for equine HARMONY
Horsemanship is improved
when a rider achieves
harmony with his horse as
Wendy Owen discovered
when she met an exponent
of the Parelli method of
OVER the past few years there has been a swing away from traditional methods of horsemanship and a growing interest in making more use of the horses own communication system in training.
One Yorkshire farmer is so impressed by the results he has achieved through natural horsemanship that he is offering residential courses at his home so he can teach other riders.
In addition to running his 141ha (300-acre) arable farm at Sinnington Manor, near York, Charlie Wilson is a qualified riding instructor who has been teaching on a freelance basis since the 1970s. He has competed in various disciplines, including point-to-point, dressage and show-jumping.
When he started to learn the Parelli method of natural horsemanship three years ago, Mr Wilson realised he had found a way to achieve a feeling of harmony with his horse – something he had always been searching for. But he insists there is no great mystery about it and says that many of its principles have been practised by ordinary horsemen for years.
"Pat Parelli and his teaching methods have been around in the USA for about 20 years," says Mr Wilson. "The system draws on exercises which the native American Indians used when they were training horses.
"Its approach is to recognise that to the horse we are a prey animal and that it sees us as a predator. It uses the horses own language to communicate to the animal that humans are not a threat."
The Parelli system splits training into four progressive sections, with the first involving a lot of work on the ground using a specially-made on-line halter. The horse initially works through a series of exercises, guided by the handler with the help of what is known as a carrot stick. The stick is not used against the horse, but rather as a way of pointing in the direction required.
"This helps to build up a relationship of respect and trust between the two so the horse is listening to his owner and knows what is expected of him before he is mounted," Mr Wilson explains.
"The exercises encourage the horse to think for himself and take more care about where he places his feet. He might be asked to walk backwards between two obstacles, or to manoeuvre his legs around a circle placed on the ground."
The next stage of the work sees the horse moving freely around the arena, with the handler using the stick to guide the animal in different directions. After that, the horse is mounted and the rope halter is used instead of a bridle to allow the horse to carry itself naturally. This also teaches the rider to develop an independent seat without relying on the reins for balance. In the final stage, a jointed snaffle bit is placed in the horses mouth and only at this point is he asked to go on the bit.
"By this time, the horse has emotional and mental stability and with that, true collection can be achieved," says Mr Wilson.
"The whole process can be learned by anyone, in fact people who have never ridden before may find it easier because they have no preconceived ideas of what they should be doing. And it can be taught to horses of any age or discipline – it is very successful in calming excitable horses."
Although he is not yet one of Parellis endorsed instructors, Mr Wilson has been to Pat Parellis study centre in the USA and taken his own horses through the course. He has found that many other people have been surprised at the way their horses have responded to the training.
* Nuzzling tears
"One lady actually cried when her horse nuzzled her at the end of a training session. She said he had never responded to her like that before."
Comparisons between the Parelli method and that of the other well-known American trainer, Monty Roberts, are inevitable, but Mr Wilson explains that the round pen, which Monty Roberts uses to establish leadership, is only a small part of the training.
He says it takes at least 40 hours of work to get to level one and about three years to work through the whole programme.
"With this method, you have to know the basics thoroughly before you go on to the next stage. It is not a quick way of training a horse but it does have its rewards and ultimately, reins and even a bridle can become unnecessary."
* Dairy herd
Until four years ago, Mr Wilson milked dairy cows but he sold the herd to allow him to concentrate on developing the horses as the farms main enterprise. He now spends three or four days a week instructing and has brought in contractors to manage the arable cropping. The only other livestock is a small number of Belgian Blue suckler cows.
Visitors who book in at Sinnington Manor to learn about natural horsemanship also get bed-and-breakfast in the comfortable Georgian manor house, while their horses are offered first class hospitality in one of six roomy stables.
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