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How To RIDE LIKE A LEADER – Part One- By Linda Parelli



Ride like a leader

Leader – Taking leadership from the ground into the saddle is an important thing. You may become quite efficient at controlling your horse on the ground, but if you have a sensitive, unconfident, spooky or over-exuberant horse, you’ll need to understand some important principles in order to move forward successfully… and preserve your confidence.

Horses need leadership both on the ground and in the saddle. Leadership is essential to them in the wild; if they don’t have a leader they will become one and make all the decisions as to when to go, when to stay, and when to run. So if you don’t lead, they will.

Your leadership tends to be challenged in certain situations. When everything is calm and okay, everything is fine! But when a horse feels unconfident, scared, spooked or wants his own way there are some golden principles to observe.

When it Comes to Horse Training…Think Like a Horse

In situations where your horse suddenly speeds up, overreacts, spooks – what do you think your horse is feeling? Fearful and unconfident horses are the most likely types to exhibit these behaviors, so pulling back on two reins actually worsens the problem because they feel trapped.

When a horse gets scared his NUMBER ONE REACTION IS FLIGHT – RUN AWAY! They are not thinking and plotting, they are reacting! It’s all out of self-preservation – the instinct to survive.

When horses get scared, they are going to run. The more you hold them back, back them up, or try to stop them, the worse it gets because they NEED TO MOVE THEIR FEET. The only way to try to understand what they must be going through is to put it into perspective for yourself.

Imagine you are walking through a graveyard with a friend and there’s a sudden noise or image that scares the life out of you! Your instinct is to take off out of there as fast as you can, but just as you launch yourself your friend grabs you by the collar and holds you back. At that moment you’d probably believe it was a ghost and your fear would escalate into sheer terror.

Panic is not a logical thing. The adrenaline produced by fear kicks in well before you can rationalize what’s actually going on, because that takes a little time. This is what happens to your horse, and given the horse’s hyper perceptiveness to the environment, changes, movements and sounds, he is probably reacting to things you didn’t even notice.

So, think about it from the horse’s point of view and don’t blame him for being fearful. Commit to learning how to help your horse become more confident about himself and in your leadership, and therefore less reactive.

One Rein For Control – It Disengages the Hindquarters

When you bend a horse’s head around it disengages the hindquarters, taking the power away. When you pull on two reins, it actually engages the hindquarters and adds power to whatever the horse is doing – positive or negative.

Ride like a leader - pat parelli

Worst of all, holding the reins with two hands automatically causes you to pull backward on them in almost any situation – when your horse spooks, when he surges forward or turns suddenly, when you lose your balance, when he’s not doing what you want, etc. You feel as though you’ve got control, but in reality, your horse gets progressively WORSE. Every time you prevent a horse from moving his feet he becomes more unconfident, more fearful and more reactive, so he keeps having horse problems.

When you pull back on two your horse feels trapped because you stop his feet and hold him back from moving, so the panic builds. When you pull on one rein you turn your horse into a tiny circle but he can keep his feet moving; the panic dissipates. Allowing those feet to move is the secret, but controlling where they move is equally as important! Don’t let them run off! Cause the feet to “run away” in a tiny circle with the Lateral Flexion rein in extreme situations. Use the hindquarter disengaging Indirect Rein in less threatening situations.
Lateral flexion Versus Indirect Rein

Lateral Flexion is a neutral rein position. Its purpose is to stop the horse’s feet when the horse is ready to stop. It doesn’t force the feet to stop moving immediately, but it stops them from running off. Once the horse’s emotions start to come down, the feet will stop.
The Indirect Rein stops the horse from running forward, but unlike Lateral Flexion it asks the horse’s hind feet to keep moving while the front feet virtually pivot. It’s an active rein. In both cases the horse crosses his hind legs as he moves and the constant turning triggers the left brain to become active. In other words, it gives the horse time to start thinking again.

The difference between the two is that one is control (Lateral Flexion) and the other is leadership (Indirect Rein). So the secret is when to use what!

When to Use Lateral Felxion, When to Use Indirect Rein

Use Lateral Flexion in situations where the horse wants to run, buck, rear – more serious situations. The goal is to save your life and your confidence by stopping the horse from taking off, but at the same time dissipating the panic in the horse. It also gives you the opportunity to jump off on the same side as your horse is bent which gets more dangerous to do as he gains momentum when running off!

I’ve become very good at this because the moment I feel the horse starting to run and I can’t bend him to a stop (because I’m riding bridleless), I’m off with the first out-of-control step. When you’re bending your horse to get control, think this: I don’t blame you; I know you need to move your feet, but let’s run off in this tight circle rather than for half a mile or more!

Ride like a leader

Use the Indirect Rein in situations of mild spook, when the horse gets a little high-headed or you feel his attention drift away from you. Simply reach down and turn him in circles, yielding the hindquarters for as many revolutions as it takes before your horse can do them calmly. I say this because the first turn or two (or more) could be a bit rushed. All the while think these thoughts: What I’m asking you is more important than what you think is scary.

More Tips in the next issue.

Pat Parelli, coiner of the term “natural horsemanship”, founded his program based on a foundation of love, language and leadership. Parelli Natural Horsemanship allows horse owners at all levels of experience to achieve success with their at-home educational program. Together with his wife Linda, Pat has spread PNH across the globe with campuses in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. Newly launched in 2011, provides an online social forum packed with training tools, step-by-step to do lists, video and more. Log on today for your FREE 30-day trial at

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