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Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Confidence/Respect Ratio Balance

I would like to share with you this really great essay written by Fawn Anderson, Licensed Parelli 3-Star Instructor in Canada. Fawn published this piece in her August newsletter, and I thought it was so appropriate and timely that I asked her if I could share it with my student following. I recently wrote on Parelli Central about the balance between obedience and exuberance. Pursuing with the balance theme, here is what Fawn has to say about confidence and respect. Having myself recently run into a couple of desensitized, dull and dangerous barnyard pets, I'd love for every horse owner and Parelli student to understand this delicate balance. Enjoy and I sincerely hope it will help you in your journey!

One of the privileges and responsibilities I have as a Parelli Professional is to observe patterns and trends that I see among students and use that information as a tool to educate and empower students in their quest to achieve their goals. This month I'd like to talk about balancing Confidence and Respect.

As Pat often says, whenever you are with your horse you are either sensitizing or desensitizing them. You are either working on confidence or respect. But have you ever put any thought into WHEN you should be doing which? Have you thought about how balanced those two elements are in relation to one another?

When working on these two areas it is possible to overdo or underdo confidence and respect. Keeping in mind that Pat is an 'extreme middle of the roadist', we logically can deduce that the goal will be to find the balance in the middle.

If we examine Confidence, underdoing this ingredient would result in a fearful or untrusting horse and overdoing it might result in an unnatural level of complacency. When we are desensitizing our horses they often start on the fearful side, swing to the confident middle over time and then can swing right past that to tuned out or oblivious!

Now lets talk about Respect, thinking of a responsive and sensitized horse as our balance. Overdoing Respect can result in a hypersensitive, 'punchy' or even reactive horse on one side, while underdoing it could result in a horse that was dull, disregarding or even contemptuous.

Many people believe that the goal is a horse that is so 'bomb-proof' and good at it's friendly game that you could do just about anything and it would stand there with a sleepy look on it's face. And that may, indeed, be a good thing, but only if it is balanced by and in alignment with the Respect system.

While at the Parelli center this past winter assessing the new Levels Auditions, I saw an interesting trend. Many students would score a 4+ on Confidence & Friendly Game while only scoring a 1+ on Respect and their Porcupine & Driving Games. Now why would this be something that would cause alarm bells to go off in my mind? Isn't the goal to create a confident horse?

The problem lies in the fact that the foundation is losing it's balance. 'Love, Language & Leadership in EQUAL doses' is the saying. When you have a horse with this type of imbalance in the extreme, the result is a confident and disrespectful horse. These are commonly referred to as 'barn yard pets', which is not intended to be a complimentary term. It refers to a horse that is completely fearless of it's human, viewing them with contempt or disregard, and would think nothing of walking all over them, thus being dangerous. What happens is that eventually the horses owner needs it to actually DO something but because the respect is so atrophied in relation to the confidence, a Left Brained Dominant horse will react quite strongly and negatively when asked to do something it does not want to do and would think nothing of kicking, biting or striking its owner. In addition, when the owner does attempt to gain respect, the phase 4 required to get this tuned-out and dull, contemptuous horse to even respond is light years stronger than it would have been if the respect system was developed in conjunction and at the same time as the confidence. What many people do not realize is that they are actually being cruel in their attempts to be kind.

I used to think that I ought to be able to spank the ground vigorously with my stick and string and whirl it over my horses head without them being the least bit concerned before I should 'use' my stick so that my horse was not afraid of it. What happened, though, was that I had not taught my horse to yield to the stick and so when I asked them to they assumed it was still a friendly game and were quite startled when I tagged them. A horse is naturally skeptical of things when they are first developed and before they have had much human contact. We can understand this and use it to have lightness right from the beginning rather than building dullness and then having to resensitize the horse afterwords.

Let me explain what I mean in more depth, as this could quite easily be misconstrued! A horse needs the friendly game when they are SCARED. But the majority of the time that I SEE people playing the friendly game is when their horses are half asleep! That's the LAST time that you need to be playing the friendly game because you are teaching your horse to TUNE YOU OUT! And when the horse does get scared and is leaping and plunging around, the human often freezes instead of using rhythm, relaxation and approach and retreat to help the horse.

You can develop confidence and respect at the same time in bite sized pieces rather than in massive chunks, thereby keeping things better balanced. So rather than trying to cram a huge dose of friendly into one chunk of time, do a little bit and get it a little better and then do some things to teach the horse to respond to pressure. Then do a little more confidence building and balance it with some more respect! Pretty soon without ever 'training' on your horse or getting direct lined about it, you have a confident and respectful partner! Yay!

Depending on your horsenality you have more room to err on one side or the other without suffering as extreme of consequences. For example, overdoing the Friendly game on a Right Brained horse won't have the same consequences as overdoing it on a Left Brained Dominant horse. Similarly, overdoing Sensitizing or Respect on a Left Brained horse won't have the same consequences as overdoing it on a Right Brained Unconfident horse. Therefore, if you have a solid understanding of your own horsenality and that of your horses, you will be better educated and prepared for the pitfalls that you need to watch for. If you tend to be a soft and gentle person and have a difficult time being effective and your horse is Left Brained and Dominant, you REALLY need to be careful that you do NOT overdo Friendly Confidence Games and underdo Porcupine & Driving Respect Games.

So remember, keep the Confidence & Respect Ratio in balance as you play with your horses and develop yourselves!


  1. That was an excellent article. To expand on Fawn's point of some horse becoming desensitized barn yard pets...Some of the toughest horses we have run across are "orphans" for exactly the reason that Fawn mentioned. They are barn yard pets and the confidence and respect ratio way out of balance. People have the best of intentions, especially in an orphan situation, but no matter the age or situation, love, language and leadership have to always be equal.
    Susan Nelson 3-Star Licensed Parelli Professional

  2. Yes, and I see this more and more with new or relatively unexperienced horse owners that are trying to raise a foal or a young horse.

  3. Wow! That was a really amazing article! Thanks for posting that. It really makes you stop and think.

    I really enjoying reading you blog :) I always go away licking and chewing.


  4. Thank you for sharing, Genevieve! Thank you for writing, Fawn! This was a great and informative article... and so true!

    Petra Christensen
    Parelli 1Star Junior Instructor
    Parelli Central