Horse Previews Magazine website - Posted on 07/09/2001; 2:00:00PM.

Taking the Mystery Out of Natural Horsemanship

By Lisa Ross-Williams

We've all seen the exciting advertisements for Natural Horsemanship. Pictures showing everyday people accomplishing amazing things while riding bridleless or jumping over an obstacle with their horse jumping beside them. Often these ads explain that it follows the philosophy of working with a horses' natural instinct and responses rather than against them. However, these ads don't always address many of the questions people have. Because of the fear of the unknown, many horse lovers who would enjoy a more natural relationship with their horse, never take that first step to become involved.

As an active student in Natural Horsemanship and the author of the upcoming book, "If Your Horse Could Talk; A Practical Guide to Natural Horse Care", I wanted to bring some answers to many of the questions I am asked. Following is an interview I conducted with David Ellis, Premier Instructor for Parelli Natural Horse-Man-Ship. Since meeting Pat Parelli in 1985, David earned approved instructor status in 1995 and 1997 saw him as the newest course instructor. Since then, Pat has kept David working nearly every weekend through the U.S. David has also taught clinics in Sweden, Canada, and even Texas. He is approved to teach Pat's program from Level 1 through Level 3 and is certified to teach young horses, difficult horses, and start colts.

What was your experience with horses before PNH?

I have been involved with horses since grammar school and the late fifties. I was raised on an oil lease in the western side of the great San Joaquin Valley of California. Being removed from any town, horses became my primary toys. I gave riding lessons and "fixed" problem horses through high school as well as having colts to start/break regularly.

How did you get involved in PNH?

I met Pat Parelli in 1985 after taking lessons from a highly praised, traditional instructor and not liking how my horse felt after the sessions. I was certain Pat was "holding out" on trade secrets, and he dared me to come to a clinic and see the worth of Natural Horsemanship for myself. By noon, I knew here was something to this technique. Pat and I hit it off and everything fell into place.

How old does my horse have to be and is it true that you can teach an old horse new tricks?

We begin these games with our horses with the same attitude as a mare with a new foal. So we can begin with a new foal, understanding his attention span and physical ability. Older horses can learn also; but we give them the benefit of recognizing that they have been learning how to get along with the human for many years and it may take them longer to realize we've changed.

What type of changes do you see in horses?

Since we show the horses that we understand their primary motive for doing anything is to be safe and comfortable, they begin to respond to our requests looking for comfort rather than avoiding pain.

How long does it take? (I heard a long time)

Once you have these natural concepts clearly in you, it takes amazingly little time for your horse or any horse to understand what you want. The time constraint is getting the human to turn loose of his "natural predator" instinctive actions. People can see results within a few hours, but like learning a new language, the time it takes to get proficient depends on the time you put in.

Does it work better on any type of horse better than others?

No, not at first. Many times people expect one type of horse to perform like another, when, as with professional athletes, different types of muscles provide different types of physical prowness. We deal initially with a horses' mind and emotions. After the horse understands you and you understand the horse, then particular endeavors can be tried. The ability to perform these particular areas of expertise will depend on the breed type.

How does the equipment you use different from the normal equipment you see on horses?

Our equipment is designed to be as soft as possible when the horse is "right", and as firm as necessary when he is "wrong". It allows us to reach out and become effective without using pain or fear. Can kids learn this? Kids learn this the easiest. They are less inclined to want to be Boss. They are more willing partners and playmates with their horses.

How is trailer loading in PNH different than the normal training?

We treat trailer loading as helping out the horse to go somewhere scary to him; but trust us not to get him hurt. We treat the trailer as a cave on wheels. As respect and trust improve with our relationship with the horse, he becomes more willing to place himself in what could be considered a bad place from the horse's perspective. Remember, natural horsemanship is communication, not training.

What are a couple success stories people have had with PNH?

I like it most when people who have had a bad fall or scare are able to overcome their fear after a few lessons. We have at least two of these a month while teaching clinics. In May, while in Tennessee, I had a horse that was a candidate to be destroyed. By the second day the horse and rider were becoming a team and the horse will go on with his owner.

What are the Levels in PNH and how do they work?

Pat Parelli has determined 10 levels of which six have to date been defined. Level 1 (Partnership) concerns removing "opposition reflex" or making a change from normal to natural. It involves getting your communication in place well enough for your horse to understand you and give your requests a try. Level 2 (Harmony) applies to impulsion and positive reflexes. Getting your horse to now help you accomplish your goals. Level 3 (Refinement) is now operating with your horse with slight pressure, with snappy responses, and with a willing heart. Level 4 (Versatility) now begins to apply all that was learned in Levels 1 through 3 to working with young horses, difficult horses, various breeds, and with eventing. Level 5 and 6 take these concepts onto the highest levels in equine professionalism. Of course, all the levels utilize what we call the "four savvies"; on-line (on the ground), at liberty (on the ground), freestyle (on the back), and finesse (on the back).

How can I get my horse to pay attention to me?

Pat Parelli teaches us to be provocative. This means from the horses' view. If you can act like you've got something going on, that you have a better idea, he'll pay attention to you looking for leadership. If you just hang out, he'll look out for himself.

My horse bites. How do I stop that behavior?

Biting is a game your horse plays in an attempt to establish dominance over the human. One of my favorite ploys is to play the game with him using my hand as a pseudo mouth and bite him on the lips. Yes, I bite with the same amount of force he is using while playing with me. When my horse sees that not only am I willing to play his game, but that I'm better at it than he is, he quits. What is considered a vice is reduced to simple gamesmanship with the horse quitting the game.

What are the biggest mistakes people make when first starting PNH?

Some people think it's all hugs and kisses. They like being soft as a three year old child, but are surprised when they find they must also be as firm as another horse. If you could wave a magic wand, what would you like every horse person to know or be able to do? If humans could see things from the horse's perspective, it would save both the horse and human much grief. Of course, the horse needs to accept us and follow our requests, but if we can ask for his compliance in a manner that made sense to him, most horses would comply willingly.

Lisa Ross-Williams is a free-lance writer and natural horse care/horsemanship consultant who lives on a small Arizona ranch with her husband Kenny. They share it with four horses, four dogs, four cats, a pig, a turtle, three ducks, a parakeet, and two cockatiels. After a long awaited return to the horse world, Lisa has immersed herself in following a natural philosophy in all aspects of horse care. Organizing and attending many clinics and seminars including natural horsemanship, natural hoof care, dentistry, massage and stretching, and feeding seminars has complimented her literary research. In addition to personally following these natural concepts, Lisa has introduced this natural way to many horse owners. Her business, If Your Horse Could Talk promotes Natural Horse Care Through Knowledge by offering consultations, resources, lessons and training in all aspects of natural horsecare. You can visit her website at http://community-1.webtv.net/savvy111/IFYOURHORSECOULD . Future plans include the release of her upcoming book and opening a natural rehabilitation and training facility in northern Arizona. Lisa can be reached at (480) 671-4896 or savvy111@webtv.net for questions concerning natural horse care, or if you would like to be involved in any events conducted by David Ellis in the Southwest, Northwest, or West Coast. Naturally, Lisa

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