In an effort to provide total transparency, I like people to know exactly where I've come from, who I've learned from, what type of experiences I've had.
One of the biggest red flags to me is a trainer who won't tell you how they learned what they know, who they learned from, etc. Like it was dropped on them from above....
If this matters to you, read on....
A Little Backstory
A long time ago I learned the hard way what works and what doesn't when it comes to horses.
I had experience since a child riding stable horses, ranch horses, etc. But I never took what I would consider a riding "lesson" in my life.
I learned how to saddle and bridle from my grandfather. It took two of us 10-year old girls to hoist the saddle up onto the horse. And of course we never rode alone -- always double -- since there was only one horse. We got no instruction, other than the normal "kick to go, pull back to stop".
The closest I came to a real lesson was one year I signed up at the local stable. They asked how many times I'd ridden (like that's important?). Obviously I told them hundreds! So they put me on a very nice horse -- on a bareback pad -- and off we went down the bridle trail. They didn't have me groom, saddle, bridle, or warm him up, just get on and go. And no instruction after that. We even loped in one section (the same section) of the trail each day. I don't think you could keep the horse from loping there if you wanted -- it was their routine.
That was it....I guess riding lessons were only about riding. Time in the saddle, nothing more. If you survived, you were good to go.
Fast forward about 20 years when I got my first horses and kept them at home -- not at a stable where there were supposedly knowledgeable people to interact with. I was on my own.
You find out REAL FAST how much you don't know. I got stepped on, bucked off, had the saddle slip sideways more than once, bitten, was run off with.....you name it. Trailer loading -- yeah right! It's a wonder I didn't give up.
I bought every book I could get my hands on about "problem horses". I got every new gimmicky tool, piece of tack, and gadget that professed to solve these problems. Nothing worked.
My "Aha" Moment
Luckily, one day I had an epiphany of sorts and bought the book "There Are No Problem Horses, Only Problem Riders". Even my husband snickered and commented that it seemed I was moving in a different direction. (He knew even less about horses than I did.)
The rest is history. As soon as I focused on what I might need help with, things changed drastically. Those past two years of trials and tribulations were never repeated.
About this time we were also having a severe drought and could not find hay to save us. I got the bright idea that boarding stables had to have resources I didn't have, so I found a very casual stable near my house and took my horses there. That's where I finally ran into some awesome horsewomen who knew what they were doing.
Besides pointing me down the path of proper horsemanship lessons, they became good friends and riding buddies.
I cannot stress the idea of finding a "community" enough. I met more awesome horse people, groups to join, activities and events to participate in, placed to ride, and more, through these first horsey friends.
My Magic Bullet
So here's where I'm going to tell you about the program I got involved with. I know everyone has their own favorites, opinions, biases, and prejudices, when it comes to ANYTHING these days. And horse people are some of the most strongly opinionated people I know when it comes to discussing everything from feed, tack, training, farriers, vets....... So these are just my observations and experiences with what I know about.
The horseman I was pointed to was Pat Parelli and his PNH program (Parelli Natural Horsemanship).
Now, before you jump ship and think I'm "on of those" -- hear me out. I am not a Kool-Aid drinking, blind follower who overlooks certain things and thinks everything someone does is the ONLY way to do it. I take everything with a grain of salt until I determine its worth.
This was also in the EARLY days of Parelli. I'll admit I'm not totally on board with exactly how the company has grown, but that doesn't change the basic knowledge they teach.
I also try to glean any grain of knowledge from anyone who seems to have something to share. I've learned things from several people along my horsemanship journey. But the basic foundation I learned from Parelli was what saved me -- no kidding.
The Journey Begins
When one of those horsewomen at my barn saw the trouble I was having, she immediately told me I should try to find a Parelli Natural Horsemanship clinic to go watch somewhere.
I had never heard of Parelli. I had heard of a few other "trainers", (remember all the books I bought?) but not Parelli. So I got online to see what I could find out.
I don't recall how, but I did find a PNH clinic, even though it was in Houston and I was near Dallas. So I booked a cheap flight and motel room and off I went. I had absolutely no preconceived notion of what I would learn.
All I can say is....my jaw was on the floor before the lunch break of the first day.
This clinic was for people totally new to the program. What they call a Level 1 clinic. It was being taught by a licensed PNH instructor. (This was the first I heard about people other then THE name guy giving a clinic.)
Anyway, so the clinic participants all came into the arena to get started. It was quite comical, if not a little familiar looking. Some were horse-skiing (being drug in on the end of the lead rope by their horse). Others looked like they were flying "horse kites". In all fairness, there were also some who actually just walked in quietly like they were supposed to.
I'm not going into detail about the techniques the instructor used, but what awed me the most was the fact that by lunchtime, the actual horse owners (not the trainer) had these horses under control, the horses looked calm, and all were leaps and bounds ahead of what they looked like at first.
I knew I had to learn more. If these people who clearly didn't know what they were doing could change so quickly, maybe there was hope for me and my horses.
So I dove right in.....
Fun, Friends, Setbacks, Results
Once I got into the PNH "world", I found many opportunities to learn, play, and enjoy my horses much more.
Here are some of the things we did over the next few years:
- Formed a local PNH study group
- Had a licensed PNH instructor come give us lessons
- Went to clinics and presentations all over our region and learned from many different incredible instructors
- Participated in shows, fun days, parades
- Went trail riding/horse camping in too many great places to name
- I even started breeding/raising horses on a small scale
And of course, when others saw me in all the above settings and what my horses and I could do, I always got asked for help.
Pretty awesome I think for someone who was so green they didn't know what lead changes were, had never been on a real "trail ride", and didn't even know the first thing about true "horsemanship" in the beginning.
I'll be honest -- I did have a couple setbacks, if you want to call them that.
My big pushy QH gelding and I did very well for over a year. Then, all of a sudden he decided he was having none of it. He wanted to be the boss again and tried hard to regain his position with me.
I continued to work with him, but my heart wasn't in it. Not because I didn't think we couldn get past this, but because by then I had become interested in gaited horses.
Living in Texas (aka quarter horse country), gaited horses just weren't something you heard about a lot. Luckily a few of the horse people I had become friends with had one, and knew where to find them. Once I was exposed to these gentle, smooth riding animals, I wanted one.
So I ended up selling my QH to a "cowboy" and never looked back.
I hope this inspires you to stop thinking it's the horse's fault he acts the way he does. There is knowledge available to help your horse become a very willing partner so you enjoy each other more, and are safer doing all the fun activities you enjoy.