Leadership, Horse Psychology, Rider Experience – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic

Yeehaw! Day 1 of the second clinic. A step by step manual for good leadership with your horse! Thanks to Chris and Sarah Brady I was able to audit the first clinic and hearing most of the input that Mikey had for us twice, definitely increased my learning pace. It also gave me enough opportunities to ask all the questions that have come up for me. Nonetheless, no clinic is ever the same. Hence, more posts about this clinic. Ready, set, go…

Sarah asked a fantastic question in the morning’s theory session and the answer will be the majority of this post! There were quite a few people who had been to the last clinic as well, so she asked if Mikey could go through the set up of a session and the thoughts behind it again, so that they would be set up in their leadership just as well as the people who attended the last clinic as well. What a great way to start the first day! Thanks Sarah!

Having a Plan = Leadership!

It’s very easy to think you are doing a good job and getting a little cocky when you are playing in Level 4 and above, or to stop thinking and end up just doing it because you think you know. However, one thing that Mikey said really stuck with me:

Leadership is not the person itself, it’s the plan that they have. So even if you are limited in techniques, tools, strategies, talent, etc., you have time and a plan! That makes you a great leader, if your plan is good.

So what is a good plan? What do you do when you get to your arena, field, etc. ?

Good preparation is having a physical plan.

That means, that you have physical lines in mind that you will move on with your horse.

Step 1: Catch your horse’s attention, no matter with which exercise! 

If your horse is looking everywhere except to you, it’s like someone sitting in a lecture twiddling their thumbs, rocking their chair and looking around. It means their not interested!

When your horse is in this state, you do not have to entertain him more. People might call this a “bored” horse. Bored in this sense usually means being disrespectful, because it means not doing it – whatever IT is. Yes, Left Brain horses need variety, especially the Extroverts, however, it is enough variety to change the circle from one region to the next! More about this later under “9 Things You Need to Know About the Savvy Exercise” – number 5!

When your horse is in this state, you can spare yourself the effort of talking. There is no point in talking to someone who isn’t listening. Get connected first! How do you do this?

You could go into the arena and start practicing one of your seven games if you are starting out. If that is the case, remember that your horse is probably not connected to you yet. That means, you can use the exercise to get him connected, but do not get critical about the quality of the exercise. Of course he will not do the exercise as nicely when he isn’t really listening to you. Once your horse is listening to you, then you can be particular about quality, although it may or may not be a good idea to move on to a second exercise depending on the horse.

Now, notice that I said seven games there. If you are not a Parelli student and you don’t know the seven games, that does not give you an excuse to not have a plan! 😛 Everyone is capable of moving their horse around a little, some more than others. You too should have an exercise in mind and a plan on how you can catch your horse’s attention. Do what you can with what you have and give it your best try! 🙂

For people who know the seven games, i.e. who have a language with their horses, you do not need to be “practicing” your seven games when trying to catch your horse’s attention. Most likely, that will cause your horse to disconnect more, because he will probably thinking something along the lines of: “Oh here she goes again. We get to the arena and then she starts reciting the ABC. She always does that.” If that is the case, the next step your horse will probably take is that he will start playing games with you and start moving you around and changing your plans. If there is one thing I have learned these six days, is that horses are masters at training and moving humans and more than half the time most people don’t even realise they are being played with!

So if you know the seven games, use them to communicate – that’s what they are there for! You can pick from lots of exercises to catch your horse’s attention. Some ideas: Follow the Rail (i.e. Circling Game), Change of Direction, Transitions, etc. Remember you want to pick something simple and fairly easy here, because the sole purpose of this exercise is to connect, not to do the exercise! Do not use a Figure 8 if you can! Mikey said something great that made us all laugh and think for days:

“A figure 8 doesn’t exist. It’s a change of direction. And no one changes direction twice … unless they are lost!” – Michael Wanzenried

Now how is that for food for thought! The only reason Pat teaches us the figure 8, is so that we learn how to use our body to cause and allow the horse to make a change of direction. He probably calls it a figure 8 because that is easy for us humans to remember. By the end of the six days, no one in the clinic used the words “Figure 8” any more and if Mikey drew one on the board we called it the change of direction! And then some of us got Haribo’s for it or were told that we are now Savvy Club Members ^_^. Mikey added that he would usually not change direction twice (…because you only do that when you’re lost and you definitely don’t want to tell your horse you are lost), unless it is a show and at least 6000 people are watching you ;). Or if it’s a Parelli Audition, a rider added :P.

