Sunday, May 11, 2008

"Way More Than Riding"

That was the heading on my ticket to this past weekend's Parelli U.S.A. Tour, also called "A Major Equestrian Event." I had no idea what to expect. But after seeing it, I have to agree. It was engaging and inspiring. It was almost an emotional journey. This was a well-designed production, down to the music montages selected during horsemanship demos, to Parelli's cleverly timed sense of humor, and the huge sparkling shopping area. I'll apologize now for my photos. It was standing room only and although we actually had great seats in the "volunteers only" section (all that was left!) I had to zoom in and my camera just can't handle that kind of overload. The pictures get a bit fuzzy. Below Pat Parelli is pictured with one of his Quarter horse mares, Vision, from the Atwood Ranch in California. The Atwood Ranch's mission is "to educate and develop our AR bred, young horses utilizing the philosophy, concepts and principles of Parelli Natural Horsemanship."

This little mare was pretty and quick. By the way, I bought one of those cool shoo-fly hanging things that goes on your cinch, like the one hanging from the saddle in the picture below. I got the one with flaxen hair to match the rawhide accents on my saddle and headstall. Using this mare as a lead, Pat maneuvered two other horses around the arena through a variety of obstacles.

Linda Parelli was amazing. Her 17 year old Dutch Warmblood was equally amazing. Linda rode her horse bareback around the arena, jumping him over picnic tables and barrels. After a few rounds of this, she brought her horse to a stop, only to have him spook at something in the crowd, perhaps the applause. She slipped, lost her balance, and hung sideways from his neck. The horse stopped and waited while she righted herself. She chuckled about it. It was a real moment and it was refreshing to see that even Linda Parelli can be caught off guard.

One particularly interesting part of the event was when they brought out four Parelli horsemanship practitioners, to do demonstrations of what the average person can do with Parelli techniques, both on the ground and on the back of a horse. The Paint horse on the right is owned by a certified Parelli instructor. This horse cantered up to her on command from across the arena, and lay down so that she could mount.

This 20 year old girl has owned her 11 year-old Arabian since it was a yearling, and has been doing Parelli with him for 5 years. They had an amazing connection and watching her with her horse was like watching them perform a dance.

The final event of the day was when Pat worked with a "problem" horse that was brought in for the event. This was a 11 year Arabian gelding that although ridden a lot, had a tendency to spook at little things while on the trail, such as a rock. Within an hour, Pat had this horse walking through barrels, over a tarp, and was bouncing a huge exercise ball off of it's back. It had balked and spooked at all of these obstacles at the beginning.

No event would be complete without: shopping! During every intermission, this part of the Expo center was where everyone congregated. I did my fair share of contributing to the Parelli's bankroll. I purchased a ground kit which included: a Horsenality DVD, Seven Games DVD, Liberty DVD (games off of a line) a carrot stick, Savvy String, Halter, and the 12 ft. line, all in a Parelli tote bag. However, besides these purchases, what did I walk away from the day with? Before seeing Parelli live, I had watched maybe two of his shows on the RFD channel. My mom had learned some Parelli from her former instructor. My mom is a first-time horse owner and has only owned her gelding for 10 months. I have been impressed with the many games they have learned together. But I had never really jumped on the "Parelli bandwagon," so to speak. I believe in natural horsemanship, and I enjoy reading and watching a lot of different well-known trainers that use similar techniques in their training and riding. However, after seeing Parelli, I became excited about the three tag lines on the rubber wrist bracelets all attendees received upon entering the event: 1. Live your dream 2. Reveal Your Horse and 3. Discover your potential.

I began to realize there is a lot more that I can be doing with My Boy. And with myself, as a horsewoman. I enjoy working with my horse on the ground as much as riding. But lounging is so boring (both of the Parelli's poked quite a bit of fun at lounging, actually.) Learning and playing the 7 games will be a new challenge for us. As a teen aged horse, it will be good for My Boy to learn something new. It will keep his mind as fresh as his body. I think most attendees probably walked out of the Expo center on Saturday feeling inspired and wanting to hurry home and work with their horses. I know I did. Unfortunately, I was a long way from My Boy. This event was in central Oregon. Which by the way, is absolutely beautiful country.

