Texas Event… done!

Dear Friends,

As I write we’re enroute from Texas to Pagosa Springs for the summer, stopping tonight in New Mexico to visit the folks who gave us Vinny.  By the way, check out Vinny’s new t-shirt, Texas T that is!  Sue Lynn gave it to him “so he’ll always be a little bit Texan” – it even says “Vinny” on it – don’t know if you can see that.  I took a photo of him in it at the rest stop we were at for lunch.

Vinny's Texas T!

We had a great weekend in Beaumont, TX and visited with a lot of Savvy Club members and newcomers to Parelli.  I love hearing your transformational stories and thanks for making me cry and then wanting a photo!!  Our horses were super – Remmer is always wonderful for me – and Pat’s horses were spectacular when he rode one and had two others connected with him, one on each side.  He also had his future star “Revlon” appear before a crowd for the first time, which she handled really well.  Other highlights for me were Pat helping his son Caton get through his horse’s cantering issue in front of the crowd, the spotlights with some of Pat’s mastery students on Saturday, the Gold Summit connections on Monday, and the lessons with Pat and with me on Sunday!

Pat helped Barry, a young Texas cowboy who wants to train horses the natural way.  He had a lovely, athletic palomino gelding that he has taken to Level 3 and competes on in roping, among other things.  Pat helped him to slow down, to have some ‘silence between the notes’ which helps create music rather than just noise.  So he started on the ground and then went on to riding, doing less to get more and helping his horse to put more weight on his hindquarters when going into the canter.  Super stuff and Barry won all our hearts with the way he touched his horse and talked about him, apologizing for how he used to be… and how he chose Parelli because it was the only program that used Love, Language and Leadership to train horses.  He said his wife talked him into applying for the lesson and having that experience and watching the weekend only deepened his belief in and respect for the program.

My lesson was with Lisa, who wanted help with being a better leader and whose Left Brain Introvert (LBI) had trailer loading issues.  She would play with trailer all week, but after going somewhere he would not reload and people would end up helping and stuffing him in… which of course brought him back to square one again.

After starting with some leadership techniques, such as having a plan and directing Zone 1 better in the Touch It pattern and moving her horse’s feet before she moved her own, Lisa started looking pretty good!  Then we went to the trailer and did some Touch It with Zone 1, 3 and 4.  That was interesting and further improved Lisa’s technique.  After that is was half circles around the trailer, and finally Yo-Yo’s in and out working on the thresholds:  “come out… go in…. come out…. go in”.

I stepped in at a couple of points to help with the timing, but Lisa was doing a great job.  Buddy really was afraid, but being LBI it was hard for Lisa to read his fear.  I explained that when unconfident, LBIs will go RBI first, and that he wasn’t being stubborn or defiant and that’s why he was still having trouble despite all her practice.  He would go in out of obedience, but it really was not his idea and he was not confident.  So we allowed him to set the pace and each time he reached a threshold we would bring him out and ask him to try again… and when he crossed it in even the smallest way, we would allow him to stay there for a little bit.

By the end of the session he was ‘in’ the trailer, but he was not yet ‘wanting’ to be in, so we reconvened after the show – a number of people stayed to watch – and things went really quickly then.  Buddy was in the trailer within a few minutes and now we worked on thresholds going deeper inside (it was a long trailer!).  We finished with Buddy standing confidently way deep inside and then played approach and retreat with the door until he was relaxed about that too.

Here are some of the BIGGIES that the audience ‘got’:

1.  It has to be the horse’s idea to cross the threshold, don’t push him over it in any way or you destroy trust and confidence.

2.  Making him uncomfortable outside of the trailer only causes a horse to load into the trailer to get away from that rather than having him really want to be in the trailer.  That’s why we don’t use that approach.  It certainly would not be using Love, Language and Leadership!

2.  “The next move is his”.  So once he’s at the threshold, we WAIT until he does something – either moves forwards or wants to come out again.  And if he stays there too long, we bring him out and simply ask him to reapproach.

3.  Never push him forwards once he’s stopped, you can only encourage his thoughts otherwise you are forcing the horse.  The bottom line is that the horse has to be able to TRUST that you won’t push him “over the cliff”, that you will allow it to be his decision to go there.  When you can do that, your horse will try his heart out for you.  He will trust you and feel safe with you, and the effects will be felt in everything else you do with him too.  Anyone can force a horse to get in, the real art is in helping him to develop the confidence to load himself.  Such fun, I love this stuff.

4.  It really, TRULY, is NOT ABOUT THE TRAILER!  It’s all about the trust your horse has for you as his leader.

Our next event is in Oregon.  I’m looking forward to seeing you there, meeting new horse lovers and seeing who we have for our lessons on Savvy Club Sunday.