The Savvy Exercise to Catch Your Horse’s Attention

Sure you could use any of the exercises mentioned above, or even others, but there is a really savvy one – waiting! Go on a circle (On Line: 12 ft rope, Liberty: Stick to Me, Freestyle and Finesse: ride a circle) and walk the circle. Just keep walking. Have an attitude and intention about you that you are going somewhere…just keep going over the same circle. That way you are saying to your horse: “We will wait here, until you are ready to talk.” You could wait while standing still, but that may entail so little interaction that your horse could fall asleep :P. Hence the walking.

This is the nicest way to connect with your horse!

A loud/extroverted/long horse will want to make you go other places. It may pull to the outside or  push in to you on the inside, shake it’s head, start trotting, maybe even start cantering or anything else. A quiet/introverted/short horse, will play the game of “I’m not here.”. They are expecting you to push immediately. Now you could argue here that it may be better to stand and wait with a Right Brain Introvert or unconfident horse, instead of waiting while walking, but be very careful that you are not simply giving them the room to escape and not be present. A lot of horses will do that. They will go inside themselves and just shut everything else out, not wanting to connect. Whereas if you are walking, sure it may be very difficult for them, but that way you are consistently asking them to try, instead of just allowing them to escape. If that is the case, that this is really difficult for your horse to just walk a circle, then give them time and be polite about it. Standing and waiting with a Left Brain Introvert or confident horse will probably result in them falling asleep, so you may be better off walking a circle with them too. However, there is only one rule: There are no rules!

Remember: This is for people who have a language with their horses, who know how to play the seven games! Chris taught me a powerful lesson yesterday whilst I was playing with one of the colts that is here to be started – Gwen. Things were going great and there was no real reason I should change plans, Chris was just giving me more ideas of different things I could be doing. I decided to change over to one of his ideas to just give it a try. So, I went from playing the waiting whilst trotting a circle game to getting a nice quality Circling Game with a good back up, send, allow and bring back. Interestingly enough, she connected much quicker this way and much nicer. We talked for a bit about it, throwing back and forth words and then he said something that made the penny drop for me:

It’s hard to play a Project when you don’t have a language.

For clarification: walking/trotting a circle and waiting for your horse to connect is not a project in itself, it’s only the first step of any project that exists. The project I had chosen was Follow the Rail. I was waiting for her to connect and when she would connect, I would give her a rest with me. Once that was established, I then went off to play with the Project – more on this in a separate post.

What does it look like when your horse connects to you?

He will be asking you questions and your circle or whatever task you are doing will feel calm, quiet, connected and responsive. There won’t be much arguing and you will have a nice feel about it with slack in the rope if you are playing On Line, or little to no corrections if you are playing Free Style or Finesse. Don’t worry too much about getting this right – you will feel it. If you don’t feel it, keep waiting :P.

What do you do once your horse is connected? 

Now you go off and do what you planned to do before hand. You could go play with a Project, you could change the savvy by mounting and riding now or starting liberty, or you could go for a hack – whatever it was that you had planned really. It is important that you have a plan for this moment in time before hand though! If your horse has finally connected and now you are standing around asking yourself what you could do next, your leadership is out the window again! Have a few ideas lined up, so that you can stay safe, have fun and progress no matter what the situation at this point in time. This will make you look very competent in your horse’s eyes.

9 Things You Need to Know About the Savvy Exercise

Number 1

A circle is a circle! What makes something a circle? It’s a line around a place that doesn’t move! Horses know this very well, because when they walk it everything is coming at them, except the center – it only turns. So when you are walking your circles to wait for your horse to connect, pay attention to walking proper circles, not eggs, or rectangles, or squares. This is also something that will either make you look very competent in your horse’s eyes or the opposite. Mind you, it is incredibly hard to walk a proper circle for humans, because it is something that we don’t do very much. Just for fun (as Mikey likes to say :P), go out, pick a spot and walk a 10 m circle around it. Just one lap. Stop and look back at the line you made. If it was a nice even circle, go walk the exact same circle again (looking at the center, not at your previous line) and see how you did. It’s not as easy as it may sound.

Number 2

Horses who pull to the outside are sceptical of the inside – usually the human and the stick equal work. Let them rest on the inside once they connect.

Number 3

Horses who push to the inside, are sceptical of the outside. Let them rest in corners once they connect.

