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The Savvy Station

I am re-reading a book I read when I was 19 years old by Alois Podhajsky, the head of the Spanish School of Riding in Vienna. The name of the book is My Horses, My Teachers.

I remember being an enthusiastic young horseman. I wanted to become really good with horses, so good that even horses thought I was brilliant. Meanwhile, I'm reading from one of the grand masters about dressage. This piqued my interest. Even though I wasn't an English rider, I wanted to know everything about horses: how they feel, think, act, and play.

  • 4 min read

On October 21-23, 2022, the first-ever Liberty Festival will take place at the historic Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.

“The Liberty Festival,” explained Dr. Elizabeth James, the event organizer for the International Liberty Horse Association (ILHA), “is a celebration of all things Liberty—The discipline, the methods, the fans, the possibilities.”

For the past three years, the ILHA has hosted its Championship show every October at the Horse Park. Still, this year it has turned into an event for everyone to enjoy, from those merely interested in Liberty to those competing at the highest levels.

  • 3 min read

I remember reading every book available about horses. I remember getting the Western Horseman every month and reading every article about training horses. I remember even purchasing a book on how to train horses for tricks. I even got a copy of Professor Barry's home study program.

I was searching, searching, searching.

Then, I ran into a real horseman. His name was Troy Henry. I was his apprentice for five years until the day he died in December 1981. I realized he had a blueprint he was trying to share with me. Start on the ground, get horses to bond, to be obedient, and to be exuberant using a short rope, then a longer rope, before moving to liberty.

  • 4 min read

Catching a horse, for a lot of horse owners, is a point of frustration. But before we go into methods, I would first suggest that we get rid of the word “catch” and we replace it with “connect and halter”. The real secret is to have your horse want to connect with you.

Remember: horses are like computers. They may never do what you want, but they always do what you tell them or eventually program them to do. Most people apply very direct-line thinking to this process, and only go out and halter their horse when it's time to ride. It doesn't take long for a horse to figure out when to use avoidance behavior.

  • 3 min read

When determining how to engage with your yearling horse, the first thing to remember is that horses are prey animals and precocial species. This means that they are full-faculty learners at birth. As soon as a foal is about a month old, they start playing with the other foals. Guess what they do: they play prey animal pecking-order games!

Most of these games are fun and friendly to see who is the fastest, who can turn the quickest—fun little things like that. But it doesn't take very long before they become good buddies and start wanting to find out “who's who in the zoo”. Once your horse is weaned, you can start to play Seven Games with your horse on the ground, both On Line and at Liberty.

  • 4 min read

Whether to leave a horse barefoot or not is a question that arises a lot, and one of my mentors, Tom Dorrance, had the perfect answer for everything: “It all depends”.

Since we're talking about feet, we must remember that the horse industry is predicated on four things: wives’ tales, mythology, bovine fecal matter, and ego. For a lot of people, their ego gets in the way, and they believe the wives’ tales and mythology they've been raised on. For example: Horses with white socks have white feet that are always softer than horses with black feet. To the contrary, I've seen horses with white feet that had hooves as tough as nails. And I've seen horses with black feet that couldn't walk across a sandy arena.
  • 4 min read
One of my best friends and true mentors, Dr. R.M. Miller—Bob, as I call him—introduced this concept of foal imprinting to the world. He talked about it the very first time I met him, and I just nodded and said, “Yeah, that sounds like a great idea.’ But it wasn't until he came to the little ranch I had in Clements, California, that the concept came alive to me, because during his visit we had a newborn foal.
  • 5 min read
What in the world is a pasture potato? Well, I see them all over the world. Driving down the road, I’ll look over to my side, and—behold—I spot one or two horses just standing in the pasture. From human standards, the pasture looks big. But from horse standards, that same pasture is minuscule compared to what's in their heart—what’s in their DNA—which is to be out in the wild, running and roaming free.
  • 4 min read

“Foundation Before Specialization” is a very interesting catch phrase that reminds us that our horses may have a very difficult time trying to do something specific if they have not yet learned the value of following simple requests. 

Imagine being asked to dance a ballroom dance before you’ve even learned which foot is your left foot and which is your right foot.  Or perhaps being asked to construct a box before you know what tools will be needed. 

What is the difference between playing and training? Well, to me, if I go back to the first weekend of March 1982, I was putting on my first seminar. My opening statement was: “Horsemanship can be obtained naturally through communication, understanding, and psychology versus mechanics, fear, and intimidation."

The Parelli Program has become the world's largest train-your-horse-at-home, web-based program with over 200,000 students. Parelli students apply the principles of communication, understanding, and psychology versus mechanics, fear, and intimidation. If I look at the “traditional” training tactics, and see where they get overdone, I can easily see how it’s perceived by the horse as torture. On the other hand, the word “play” indicates a joyful experience that creates behavior that is positive and highly functional.

  • 4 min read
In 1990, I wrote a book for Western Horseman entitled Natural Horse-Man-Ship, which outlined the Six Keys of Success. The Six Keys were simple: Attitude, Knowledge, Tools, Techniques, Time, and Imagination. These Six Keys still exist (and at the end of the article, I will tell you about the seventh that I discovered after I wrote the book).
  • 4 min read

What is the difference between natural and normal horsemanship?

Firstly, I’d like to start with synonyms of the word “normal”: conventional, common, average, or accepted. All of these words can certainly lead us to the heights of mediocrity, but not far beyond.

Now, let us look at the synonyms of “natural”: there are no known synonyms. But, according to Merriam-Webster, Inc., “natural applies to what conforms to a things essential nature, function, or mode of being.”  The reason Pat Parelli coined the term Natural Horsemanship was because it is natural to horses and their way of learning and being. Using these methods, we can influence horses’ behavior in the way that we want them to behave by using the laws of nature.

  • 3 min read