The Savvy Station

Principle #8

par Pat Parelli sur May 15, 2024

Principle #8

In December of 1981, my mentor, Mr. Troy Henry, passed away unexpectedly.  A month later, a client of mine, Dr. R.M. Bradley, invited me to come down to North Hollywood.  He said I was even better at talking about what I did than I was at doing what I did, and he wanted me to give a seminar on what I’d learned from my five years with master horseman Troy Henry.  So, I started thinking about summarizing all I had learned in the past five years.  Yes, I had learned techniques, and I had learned skills.  But I realized what I had learned were these 8 Principles.  In reality, these are even more than horsemanship; these are life-lesson principles. 

As we wrap up our year studying the 8 Principles, here are a few final thoughts on each one.

Principle #1:  Horsemanship is Natural.  In some ways, it doesn’t even make sense that the ultimate prey animal wants to be in a relationship with the ultimate predator.  Not only do they want to be with us, but we can also do amazing things together. It’s a natural phenomenon. 

Principle #2:  Don’t make or teach assumptions.  I’ve met many people over the years who were getting consistently hurt with horses. They do something like have a great ride on their horse, and then months later get back on and assume he'd be exactly like he was before.  Or they would run their horse back to the barn three days in a row and then wonder why, on the fourth day, they can’t get him to walk home. This is the power of assumptions. 

Principle #3:  Communication is two or more individuals sharing and understanding an idea.  You pat your leg, and your dog comes to you.  You’ve shared an idea, and you’ve been understood. Now, in horsemanship, we want to take this same principle and build a language so we can communicate with our horses with this degree of understanding. 

Principle #4:  Horses and humans have mutual responsibilities.  A horse fulfills his responsibilities by acting like a partner through maintaining connection.  If your horse is connected to the horse in front of him, he's not connected to you. He's connected to the herd. The connection is the important part.  We have responsibilities as partners, too—learning to have an independent seat (and feet), to think like a horse before we think like a human, and to utilize the natural power of focus. 

Principle #5:  The attitude of justice is effective.  To have an effective partnership, somebody has to be in the lead, and the leader has to learn to use the attitude of justice.  This means being as gentle as possible but as firm as necessary, not more one than the other.

Principle #6:  Body language is the universal language.  Anthropomorphically, people talk to their horses in German, Swiss, Italian, Russian, or whatever their native language is.  Anthropomorphism kicks in, and we think we can talk to the horse.  But body language is the universal language.  It’s how horses read and rate the world.  Horses aren’t afraid of predators; they’re afraid of predatory behavior, so mastering body language is important to effective communication.

Principle #7:  Horses teach humans, and humans teach horses.  I was riding a lot of young horses during my time at Mr. Henry’s barn and trying to teach them advanced maneuvers like spins and slide stops. He came up to me one day and said, “You’ve never even ridden a horse who really knows how to spin or change leads.  You’re the blind leading the blind.”  So, he started putting me on some of his more advanced horses so I could feel what I needed to learn.  Once I learned what the end result felt like, I could see the building blocks of how to develop the skill.  

And of course, last but certainly not least:  

Principle #8  Principles, Purpose, and Time are the tools of teaching

So many people I know ride circles and practice their reining or dressage, but they never apply it to anything.  Other people, like cowboys on a working ranch, never take the time to teach their horses how to back up willingly or go sideways smoothly in principle.  They just ride out, and then when they need to be able to do those things to get the job done, they just make the horse do it.  Those horses are always in a situation where they're just doing their best to get along.

So, the true secret here is a combination of knowing the principles and then applying them.  And it takes time.  And it takes the time it takes. 

Many people don’t know this, but I once was a Western performance trainer.  We would go to horse shows twice a month and take 75 horses.  We had a date, a timeline, by which we wanted to get the horses to do X, Y, and Z.  Then came this thing called the Futurity.  You have 15 months to take a horse to the Futurity.  For a lot of horses, the timeline is just too close.  If your horse is born in January, it has a six-month advantage over the horse born in June, and then the timeline becomes an even bigger factor. 

So, the lesson I learned here is that anything is possible as long as the horse is in charge of the principles and the timeline.  Many horses can make great competition horses by age 5 or 6, but they would never have made it as a “child star.”  As the humans in the partnership, we’re in charge of deciding what we want to get done.  If we rush the timeline, someone will suffer, and it will be the horse.  And we’re going to suffer too.  

But, at the same time, having principles without purpose is like taking math classes until you’re 40 years old and never using it for anything, not even counting money or balancing the checkbook.  The true secret is the combination of principles and purpose.  What one horse can do in one month may take another horse much longer. The same thing happens with a child or with us as students of the horse.  That’s okay, as long as we put principles before purpose. 

The first time I saw Mr. Henry was on a commercial riding a horse named Joy, and together they did a 75-foot slide stop.  It was amazing, but what I learned later and what blew my socks off was that Joy was 14 years old at the time.  She just got better and better as the years went by.  This is the proof in the pudding that taking care of the horse’s needs and allowing them to be in charge of the timeline works.  It works for the outside of the horse, but even more importantly, it’s good for the inside of the horse and the inside of the human.

Remember back to Principle #1:  Horsemanship is Natural.   It’s a horse and a human willing to go on a journey together.  My definition of horsemanship is the perpetual and progressive series of habits and skills that both horses and humans need to become partners.   These habits and skills are also the perfect preparation for purpose and performance if we remember the horse is in charge of the timeline.   I recommend you tattoo these 8 Principles on the inside of your eyelids.  They will guide you as they have guided me.   Remember to keep it natural, and may the horse be with you.  

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