Parelli Horsemanship Experience 2002
By Trish Sill, Photos by Coco

After receiving an invitation to spend a week at the Parelli International Study Center near Pagosa Springs, CO, I knew I was in for a week to remember. The "Horsemanship Experience" is the title for this class, and it's geared toward preparing us for a better way to interact with our horses. I was unable to bring my horse with me, as she has a newborn foal at her side. I was assured this was no problem; there were horses there for me to use! With great anticipation, my traveling partner and I loaded up her mule and our saddles and headed out of Arizona to Pagosa Springs, CO. We arrived at the ranch the evening prior and settled in
Robyn's mule, then found our hotel just a few miles down the road from the ranch.

The proud, patient, pack-with-panache, priorly-and-properly-prepared, perfectly-practicing-for-perfection-with-the-proper-perspective Parelli Horsemanship Experience class, 2002

Pat listens patiently to our every question.

Our first day here, tired from the trip, I didn't wake up 'til about 8 A.M., late for me. The hotel room phone rings about nine-ish - it's Kate Riordan from the Parelli organization, inviting my roommate and myself to join her and some other "Parelli-ites" for breakfast. We met at a charming little restaurant on the east side of Pagosa Springs, and sat out in the beautiful clear mountain air to chat and munch our breakfast. There was an interesting mix of people there; many had different stories - some with a good deal of experience with the Parelli techniques and some, like myself, who had very little exposure. There were two mounted police officers that were from Lexington, KY. They had been utilizing the Parelli method for years and were winning competition awards with their police mounts. I was just beginning to realize that this Parelli horsemanship had a lot more going for it than I had at first thought. It seemed to do miraculous things for horses and people whether it was for the backyard, trail riding horse and owner, or the professional mounted law enforcement officers. There were even dressage people, a stallion handler, and racehorse people there that were successfully utilizing Parelli methods that had improved their relationship and performance with their horses tremendously.

I enjoyed learning to use the carrot stick - and so did my horse!

Volleyball helps develop a sense of "team work", an essential attitude to have with your horse, in any situation.


We left the restaurant and returned to the Ranch for check in and to get oriented to the place and schedule. Registration was from nine to one, and the orientation with Pat was to be at four. That was a relief, no pressure the first day; I was still recovering from the trip and the altitude. The ranch was breathtakingly beautiful, and the people were enormously friendly and helpful at every turn. We unloaded our tack onto a big old-fashioned wagon drawn by an enormous draft horse, which then took us to our assigned tack house. Labeling the tack and putting things away, we began to feel the excitement building in anticipation of what was to come. We had a delicious lunch at the lodge and spent some time shopping in the new mercantile store. This was a treat, any reason to shop, but best of all, the merchandise was first rate. That includes the horse equipment especially designed for the Parelli methods, and some really nice quality clothing as well.

Eventually we meandered to the "big top" for our introduction to Pat and some of the other instructors. The weather remained clear and sunny with just enough breeze to keep us cool. The backdrop of the Colorado Rockies outside the "big top" made it all seem surreal. The instructors and Pat and Linda all did some demonstrations of what we would be trying to accomplish in our partnership with our horses. It was amazing to say the least. I especially loved the bridle-less riding, and some of the impressive ground work done with the horse "at liberty". These were the things of which dreams are truly made.

Pat always finds the humor in a situation and makes learning fun.

The trampoline helps to refine balance and focus (on our feet, on the horse, or in the air!)

After our orientation those of us who were using a ranch horse all convened to the 100 ft. round pen to pick out a mount to spend the week with. We were told to just walk through the herd and pick the one that "feels right". It didn't take me long; I spotted a good-looking buckskin mare and she noticed me about the same time, and as I walked to her she responded by nuzzling me gently as if to say, "I'll be your friend this week!" We haltered our horses and took them to our assigned stalls to be fed and watered. I could hardly wait to jump on her and go for a ride! After the horses were settled in to their stalls it was time for us to be fed again! Wow, this time it was prime rib and chicken, with veggies and potatoes. The food was excellent. Maybe it's the mountain air, or the excitement of being here but the dinner really tasted good. After dinner we were treated to a video of Pat and Linda and the O'Connors at the Rolex Nationals in Kentucky. David O'Connor was an Olympic Gold Medal winner in eventing in Sydney, Australia. When we finally left the ranch and trudged up the hill to the truck to return to our hotel, we felt tired and happy to be here.

Breakfast at the ranch was at 7:00 AM sharp each morning. We met outside at 9 AM after feeding our horses and ourselves. We were divided into groups and started some of the new and unusual activities for the day.

First the class instructors took us over to a big trampoline, and had each of us jump on it to refine our balance and focus. Interesting concept. Then it was off to the mechanical bull that was hand operated while instructing us how to move our legs and arms during the "bucking" motion of the bull. That part was actually quite a lot of fun, but not what I'd hoped to be doing on my horse.

The hand-operated mechanical bull helped us safely learn balance, focus, coordination, and rhythm.

Here I am learning to ride with only one rein.

