Where does Mikey’s Project fit into the Parelli Program? – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic

When Chris Brady** first asked this question in the morning theory session, I was expecting the answer to be something along the lines of: You can start introducing the Project once the human and horse know the 7 Games and start on Patterns. In the end, that is what Mikey said, but this post describes how he got to that answer and just what exactly is behind why this is the answer. Just goes to show, it can be smart to ask a question you already know the answer to. Sometimes people can add things or a simple change in phrasing can lead to a lot more knowledge. Fascinating!

I won’t explain exactly what the Project is in here, as I have already written a very detailed post about that. So if you want to know the in and outs of the Project, at least my version of what I understood of it, then you can read up on it here: The Project, Fitness, Rider Experience – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic. I will give you the links to different topics that are explained else where at the appropriate times in the text, in attempt to keep this as structured as possible and easy to read.

A quick note to all the people who participated in or audited the clinic: Since we spent most of our time expanding on the ideas that we learned last year, I am only writing three posts instead of one for each day.
1) Where does Mikey’s Project fit into the Parelli Program?
2) Finesse Program and Achieving Balance
3) Food for Thought
The post “Food for Thought” comprises different ideas that we touchedon throughout the week, which on average are too small to put under their own heading. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to leave them out. When I read through them, they are good reminders and impulses, that I think will make sense if you were at the clinic. Please take the time towrite some of your impulses and impressions in the comments under theposts to share with everyone!

After Chris asked the question: “Where does the Project fit into the Parelli Program?”, Mikey took some time to draw this on the board:

Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 22.00.34

The first thing you learn in the Parelli Program are the 7 Games and rightfully so, because that is your language. The 7 Games teach you that pressure motivates and release teaches, as well as the two types of pressure – rhythmic and steady – and how you can apply them. Once you and your horse know the 7 Games, they are not meant to be played over and over again, turning them into the 7 Tricks or 7 Tortures. They are your language, not your content. YOU ARE now RESPONSIBLE for the content of the conversation between you and your horse.


This is all still part of the Respect Stage that you can see in the pyramid. Here you are talking to the horse, more or less giving orders. You are saying “do this, do that”. Pat defines respect as “the appropriate response to pressure”. Without respect, i.e. the mental connection, there is no sense in moving on to the next stage of emotional connection, since without mental connection you have no connection at all. Without connection, the horse isn’t listening to you, so anything you say is a waste of energy. Therefore, it is in your best interest to pay attention to the three stages and to be conscious of which one you are in, which are working and which are not. So after you have taught your horse the 7 Games or the aids, you explain to them what 100% is. That means that you get the basic exercises (see below) done with flow, rhythm, relaxation and at longer distances (distance over speed!). Then promise your horse that you will never ask more than 100% and keep that promise! If you can do that and you can maintain the quality, you have respect.

There are three basic exercises to test your respect. These are also the exercises you use to fix the respect if you notice it lacking.

  1. Disengaging in motion.
  2. A back up at each center of the four sides of the rail
    (with the horse coming out behind you so that the horse does more than you).
  3. Sideways from corner to corner at the trot.

These yields are your catching game!


When you have all this, you can move on to the Impulsion Stage where it’s all about the emotional connection. This is where you start listening to the horse, rather than giving it orders. Here you start asking questions such as: “Do you want to do this?”. You now have a level of connection and communication that the horse has the freedom to make suggestions and you say yes to them when appropriate. This is where the partnership starts. It is most often a relationship of 51/49, with the 51 alternating between the human and the horse, but there can also be situations where it is 50/50. This is also where you advance from the 7 Games and the three basic exercises (disengage, back up, sideways) to the Patterns and the Project.

There are four basic Projects, but you can use the philosophy and psychology (in a nut shell: comfort vs. discomfort; for an in depth explanation, read here: coming soon!) behind the Project to break down any pattern and make it clear for the horse. The four basic Projects are:

  1. Follow the Rail
  2. Transitions/Lanes
  3. A Jump
  4. Change of Direction

For an in depth explanation about the philosophy and psychology behind the Project, how to manually execute this and the three basic steps of a project, read here: The Project, Finesse, Rider Experience – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic.

For example: You enter the arena and you’re horse is not connected to you at all. Maybe he is calling to other horses, or simply not paying attention to you. Say he is spooking in one of the four corners of the arena, but you want to be able to Follow the Rail. You can use the Project to break up the Follow the Rail pattern into several steps: a circle in the center, the straight line on the rail and circles in the corners. [Remember, if you want to read more about how exactly the Project works and the philosophy and psychology behind it, you can read up on here. You need to understand it at least a little bit, to understand this example.]

Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 22.00.54

If a horse is going to spook, it usually spooks in the corner that is furthest away from the exit and loves the exit. Or it might not want to move away from the exit at all. If you just try and wrestle your horse along the rail now, it will just get more disconnected and you will prove it right in it’s belief that you are not a good leader. Horses aren’t afraid of corners, or plastic bags or sticks. They are afraid that the human they are attached to will hinder them in flight and escape. So instead of whacking your horse and trying to wrestle it away from the exit and onto the rail, communicate with your horse in regions. “You don’t want to leave the exit? Ok, but then we trot a circle here (A).” If the horse is not with you, keep him on a region (here: A) until he connects. Correct if necessary, but wait as much as possible. Once your circle in region A is good and he is connected, move your circle to the next region (B) and do the same there. Then move it to C when it is good (meaning, connected). When A, B, and C are good, move to the corner on a nice line (widen the circle until you meet the rail) and STOP in the corner (straight!). Do that a few times, always going back to your circle and then the corner for a rest. Do this with all four corners on both reins. Once your horse stays connected on all circles and into all four corners, you can follow the rail and put a circle in each corner to make the rail even sweeter. If done right, by this time you should have full use of the entire arena with your horse being connected and responsive the entire time. Hopefully it is apparent that this “spooking” in the beginning, is a test of leadership.


Last, but not least is the Collection Stage. This is the physical connection, where you ride with contact all the way up to collection, piaffe, etc. This is the dance that many people are hoping to achieve with horses. As Mikey said “You can ask 10 people what collection is and you will get 10 different answers”. So all I can give you is our simple definition of this clinic: collection is when the steps come higher (there is more bounce). I won’t say more about collection here, but read the “A Program for Riding with Contact and Achieving Balance” to get to know a system for riding with contact just as we have the levels system for Parelli.

I found this concept of the stages and the order they come in extremely helpful as a problem-solving skill set. Look at this way:

Respect   >>   Connection   >>   Balance

You can only have connection when you have respect, and you can only have physical balance when you have mental and emotional connection (respect and impulsion). Read this backwards for problem solving. Is your horse unbalanced? If yes, ask yourself, is he connected? If no, then play the catching game with the yields. Get the respect, out of that get connection and only then can you talk to your horse about balance without wasting your energy. I’m only learning about balance now, so I won’t pretend to know much about it, but under the “A Program for Riding with Contact and Achieving Balance” you can read about what Mikey taught us this clinic. I’m certain there is a lot more to it, but this is a decent start and a simple overview of how to achieve balance.

Add a comment below to share your perspective or ask a question now, especially if you took part in the Clinic! 🙂

Other posts from the Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic April 2017 | Ireland

  1. WHERE DOES MIKEY’S PROJECT FIT INTO THE PARELLI PROGRAM? – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic (You are here.)
  3. FOOD FOR THOUGHT – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic (coming soon)

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