Part Rider, Part Trainer, Part Psychologist, Part Behaviorist
This article was originally published in the February 2011 issue of Savvy Times magazine. Recent back-issues of Savvy Times are available for Parelli members in the Resources section of Parelli Connect.
Bring Out The Best In Your Horse
-by Linda Parelli
One of the worst things that happens when you first get into horses is that you think all you have to do is just get on and ride. No wonder there are so many failed relationships with horses! Most horses have a justifiably negative opinion of humans and have learned behaviors that range from frustrating to downright dangerous.
What if, from the first day you dreamed of having a horse, you were taught that your job is to learn how to bring out the best in your horse, and that sometimes riding cannot be your major focus, that you might have to act as a trainer — or psychologist or behaviorist or all of the above — first. Then it would make sense that you have to learn to become a horseman, because a horseman is part rider, part trainer, part psychologist and part behaviorist. A horseman is way more than just a rider, but is a great rider too.
There are two components to riding:
It’s the second one that is the key here, because it’s not until your horse is calm, confident and willing that you can work on yourself to improve your feel, posture, position, technique and advance your skills.
This is also why “school masters” are so valuable. They have their act together, they know their job and they can put up with the mistakes riders make as they are learning. Pat expresses this in #7 of the Eight Principles: “Horses teach humans [...]” because he knows how valuable it is for riders to learn from experienced horses. Unfortunately not all of us are lucky enough to have access to that kind of horse which is why becoming an excellent rider some – times takes longer than it should.
A trainer is a teacher, and it is your responsibility to teach your horse what you need and want him to know. As his teacher you need to be a good communicator, have a plan, and be knowledgeable, disciplined, patient, and focused. You need to be able to blend consistency and variety in the right proportions, to solve and prevent problems, and to make progress as soon as your horse is in a learning frame of mind.
In the Parelli program you learn a lot about how to use equine psychology to influence your horse’s mind, rather than manipulate him against his will using physical force. It’s about getting your idea to become your horse’s idea, but understanding your horse’s idea first. Essentially this means you need know what strategies calm or motivate a horse, when to retreat or use reverse psychology, and when to advance and make rapid progress.
Understanding horse behavior takes the mystery out of horses, and the key to understanding the individual horse is “Horsenality.” Not only does this allow you to understand why your horse behaves in a certain way, it informs you of potential behavioral patterns. You’ll know how to design productive training sessions, when to speed up or slow down, and you’ll stop bringing out the crazy, unpredict – able, lazy or naughty side of your horse. The end result.
Be a Horseman
By using all your skills as a horseman you’ll bring out the best in your horse by slipping effortlessly from one role to the other exactly as needed. When your horse is afraid or loses trust and confidence, you’ll understand him and help him regain his confidence and trust in your leadership. When your horse resists or shuts down, you’ll know how to encourage his ideas or wait until he asks you a question. When your horse is calm, trusting, motivated and willing, you’ll get to work on the subtleties of becoming an excellent rider. Even though “rider” is first on this list, for the good of the horse it’s the thing you get to focus on last. One day it will all be seamless — you’ll do it all, all of the time. And then, in your horse’s eyes, you are a real horseman.