The horse is God’s gift to mankind. ~Arabian Proverb
The horse is God’s gift to mankind. ~Arabian Proverb
In light of the recent events surrounding Brexit, we’ve seen a lot of coverage of the royal family, particularly Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In April, she celebrated her 90th birthday and the photographers went wild. In July she was photographed during the annual Order of the Thistle service at St Giles’ Cathedral (The Order of the Thistle is the second-most senior order of chivalry pertaining to Scotland. The oldest order is its English equivalent, The Most Nobel Order of the Garter.)
In short, we see a lot of photographs of England’s beloved Queen, but the ones I love most are of QEII with horses. She is either sizing up their conformation with a very concentrated, stern, or discerning look on her face, or she is simply beaming. In many photos, she is reaching out to touch the nose or neck – all the while with a girlish grin on her face. I recently watched The Queen: A Passion For Horses, a documentary made by Clare Balding. In it, England’s stoic Queen actually giggled with glee while inspecting one of her newborn thoroughbred foals.
One cannot hide one’s passion, not even the Queen of England.
Horses have the ability to bring out the best in people. That is one of the aspects of horse and human relationships I like to bring out in my books. In Dead Eye Dame, the novel that my agent is currently selling, Annie Oakley has a tremendous relationship with her horse, Buck. Through Buck, Annie is better able to handle the volatile emotions that come with the stresses of performance and competition, not to mention the horrible things I do to her throughout the course of the story! Buck is her rock, her constant companion. He, like all horses that are treated well, loves her unconditionally. They have established a bond. To Buck, Annie is just a horse with two legs instead of four.
Queen Elizabeth, a woman whom many people have criticized for her lack of emotion, understands this relationship and bond extremely well. According to her cousin, Margaret Rhodes, when Elizabeth became Queen at the tender age of 25, she “had to sacrifice within herself many emotions. With horses, she is in another world.” It is a world in which she can be herself—just another human being. As natural horsemanship trainer Pat Parelli likes to say, “With horses, once you take off the halter, all you have is the truth.” I love that statement. For me, it means that horses have the ability to make you look inside yourself and see what is truly there. If they run away from you, it might be wise to do some soul searching and figure out what kind of vibe you are transmitting to them, and probably the world. On the other hand, if your horse is “in your pocket” as they say, there is a bond of trust there. And trust, for prey animals like horses, does not come easy.
It is said by many people closely associated with the Queen that she is unconditionally loved by her horses. She takes extreme care and caution to hire only trainers who treat her horses well, from Monty Roberts, the inspiration for the movie and book, The Horse Whisperer to Rochelle Murray, one of her stud grooms at Sandringham whose job it is to make sure that her young thoroughbreds learn to be comfortable around people from birth. Not many racehorse owners go to this effort to ensure that their horses are sound in MIND and body. Their horses are a means to an end, and that end usually involves money. While the Queen is competitive with her horses and wants them to win, what is more important is that they know they are valued. That kind of care and devotion only comes from someone who is emotionally connected to her horses.
It is true that royalty and horses go hand in hand. Just flip through the pages of history and you’ll find many paintings and photographs of royals on horseback either enjoying a leisurely ride or storming into battle on their fiery steeds. Elizabeth’s passion goes back to her childhood when her father, King George VI, gifted Elizabeth, age 4, and her younger sister, Margaret, with a Shetland pony named “Peggy.” Since then, Elizabeth’s relationship with horses has remained constant, and like many royals, she has owned countless equines throughout her life.
During Princess Diana’s funeral, the Queen got her fair share of negative press for not showing enough emotion. As her cousin Margaret Rhodes revealed, once Elizabeth became Queen, she has had to keep her emotions to herself, by putting on a mask of stoicism for the public. Even in the presence of her great grandchildren, there is often but a hint of a smile on her face. But, I believe that underneath the quirky hats and the regal mask of a Queen, there is a deeply benevolent person lurking beneath—one whose secret passion cannot be hidden. Just look at a photo of her, looking at a horse.