It all was part of the balance building they were hoping to help us achieve. After that we convened to the volleyball court to work on our sense of "team work", since that is the essential attitude to have with your horse. Following a short break, we all met up outside with Pat on horseback to listen to his lecture on the fundamentals of horsemanship. After an enlightening and entertaining dissertation we again split up into groups, with our horses this time, to start working on some of the tasks Pat had just explained to us. "It's all about love, language, and leadership" was a statement we would hear repeatedly throughout the week. I felt a bit timid with my new horse and my new carrot stick; it seemed quite awkward to handle, but I'm sure with practice it will become second nature. My horse was very experienced and patient with me. She taught me how to do the seven games, and variations thereof, that I had seen Pat demonstrate with his horse earlier. By lunchtime we were hot, dusty, and hungry, but overall quite elated with our progress. After yet another tasty meal, we all meandered out to our horses to clean their paddocks, groom them and water them.

After a couple of hours of rest for them, we saddled up and met up in the big covered arena for some more time with Mr. Parelli and his famous games. It was a really good class; because no matter how long you had been a horse owner/ rider he took us all back to the basics of horsemanship including proper saddling, bridling, haltering, etc. We were also learning about riding with our whole body, and with focused thought on what it was we were asking our horse to do. After all, if we seemed undecided, how could we expect the horse to know what it was supposed to do?

Robyn and Uno stepping off an obstacle with exuberance!

Robyn and Uno take a moment to pose for a photo.

Even though I've been riding some thirty years, it was interesting to see his "horseman's" technique for mounting, dismounting, backing, and turning your horse. Learning to read the horse's body language is paramount, as you can be assured your horse is "reading" yours. After Pat and his instructors felt confident and we also felt confident that we could safely handle all our horses, we were allowed to ride freely about the 400 acres that is Parelli Ranch. But, that was not even the highlight of the day. Watching Pat work one student's "renegade" Arabian horse was truly a sight to behold. I found myself wondering how many people actually get to see this accomplished horseman tackle a truly difficult problem horse. It was an experience I shall never forget. Pat says we can all learn to do this …"It's not about what I can do with horses but what I can teach YOU to do with horses." After our evening meal and caring for our horses we headed back to the hotel, exhausted but pleased with the day.

The entire week was an intense, yet enjoyable experience. Each morning Pat spent time with us showing us tasks to do with our horses, explaining horse psychology, the prey-predator relationship, and answering questions.

We then would divide up into groups and join an instructor in pursuit of perfect practice. Pat had some catchy yet profound sayings, such as "good, better, best, never let it rest, get your good better and your better best!"

Each day we practiced the seven games and took them to a higher level, using our imagination to make them even more interesting. Before the week was out we were riding without reins, using our "carrot sticks" and body language to communicate with our horses. It was incredible to observe the changes that took place between the horses and the students, especially the students that came with their own "problem" horses. There were organized trail rides, and opportunities to play with cattle on your horse. There is a huge playground/ obstacle course with jumps and logs and ditches, etc., for you to play with your horse. 'Something for everyone' was the feeling I got at this place. I watched as my friend, Robyn, made huge improvements in her relationship and training accomplishments with her mule. She had been working with Uno (her beautiful white mule), for approximately two years utilizing the Parelli techniques; but she had huge breakthroughs every day at the ranch under Pat and the instructors' expert tutelage. Mules tend to be a bit more challenging, as I've been told, than most horses. Pat states that you don't train a mule, you come to an agreement with him. After a couple of days, Robyn and Uno were riding bit-less in a Parelli hackamore, around the ranch! A significant breakthrough for this mule and his owner!

At the end of the week, we were all happily saturated with new information to take home and put into practice with our horses. For those students such as myself, who worry they might not remember all we had been taught and exposed to, and for anyone wanting to learn the games, Pat offers the home study Level 1 Partnership Pack.

We hated to say good-bye; many new friendships were forged with a sense of camaraderie you can only get from sharing an intense time such as the Parelli Horsemanship Experience. The week ended with a wonderful graduation ceremony and another "show-stopping" performance by Pat on one of his beautiful ranch horses and with Casper, his flashy black stallion, at liberty by his side.

We all had the opportunity to share what was the most indelible thing that we had experienced that week. A few tears were shed, and many new friends vowed to stay in touch. I know we'll meet again, as most all of us plan to return to this beautiful Mecca of horse-man-ship to further our learning in our horse/human partnerships. As for Robyn and I, we'll be back!

Until then, "good, better, best, never let it rest, get your good better, and your better best!"

About the author:
Trish Sill is a free-lance writer and owner/ operator of a small ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona. Trish raises and trains Quarter Horses and Paints, and runs a small boarding facility at her ranch. She is actively pursuing Natural Horsemanship and her horses are now all "barefoot" horses and loving it! Creating a more natural environment and nutritional program, combined with partnership and harmony, is her goal for herself and her horses.

For more information:
Parelli International Study Center, USA
PO Box 3729
Pagosa Springs, CO 81147
800-642-3335 or 970-731-9400
Fax 888-731-9722 or 970-731-9722