Better Leadership Through The Game of Contact

by Parelli Central on February 20, 2012

Parelli Professional Lillan Roquet sent us this great blog after a revelatory session she had with Linda Parelli over the weekend.  We hope you enjoy it!

Wow! What a breakthrough day today with Linda! As many of you know, I’ve recently jumped headfirst out of my comfort zone (at least that’s how it feels!) into the study of the elusive fourth Savvy, Finesse.

My wonderful partner and teacher, a grey Arabian mare named Damo, charts as an extreme Right-Brain Extrovert … just a tad more extreme than me! This can either go really well or really poorly, depending on the day and my own level of personal development.

Damo and me, relaxing before our lesson with Linda.

Damo and me, relaxing before our lesson with Linda.

For the last four weeks with Linda, we have been playing with Stage 1 and 2. Now we’ve also been away on tour and lots of other stuff, so we haven’t had that much consistency, but I’m petrified of contact, and my mare has some fairly intense feelings about the bit as well – surprise, surprise! So we’ve been plugging on, building confidence and trust as I build better posture and better hands, attempting to avoid her usual tendencies with the bit, which were teeth grinding and, well, taking off with me! We had a minor setback where she actually began to refuse to bridle. However, aside from that, we have steadily been making progress and learning together every day.

On the flip side, Linda has also been really pushing me to be a better leader in FreeStyle. My tendency is to float somewhere between having a plan and being a passenger. So Linda has begun coaching me on getting a “light seat forward canter” which of course REALLY tests my leadership as Damo gets very impulsive and starts to think about running off. Then when I lose that mental connection, she also begins to get really spooky, making her pretty challenging to ride. So I’ve been playing lots of approach and retreat and going back to patterns like the Figure 8 and Bullseye to get her mind back to me and our impulsion organized again every time we go for a fast canter. Again, I’ve been slowly making progress and its been getting better and better … but slowly!

So as you’re reading this, you may be wondering how these two trains of thoughts intersect… well, so did I – UNTIL TODAY! Today, I told Linda that I thought I was ready to play with the flying change piece of the forward canter, and she said she would help me through it. So Damo and I got a really nice forward canter going on the Question Box Pattern. Then I changed the flexion and the weight in my stirrups and headed onto the other circle. Up came her adrenaline, she changed in front and not behind, spooked fairly violently at the mounting block, and I could feel I was on a bit of a runaway. I half-yelled to Linda asking what to do, and she basically said, “ignore it, shorten your reins, and have a stronger focus!”

I did what she asked and we got on the correct lead and came around the circle again. I shortened my reins and was able to ask Damo to have correct flexion on the circle and act like a partner. Then we came through the box again and I changed my focus, changed her flexion, weighted my stirrup, and we got a perfect change! It was my first flying change (on purpose, without micromanaging) that felt soft, in control, and just plain FUN!

The coolest thing to me, though, was the moment before that. When my Right-Brain Extrovert had her energy, life and adrenaline up in the past, I have always had to slow things down, reverting to patterns and getting her confidence back by breaking it down that way. Today I was able to shorten the reins, take more leadership, and re-direct her! In the past, she would have felt completely blocked in Zone 1, and by doing that I would have made the problem WORSE for sure!

For me, that moment completely solidified me on how amazing Stage 1 and 2 of the Game of Contact really is for horses. My mare felt like a different horse today, and without this incredible breakthrough of Linda’s Game of Contact I don’t think we ever would have gotten to this place. I now have a completely different tool available to use in my Freestyle riding because Damo no longer feels like the bit is a barrier. I can hold hands with her and offer her more leadership that way. Now I just have to keep playing with getting that feeling in Finesse too! Can’t wait to continue the journey, and thanks so much for your help today Linda!!

Damo says "thank you" too!

Damo says "thank you" too!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Nic February 26, 2012 at 3:37 am

Thanks for sharing Lillan!




Carole Hofmann February 21, 2012 at 9:43 pm

It was wonderful to meet you after the Lexington event. Your mare reminded me so very much of mine in looks and now by your blog, in action too! I’ve been playing with some of the same things but have been very hesitant to try contact. It is finally getting through my head that if we edge forward, it helps what we’ve been playing with! Thank you so very much for sharing this breakthrough, you’ve given me confidence to head into the Game of Contact :)
We are getting some very nice light canters and I think this is a great time to add contact in.
I look forward to hearing more of your journey!


Bonny Curless February 21, 2012 at 9:39 am

Thanks for sharing! I love hearing stories of success like this! :)


Isabelle Greenfield February 21, 2012 at 8:26 am

Awesome Lillan! what a fantastic opportunity to study with Linda on a day to day basis. I would kill for that (probably not really, but you know what I mean). You go girl and keep your strong focus! xxx Isa


Cynthia Edmonson February 20, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Lillan ~
I can’t thank you enough for sharing this inspirational story. I was given a “problem horse”, which I named Apollo in 2008 and I was told his problem was bucking. So after a few Parelli play days with him on the ground, I did the full pre-ride check list and felt safe to get on, watching and waiting for the bucking to start. He moved off in a calm and confident manor so I took him over to a field riding side by side with another horse and rider. We had no problems at walk, so we trotted – no problems, so canter…..2 strides into canter I was on a complete and total run away that had ZERO lateral flexion. Being an x-gymnast I was able to dismount at full speed without injury. And there started my quest with him. I have made tremendous progress with him but as you mentioned above….we stay in pattern. Bullseye at the canter is good now….and so on. But, when I ask for straight line canter, I know he is still one stride away from GONE! We are right where you are now in terms of the next phase of growth and improvement….and I’m SO inspired that despite my long journey and slow progress with him….that I’m on track for success. What you describe is EXACTLY what I feel with Apollo. The fine line between adrenaline and confident energy! It’s exciting to read confident energy is out there…..I’ll keep practicing! Well done! :)


Julie DeYoung February 20, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Thank you for sharing your challenge and success. I am surprised that few people use the Bitless bridle, or seem to even really consider it, when so many horses seem to experience pain or discomfort from a bit, especially with beginning riders. My RBE had a mouth tear when I started riding him and that made the Bitless Bridle necessary and we stayed with it, partly due to my fear of re-tearing the scar tissue around his mouth. What are your thoughts about the Bitless Bridle?


donna varga February 20, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Ah – from another guardian of an RBE Arabian – now I am truly convinced that I will not again ride with a bit until I’m savvy enough to be ready for the game of contact!


Robin February 20, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Thank you so much for sharing. Very inspiring because I just joined and don’t even know yet what I am. Sence I haven’t met my horse yet, hes due to be delivered sometime in the next two weeks, I don’t know what he is except hes an ex 4H horse and safely taught two young girls to ride. I am anything but a young girl, LoL. Im very excited about our journey together and someday I hope to be where you are today. Please keep sharimg your journey with all us to keep us inspired to follow in your footsteps.


Liz Squire February 20, 2012 at 2:33 pm

This is so encouraging for me. Thank you! Being an old dressage rider, as Linda was, and now reading this. It helps me see more clearly. It really pulls man and horse together if you do the entire program.
Love this stuff.
Liz :)


Dana Abernathy February 20, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Wonderful! I am in the club of RBE’s and partner of a RBE gray Arab! Loved your spotlight in Lexington. Great to see what’s possible!


Jan Grogan February 20, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Very inspiring, as I am RBE and have a RBE Arab too! Thank you for taking the time to share.


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