The power of infinity

“The longest I ever cantered a horse on this pattern was an hour,” Pat said. He was referring to the series of figure 8s — infinity signs — that make up the barrel racing pattern of the Parelli Games.

Here is a quickie video I took with my cell phone, to show you the pattern. The production values are horrible but it’s only 35 seconds and you can see how the pattern differs from rodeo barrel racing (while also teaching horses the pattern so they can zip through a rodeo lightning-fast but without panic).

Pat explained how sticking with the pattern longer helps horses relax and become more confident. We see it happen during the 16 minutes of video, where he canters One Smart Peppy around the barrels on a loose rein, adding the variety of a slide stop at X twice, to keep Peppy from zoning out or getting bored.

The segment ends with a cool example of how this pattern can lead to rather dramatic performances, but because I hate spoilers, I shall tell you after the jump if you want to know before you watch or if you aren’t a Savvy Club member. (Hint: It involves balloons.)

Pat ends his session by asking the students, “What did you learn about Patterns today?” The first, heartfelt answers are that we don’t stick to a pattern long enough and that we’re too boring for our horses when we do the patterns.

I learned last week when I played with Rocky on the 12-foot line and then the 22-foot line and a flank rope that I haven’t been sticking to patterns long enough. In some cases, it’s because the circles put too much stress on Rocky’s ankles. But in other cases, it’s because the moment I see him look uncomfortable — even if it’s a “don’t wanna” rather than an “ouch” — I stop. And thus I am neither particular nor provocative, and what’s more, my genius Appaloosa has figured out that if he bobs his head and looks at me, I’ll let him come in.

If you’ve spent enough time to develop a relationship with an Appaloosa, you know that they have the best smug smirk of any horse.

I was inspired to play with the ropes after I saw Jake developing the yearlings up at Atwood Ranch Naturally, and how the different horses and horsenalities reacted. The medium-spirited LBE filly couldn’t be bothered to be bothered by it, but the high-spirited LBE gelding had a definite opinion and was not afraid to express it with some spectacular kicking and farting. (Boys. I’m sure he just wanted the excuse.)

I started with the rope where the saddle girth would go, then gradually moved it back toward Rocky’s flank, having him follow the rail at the walk and then the trot. At the walk, no problem. At the trot, he decided it was squeezing him to death and that he should come off the rail into a circle and then if that didn’t work, buck a little, and if that didn’t work, shoulder-in toward me with a high head. I kept my energy steady and I can defend my space now with a look and the barest twitch of the carrot stick, and it didn’t take long before he resigned himself to wearing the dang thing. It took longer for him to relax and blow out and be willing to engage with me in a game of touch-it. A brief game, as we had come to a good place, and I wanted to end the session before I got him worked up again.

So, as I re-start my Parelli journey today with the DVD viewing and reflection on my last session, I have a plan for Rocky’s week:

  • Friendly game with ropes around his body
  • Follow the rail online at the trot, being particular about his staying on the straight line
  • Persist until we get to relaxation, not stop just because he’s resigned himself to whatever I have asked of him
  • Bring out the SMB splint boots I used to put on him the first year we were together, to see if they help
  • Balloons

Spoiler: Pat invites a student in to ride the pattern … then has her take off her vest to reveal two pistols. She and her horse then demonstrate the sport of Cowboy Mounted Shooting, using the pattern first to relax the horse and then to pop all the balloons.

The Arizona Fish & Game Dept created a video a few years ago that describes the sport and shows several competitors:


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