Florida Natural Horsemanship Game 1: Friendly Game

by Jennifer on November 16, 2014

The Friendly Game

Horses don’t need to be forced to behave. They can be convinced naturally to become our willing partners.

Game #1 is the Friendly Game. It is, without a doubt, the most important of the Games. You need to play it with your horse first, before anything else, and then you need to continue to play it before, during and after each of the other Games. You can play the Friendly Game with your lead rope, with a String, with a training Stick, with a plastic bag on the end of a stick, with a saddle pad, with your bare hand or with anything you have. Play it from the tip of your horse’s ears, inside his mouth, down all his legs to the end of his tail. There is no part of your horse’s body you should not be able to be friendly with.

To emphasize the power of the Friendly Game, let me give you an example of getting on a horse that’s never been ridden. All this involves is being able to play the Friendly Game at a high level.

I have two focuses in mind:

  1. I can see the finished result. I’m on the horse’s back, I’m happy and relaxed and the horse is happy and relaxed.
  2. I’m going to ask for permission all the way, and not make assumptions. I’m going to prove to this horse beyond any shadow of a doubt that I am friendly and trustworthy.

I start by rubbing the horse in a pleasurable way wherever the horse will allow me. I begin with these areas and gradually move to the ones he feels more defensive about. These are the “Wait a minute! I don’t know you that well yet!” spots. I take note of those areas and I use them to measure how far I’m progressing. When the horse is no longer defensive, he is telling me that he trusts his body in my hands.

From there I increase the stimulus to see how much the horse can stand. Some horses are okay as long as everything is slow and quiet. These are horses people learn to sneak around. I do the opposite. This technique will actually keep horses like that from becoming scared and flighty.

I swing ropes. I skip around. I jump up and down. I stagger around until the horse gets desensitized. All the while I have a smile on my face and a non-threatening, relaxed body language. Pretty soon the horse is convinced that I’m harmless. He can get pretty scared until he works through his emotions and my experience and savvy level allows me to understand that.

I persist through the process until the horse becomes confident and relaxed.

To leave the horse feeling scared is just not fair. Life as a prey animal is scary enough, having to watch out every moment to survive. Horses need to get over their innate fears and skepticism if they’re going to become our partners. The first step is that I have to prove I’m a friend no matter what.

Once I feel the horse is making mental changes and begins to look at me differently, lowering his head and relaxing his muscles, only then will I take the next step and ask permission to jump onto his back.

His back is a whole new area that needs more Friendly Game and desensitization. But since I started on the ground, most of the work has already been done. Within a very short time the horse will allow me to lie on his back, kneel on it, stand on it, slide off his rump, disengage his hindquarters… and only then will I fork my legs over his back. This is actually the most vulnerable position.

This entire process has been nothing but the Friendly Game. If I get this right, everything else will come quickly and easily because I’ve earned the horse’s trust. While I’ve been insistent, at no time have I invaded without asking permission. I never acted like a predator.

Horses are amazingly adaptable animals and are very quick to make changes, probably quicker than any other living creature.

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