The Savvy Station

The Parelli Principles Applied….to Parenting – Part One

by Parelli Professionals on Mar 27, 2024

The Parelli Principles Applied….to Parenting – Part One

by Juli Piovesan - 4 Star Senior Parelli Professional & HDS, Director of Education

As I write this, I am aware that many of you have been applying the Parelli Principles to your parenting journeys for years and even decades. I, on the other hand, am a parenting newbie. You could even say a Level 1 parent. I’m metaphorically learning how to handle my ropes without getting tangled while trying not to drop my carrot stick or whack myself in the face with my string.

Our firstborn, Case, recently turned eight months old, and I can honestly testify that it’s been a steep learning curve.  As Pat says, “no one can experience, experience for you,” and parenting is certainly a case of “you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it.”  But as my husband and I learn, grow, and fall forward, it’s been helpful and rewarding to explore how the Parelli Principles apply to our parenting adventure.

The Parelli Principles guide our horsemanship journey, but they’re so much more than that.  They’re about horsemanship, but they’re really about life.  So, let’s start at the very beginning with Principle One – Horsemanship is Natural.   

I believe it’s universally agreed upon that the love and connection between a parent and a child are natural.  On the other hand, the relationship between horse and human is more of a natural phenomenon – the ultimate prey animal and the ultimate predator connecting and journeying together.  I love reflecting on what natural means.  In many ways, it’s recognizing, connecting, and nurturing what’s already present.  It’s authentic and truthful, and real.  I don’t have to force the feeling of love for my child.  It is there, natural, and a force of nature to be reckoned with (hello, Mama Bear!).   If you’re reading this, I feel you’re one of those people who have a natural draw to not just your children, if you have them, but horses as well.  We love how they smell, how they move, and how they feel.  We don’t have to create this – it’s already there.

But what I’m learning to embrace is this idea that natural is not synonymous with easy.  Just because I have a strong, natural connection with my son doesn’t mean our entire relationship will be easy-breezy.  There will be good times and bad.  Days where everything just clicks right along and days where it all clunks.  This doesn’t mean I’m doing anything wrong (or he is!).  It’s just life.  It’s the ebb and flow, the highs and lows, the peaks and valleys of life.  This is natural, and if I can frame my days to expect this degree of variety, I’m less likely to be knocked off my balance point when the more challenging times come – with my son and my horses.

I could leave it there, but I’m going to add one more very practical horsemanship tip.  Walk away.  Just for a minute, if needed, and regroup.  Of course, do this safely (with either your child or your horse), but sometimes a minute to step out of the stressful situation, breath, and re-balance is just what we need to stay present and in a leadership frame of mind.  I’m learning to do this more often, and I never regret it when I do.  On the other hand, I usually regret it when I don’t.  

Let’s look at Principle Two – Don’t Make or Teach Assumptions.  I’m going to be very transparent here.  When I first learned about the Parelli Principles, I naively thought this principle was a bit puzzling and out of place.  I assumed there were more important horsemanship concepts to focus on than just assumptions.  

However, whether we’re parenting children or playing with 1000 lb. animals, assumptions can quickly derail our entire journey because they disrupt our ability to stay present and set us up to make unwise and even dangerous decisions.   Here’s what I’m learning with my son - each day is different.  Many have heard the saying, “The only constant in life is change.”  Everytime I assume I have our routine, sleeping schedule, eating times, or bathroom habits figured out, something shifts.  If it weren’t so unsettling, it would be funny.  I start to feel the empowerment of “I’ve got this handled and going in the right direction,” and something else changes.  

It can be SO frustrating.  Or, it can be SO fascinating.   What’s fascinating is the reality that all this change results from growth.  We’re changing so much right now because we’re in this miraculous time of development where Case is discovering the world.  That’s truly amazing!  

And it’s truly hard.  One tactic helping me navigate this time is being very intentional about how I speak to myself about my plan for the day.  I still plan, but I make my plan, and then I add the caveat that we can adjust to fit the situation if that’s what Case needs.  He doesn’t dictate the plan, the plan is already in place to take care of his needs, but if those needs arise differently today or it’s just not working for us, I give myself permission to re-group and change.  We may cancel the trip to the grocery store, not get laundry done until late, or take ourselves out into the sunshine for 20 minutes rather than stick to a rigid nap schedule.  

These adjustments aren’t failures; they are steps to success.  My day isn’t measured by how well I execute my plan, and I try to avoid assuming that I know how the hours will unfold. Instead, I try to stay present, adjust as needed, and flex my goals, so they encompass the needs of everyone in the relationship, not just what I want.  

Can you see how this applies to your journey through the Parelli Levels Program?  Both horses and humans need some particular tasks and skills to become partners.  A blueprint is already in place to guide you along this pathway, but your journey and your timeline will be very individual to you and your horse.  Please, plan.  If you don’t, you won’t maximize your progress.  But avoid being too rigid in that plan or assuming you can do the same thing today that you did with your horse yesterday. Your horse may have had a run-in with a herd mate, be edgy from the weather, or even be sore or not feeling well.  Stay present, be aware, and adjust as needed.  

I have a final thought I’d like to leave you with today.  One of our guiding principles in Parelli is the pursuit of “Never Ending Self-Improvement.”  Pat often says, “Good, better, best, never let it rest. Get your good better and your better best.”  I love this concept as it encourages us to pursue continued growth and progress.  But there is another saying I desperately need during my current sleep-deprived season, and I learned it from Carol Coppinger, an Instructor Emeritus here at Parelli. It goes like this: “Never give up. Just rest a while.”  

If your current reality is challenging right now, be gentle with yourself.  Continue to pursue excellence in life and horsemanship, but show yourself, your horses, your children, your spouse, and your co-workers a little grace.  Our companions in this journey are more precious than the goals we set.   Remember to keep it natural, laugh at the spilled milk, adjust to fit the dirty diapers, hug your horses, take a moment to breathe and embrace whatever beautiful (and messy) season you are experiencing.

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