The 10 Qualities of a Horseman
This article was originally published in the August 2008 issue of Savvy Times magazine. Recent back-issues of Savvy Times are available for Parelli members in the Resources section of Parelli Connect.
-by Pat Parelli
Second-hand gold is as good as new, so my goal is to share my experience and help people accelerate their horsemanship journey. I have found there are ten basic ingredients that can help humans of any age to do this. The first four ingredients are primary for both the horse and the human—the togetherness qualities—while the final six are more from the human’s perspective—the leadership qualities.
This is my challenge to you: Don’t just learn these ten as ingredients. Master them and make them your second-nature qualities. What if I had learned about these when I was 14 years old? What if you can learn them now and dream bigger and sooner than I did?
1—Heart and Desire
Watch a mare and foal together and you’ll see the strongest example of heart and desire. That’s how strong the bond could be and should be between horse and human. But people can have too many goals and put their heart and desire into winning or performing rather than with the horse. It’s okay to have a strong desire for competition as long as it doesn’t get ahead of the relationship with the horse.
We have to teach the horse to respect us. Respect from the horse is measured by appropriate response and quality and length of attention span. As humans, we ultimately need to respect the pure nature inside of the horse. Respect from both, in the end, is mental collection.
I think of impulsion foremost as emotional collection. The goal is to get the horse to want to synchronize with your energy and emotion. We need to have absolute control over our emotions so that we are calm, cool and collected for the horse even when things get going fast, or when we want things to go fast.
For me, flexion is the shaping of the whole horse mentally and physically, and learning to be very fluid and flexible in our own bodies so horses match and mirror us. Every movement we ask of the horse has a certain dynamic shape the horse’s body should be in to optimize its performance, from walking to piaffe.
5—Attitude and Focus—Positive, Progressive and Natural
Your attitude needs to be positive, progressive and natural, and people who focus on bringing all three together really make great leaders for their horses. I see people who are kind to their horses, but they’re not going anywhere, and most horses are not happy doing the same things over and over again. Other people are very mechanical and use whatever bits and gadgets it takes. And there are people who are progressive and natural, but not really positive.
Horses have to go by feel in order to understand us, especially when we’re riding. So the feel we give them, whether we’re fluid or stiff, is how they are going to respond. But what gives you feel? In any sport or endeavor, there is usually something you need to focus on to become more natural. People who are training to jump hurdles are taught to look at a spot on the horizon, not the hurdle, and feel going over the hurdles. For us, it’s being positive, progressive and natural that will give you feel.
Timing is really important because horses are very rhythmic animals. You feel for the timing through your attitude and focus, and if you make even a suggestion at the right time, everything becomes easy. For example, when we ask a horse to turn but we use our legs too soon, we’ve pushed the horse like a caterpillar, and the front and middle haven’t started that way yet.
From birth, a horse learns to do everything in balance. The thought of movement starts in the horse’s mind. He shapes his body, gets his weight right and then moves his feet. For us, the only way for balance to be second nature is to have focus, feel and timing. When we’re on a horse we should not have any negative effect on its movement.
When you combine these ingredients and start getting repeatable results, that’s Savvy. Savvy is second nature to me now, but I rode horses thousands of hours and still didn’t have any real Savvy. But we often have to have that kind of experience to get real Savvy, and once you have it, it feels dysfunctional if you do something without it, like driving a car with a loose wheel.
If your heart and desire are to get to a certain savvy level, and you start putting huge effort into real mastery, this is the point where it becomes addictive. That’s when it’s way beyond a physical thing—way more than riding. Your experience after you get to a certain level will reveal productive results ten times faster than all the hours you put in before that, making hoof prints in the sand and wearing out riding pants and saddles.
Master these qualities, learn to apply them in your relationship and you’ll see a big difference in what you can achieve.
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