Number 4

Be aware of your environment! Stay near the gate when you are walking your circles or doing your other exercise to catch your horse’s attention. Your horse is still thinking about the barn and his friends and you won’t have much luck connecting, because the further you take him away from that, the more he will want to go back. Mikey has a great way of describing this in his Project DVD, as he did in this clinic. He draws an arena and around the gate are lots of + signs. That means in the farthest end of the arena – signs pop up automatically. This is how your horse sees that space.  He also draws little Casper ghosts where the – signs are. Stay within the + regions. Taking your horse to a – zone, is not good leadership. Horses are not afraid of corners, or rattling doors, or strange objects. Horses kill mountain lions, and people for that matter. They are messing with you and doing their best to get you to buy into their game. When you go to that object and start playing Friendly or Squeeze Games with it, they are training you! I am not saying that horses are never truly scared, but what I am saying is, that they are very good at making us believe they are a lot of the time. This is especially true for the higher level horses! They have no real reason to be very unconfident in a new environment because they should have a good relationship with you and you should be a good enough leader for them.

Number 5

Be aware of the amount of space you need for your plan! If you only need a small amount of space for your plan, you can catch your horse’s attention on a circle for example in the top third of the arena by the gate. Then you can play with your plan there. If you need more of the arena, move the circle 10m or so further away from the gate once you get him connected on your circle near the gate, and observe what that does to your connection! If he stays connected, super! Change the gait, the distance between you and your horse, or start playing with your plan. If he does not stay connected: How interesting! It may very well happen that you spend a whole week just getting and keeping your horse’s connection in different parts of the arena! Take the time it takes so it takes less time! Once your horse understands that this is the game you will play every single time no matter what, he will start to ask you:

Horse:        “Can we get to it now? Waiting is boring.”
Human:     “Yes of course, let’s do this instead.”
Horse:        “Oh, why didn’t we do this straight away?”
Human:     “Because you weren’t listening.”
Horse:        “Oh, ok. ”

Number 6

Don’t be in a rush. You can easily spend a few sessions playing this walking/trotting and waiting game on a circle and once your horse connects just say “Thanks for checking in, that was it.” and put him back into his stable or out to pasture. That will blow his mind for sure! 😛 It will also make him thirstier to ask you quicker what it is you will be doing today.

Number 7

You can use this exercise in all four Savvys!

Number 8

You can’t do this wrong! Go out there with your horse and try something. 🙂

Number 9

The higher level you and your horse are, the more particular your definition of connection gets. In the beginnings, you may be happy with the fact that they aren’t jumping on top of you and respecting your space. Mind you, if you have serious respect issues, you should clear those up first before you play with this exercise. In the higher levels you will ask for a connection mentally, emotionally and physically.

Another Great Idea on Leadership and Horse Psychology

You are being played with all the time. To have the leadership, means you make good decisions about the games.

Think of it this way. You go to a party and there will always be someone to annoy you. You have several choices on how you can respond. You can engage, ignore, agree, etc. After you execute that response, you evaluate. What will you do next time?

Horses test you for your answers and usually people answer with the same answer. That makes them very easy to play with.

Another quote I will give you here is not to diminish you, just to make you laugh. It was something that Mikey said a few times during the 6 days and when you are honest and humble, good chances are it will make you laugh too, next time you watch people with horses.

“The intelligence rises with the humber of legs.” – Michael Wanzenried

Increase Your Awareness for Leadership and Your Horse’s Needs

Once you have the skill, use Finesse before Free Style when teaching new games/projects. Teaching new games at Free Style is very frustrating for the horse, because it doesn’t know where to go. Mikey did a great simulation that really get’s you to see the horse’s perspective.

Get a friend to stand behind you. Your friend is the rider and you are the horse. Your friend is to choose a pattern – say a circle, but not tell you what they have chosen. Then you both start walking (you, the horse, not knowing at all where you are going at this moment = Free Style) and every time you go off the pattern (which you are not aware of yet), your friend pushes you on the shoulder left or right to get you back on track. Do this until you figure out their pattern and you no longer need any corrections.

Then get your friend to think of another pattern – say Follow the Rail around a room or simply walk a square. Again, your friend is not to tell you what they have chosen. This time you are being ridden with contact, so get you friend to lightly place their hands on your shoulders left and right and guide you through the pattern, until you no longer need corrections. Do you notice, how even whilst writing this post the Finesse-First Version already sounds better because I can use the word “guide”. 😛

Another thing to increase your awareness of your leadership are the tasks.

The tasks that Pat gives us, aren’t there just so we have something to do. They are there to allow you to figure something out.