My parents and I were ready to find a ranch and relocate! I would like to get your opinions. Have you seen a Parelli event? What did you think? What do you think of natural horsemanship in general? Do you use natural horsemanship techniques or follow any particular horseman?

P.S. No cowboys. Well, they were there. But I was too busy watching and learning to pay much attention. Sigh. Maybe next time.


  1. Pony Girl, what can I say I LOVE PARELLI :) It's changed everything for me, and hopefully my boys. I ride better now and have a clear way to communicate with them. It's fab.
    The only advice I will give (and it may be on your DVD, depending which one you've got) is this: Don't go up through the phases too quickly. Linda suggests counting a slow 3 seconds between each phase. For Toffee I found that at first it was 4 seconds and now down to 3, so be flexible according to how sensitive My Boy is.
    The day Toffee turned to me and said 'ok, what now' I realised I was doing it right and had him thinking, instead of just reacting. This was around the 3rd lesson, the first two were fumbling and awful!

    Good luck, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
    Kim x

  2. When I brought Hank home seven years ago, he quickly decided I was pond scum - he had zero respect for me. I worked with several trainers, who all said the same thing. "Your horse does not respect you." But these trainers didn't tell me what I had to do to earn his respect, so I went searching and found Parelli. I bought the whole Level 1 kit and went to work, and I can honestly say Parelli's seven games saved my life and my relationship with Hank.

    Now, having said that, I have grown to shudder every time I hear the name Parelli. I have been to one of his events, have watched his TV show, have attended clinics taught by Parelli-trained instructors, and have come away from all of it inspired, yet totally turned off by the marketing empire, the ego, and the Parelli wannabes - it's like a cult.

    There are many horse trainers out there preaching the gospel of natural horsemanship - essentially, each is teaching the same thing but in their own unique way. I prefer to take a little of what I learn from all of them (Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance, Buck Brannaman, Clinton Anderson, Curt Pate, Chris Cox, Craig Cameron), including Parelli, and use it in a way that works for me and for my horses. I connect better with some of these folks than the others, and Parelli's style just happens to get under my skin.

  3. You know-I like Parelli. I had the good fortune to meet him in ND and once we got past the sizing each other up-he was really interesting to talk to.
    I use some of his techniques and think they are beneficial.
    I like Clinton Anderson too. He has some good techniques. I hear he is turning into a snotty little turd though and feel bad for him.
    Actually, I feel bad for a lot of these clinicians. They are good horsemen that are also capable of relaying information to the general public. They are often victims of their own success as it becomes about the masses of people that they have to deal with rather than about the horse, like it was when they started.

    Personally the influence that has affected my training the most are the Ray Hunt/Tom Dorrance theories. They actually studied the behavior of the horses and expected you to learn how to "read" each horse. Everyone else has just built on their innovation. And I kinda think that the "reading" part is taking a back seat.

    But, I am always open to learning new techniques and have found things that I can incorporate into my training from a lot of different people. So if you enjoyed Parelli and learned something that you can go home and enjoy doing with your horse-then the clinic was a success.
    Just keep learning how to "read" My Boy and have fun.

  4. Thanks for the info and photos on the clinic! Would love to attend one, sometime!

  5. I think the observation that these are horseman that can communicate to the general public is a good one. Parelli said that himself- that there are a lot of good horseman out there, but they aren't so good at teaching people how to handle and ride their own horses. And without that skill a trainer is basically useless. I could see the almost cult-like following. And how a lot of what happens at those events is very pre-planned, staged, and choreographed. At the same time, I try to look past all of that glitz and just absorb the little nuggets of important stuff, that will work with my horse and I. I don't know much about Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance, but will look them up, for sure!

