Whether you are into natural horsemanship or not – the Friendly Game, the rhythmic advance and retreat method of getting your horse used to routine things that they might find either scarey or uncomfortable, is probably one of the best things that you can do with your horse – IF YOU DO IT RIGHT….
All the great horsemen and women do EVERYTHING they do with a horse with Feel, although most of them don’t even recognize what they’re doing. 🙂
The friendly game is about starting from a place where the horse is OK with whatever it is that you are doing, which is about starting from a place of comfort. Then in some kind of rhythmic way, gradually get closer and closer to what the horse was NOT comfortable with, retreating rhythmically back to the starting point – and repeating that until the horse is comfortable with the whole thing.
I used the Friendly Game with my horse Bobby and many others, to get them to stand still, and put up with, and get used to, all kinds of things like hands, ropes, halters, saddles, rugs, plastic bags, stock whips, umbrellas, motor bikes, prams, bicycles, cars, feet trimming, worm drenches in the mouth – all of which is a fabulous thing to get a horse comfortable with.
If you use the Friendly Game to work a horse’s comfort zone and help them understand their environment without fear – then the Friendly Game is a beautiful thing and by far the most useful thing you will ever do with your horse.
Now here’s the critically important part and I cannot emphasise this too much. I used it with Bobby back in the bad old days, to get him to stand still while I did a whole heap of stuff like cracking stockwhips, rattling plastic bags, etc. I did it with the priority first on standing still, then getting him used to and be quiet with, whatever it was that I was doing.
And the effects of that were terrible.
Having the priority as getting them to stand still while we do stuff to them, is where we can seriously stuff up our horse emotionally and mentally. When we don’t allow them to move when they are afraid, they only have two choices – blow up or shut down mentally and emotionally. Bobby and many, many other horses that I have seen, shut down mentally and emotionally. Which can come across as being a quiet horse for a while, but caused big resistance with Bobby and all sorts of other problems too.
Back in those days, I was carrying so much nervousness and sometimes outright fear, that if I had thought about it, knowing that I was shutting my horse down into a quiet, obedient, automaton, may well have appealed to me as being a good deal.
But not now that I know a better way…
Seeing how much damage I did to Bobby’s mind and emotions and how much this was a source of his resistance to me, I feel sad that I did that to him. I’ve had to spend a lot of time reversing the emotional and physical damage that I did.
You can avoid my mistakes and make the Friendly Game an opportunity for a powerful improvement to you and your horses confidence and happiness together, by picking up the FREE LESSONS The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse and then using that information with some of these tips to dramatically improve and speed up the results of the Friendly Game:
- Think about why you are doing it, what you are doing the Friendly Game for. I eventually came to the conclusion that I do it FOR my horse, to help him or her live their normal life free from all the things that scare them – so I’m looking to help them get a COMFORT ZONE around these things. When I really looked at it, I was stunned at how many routine things my horses just put up with, but were not really comfortable about.
- I also do the Friendly Game to make me and my horse safe under all kinds of circumstances, particularly when unusual things happen.
- I use the feeling that I describe as the early warning signal that something is Not Quite Right (you’ll learn how to start developing a skill with that in the 9 Keys to Happiness) to tell me when to advance, when to retreat and when to stop and wait for The Chew. This gives me brilliant timing.
- Waiting for The Chew (when the horse licks their lips and chews) is possibly the most important training time that you will ever do. Waiting gives my horse time to reflect on, process and understand what is happening – so that they can really find a deep sense of comfort in us and what we are doing with them.
- Using my feeling that something is Not Quite Right to tell me when to retreat and when to stop and wait for The Chew, has helped me make a bigger comfort zone for my horse, much faster.
- I DO NOT any longer keep going until my horse keeps his feet still. I use my Feel to now when to stop and wait – and take all pressure completely off, standing away, not touching them, not petting them, not swinging a rope, not talking to them, just standing or sitting there in the grass, while my horse has a chance to process and understand what it is that I am wanting for him or her. Again you’ll get a feel for your Feel in The 9 Keys.
- When I do that (stop and wait for The Chew), and then advance and retreat again or even stop for the day if it was a really big deal and took a long time – my horse gains confidence incredibly fast.
If you haven’t yet seen the FREE LESSONS The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse, then you can grab them on our Training Page here.
Or if you prefer a book, you’ll find the keys and the lessons in Zen Connection with Horses.