• Fiona Darling

“Nothing Means Nothing & Everything means Something” Body Language & Communication Instructor Q & A

Updated: Sep 17, 2020


With my background in Science studying Zoology at university and competing in dressage some things that have always really appealed to me about the Parelli program have been the diversity of horse people that are drawn to it and how it is based on the laws of nature to understand how and why horses think, act and feel the way they do.

Entering our horses world and communicating with them in such a way that comes naturally to them and causes them to choose us as their leader in our herd of two with the Levels program helping both members of the partnership to become calmer, smarter, braver and more athletic in our lives together is a great thing that we can offer ourselves and our horses by progressing through Levels 1 to 4.

For me this has been more appealing than staying in the human world with the eyes of a Scientist and seeing horse training as a science experiment in the identification of behaviours and types of learning and as a human influencing the behaviour of horses to suit us and what we want.

The focus of Parelli is to develop the habits and skills of a horseman, to enrich the lives of both members of the partnership in becoming calmer, smarter, braver and more athletic. Communicating with our horse is achieved via the 7 games in 4 savvys, 2 on the ground being On Line and Liberty and 2 ridden Freestyle and Finesse riding. These are the 7 games that horses naturally play with one another, to interact and communicate with each other. The 7 games are for us to learn, put together and spend the rest of our horsemanship lives finessing.

Pat’s other masterminds of the 8 Principles of Natural Horsemanship, the 10 Qualities of a Horseman and 7 Keys to Success guide us as we progress through the Foundation Levels 1 to 4 with all the other learning skeletons also offered to keep us on track eg Levels, Zonology, Impulsion program, ground and riding patterns.)

Pat through his observations and experiences with horses and learnings from his mentors established the 8 Principles of natural horsemanship. I say what a mastermind to have distilled all that he had learnt into these 8 principles to act as our guiding light when with our horses and indeed in other parts of our lives. The Principles I would like to focus on here are:

Principle 1= Horsemanship is natural….understanding the nature of the horse and how they communicate with one another.

Principle 3 = Communication is 2 or more individuals sharing and understanding an idea….in the world of horses communication is largely via body language.

Principle 4 = Mutual responsibilities of the partnership between the horse and human. For us they are to act like a partner not a predator, have an independent seat/feet, think like a horse and know the natural power of focus. For our horse they are act like a partner not a prey animal, maintain gait, maintain direction and look where you are going.

Principle 6 = Body language is universal…..for us learning how to play the Seven Games and using long body logic.

The 7 Games are our alphabet with the first 3 as Principle games and the remaining four as Purpose Games (Parelli Savvy Club members have access to the Goals of the 7 Games in the member website). The 7 Games contain the most essential concepts that are the root of everything you want to be able to teach your horse. Horses know the Seven Games they just have to recalibrate given our odd body shape with humans being tall not long and standing on 2 feet not 4.

Winning the 7 games means winning our horses heart and desire, their trust, respect and understanding, choosing us as their worthy leader and becoming our willing partner.

The 7 games in all 4 savvys, simple but not easy.

Horses can go forwards, backwards, right, left, up, down or any combination thereof.

Horses' priorities are safety, comfort, food then play in that order with their survival in mind. When we want to communicate with our horse we not only need to have these concepts in mind but also the gait and the speed of gait we are asking of them.

Our body is our phase 1 SUGGEST and to support this in causing the undesirable thing to be progressively less comfortable enough to cause the horse to explore how to regain comfort/a release/ relief we support Phase 1 using our tools for Phase 2 ASK, Phase 3 TELL and Phase 4 PROMISE. At first in learning the 4 Phases we offer them 3 secs apart long enough to give them time to think but not allowing them to be wrong for long for each of our requests. Once learnt we offer a long phase 1 only following through with Phases 2 to 4 as required to be effective. What is meant by effective? A high enough phase or level of discomfort to cause the horse to seek/experiment to find comfort being careful not to progress beyond this as this would only add undue pressure that would inhibit their ability to think to find the answer we are seeking them to find. Remember to reward to slightest try with a release, also know that it is the release that teaches. Whatever you and the horse were doing when they gained a release for comfort is what they will learn from you to do in future requests.

Nothing means nothing and everything means something…when your life is up every change you make in how you present yourself to your horse is your language to your horse to do something. If you have your life up fiddling with your tools but not intentionally asking your horse to do anything as yet it will cause your horse to either lose their confidence and try to leave or switch off from you and ignore you when you actually do ask them to do something. When your horse has chosen you as their worthy leader when your life is down in Friendly game it will mean to your horse hurry up and do nothing no matter what is happening around them. When you are in active neutral (having an independent seat/feet) having your life up but not asking your horse to do something else you are communicating to your horse “I like what you are doing, keep on doing it.”

It is so important to be consistent in how you use your body, exaggerate to teach and refine as you go along. With refinement our body language can become so subtle that the horse seems to be reading our mind.

Have you ever watched a flock of birds flying and wondered how it is that they do not crash into each other? They are so in tuned with the feelings, focus and energy of each other that they fly as one. For our horse to harmonise with us in this way and for us to harmonise with our horse is a supreme goal to aspire to…”True Unity”.

What we want our horses to do in their body and with their emotions and energy we must do with ours….simple but not easy!

Rehearse On Line for Liberty and Freestyle riding, with all three as rehersals for Finesse riding.

Take circling game as an example of being particular with your body language…..what are the things you would want to communicate to your horse? In the Send it would be the direction, gait, speed and size of circle and then in the Allow the number of circles…this can all be done in phase 1 with your body for the Send and understanding the power of neutral (having independent feet) as an active neutral in the Allow.

After asking your horse in the send by keeping your feet still in the centre of the circle with your life up and your hands relaxed by your sides in an active neutral you are saying to your horse “I like what you are doing keep on doing it.” This is comforting for your horse in knowing they are doing a good job.

How do you communicate with your body language in the send?

For direction open up your shoulder, belly button and foot to 4 o’clock to the right and 8 o’clock to the left.

For gait it is in your weight placement the same as for your horse by tipping your hips a little forward for walk (horse’s weight 60 FQs : 40 HQs), lifting straight up for trot (horse’s weight 50 FQs : 50 HQs), tipping your weight back a little onto your opposite leg to the canter direction (horse’s weight 40 FQs : 60 HQs).

For speed it is the amount of life you have in your body. Only use the carrot stick and savvy string in phases 2 to 4 to support this.

For size of circle it is how far you extend your leading arm out and then if On Line allowing the rope to slide out through your hand to the appropriate length.

For the 4 Phases for each of the 7 Games both on the ground and when riding see the wealth of videos on the Savvy Club Library.

These are the notes I used during my Instructor Q & A presentation in June 2020 available to all Savvy Club members to view.

If not currently a member I highly recommend joining as your go to resource for information and inspiration to support you in your horsemanship progress. Please join via my link at the bottom of my page titled Parelli in this website or by using

This is the first of future perspectives and stories I look forward to sharing with you.

My best wishes and keep it natural.


#bodylanguage #communication #keepitnatural #keepyourfocus

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