For example: Yo-Yo from Zone 1 on a 45 ft Line

The first thing you will notice is that there is a HUGE difference between 22ft and 45ft! You may even get your horse to go 30ft without having to wiggle the rope, but sooner or later you will have to wiggle it, to get to the end of your 45 ft rope. So what are we supposed to figure out here? That it doesn’t work! You cannot back up your horse 45 ft away from you in a straight line without wiggling the rope or swinging the stick or moving your feet. UNLESS, your horse knows where or what he is backing too! You could for example get your horse to back into a barrel with Zone 5 and touch it. Do that from a 12-22ft distance from different angles and also having the barrel in different places, better yet: make a project of it! Once your horse understands backing to the barrel, you can start moving the barrel further back bit by bit. Sooner rather than later, you will be able to back your horse LIBERTY 45 ft away from you in a straight line – et voila! 😀

So next time you can’t do a task on the checklist, don’t just add more pressure and make the horse do it. Think about what your horse needs to understand to complete this task! It blew my socks off, when Mikey gave us this example! This opened up a whole new realm for me. I hope it does the same for you by me writing about it here. Something else that teaches you to think like this, is doing the simple things with excellence.

For example: Can you walk Follow the Rail on a 45 ft Line? Really walk the rail, your horse knowing and committing to a rhythmic, even tempo walk along the rail, not cutting any corners, knowing that he has to shorten his body for the corner and lengthen it on the sides, walking straight lines, staying on the first track etc. How much or little do you need to do to make this happen?

Creativity should no longer be an issue now. I know it isn’t for me. 😛

My Sessions With Dazzle Today

My plan before getting my horse: Go into the arena, start walking a small circle and wait for him to connect. Don’t buy into any of his games. If he is sceptic of the outside, rest in corners. If he is sceptic of the inside, rest on the inside.

So I went in, and that’s mostly what I did. This is the session I learned just how easily humans are fooled. I let him rest longer in the corners where he was a bit spooky and had a harder time going to. Mind you, I respected his thresholds and didn’t force him into the corner. If he needed to stay 10m away from the corner then that was our fake corner right there. So much for not buying into his games! I asked Mikey after the session to give me feedback on it and he allowed me to realise that I just spent an hour playing Dazzles game. That blew my socks off … again … and ended in me just standing there laughing.

I bought into Dazzle’s game, by immediately revealing that I wanted to go to the corners. Don’t be so quick to show your cards! Cause him to be thirsty enough to ask the question! Even if that means that the first or even the first two sessions you never go to a corner.

Then I bought into his game again, by going to the “scary” part of the arena. I would not even have needed to go there today! This was twice as bad because I bought into two games at the same time here. The only reason I went to the “scary” part of the arena, was because Mikey asked me at one point:

Mikey: “How come you haven’t been to the lower corners? Can he not go there?”
Me:       “I don’t know, I haven’t tried to go there.”
Mikey: Laughs.
Me:       I take Dazzle to a lower corner.

I made the assumption that Mikey was saying I should be able to go down there or can if I want to. Initially I wasn’t planning on doing it, not because I knew it was smart not to, but because I had no need for the whole arena – it was very big. All Mikey was doing, was checking if I was using that brain of mine. Turns out I wasn’t and totally fell for his game as well as for Dazzle’s. Damn it! XD The more savvy answer to Mikey’s question would have been: “I would be buying into his game by going down there, so no. I know he’s not really scared of it, he’s just trying to distract me.” This also made me realise, that there probably hasn’t been a session in my life, where I haven’t gotten played … yet! 😛

In the afternoon and all the following sessions over the next two days, I immediately got on and rode because that’s what I wanted to learn: Mikey’s system for Finesse. I did the same thing for Finesse though. Pick up a nice contact, walk a circle and just wait until the walk feels more balanced, on track, rhythmic, no arguing with the head or mouth, etc. I got great feedback for this and Mikey started teaching me the concepts of “Action-Reaction” (extending the neck) and feeling for connection. It was a fantastic session. 😀


Other posts from the Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic February 2016 | Ireland

  1. CONNECTION, MYTHS, BALANCE – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic
  2. RIDING WITH CONTACT AND REIN AIDS – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic
  4. LEADERSHIP, HORSE PSYCHOLOGY, RIDER EXPERIENCE – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic (you are here)
  5. THE PROJECT, FINESSE, RIDER EXPERIENCE – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic (coming soon…)
  6. LEADERSHIP AND RIDER EXPERIENCE – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic (coming soon…)
  7. LOOKING BACK – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic (coming soon…)



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