Keep it natural,




Filed under Events, Horsemanship, Teaching, Vinny

It’s not about the…

Yesterday I went to visit with the two week class here in Florida, and it’s always fun and enlightening for me.  This time especially because the course is about confidence and it’s my favorite subject!  Overcoming fear is something I love helping horses and people to do.

So as we were talking, the phrase “It’s not about the…” came up.  So I asked, “What is it about then?”  The answer came back quickly – “It’s about the relationship”.  So in that sense, it’s about what your horse needs given the situation, its horsenality, especially.  So we talked a bit more and then I said “but you know it’s actually not even about the relationship as much as it is about YOU.”  That’s why we hear so many wonderful comments about how this has changed their life, how you use it in your business and family life too.

Now what do you do with that?  You can’t just get around your horse and keep thinking ‘it’s about me, what should I be doing?, etc.”, because that’s the underlying element that will come through.  So here’s my advice:  Put your horse’s needs FIRST.  You put them before what YOU want to do or accomplish, but you start by asking your horse to do something because that is what leads to the conversation or recognizing that you have to attend to your horse’s need.  Know also that those needs are usually of an emotional nature – fear, trust issues, boredom, etc.

Let me give you an example.  Let’s say you are working on your Figure 8 Pattern for Level 3 and your horse suddenly hesitates, loses willingness or getes focused on a buddy or the barn.  In that moment you would recognize the need and address it instead of doggedly trying to get your Fig. 8 accomplished at the canter.

If the horse hesitated, you would hesitate then wait to see what their next move was.  If they just took a breath and then continued, you’re fine.  But they might back up or start thinking about home, in which case you would play with that as a threshold – head towards home a lot or a little, then come back to the pattern, playing with all the thresholds that will most likely appear on your way back!

Taking the time to do this will have an amazing effect on your relationship because your horse will feel that you made his feelings important.  The next time it will be way better – everything will be better actually because your horse’s trust, confidence, respect for and belief in you will improve.  And if it’s not better, it may mean you have to do it a few times before your horse believes you, especially if there is a long standing pattern of arguing with your horse.

So that’s how it comes back to you.  It is YOU that will need to overcome your judgement about your horse’s action, your impatience, your direct line thinking and making your agenda more important than your horse’s needs.  When you learn to do that consistently and without having to fight your own emotions, the changes in you will be felt by your horse… and you’ll make it up the next rung on the ladder of becoming the kind of leader your horse deserves.  It will also increase your confidence because the more a horse trusts you, the more trustworthy he becomes too.

Take a moment and think about what happens to you in this light sometimes.  How do you feel when you are practicing something and all of a sudden your horse doesn’t want to do it?  And if you’ve learned about putting the horse’s needs first, why don’t you share a few words that might encourage others to do what it takes to take care of the horse’s needs first.



Filed under Horsemanship, Teaching

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

Respecting Thresholds

Dear Friends,

I had an interesting chat with a friend the other day who was expressing a little frustration about her horse getting spooky again.

After some discussion, she realized that she had become a little direct line again with dressage and was not helping her horse’s confidence by respecting thresholds and doing enough on the ground with longer lines.  In fact as we talked about it, she kept saying “yep, I did that, I did that…”, all the right things, but then we came to something she should not have done – she would walk the horse up to the one part of the arena that was spooky and get him see that there was nothing there.

It is so easy to think that horses will respond to logic, but they don’t!  In fact, they do much better if you ignore what they are spooking about, focus on an exercise or task, don’t cross thresholds and use the principle of retreat.  For example, say you are riding in the arena and you can feel your horse worrying as you approach that spooky end.  Instead of pressing them forwards and over the rapidly mounting thresholds, turn away.  Go across the arena to the other side, or do a 180 turn and go back the other way.  Do it as soon as you feel the threshold or even better do it before the threshold… which is easy if you have already experienced where that is!

This is how retreat and reapproach works.  You just keep avoiding/retreating from that spot until suddenly your horse doesn’t have an issue any more and soon you’ll be able to go a few feet further before turning off.  Then one day, your horse will actually want to take you over there.  It’s amazing how that works!  Of course you can do the same on the ground, do it on long lines – preferably a 22 or even a 45 line.  That way they are further away from you which helps grow their self confidence… and most importantly, don’t just send them there.  Play long distance Squeeze Games and changes of direction on the circle, a lot like you would do if riding.

