Games for horses to build confidence and more

The horses at Best Friends have been chatting up a storm. Their language might not be understandable to all, yet they really are talking. And the staff members at Horse Haven (the horse part of Best Friends) are listening. And talking back.

Parelli Natural Horsemanship training program

It’s all part of the Parelli Natural Horsemanship training program that the horse caregivers use at Best Friends. This program, invented by world-renowned horse expert Pat Parelli, uses a series of seven games to create language between horse and human. Isn’t that cool? Games. No homework involved. No tests. Just play time. Which is great for a horse. The key to the language games is to make them fun, so the horse will develop confidence. Also, they create a strong bond between the horse and the caregiver.

Friendly game helps horses build trust

The first game, called the "friendly game," shows a horse that you aren’t a predator, that you can be trusted. Touching the horse all over in a slow, deliberate way, walking closer and then retreating as needed, you slowly demonstrate to the horse that you aren’t the boogie man coming to get him.

Yoyo game helps horses gain confidence

Another game is called the "yoyo game." In this game, a horse walks backward and then forward on a lead rope by following signals from the caregiver. The objective isn’t really to teach a horse how to do certain actions. It’s bigger than that: The goal is to help a horse overcome fears and doubts and to become a happier, more confident animal at his/her own pace. One of the Parelli sayings that the caregivers like to use in their training is "Take the time it takes, so it takes less time."

For example, many horses would rather eat a cactus for breakfast than step into a trailer. At Best Friends, horses are never forced into a trailer. They’re first introduced to the thing and allowed to check it over by walking in and out at their own pace. After awhile, and with help from the seven games, they get over their claustrophobia. And from that point on, it’s a simple matter of walking them right into the trailer as opposed to a 30-minute wrestling match every time.

So, let the games begin!

Photos of Jen and Tonta by Molly Wald

To learn more about training and taking care of horses, check out the horse section of the Best Friends resource library.