy well needed right now and would also like to read how Pat had Mel bond with her horse more especially a LBE/RBE.

    • He just made things a lot more interesting… and challenged him on a leadership level. It’s not at all easy to put this in to words, but in essence, that’s what LBE’s need. Gosh, we need to know SO much more for these smarty pants horses. I should know, I have one in Allure!


  20. Kim

    Hi Linda,

    Great story!
    Question – why do you do partial disengagement towards the wall, instead of away from it?


    • Because the wall stops the horse from turning… and from you having to use the other rein to keep him going ‘straight ahead’. It’s not essential, but it’s a great aid.

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