Building a better relationship. It’s something we all should strive for. In our marriages, with our kids, friends, family, co-workers, employees, the list goes on. But, often in our busy lives, we are so focused on getting things done, or achieving things, that we don’t focus on our relationships. Through time and neglect, those relationships begin to sour or drift away.
A couple of years ago, I saw this happening in my relationships with my horses and I knew I had to fix it.
I grew up in New Mexico with horses in my backyard. I spent much of my youth with my favorite horse, Flying Mok (I don’t know where the name came from). We covered miles of trail along the Rio Grande and spent hours in the arena. When not riding, I would sit on a large branch of the cottonwood tree that shaded his corral and just watch him eat. I participated in some horse shows and took home my share of ribbons, but the main objective was to have fun, and we did, and our relationship proved it.
As an adult, after college and more financial stability, I got back into horses via my teenage daughter who needed a hobby and a sport. I took her to one of the local barns and her love affair with horses began and mine was resurrected. She wanted to focus on showing, so we did. It was something we enjoyed together – a mother/daughter bonding experience that softened the angst of her teenage years. When she went to college, I was left with some very lovely, very expensive horses, so I decided to go into showing full boat. My love for horses and my competitive nature fit together like a custom made glove and I was all in. My horses and I did very well for several years, but after a while, it seemed like my whole life became all about the next show. Sometimes I’d go to shows twice a month, often traveling far from home in search of the rainbow of ribbons. After a while, I noticed that my horses didn’t seem to be making much improvement, their neurosis and fears increased, and I became more and more frustrated. It wasn’t fun anymore.
I’d been introduced to Natural Horsemanship via a Parelli Horse and Soul Tour some years earlier. I enjoyed the demonstrations and respected the training methods and philosophy the Parelli’s espoused, but I didn’t have time to embrace the philosophy. I had to prepare for the next show!
After more years of showing, anxiety, and frustration with minimal improvement, I finally realized that my love affair with horses was dying. I decided to look at this Natural Horsemanship closer. I had to nurture my relationship with my horses, because those relationships and spending time with my horses had always been my “soul food” and I was starving.
I ventured to the “mecca” of Parelli Natural Horsemanship, the Colorado Ranch Campus, for the first time in 2014, for a four-week course. I took my horse Chaco, who had been my greatest challenge to date. Chaco was energetic, athletic, spooky, unpredictable, uncomfortable with contact, and quite frankly, a bit scary to me. Other people may have not felt the same about him, but that didn’t matter. He was scary to me, and our relationship had miles to go.
What I learned in that four-week course assured me with absolute certainty that Natural Horsemanship was the path I needed to pursue, to better myself as a horsewoman and as a person. I learned that like people, horses needed to be treated as individuals. They have fears, quirks, moods, aches, pains, and NEEDS that I had been ignoring. I’d been so focused on achieving better scores, more ribbons, more awards with my horses that all I’d done was damage the relationship.
Three courses and two years later, I am a different horsewoman. I have a long way to go, but I am becoming more confident, more patient, and more understanding of my horses’ NEEDS and they in turn are starting to enjoy being with me. I can tell when I get out of the car and they come to greet me. I can tell when they are so willing to be a partner that they ask questions and trust me with the answers. I can tell when they are calm, connected, and responsive when I am working with them on the ground or under saddle. The love affair is reborn.
In the first book of my historical mystery series, Dead Eye Dame, one of the sub-plots centers on the relationship between a woman and her horse. The protagonist, the not-yet-famous Annie Oakley, has a special bond with Buck, a golden horse with a midnight-black mane and tail. While Buck doesn’t exactly help her solve the murder, his relationship with Annie carries her through some tumultuous times and proves to be one that she cannot live without.
In my book series, I’ve created the ultimate horse/human relationship with Annie and Buck. It’s something I will strive for and work toward as long as I have my equine friends with me. I’m taking a break from showing for the time being, but when I return, it won’t be about achievements and ribbons. It will be about building a better relationship and that is a guaranteed win.