Here’s why it works:  your horse’s fear will subside instead of escalate, and he will start to have more confidence in you!  I think of thresholds being like the edge of a cliff.  The closer you get, the more the fear escalates and if you push them over the threshold it’s like pushing them over the cliff.  Sometimes the horse’s fear reaction is terribly violent and horses and humans can get hurt in the process, so it’s just not worth it.  And it does not make horses better to push them over thresholds, it gets worse.  Sometimes you don’t even notice it until all of sudden, “for no reason at all” your horse blows up.

It’s not about the spooky spot, it’s about your relationship and your leadership.  When your horse knows he can trust you, he will stop being afraid… but it is your job as leader to look out for him all the time, only then will he start trusting you and not worry about things like he used to.

Some of the biggest thresholds I’ve had to get Remmer over in years gone by have been to do with being in foreign environments, such as going on trail rides… even on or around our property!  But when I started to really respect them, he changed and kept building confidence and more trust in me.  It’s wonderful how I can take him anywhere in the country now and he doesn’t turn a hair… but if he does, I do the right thing, right away.  If I don’t he can be pretty explosive, and that’s not fun to ride but worse still, it’s awful for him emotionally speaking.  And… I totally get that it is my job to take care of him or why should he continue to trust me as his leader?

In the end, I told my friend that she can’t just be a rider… she has to be a ‘trainer’ too.  That means that when your horse has trouble you need to forget trying to work on the things you think are important and work on the things your horse thinks are important.  When your horse is calm and confident you can do a lot of things, but when he’s not you can’t… so fix it or you’re in danger.  What does Pat say?  “Take the time it takes so it takes less time”.  Otherwise you find yourself dealing with the same thing over and over and over again.

What have been some thresholds you helped your horse overcome?

Yours Naturally,


Filed under Horsemanship

On the road home from Lexington…

Dear Friends,

Our first event of the year went very well. The team was super-organized, even quickly remedying a computer crash as the doors opened, and the horse crew had all the horses ready for the big entrance.

This year we decided to do something very different, to start with horses as being horses, and turned them all loose in the arena to play for 15 minutes before Pat came in. It was very cool as you could see them playing dominance games, separating into groups within the herds and keeping the ‘strangers’ at bay. Pat came in and talked about what they were doing, pointed out the different games they played with each other.

Then Pat called in his group of mastery students and they sent the horses galloping around the arena to the fabulous John Denver song “Eagles and Horses,” performed by The Killens, who also produce many of our DVDs and TV shows. It was spectacular, and then spell-binding as each student in turn stepped out and called their horse back to them. What a great way to start, to show horses in their natural state and then partnering up with humans.

My session with Remmer was next up. I love to tell my story about the difficulties I was having that drew me to Pat Parelli for help. My favorite line is, “You can imagine how desperate this dressage rider had to be to go to a cowboy for advice!” Then Remmer comes in, I tell a little about how he came into my life and then we play. But here’s the part I really want to tell you about – the Friday before the event!

While we were driving to Virginia, Pat asked me what I was going to do. I said I wasn’t really sure yet, so he said he thought I should ride bareback, with a halter, and jump the picnic tables and barrels like I so often would do. The only problem was…I hadn’t done that in over a year!!! Uh oh, now Friday was going to be about figuring out if I could do that or not!

First, I played with Remmer on the ground; and I take it really slow and easy, don’t ask too much. (I’ve learned that because one time I asked for a lot and the next day he didn’t offer me a thing!) So we looked like we were doing a lot of nothing. I didn’t even jump him. Then I got on, bareback and in the halter, and what happened next was awful! Walking was fine, but as soon as I went into a trot, I was bouncing all over the place. So I figured I was just rusty from not riding bareback for such a long time, so I asked for the canter. Well, he wouldn’t canter! I asked again and he cantered, and sure enough I ruffled the hairs on his back. No wonder he didn’t want to canter he knew what was coming! Yuk. Hmmm. What was I doing wrong? Suddenly I realized that I was riding him as I had been practicing so hard this past few years in getting back to dressage, I was all ‘collected’ in my body and yet that was not what I was expecting him to do. So I changed my focus, settled back onto my balance point, loosened my legs and everything changed. We cruised around, took the canter easily, everything felt wonderful.

Now, the jump! I slid off and sent Remmer over the upright barrels to see how he would take it – he didn’t even hesitate which was great because I hadn’t jumped him since his abscess back in October/November last year. So I got on, cantered off, headed to the barrels and sailed over with him. That was it. I got off and gave him some cookies.

