The Power Of Positive Patterns For Horses

by Lisa Carter on October 8, 2014

The Power of Positive Patterns for horses -

Horses are pattern learners.  We’ve all seen it at the barn with the feeding routine, or when you pick up the halter to work, the horse anticipates that the halter means work and runs the other way :-).  But the power of positive patterns for horses is incredibly amazing.  It is used in many different training methods around the world, especially with natural horsemanship training.  I’ve had the great fortune to see these positive benefits with my very own horses. 

I truly think that horses appreciate the certainty that patterns provide.  It makes them feel smart…that they know the answer.   Most horses also like to have a purpose to what we ask them to do.  They enjoy having a job, whatever it may be.  My horses in particular hate doing mindless drilling.  They are all VERY left-brained in most cases, love to play and figure things out, even if it’s just clearing the fenceline. 

One of my Quarter Horses, Tex, was a perfect example of the power of positive patterns.  He became VERY right-brained introvert under saddle and was quite explosive to the point that he would completely check out…very dangerous.  He was very scared of having things touch her around the legs (particulary the rump/back legs) and just about anything would set him off under saddle.  But without the saddle, he was an extreme left-brained introvert – very pushy, dominant, move at his own pace and pretty confident.  It took me several years to figure this out though, as I was making the big mistake of assuming that he was left-brained all the time. 

So I spent an entire summer with him, starting out with just dragging the ropes from every possible angle as we went about our job of clearing fallen trees from around the property that my husband had cut up.  I would take him down to the back of the property, find a branch, let him sniff it and then we would together drag the branch to the burn pile.  Over and over, we did this, eventually using the rope to drag the branches and logs in front of, beside and behind Tex until it was nothing.  Then we added the saddle.  And it was litterally one step at a time, starting all over with just the ropes, then adding branches.  And with each step and the raise of his energy, stopping and waiting for him to lick and chew and be ready to take another step.  Achingly slow, but SO worth it.  We used the same exact pattern as we used without the saddle. 

After a few weeks I was able to loop the rope around the saddle and have Tex actually do the work of dragging, followed eventually by being able to do it not only on the ground, but in the saddle as well.  He bacame a natural at dragging just about anything you could attach to a rope.  And he really loved doing it.  From that point on, whenever he got worried about anything, all I needed to do was get the rope out and start back to work.  He would forget about whatever it was that was bothering him and knuckle down, no matter where we were. 

His half-brother, Spirit, has some of the same tendancies and we are now starting him on the same exact work routine putting him to work around the property.  I have no doubt that he will take to it just like his brother did. 

My Arabian mare Siofhice (“BB”) has been raised since birth with all manner of obstacles moving about her and dragging things.  So she’s never developed any fear of ropes dragging about her or anything like that.  I play with her using many different positive patterns that she’s learned over the years like figure 8 the barrels (on line and at liberty), going sideways over anything she can fit over (including the sheep), and jumping or backing over logs, etc. 

I took her to a Parelli clinic being given by my friend and mentor Christi Rains.  Christi was watering the arena in preparation for the clinic the following morning.  We had let BB loose in the arena to stretch her legs a bit.  She had a blast in there and thankfully I had my camera with me to capture some of the fun.  What I didn’t catch on camera though, but Christi told me about it when I came back with the camer, was that BB had wandered down to where the hose was coming through the rails.  The hose was elevated off the ground about 6 or 8 inches there.  BB stepped over the hose with her front feet, and rather than just continuing to walk over it, she proceeded to then sidepass across the hose like we do during our play sessions 🙂  Too funny!  Needless to say, she nows her patterns!  I hope you’ll enjoy the little bit of video we took. 


Lisa Carter, Certified Equine Massage Therapist, with her Arabian mare Siofhice. Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools.  She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork, using essential oils for animals and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses.  She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the “whole horse”.  

Are you ready to get better results with your horse?  Put your equine health care team to work so you and your horse can be doing what you were meant to.  Click here to get started!

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Oriana Tennant October 10, 2014 at 3:06 pm

The video is stunning! I would be interested in more details of how you were using ropes to drag branches with your horse. Normally you have to make up some kind of breast strap/ surcingle arrangement.Were you just using a rope around the neck, with the rope tail attached to the branch?

Lisa Carter Lisa Carter October 10, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Hi Oriana,

Thanks so much!  I was at first pulling the ropes/branches myself always from the ground at first.  Once Tex was okay with that while wearing his saddle, I then just laid the rope across the saddle horn (again from the ground first) so that if he became worried I could simply let go of the rope or let it slide to adjust how long the rope would be and it wouldn’t be actually “attached” to the saddle or the horse.  Very dangerous attaching things if they get spooked!  So at no time is the horse EVER attached to the object/rope.  You could use a surcingle with rings to pass the rope through if you didn’t want or have a saddle that would work for that purpose.  It was just a progression of baby steps all the way. 



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