In part five of our amazing series, Linda Parelli of Parelli Natural Horsemanship teaches you “The Circling Game.” You and your fave horse will be spinning and having fun!
The Circling Game is really fun because your horse has to be responsible! In playing this game, your horse learns to stay in one gait and go in one direction—without clucking at him or snapping a lunge whip behind him. In fact, you don’t move at all even though your horse is going around you! It’s important to know that this isn’t sending your horse round and round in circles (like lungeing) which can become boring for you and the horse! And it’s not about exercising, either.
So why do we play this game? Have you ever wished your horse would maintain a gait without constantly squeezing your legs to keep him going? This will help!
The Circling Game also helps keep your horse mentally connected to you instead of ignoring you. It also teaches your horse to move on a circle with confidence and to disengage his hindquarters and stop from a walk or trot.
Let’s start! Oh, wait. What’s first? Yep! The Friendly Game (it’s always first before any of the Games). And make sure you’ve become really good at the Porcupine Game, the Driving Game and the Yo-Yo Game. Now we can start!
A Three-Act Play
The Circling Game has three parts: the Send, the Allow, and the Bring Back. You will learn how to “send” your horse out on a circle, “allow” him to do his task, and then “bring back”your horse to you.
Start with a small circle (when you get really good, you can use 6 feet of the rope, then eventually all 12 feet). Hold your 12-foot lead rope about three feet away from your horse in your right hand. Use the Porcupine Game to move your horse backward with your hand on his nose until he’s just out of reach so he’s ready to “send.” Show your horse where you want him to go. To go to the right, hold your lead line up high to the right and point with your index finger!
If your horse is stuck and doesn’t move, smile and lift your Carrot Stick with your left hand, swing it, and gently touch your horse on his neck (don’t poke!) while your right hand is still pointing with the lead rope. If he starts and then stops, tap the top of his rump with the Carrot Stick. Here’s another tip: Turn your bellybutton in the direction you want your horse to go. Remember to open your hand to allow your horse to start his circle. If you keep your hand closed and tight, he’ll turn and face you rather than going out on the circle.
Borrow a hula hoop and plop it on the ground (or draw a circle in the dirt) and stay within that hoop or circle. Once your horse walks out on the circle, rest the Carrot Stick on the top of his back in a friendly way. Your hand should be open with the handle of the Carrot Stick resting on your palm. This will keep the stick from bouncing.
If he stops, tap him lightly a few times on the top of his rump. As soon as he goes forward again, rest the Carrot Stick on the top of his back like before. When he starts going in a full circle by himself, place the Carrot Stick on the ground with the handle resting against your belly. Smile, relax, and pass the rope around your back to your other hand. If your horse is sneaky and stops behind you, turn toward him, smile, and bring him in to you.
Then send him out again! Pretty soon he’ll realize it’s easier to do the full circles rather than stopping and restarting all the time. Do at least two circles but no more than four (just walk at first).Don’t let your horse get bored with this! This game is a challenge, not just repetition.
The Bring Back
In bringing your horse back to you, ask him to disengage his hindquarters and turn and face you (just like you taught him in the Driving Game). Lean sideways towards your horse’s rump and really focus your eyes (scrunch your eyebrows and narrow your eyelids) on his hindquarters. Tap the side of the horse’s rump. He will yield his hindquarters (by turning them away from you) and face you!
This way he’ll always focus on you for whatever directions he needs. It’s pretty neat to be able to do this with just a “look” after you’ve practiced for a while.
Remember to play this game in both directions.
And the Ponies Go Round and Round!
You can see by the photos taken at the La Cense Ranch in Dillon, Montana that the Circling Game can be really fun! But remember that these students have practiced and have gone through several levels of Parelli Natural Horsemanship. When you are really good at these games, you and a friend could stand in a tire and play the Circling Game. Or several of you could create a merry-go-round of ponies. What else can you think of?