My journey with the Parelli Natural Horsemanship home study program to become a Parelli Professional Licensed Instructor.
by Kelly Sigler
About five years ago, I felt like I was on top of the world. I was competing my horse, George, in preliminary level eventing with great success. George was my dream horse- he was fearless cross country, like a dancer in dressage, and a true athlete in stadium. Nothing could stop us. Or so I thought.
I was sitting in my house getting ready to pack George into my trailer and head out for a jumping lesson when a sudden storm popped up. I looked outside to see what was going on with our crazy Texas weather, and saw a mini twister slithering it’s way through my pasture. It picked up George’s lean to that he was casually standing under, and whisked it away like a scene from the Wizard of Oz. George went from 0-60 faster than a Ferrari- scared out of his wits. Quicker than it started, it ended, and I trotted out with my halter in hand to retrieve my star horse and motor him over to our lesson.
George came right to me, stuck his head in the halter and followed me obediently until we got about 20 feet from the trailer. He stepped dead in his tracks. He was not going to budge.
“George!?” I could not understand what was going on- he always got in the trailer- after a little prodding, of course, but he acted like he had never seen a trailer before. He was bugged eyed, snorting, and completely rigid. As whenever one has a trailer loading issue, 30 people immediately appeared on the scene to give advise and assistance. 3 hours later, George was not in the trailer. I had missed my lesson, and was completely dejected. At that point, I asked the barn owner, “Do you think that the shelter flying away had anything to do with this?”
“Of course not, she responded, horse’s don’t think about stuff like that.”
After several days of trying to coax, bribe, pull, and drag my horse into the trailer, a neighbor who took pity on me suggested that I try calling a friend of hers that she thought could help me.
I took the advise and called the friend who was a nurse. Interesting, I thought to myself- I wonder how she could help me? Maybe drug him? I hadn’t tried that yet.
We decided on a mutually agreeable time as to when she could come out, and she arrived with rope halter, lead and carrot stick in hand. Although I considered her ill prepared- she didn’t even have a chain or a butt rope, I asked her to do whatever she deemed necessary. After fifteen minutes of maneuvering my horse on the ground, he was loading into the trailer quietly and was relaxed. I was amazed! I immediately decided that it must be that orange stuck- I had to have one!
She assured me that it had a bit more to do with the tool. She then began to explain and show me the Parelli “7 Games.” That was my first glimpse into the world of natural horsemanship. I have not turned back since.
She came back later and gave me a brief demo on these 7 Games. I could not believe that my horse understood what she was doing and responded so quickly. The only ground work I had ever done before included lunging my horse in circles or leading him- or more like him leading me.
As I began to learn more and more about Parelli Natural Horsemanship, I learned how truly powerful it was. The games are based on the games that horses play with each other- so it is nothing new to them, just to us. The games began to unfold the mysteries of horse psychology that I had not thought much about in the 20 years that I had been riding horses. I learned that horses are prey animals and their needs and language are much different than us human predators. As soon as I found this out, it dawned on my why my horse was frightened of claustrophobic spaces like trailers! He didn’t want to get caught in something that his escape might be compromised and thus the lunch of some predator. He was a good prey animal, and that’s why his species had survived for thousands of years.
So instead of trying to force him to do things as had been my modus operendi for so long, I begin to set it up so that things were his idea- for example, loading in the trailer. I learned about how pressure motivates and the release teaches. Soon I was able to cause the trailer to be the release- then I had no more trailer loading issues! . In addition to that, I have developed a relationship with my horses that I never thought was possible based on love, language and leadership.
Since those early days of Parelli, I have graduated through the 3 levels of the Parelli Natural Horsemanship home study program, gone on to study in the University and became a Parelli Professional Licensed Instructor. I now see people- just like me- having similar problems with their horses, and I see the light bulb go off in their head- just like it did five years ago in mine- when they see how powerful natural horsemanship is. My immediate goal as an instructor is to help aid my students in empowering themselves by learning the basics of natural horsemanship so that they are safe and can do things like load their horses without a hitch! Ultimately, I hope that they can further their relationship with their own horse so that they are truly partners.