One of the many things I like about Parelli Natural Horsemanship, is the philosophy they espouse of keeping things simple – like horses do. Humans make things so complicated and confusing. Here are the PNH Eight Principals of Horsemanship that keep things simple:
1. Horsemanship is natural.
2. Make and teach no assumptions.
3. Communication is two or more individuals sharing the same idea.
4. Horses and humans have mutual responsibilities.
Responsibilities for Humans:
a. Act like a partner, not a predator
b. Have an independent seat (in saddle) independent feet (on line)
c. Think like a horseman (horses point of view)
d. Know and understand the power of focus
Responsibilities for Horse:
a. Act like a partner, not prey animal
b. Maintain gait
c. Maintain direction
d. Watch where you are going
5.The attitude of justice is effective.
6.Body language is the universal language.
7.Horses teach humans, humans teach horses.
8.Principles, purpose, and time are the tools of teaching.
To truly understand Parelli Natural Horsemanship, it’s good to know a little bit about its founder. I will also introduce other natural horsemen and their philosophies in later posts. As I mentioned earlier I am no expert on Natural Horsemanship, nor am I an instructor, just a student, thirsty for knowledge. I have no desire to preach about horsemanship and I feel that all horse development philosophies have merit, some just resonate better with me.🙂
The Parelli Program is made up numerous ideas and applications of true horsemanship and has been influenced by a number of people and events who’ve come into Pat Parelli’s life:
Tony Ernst from Australia, a student of the horse, a disciple of Kung Fu martial arts and a master musician; Troy Henry, a master horseman from Clovis, CA, who specialized in training and developing both horse and rider for competition using psychology and communication; Tom Dorrance, who described True Unity as willing communication between horse and human, “The thing you are trying to help the horse do is to use his own mind”; Ray Hunt, a student of Dorrance, who, armed with Tom’s principles and a determination to make “breaking” horses a thing of the past, staked his life and his livelihood on the notion that horse training didn’t have to be a battle for dominance; Ronnie Willis who believed the horse’s basic motivation is a simple thing: All it truly wants is to be without fear; and Dr. R.H. Miller, a leading equine behaviorist.
Through Tony Ernst, Pat learned about inner power and the Kung Fu principles of discipline, body control, and mind-body mastery. Troy Henry opened up a whole new world to Pat by helping him understand horses’ mental and emotional processes as prey animals as well as the true dynamics of horsemanship and how they applied to performance horses.
Pat also took an interest in developing mules to be able to perform like horses. The mules taught Pat patience, the importance of reverse psychology, the principle of safety and comfort as the only real incentives, and helped him to develop more “savvy” on how to get a prey animal to “want” to perform. In 1980, Pat founded The American Mule Association.
One of the greatest frustrations Pat experienced in training horses was handing them back to their owners who often had a noticeable lack of skill and understanding. He found that if the rider didn’t have enough savvy and knowledge, the horses would regress. After much soul searching he finally decided that he couldn’t go on just training horses, he had to find a way to help people become more savvy with their horses.
Pat discovered that he had a natural talent in finding the right words to explain what he understood about horses. So he turned his attention to helping people instead of horse training. He began to give “lessons” but had no idea that one day he would be able to help people on a much larger scale. Now, his program is known world-wide and has thousands of students and hundreds of instructors. His methods help people with their horses in a variety of ways from those who want to just be a good partner to their four-legged-friend, to those who want to excel in competition.
This post draws from the Parelli.com website under Who is Pat Parelli?,and the websites of Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt and an article about Ronnie Willis by Perry Backus for the Deseret News 11/24/2005 . P.S. (Last promotional video, I promise…they just give such a great idea of what the program is about.)
Video made by Nathalie Lagasse http://www.nathalielagasse.be/Nathalie_Lagasse/Welkom.html
Disclaimer: My horsemanship Journey Blog is not intended to be used as a means for preaching about natural horsemanship, nor debating about the various methods and philosophies of natural horsemanship that are practiced in the world (I am not an instructor, nor an expert, just a student thirsting for knowledge.) I believe we all must find our own path. For my journey, I have chosen the Parelli method. While it may not work for others, it works for me, and I have seen wonderful changes in my horses. Our bonds and relationships are stronger than ever because of the philosophy and teachings within the Parelli Program.
