Originally Published: July 19, 2008 10:11 p.m.
PRESCOTT VALLEY - Donning full Western wear, complete with leather chaps, Pat Parelli paced the dirt-covered floor in front of a nearly packed house at Tim's Toyota Center Saturday, dispensing advice about how horse riders can better relate to their animals.
The professional horseman brought his all-day "Way More Than Riding" USA Tour to Prescott Valley, which concludes today with a private session open only to members of the tour's Savvy Club.
Parelli's unique approach is rooted in love, where humans develop a relationship with a horse by speaking its language while maintaining a deep-seated trust.
By taking an active role in a horse's life, a rider or owner can create a bond over time and train the animal to have faith.
On Saturday, hundreds packed the center to listen to the nationally-renown Parelli demonstrate how to care for a horse and help it form good habits.
Parelli and his wife, Linda, travel this country and Great Britain, teaching crowds how to forge bonds with their horses without instilling fear.
Pat said his first rule is doing whatever it takes to get his horse to like him. Essentially, that means spending time getting to know the horse in the stables or on the range.
The key, he says, is to not put your thoughts into the animal's actions. For instance, while humans crave praise, recognition and material possessions, horses prefer being fed and petted.
When a horse is unpredictable, blows up, bucks and bolts, it's likely that a rider has not learned how to correct the behavior. Rather than get defensive, it's important to learn the horse's language. Many times this is as easy as dismounting the horse and looking into its eyes.
"Learn the horse's language on the ground where you have the powers of observation," he said.
The first step toward accomplishing this goal is to play with the horse "on line" - or on the ground with rope.
A rider then should play "at liberty" - interacting with the horse at a distance without physical contact every day to make one's love for the animal clear.
"It's important to get the relationship going first," Parelli said.
With on line play, it's all about gently using ropes to get the horse to both come to you and retreat through non-verbal commands.
From there, a Parelli rider goes "freestyle," or rides a horse without contact and lets go of the reins, albeit correcting if necessary.
Once a rider has accomplished this step, he or she can advance to "finesse," which is similar to dancing with a partner without any cues.
Linda Green, a three-star horse instructor from Phoenix who attended the event, said she has learned plenty from Parelli's presentations.
A field instructor for 11 years, Green sponsors clinics and lessons. She focuses on developing and maintaining trust between riders and horses.
She said it's tougher as an instructor to understand humans' behavioral tendencies and make them jibe with a horse.
"The thing that appeals to people about this event is the horse psychology - understanding the horse's mind, what they want, why they want it, and how to get along with them," Green said. "By understanding their psychology, the main goal is to keep safe so you can enjoy this animal."
Alain Martignier, Parelli's tour director, agreed. He said most of Parelli's students approach him for guidance because they want better results from a problematic horse.
"We put the relationship with the horse number one, because if it's good, the horse will do whatever you want," Martignier said.
On Saturday, Parelli instructed his son's horse, Aspen, to play within the confines of a circular green gate to the accompaniment of popular music.
He would use a so-called "carrot stick," or a long, thin pole, as a tool that prompted Aspen to gallop around the perimeter of the circle and move back and forth.
In one routine, he took a long rope line and gently wrapped it around Aspen's neck before having him step up onto a short platform.
Aspen also showed Parelli how he could push a large inflatable green ball around the ring either with his nose or front legs.
Afterward, Parelli ditched the rope and rode Aspen without any reins. Instead, he used his hands or waved the carrot sticks in different directions to get the horse to move without running into anything.
At Parelli's command, Aspen jumped over barrels and sidestepped through a row of the objects with ease.
Later, Parelli attached a line between two carrot sticks and prompted the horse to jump rope as they rode. He lifted the line over Aspen's head as the horse brought up his legs before repeating the motion several times.
Parelli's current tour continues Aug. 9 and 10 in Birmingham, England, before moving on to the Colorado Savvy Conference in Pagosa Springs, Colo., Sept. 5-7.
For more information about Parelli's program and the Savvy Club, call 800-642-3335 or log on to www.parelli.com.
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