  6. I'm just not a big fan of Parelli and his cult, same goes for Lyons etc... they all have some gimmick they are trying to sell, money is the key operative here. I agree with the Dorrance's, Ray Hunt and Mark Rashid philosophies and would rather use them. I feel a lot of the techniques used on the horses to make them perform 'tricks' is ridiculous. I would rather train my horse slowly and leave out the gimmicks and tricks, I think my horses would find it demeaning to have to stand on a platform and perform like a circus elephant.That said to each his own, if you like it and feel it is right for your horse then do it.

  7. I don't think any amount of Parelli will get My Boy to stand on a platform, lol! ;) But I hope to get him to show more interest in the "work" we are doing together. I want him to enjoy it, too! If this Parelli method isn't a good fit for me or My Boy, then I won't use it. And, I intend to mix it with other ideas from other approaches, as well. As a teacher, we use what is called "best practices", which is not based on just one philosophy, but pulling from many (such as Montessori, Reggio, etc.) Remind me I said this if I start getting all Parelli-itized!! ;)

  8. I am glad you had a good time! I think I would have a good time at any clinic that involved horses. I am not a big Parelli fan. Never have been. He has a lot of good points, but the one point I could not get past was when he "lunges" his horse it runs around him and he just stands there and doesn't move. I think that is disrespectful to the person on the ground. But that is just me.

    I really like a bunch of different people. I was lucky enough to work with a lot of trainers. I went to the University of Findlay for college. That is where I learned a lot of my horsemanship. I had some of the best instructors. It is the same college that Stacy Westfall went to. She is a really good horse trainer. She doesn't proclaim to be a "natrual" horseman. She rides the way she does so she can understand her horse better.

    I do not follow one particular trainer, there are so many good ones out there to learn from. So, with that said, watch the videos and read books and just have fun with your boy. The more time you spend with him and communicating with him, the better he will be. Good luck and I am glad you had a good time.

    Oh and my father in law is all into Dennis Reis. I am just not a big fan of the use of "sticks". But hey it works for a lot of people. Again, I am glad you had a good time!! And good luck using your new found knowledge on your boy!! I am sure he will love it!!!

  9. Oh and I forgot!! I would so move to Colorado!! It's so beautiful there!! But it does snow there so I am not too sure about that!!

    And too if you want to get better at riding, take some basic dressage lessons, maybe start out with a lesson horse then move to your boy, that is what got me back into shape after having three kids! I ride western pleasure, but dressage is a great way to kick your butt back into shape! And it's a great way to learn a lot of basics. That is just my opinion. Anyway. Hope you had a great day!! :)

  10. Whilst I agree with your comments about tricks etc... I found that my little stallion seems to want to perform them. He fetches his ball for us to throw, and this is a game that he devised by himself, based on the reaction he gets when he brings it to us. If he can make us fetch it for him, then even better :)

    As for Toffee, I've always said, that the minute he stops enjoying Parelli, then I'll stop playing the games. I think it is a huge marketing vehicle, but it's style suits me as I need those step by step instructions.

    Essentially, so long as the message is the same, respect for the horse and from the horse, with kindness and understanding, then I think the real winner is - the horse.

  11. Kim, I think you are so right. Some horses are very playful by nature. I watched horses kick and play with that big rubber ball. It was obvious this was not a "trained" exercise, but one that they were doing out of pure enjoyment and self-entertainment. I don't think My Boy is that kind of horse, but I can't wait to get one of those balls and see what he does with it. If anything, it'll be good for desensitization, lol! :)

  12. PonyGirl,
    While I am excited that you got a nice introduction to good horsemanship (I can’t call it “natural” although that seems to be what everyone calls it.) Parelli is the tip of a VERY big iceberg. Do lots of reading and exploring. The key word to think about is “feel.” I have some links on my blog page (unadulterated plug) to some excellent horsemanship teachers (men and women).


I love hearing from my readers!! I truly enjoy all of your feedback, advice, helpful tips, and stories. You all make me laugh and I learn so much from you, too. I will try to post replies to your comments as often as I can.

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