I’ve had horses most of my life. My journey started with them when I was ten years old and my mother felt I needed a sport. Not terribly athletic at the time, I tried many sports, but nothing hit the sweet spot. Then my mother took me to a horse barn for lessons, and after my initial terror, a life-long passion bloomed.
Since then, I have competed in many different disciplines ranging from English and Western Pleasure, Trail and Sport Horse, to Dressage, where my passion now lies. About 8 years ago, my trainer introduced me to Parelli Natural Horsemanship. I bought the equipment, studied the tapes and started to practice, but didn’t take it very seriously. After some years of committing myself to competing in horse shows on a more intense level, a disatisfaction with the showing world and the grind of constant competition set in, and I realized I no longer loved my passion. In fact, it had become something I intensely disliked. Problem was, I had six horses I loved like my own children, so now what?
I decided to study Parelli Natural Horsemanship more intensely. I joined the Savvy Club, started attending events. I really tried to put these principals into practice, but it was’t until I made the huge leap of financial, personal, and time-away-from-my-life, commitment to immersing myself in a four week course at the Parelli campus in Pagosa Springs, CO that things started to change. Little did I know that my emotions, mind and body would be taxed in a way that I had never experienced before. And, I started having fun again! Since then I have been growing as a person and a horsewoman and the most important thing I’ve learned in the past couple of years is that I have so much further to go in natural horsemanship and competition, and I look forward to the ride!
Chaco and I just completed the first week of our Journey to Level Four at the beautiful Parelli Ranch in Pagosa Springs. We have been so incredibly busy, the days just fly by. But what fun we are having!!
The first day we got the horses settled and then had an orientation meeting. We met our wonderful instructors, Nita Jo Rush, Margit Deerman , Erin McKee Fowle, Karen Kartchner and Ashley Dudas. We played a game of tag the water bottle (there is a name for it, but I forgot what it is!) with our carrot sticks and savvy strings, had lunch, had an on-line demo and then were asked to go get our horses to play on-line. The goal of the first day’s lesson was executing Level One With Excellence. Chaco was multi-tasking – by that I mean he was doing what I asked, but looking everywhere but at me. When I asked for advice, Nita Jo suggested I be more progressive and more provocative, meaning I needed to change things up on him, think ahead, have a plan, ask for more (speed, distance, subtler phases) basically challenging his brain to become calm, connected and focused.
Day Two started with rope handling skills. We were all asked to get our 45′ lines and practice throwing our ropes and coiling them back in evenly and in order. This is much harder than it sounds, but it was really fun! Erin taught us how to use our rope to get into a power position to prevent a run-away or out-of-control situation and we did simulations with one another. Some “horses” were naughtier than others, but we managed to keep it under control! We also discussed patterns that we have developed that need to change, such as letting our horse get ahead of us and working on getting a good circling game. The circling game is the only game of the 7 where the horse learns to take responsibility (maintaining gait, looking where he is going, etc.) because it is the only game where the human is not moving their feet (or shouldn’t be :P) Nita Jo then gave a wonderful demonstration of Driving From Zones 4 and 5. We were soon rained out and had to head indoors where we did a simulation called Conga Horse. This is a great simulation to see and feel what a horse sees and feels when we are communicating with him. For instance, did you know that when you are standing directly in front of a horse at one to three feet distance, they cannot see you at all??? That is one of the reasons that communicating with your energy is so important. The horse needs to “feel” what you are asking.
Saturday we arrived in Pagosa Springs and are now lodging at the beautiful Mountain View Horsemanship Ranch. After unloading Chaco and getting him settled, we got the motorhome set up and ready for the next day and a half before we head over to the Parelli Ranch today.
Chaco had a big day yesterday with adjusting to his new surroundings without the companionship of his herd. He’s making new friends and after some energetic play sessions with me, he finally settled — just in time to move to a new home for the next few weeks. Today will also be a big day for the boy, but I have hopes that we can make the adjustments together and continue to work on our partnership. I am so looking forward to this journey!