The Savvy Station

Principle Number 7 – Horses Teach Humans, And Humans Teach Horses

vid Parelli Professionals May 08, 2024

Principle Number 7 – Horses Teach Humans, And Humans Teach Horses

By Neil Pye - Instructor Emeritus

All of Pat’s principles of horsemanship have a strong meaning. However, this one probably doesn't get discussed much, so it's good to discuss it today. 

As it suggests, “horses teach humans, and humans teach horses” is the most ideal way it should work. 

Now, that's in a perfect world. Well, as we know, we live in a very imperfect world, and apart from a few exceptions, it's not the way it goes in real life.

In our experience, most people live in cities or suburbs. Yes, they're still country folk, but we're a modern world, and the agricultural, rural approach to doing things is not so common now. 

Let's look at the first part of the Principle – Horses Teach Humans.

A well-trained horse trained by a good horseman/horsewoman can teach an inexperienced human about riding. So ideally, when we first start learning about horses, we would have a schoolmaster as one of the first horses we would ride. From the outset, we would all know what riding a well-trained horse feels like. We would feel how light and easy things can be, how they just melt off your leg, how by just a touch of the rein the horse throttles back, everything would feel harmonious and flowing. Everything would feel like cooperation and light – a partnership.

But unfortunately, most people nowadays get a horse a bit like they buy a handbag. They choose a horse based on breed, color, and price. Often, their first horse is not a well-thought-out purchase. It's often an emotional or a fashion thing. Many inexperienced people buy a young horse, and their logic is, “We will learn together. We'll grow up together.” It often doesn't work out that way.  

The horse soon becomes resistant when you have inexperienced riders with untrained horses as their first horse. He leans on pressure. He doesn't do what you want. He's uncooperative. 

The good news is the Parelli Program is here to help. Pat has done a wonderful job over the last 40 years to fill in that gap. In a perfect world, we would all start with a schoolmaster, a well-trained horse to ride. But the reality is most people end up with whatever. So, Pat's doing a great job trying to bridge the gap and put the emphasis on training humans to understand horses on the ground, on their back, and develop feel.

In a perfect world, the best way to start to ride well is on a trained, experienced, cooperative horse, using the positive thinking side of their brain and forgiving if you bounce around because you're not a very experienced rider. You won't bother him. He won't get fractious and runoff.

My first horse didn't have much training. He was a horse I just ended up with. Fortunately, I met Pat early in my horse journey, and even then, he talked about Principle 7. So I went out and paid a fair bit of money for a really well-trained schoolmaster, who turned out to be a reining horse named Ed.

Previously, I'd ridden a few horses and knew how an uncooperative and resistant horse felt, and then to suddenly ride a trained horse helped me understand how they travel, how they should curve on a circle, and what light and responsive felt like. 

Because I followed Pat's advice in Principle 7, it helped set me up to know what a well-trained horse should feel like. So when I started training horses that weren't well trained, I had an inkling of what I was after, of what should be expected.

In a perfect world, an old-schoolmaster is the best way to start if you're new to horses. Experienced horses teach inexperienced riders.

The second part of this Principle is that humans teach horses. This means an experienced rider who has trained lots of horses is ideal for helping young, uneducated horses. That's the perfect mix.

We’ve got the experienced horse to teach the inexperienced human. Now we've got an experienced rider and horse person who understands feel, timing, and balance, who will be the best ones to allow a young horse to travel in such a way where we don't allow him to develop unwanted behavior. 

Their experience allows them to know how to make the thing you want easy and desirable and how to get in the young horse's way when he starts unsuitable behaviors; thus, they don't develop into vices.

That's how it all fits together. Now, as I said, that's a perfect situation. It's still rare. Most people get a horse one way or the other and bang away at them and get some stuff done. The good news is the Parelli Program helps bridge the gap and helps us humans with the knowledge and skills as we work through the Levels.

We often see students who have reached Level 3, with their old horse, and the program has built their confidence enormously, and then they go out and buy a young horse, and it's a whole different ball game! 

Invariably, they do the wrong thing at the wrong time. They get too hard on the horse and forget he's young. Or their inexperience doesn’t see them nip certain things in the bud, for example, when the young horse starts to push on their boundaries. You've got to teach a horse rapport and respect so they become a good citizen early on and stay that way.

If people have love, love, love, love, love, but no language and no leadership, they often create a bad citizen, and then someone's got to come along and fix it. 

Remember, young horses are an advanced subject, and they should come after Level 4. It's after you've learned how to become particular as a horseman. It should be left to people with the experience to do it right.

The ideal recipe would be if you have a young horse, for whatever reason, please send it to a Parelli Professional or one of our Horse Development Specialists who can put a good start on the horse and then, more importantly, teach you how to continue with that horse following the program. 

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