Confession…the thought of spending one-on-one time with Pat and Linda Parelli left me a little wide-eyed. These horsemanship icons were recently in London, Ontario for a stop on their international Horse and Soul Tour, and they graciously allowed us to spend some time chatting with them during rehearsal. Linda (and her adorable Daschunds) immediately put me at ease, with Pat joining the interview later after finishing up with a horse.
Before we even got to our questions, Linda talked about how natural horsemanship has become somewhat of a discipline in itself, even though that wasn’t the original intent. “Natural horsemanship is more of an attitude than anything,” she explains. “It’s how you want to treat animals and horses and train them to do what’s important to them and their nature, rather than a discipline in itself. I think it’s become a discipline, but it’s an attitude and philosophy.”
How do you “keep it natural” with your horses?
Linda: We are pretty well drug-free with our horses, unless we have some kind of emergency. We use natural therapies – photonic health, essential oils, and herbal remedies. We don’t vaccinate. Our horses are healthy and they have no problems. It’s something we’ve done for a long time, and we travel our horses all over America. Overall, I just try to keep it very natural in how we care for them.
EW: Is there a reason you don’t keep your horses barefoot?
Linda: We’ve tried it, and some of them are barefoot, but when we travel them we encounter all kinds of different terrains and surfaces, and it was terrible. Our horses really had a lot of trouble. So we couldn’t do it, especially with our performance horses. You also can’t put boots on them in some of the footing, so it became a management practice. But we’re very particular about the way we shoe our horses. It’s a whole balance theme, and we watch it like a hawk – our horses are really sound, and we don’t have lameness issues.
Who do you look to for advice when you’re struggling with a horse?
Pat: First of all, it depends if it’s a specialty area. If it’s cutting, Doug Jordan is the person I go to. He’s a hall-of-famer who studied with Tom Dorrance and we’ve got the same background. Walter Zettl is more specific to dressage, but I listen to him a lot and use all his paradigms for everything else I do – rhythm, relaxation, contact, schwung, straightness, collection. So I use the same things he has taught us. There are only so many exercises in dressage – leg yields and half passes, shoulders in and haunches in and renvers – we’re using all the same exercises with and without contact with the reins. For the most part, I’m lucky my mentors have given me the paradigms that give me most of the answers.
What advice would you give someone in a barn who is “going against the grain” by trying to work with their horse in a more natural manner?
Pat: If you want to soar like an eagle, don’t fly with turkeys.
Linda: Find a barn of like-minded people. Otherwise, it’s always going to be hard and peer pressure is very difficult. I went through it and so did a lot of our natural horsemanship students – they still do, but it was worse in the earlier days when nobody really knew what [natural horsemanship] was. It’s like, “Oh that’s different, and you’re wrong”, and people try to talk you out of it. So instead of trying to change them, you either keep to yourself and be friendly about it, or find a situation in which you can be more comfortable. It’s tough. You know, when I first started doing Pat’s program in 1989, I had horrible pressure put on me at the barn where I was staying. I tried to get them to come with me [to see Pat] and they said, “What’s he ever won, and what’s he done in dressage in his life?” But I wanted to learn how to control my horse so I could do dressage. And when I came back and was playing Seven Games I got terrible criticism – I got to the point where I would hide behind the bushes and play with my horse before I rode because there was so much pressure. I finally decided to look for another place, and found another stables. I moved there, but arrived weird, so nobody questioned me. But pretty soon they started saying, “Wow, your horse comes to you, he follows you and that’s kind of cool!” So it was a very interesting experience.
As the interview wound down, Pat left us with this final piece of advice: “The last thing to remember is that where knowledge ends, frustration begins.”