Category Archives: Q & A

Thresholds in Reverse

Last week, I posted a blog about respecting your horse’s thresholds. Reader Linda Reinhold left a great question and I thought the answer would make for a great follow-up post. Linda asked:

“Last weekend I went cattle sorting, nothing serious, just for fun. It turned out to be anything but fun! My horse is fairly athletic but was his head was totally out of the game because he was more concerned about his “trail buddy” horse outside of the arena. I am thinking maybe instead of trying to work him down and keeping him away, I should have done something different. Was this similar to being “spooky”? Did I cross a “threshold”? Should I have done the approach and retreat letting him know he could always return to the other horse? What I was doing never helped!!!”

My response: Yes, you’re right!  When a horse has safety issues, it’s almost impossible to do anything else because all he can think about is self preservation.  So your horse wanting to be with his buddy was his sign that he didn’t feel safe in that environment.  He wanted to be with his herd and he saw his buddy as that more than he saw you as that.

In everything we do, the ultimate goal is for our horse to value being with us more than another horse because they truly trust and respect us as the leader.  They know they will be safe in our presence.  Of course this is a process and some people will get there sooner than others, say comparing how quickly Pat can get that to happen vs you or me.  So it is a matter of savvy and something you are never not working on.

The situation you describe is a difficult moment because when faced with that, you can only do your best under the circumstances.  What you really need to do is more preparation beforehand.  That in itself is an article, but for now think of it this way – “What are ALL the things that could go wrong, and what do I need to do to prepare myself and my horse so they don’t happen?”  This may be things like extreme Friendly Games, ‘weaning’ games with your horse and another horse, being around cattle or simulators, etc.  But as your horse gets more confidence in you, he will trust your judgement and look to you for guidance and reassurance.  That of course is what the Parelli Program teaches you to achieve, step by step and level by level.

Now, when it comes to dealing with the situation you describe…. you would be playing with thresholds but in “reverse” because your horse’s thresholds are about moving away from the other horse rather than moving towards something.  So when you feel your horse’s threshold, turn away and return to his buddy, then come back again.  Keep doing this until that threshold disappears and then work on the next one, and so on.  The fact that you keep returning to your buddy will finally cause him to stop panicking and then he won’t worry about it anymore – but you have to take the time it takes.  And know this: the more you keep him away, the more his fear will escalate.  That’s exactly what happens when mares and foals are weaned abruptly.  The emotional panic is quite severe and often the cause of sickness and colics associated with weaning.  The grown horse has the same instincts because, being herd animals, bonding is a very important part.

I hope that helps, and it seems that you realized it afterwards!



Filed under Horsemanship, Q & A

A Horse’s Association Span

Question: I am a Level 2 student and Savvy Club member and I realized this weekend that I did not know the association span of the horse. For a dog the association span is 3 – 5 seconds in which you have to attach a positive or negative action to the dog’s action. This is a really important part of timing and overall training, too. How long is the association span in a horse? – Pamela R.

Answer: Hi Pamela! This is an interesting question, and given its scientific nature I have sent it to Dr. Miller for his thoughts.

In the meantime, here is a perspective from me: I think that the very next thing you do will let the horse know if he was right or wrong. Even people who do it a little slower get the right response from their horse eventually, but of course the quicker you can let the horse know he was right, the better.

Letting the horse know he was “wrong” is not the game, they don’t understand that – not in terms of punishment anyway. Punishment is not a constructive method with horses (prey animals). So in that case, if the horse doesn’t ‘do’ what you expected, you should either slow down and reiterate (making sure you were giving the right message), or stop and start again, take a fresh start.

But here’s the best thing to do – the moment, the MOMENT a horse tries to do what you want, give him a release. Some different ways you can give a release are: stop the stimulus, relax your energy for a moment, smile – your horse will read the change of energy, open your hand/hands on the rope or reins, or go to neutral (there are many ways to do that! You don’t always need to “stop”).

So timing is a big part of this – the sooner you can let a horse know he’s right, the sooner he will shoot for that. And the longer a horse is wrong, the more he thinks he’s right. But that does not mean you should punish him, it just means you should do something about it – such as maintain your original objective, stop and take a fresh start, or redirect his energy and focus on that until he finds what you’re looking for.

Yours Naturally,

EDIT 4/20/10: Dr. Miller did get back to me about the length of a horse’s association span. He believes it is about 1 – 3 seconds for a horse.


Filed under Horsemanship, Q & A

Q&A: Catching Game with a Right-Brain Introvert

Question: I have a question about Horsenality – my Haflinger mare “Blondie” is a classic Right-Brain Introvert: does not like to be approached, is hard to catch, skeptical but obedient, pulls back when tied, etc. Her nickname is “runaway pony.” When I enter the pasture, I turn my back to her at the gate, relax, ask her to come to me and then wait and wait. Most of the time she is at my shoulder within 5 minutes or so and ready to snuggle. I wonder if that part of her Horsenality could change over time despite her being a Right-Brain Introvert. If you don’t mind me asking, what does Magic do? Does she come running to Pat at the gate? If yes, what did it take?

Answer: Yes, it will change. Magic comes over the moment she sees Pat, but she doesn’t necessarily run. Even though your horse is an Introvert, you still need to bring the exuberance out in her and have her feel trusting and connected enough to do that.

Have you spent any undemanding time with her? I would highly recommend this; it’s one of the most powerful things you can do with a right-brain horse because anything you think or want feels like pressure to them. We have our students do it here at the Campuses and the breakthroughs usually happens around day four. Students tell us incredible stories of how their horse suddenly came over and started nuzzling them after he (or she) had been ignoring them for three days. One told us how the horse came over and lay down next to her when she had never been able to get near him in that position before. After the breakthroughs, the horses couldn’t wait to come to them – not necessarily running, but they would start whinnying, nickering softly or looking intensely over the gate at them…things like that. It’s all a start and you’re doing a great job by recognizing her need for you to wait. It will only get better. Well done :)

Yours Naturally,


Filed under Q & A