Improve your riding with Parelli Horsemanship

How understanding your horse’s personality can improve your riding

Could a better understanding of your horse’s personality improve your riding experience and your relationship with him? Parelli instructor Sarah Wearing explains how you might be able to do just that with an enhanced knowledge of your horse’s inner world.

What is the Parelli Programme?

Founded in 1981, the Parelli Programme aims to help riders establish good horsemanship through communication, understanding and the psychology of horses. With this in mind, the programme identifies four basic types of horse personalities within a theory called ‘Horsenality’. These Parelli Horsenalities can give insight into how your horse views the world. Armed with this understanding, you should then be able to adjust your training to bring out the best in your horse and to develop a strong relationship with him.

The personality types

Below is an outline of each personality category the theory defines, plus some of Sarah’s tips on how to work with each type of horse and get the best out of your riding. Keep in mind that your horse may not necessarily fit into just one category – it’s common for horses to have personalities that are on the cusp of two, or even to flip between types.

The Left-Brain Extrovert

‘If your horse is a Left-Brain Extrovert you’ll easily be able to identify his gregarious characteristics: he’s curious, playful and always looking for fun and mischief to get into.’ says Sarah. You’ll also pick up on this personality type if your horse is dominant, likes to push everyone – and everything – around, needs to move his feet often, and is a fast learner but is easily bored.

Two ways to get the best out of your Left-Brain Extrovert:

  1. ‘Left-Brain Extroverts thrive on play,’ Sarah explains. ‘If your horse has this personality type, he’ll enjoy a busy life with purpose and plenty of new things to do.’ So keep your horse interested, and prevent his tendency to bore easily, by spicing up your training with varied tasks or introducing new games.
  2. If your horse has this type of personality, you’ll also need to make sure you match his energy. ‘These horses are often excellent competition horses with expressiveness, tenacity and a fun outlook on life,’ says Sarah, ‘but you won’t be able to rest on your laurels. The best way to keep your horse’s interest, and maintain your leadership, will be to anticipate any of his mischievous ideas and channel his energy into more positive outlets through play and training.’

The Right-Brain Extrovert

You’ll recognise this personality type in a horse by his high-head carriage and hyper-alertness. ‘The Right-Brain Extrovert is emotionally driven,’ Sarah says, ‘so he’ll react instinctively, and will have a strong flight drive.’ Other characteristics to look out for include a tendency to be tense and nervous, not being able to stand still and being a bit of a ‘forward-aholic’.

Two ways to get the best out of your Right-Brain Extrovert:

  1. ‘If your horse has this personality, he’s driven by the need for security,’ Sarah explains. ‘And because Right-Brain Extroverts have a strong flight drive, they can sometimes be unpredictable when adrenalin kicks in.’ Sarah recommends reflecting on your own personality and the way in which you react, too. ‘Look within yourself at these times; you’ll need a calm and centred leadership to help your horse feel safe and understand that there isn’t anything to fear.’
  2. You’ll also need to keep focused and should learn to recognise, and then look out for opportunities to interrupt any negative behaviour patterns. ‘For example, if your horse careers around on a circle instead of working calmly, try changing direction or asking him to do a figure of eight around two cones,’ Sarah recommends.

The Left-Brain Introvert

‘Standing still is one of the Left-Brain Introvert’s favourite things!’ Sarah says. If your horse has this personality, at times he may have been labelled ‘lazy’ or ‘stubborn’ – but that’s not the case: he's just very clever at training you to put in more effort than he does. His calmness also makes him reliable and consistent.

Two ways to get the best out of your Left-Brain Introvert:

  1. ‘The key to improving your riding with a Left-Brain Introvert is to find out what motivates him, and then to give him a distinct purpose,’ Sarah says. ‘A clear reward in the form of a treat or a short rest is the best way to do so for a horse with this personality type. Left-Brain Introverts can be persistent, so don’t let yourself be bullied into giving more treats than necessary!’
  2. Another of Sarah’s tips is to employ some psychology of your own. ‘Left-Brain Introverts are “thinkers” and experts at getting other horses, as well as people, to do what they want. Because of this, they respond particularly well to reverse psychology. By asking your horse to do the opposite of what he expects, you’ll engage his mind and keep him on his toes.
    ‘For example, if your horse is hard to get going, ask him to go slower – really, really, really slow – and then watch as he automatically becomes more interested in the exercise. This approach will generally engage Left-Brain Introverts mentally, and will help you to increase your connection with them.’

The Right-Brain Introvert

‘The Right-Brain Introvert is a thoughtful mover, not because he's lazy, but because he's careful and hesitant. Because of this tendency to hesitate, he’s also a worrier and, when he's worried, he’ll often shut down and “freeze”.’ You’ll recognise this personality in your horse if obedience and submissiveness are his strong characteristics.

Two ways to get the best out of your Right-Brain Introvert:

  1. ‘Right-Brain Introverted horses seek comfort, are obedient and thrive on consistency and repetition,’ Sarah explains. ‘So new environments, such as shows, will be a challenge for him. You’ll need to make sure you prepare thoroughly by establishing a consistent routine and, if possible, introducing him to new spaces beforehand.’ You’ll also need to stay patient and be prepared to allow time for him to understand the questions you ask during training.
  2. Putting in quality time with this personality type can be especially rewarding. Take any quiet moments you can to allow yourself and your Right-Brain Introvert time to chill out together in the field or stable. Your horse will really appreciate this and it will allow him to build his trust in you, lessening his tendency to worry. In return, he’ll give you the gift of learning to slow down.