When it came to our performance on the Saturday morning, everything went beautifully. We were in perfect harmony and as we approached the picnic tables (which we didn’t do on Friday) I could suddenly see that we were half a stride out. Remmer saw it at the same time and I felt him sizing up the jump and checking in with me, but I mentally told him “it’s your call,” either take off early or pop in half a stride. Remmer was feeling great so he took off early and we did this HUGE jump over them. Oh my gosh! I felt like one of those avatars from the movie! He landed and I looked up into the audience and laughed and then he arched and twisted into some exuberant bucks. Luckily they weren’t very big – he looks after me these days! But I pushed on his withers anyway and went with him. As we rounded the corner, there were the upright barrels and I thought “Oh well, might as well take them rather than do another circuit!” Remmer didn’t even hesitate and soared over them. On the other side we came to a walk and I dropped the reins. When I picked them up again he offered me passage so I took it and we pranced around until we got to the pedestal and he stood on it.

As I said to everyone there, “I used to dream about being able to play with horses like that,” and Remmer and I left the ring with a wonderful feeling of connection and unity. Later in my signing line I met many students who said it had brought them to tears and I told them, “Me, too.” It really moves me to have such a magnificent animal as Remmer give me, offer me, so much.

The rest of the day was super. Pat had his Mastery Students come in and demonstrate the Seven Games in 4 Levels, on the ground and riding. So much fun to see the scope of what can be achieved, where it starts and where it can go – they brought the house down!

Savvy Club Sunday was really interesting, for me especially. Pat coached a Level 3-4 student with goals of competing in cow horse events, and I coached a student who’s horse had a tendency to get very fearful and rear up. Pat ended up riding with Jason, doing Clover Leaf’s together and working on more “collection” with Yo-Yo Games played at the canter, while Patty, my student, learned how to manage her energy and maintain her focus with her horse while mastery students bounced balls, dragged tarps and rolled barrels around the arena! The end was spectacular; after I did a simulation with her to point out how she was grabbing instead of holding the rope when asking for disengagement, her horse completely changed and softened, responding to the slightest suggestion from her.

In the last session I gave a demonstration of my latest breakthrough with Remmer in the Game of Contact. He was incredible – round, powerful, enthusiastic. Students and instructors who have known Remmer and watched him over the years could not believe the transformation in him. Even his body looks different, he looks more like an athlete. That was pretty exciting for me, and the first time I’d talked about this and demonstrated it in public. :)

Then the Gold Summit Monday – a more intimate day with Gold Savvy Club members who asked lots of questions, dined with us and got some peeks into the future. I also had some photographs up on screen so I could point out posture issues when it came to discussing the finer points of fluidity.

And now we’re on the way home. I didn’t want to tell you all the details of what went on, but I thought you might find it fun to know that it was a little challenging for me at first!

Best of all, it is always so wonderful to connect with you all in person. Even though we don’t necessarily all get to talk, I see your familiar faces and love your smiles and enthusiasm as you get new ideas or are re-motivated to take your horsemanship to the next level.

How does it go? Good better best, NEVER let it rest!

Maybe some of you can tell me what you learned over the weekend? Tell me one thing that was an “AHA!” for you.

Yours naturally,


Filed under Events, Horsemanship, Remmer

On the road to Lexington

Dear Friends,

Pat and I are currently on the road to Lexington, VA for our event this weekend. People have asked me before, “What do you do to prepare for a show?” and that question was on my mind as I sat down to write today.

The best thing about doing our shows is that I don’t “practice.” My role is to be real, to show what it is I do every day and can do at a moment’s notice. I don’t think of this as a performance, I think of it as a time to showcase the relationship I have developed with my horses (in this case, Remmer). So what you’ll see is me playing with him, talking about my difficult background with a dangerous horse, how Parelli changed things, our history (how Remmer came into my life), what it means to put the relationship first and how achievable this is for ANYONE.

One of the things people have told me they love is seeing when things go wrong, and Remmer and I can do that! In performance situations things always go wrong in some way, but you have to cover it up. And unless you really know what to look for, most people don’t even notice…but the rider does, and the horse especially does! So what I do is keep it all open and transparent. I want people to see the flaws and to know what to do when it happens, to not fake it for the horse or for the audience. In fact, over the years, that is what I get the most ‘thanks’ for…for being real, for showing what happens in reality and not being so ‘perfect.’ Perfection is an illusion…and horses hate it! We need to learn to be perfectly in the moment, to be ready to adjust for the horse in whatever way is required to keep him safe, confident, engaged, playful and connected.

Remmer and I are doing some awesome things. Our relationship is the best it has ever been, and we’re also able to do some pretty advanced things both on the ground and riding. So I revel in that, but even more importantly, I’m always thinking about how I can make the next person’s journey even better and even easier.

Hope to see you in Lexington,


Filed under Events, Remmer

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