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Discovering Natural Horsemanship

Horsemanship is way more than riding

By Diana KelleyPublished about a year ago 5 min read

We had never heard of natural horsemanship when I got my first horse, Gypsy. As soon as I could, I attended a school that offered a two year equine management course. Half way through the first year, one of my instructors told me “You will never be a horse trainer – you are too soft. You need to take charge and TELL the horse what to do.” I was devastated. Training horses was a life-long dream! And I was being told I may as well give up before I start.

She was correct about one thing: I am soft. I have never been able to tell a horse what to do. I can barely tell a toddler what to do! Like people, horses come in all personalities. Some really require a very firm hand. I have never been able to embrace that toughness. I tried though…

I didn’t take the second year of the course because we moved to a different state where I was able to work with draft horses – Shires, to be specific. I tried starting one of these “gentle giants” under saddle before he was ready. He was two. It was time, right? After getting bucked off six times in a row, my body decided that “showing him who’s boss” wasn’t working out. I really wasn’t surprised, but it was a painful lesson. I never finished training him – I got married and moved across the country instead.

What is Natural Horsemanship?

A few years after we were married, I was introduced to Parelli Natural Horsemanship. Suddenly, a well-known trainer was saying that my soft approach was exactly what was needed! And, he had designed a home study course to teach others (in detail) the building blocks of forming a willing relationship versus forcing the horse to do what you want. I had to learn!

My then-husband was a cowboy and thought I was wasting my time. This “natural horsemanship” had to be a gimmick. However, after starting my third horse under saddle with zero bucking or resistance he gave me a HUGE compliment! He said “You may take far too long to train a horse, but, man, they are good when you are done!” (so much for never being a horse trainer! )

I have read other people proclaiming that there is no such thing as natural horsemanship. It is just a marketing term. While it is a great marketing term, this natural approach to horsemanship is also a safer and more effective method of training. Instead of using increasingly severe bits and spurs, we are taking the time to learn equine behavior and using their own instincts to teach them what we want. That is, indeed, a natural method of training that creates a bond of trust versus bondage.

Why Parelli?

Someone asked me, “Why do you use Parelli? I have read a lot of bad things about it – like how students abuse their horses!” She went on to point out that one should not be a disciple of a methodology and that each horse is unique and should be treated as such.

I agree whole-heartedly that every horse is unique and there is no perfect system.

It is also important to me to point out that any training program will have abusers, scam artists and adversaries - especially if the program becomes popular! And Parelli Natural Horsemanship is internationally acclaimed. Very popular.

6 Things That I Like About the Parelli Program

  1. Pat teaches that every horse, like people, is unique and will learn at a different pace
  2. Horsenality explains how horses, like people, have different personalities and what to expect from them.
  3. Like any good educational program, there is a list of specific tasks you should be able to do before advancing to the next level. That way, you can easily monitor your progress. And, each level is built on what was learned before it.
  4. Unlike public school settings, the program is easily adaptable to the speed of learning for each partnership. There is no set time frame that you have to learn a certain skill.
  5. As Horse Illustrated points out regarding the 7 Games “Each game builds on the one before it and they make perfect sense to the horse when presented in their correct order.” You and your horse can move at your own pace through each game too. You could be stuck in the level one structure of the Yo-Yo Game and still advance to level three on the Friendly Game. You do have to show certain tasks for a certificate of achievement, but it is not a required document that you need in order to keep advancing and having fun with your horse!
  6. A lot of trainers and “programs” help you deal with a specific problem; but they do not bother to try to understand what caused the problem to begin with. Parelli is different by helping you understand the foundation of a horse’s behavior and working through problems from the ground up.
  7. If that is not enough, I have been inspired by the professionals that use Parelli Natural Horsemanship with their personal horses, client training, therapeutic riding center programs and even Olympic training!

What is a Therapeutic Riding Center?

Therapeutic riding centers specialize in using equine therapy for people with special needs to positively impact their cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being. It requires calm, patient horses and savvy handlers. Read What is Equine Therapy? for additional information.

Here is a list of therapeutic riding centers across the USA that use Parelli:

2 Olympic Riders That Use Parelli

Lauren Barwick, Paralympian Gold Medalist – all the games can be played from a wheelchair

Luis Lucio December 2014, this two time Olympian Spanish Dressage Rider and Trainer achieved his appointment on the FEI Dressage Committee

I figure if Parelli is used by Olympic riders and therapeutic professionals, then it cannot be as bad as some claim and I look forward to maneuvering through the levels.

You see, I never made it through the Parelli Natural Horsemanship course. In fact, I never officially finished even the first level! Life got in the way. However, it’s been around 20 years and I still really want to do the course. I’m on my fourth horse – it’s time!


About the Creator

Diana Kelley

Horses can be wonderful emotional support companions - I know mine is! Not everyone can afford a horse, so I share my experiences on my blog You can also find me on Facebook and Pinterest! :)

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