Going Natural: Choosing the Path Less Traveled

By Stacey Ruel

Parelli Level 2 horsemanship students attend a clinic with Four Star Instructor Mel Fleming. (Photo by Alex Maynard)

Going 'natural' often means choosing the path less traveled by others. Whether we have chosen to use natural remedies, to train using natural horsemanship techniques or to follow a natural hoof care method, staying the course can be challenging. As equine enthusiasts, we are bombarded by articles in horse magazines that tell us what we should feed, how we should train and how we should ride. Tack catalogs and advertisements try to convince us that their latest product will help make our horse a champion. Whether we realize it or not, there is a tremendous amount of pressure in the equine industry to choose traditional horse care and training methods. As a result, going 'natural' usually means that you are on the fringe of the horse community.

The author and her horse PS Lexus ride with only a halter and a lead rope. (Photo by Alex Maynard)

A few years ago, when I embarked on my natural horsemanship journey through the Parelli home study program, I quickly discovered who my true friends were in the local horse scene. I continued to attend committee meetings of the local dressage club and just kept quiet about the dual life I was leading with one foot in the dressage arena and one in the natural horsemanship realm. After all, it wasn't really anyone's business how I chose to train my horse. At the same time, I had become a member of a unique group of people who were also working through the Parelli levels. The group was most unusual as it was not a formal club or organization. The group didn't have a president, a committee or a charter and there were no membership fees. There was only one rule: that there were no rules! The group met every Sunday afternoon at the local show ground to support and help each other in their natural horsemanship goals. The group also organized clinics with top-level Parelli instructors every three to four months and so I began to attend those as well.

It didn't take long for my dressage colleagues to realize that I was running with a new crowd. And that's when the situation started to become complicated. Discussions at our dressage committee meetings suddenly focused on this new Parelli group and what they were doing with their horses. Look at those people riding around with orange sticks (carrot sticks)! What are they doing? That is so dangerous to ride with only a halter and a bareback pad. How will they ever achieve collection if they keep riding with a loose rein? The snide remarks and negative comments began to grate on me but I kept quiet. It was a true test of my emotional fitness but an argument is exactly what they were after and I refused to give in. I pressed on with my Parelli training and stopped attending committee meetings. I chose to surround myself with like-minded people and the Parelli group proved to be both positive and progressive. I was starting to see real results with my horse and I wanted to keep going. I didn't need to be with people who were going to drain me emotionally with their negativity.

As the months went by the words, however, were turned into actions. Suddenly our Parelli group was required to submit extra documentation when we wanted to hold a clinic at the show grounds. The other riding clubs didn't seem to have to produce this additional information. We weren't allowed to park our horse trailers in certain areas and there were formal complaints about us gathering as a group and setting up equipment in the common areas of the public show grounds. And yet it was acceptable for dressage riders to set up an arena with cones to train in or for western riders to set up a practice trail course with obstacles. Others could ride around the grounds in groups or have individual lessons with an instructor.

The author and her horse PS Lexus put their natural training to the test in the "traditional" show ring. (Photo by Alex Maynard)

Our Parelli support group stuck together through it all. We ensured that all of our activities were in compliance with the show ground rules and resolved the complaints directly with the show ground committee. We continued to meet and train on the weekends and continued to plan our clinics. In addition, a few members of the group began to organize lectures every three to four months on various aspects of horse care that were open to everyone. Local professionals as well as visiting experts conduct presentations on topics such as hoof care, feeding, saddle fitting and equine dentistry. The cost is simply a 'gold coin' donation (in Australia that means a one or two dollar coin). After each lecture, the donations are presented to one of the local horse clubs. The lectures bring together members from all of the different disciplines while providing useful information on horse care. In addition, the donations help improve our relations with the various clubs. After all, it is money they don't have to raise themselves!

So has the Parelli support group been a complete success? Everyone who has made a commitment to seriously follow the Parelli home study course has seen significant changes in both themselves and their horses. There is still a great deal of resistance in the local horse community to natural horsemanship concepts, but people are starting to take notice of our horses and how well they perform - happily. And for now, the remarks and complaints seem to have diminished. Perhaps over time we will break down the barriers between the natural and the traditional horse worlds, but until then we are happy with our own accomplishments and the incredible journey that we have embarked on with our equine partners.





About the author:

Stacey Ruel is originally from New Hampshire but currently lives and works in Alice Springs, Australia. Throughout her many travels around the world she has always managed to keep horses a central part of her life. She is currently working through the Parelli horsemanship levels with her young Australian Warmblood, PS Lexus, and plans to compete him in dressage.

Stacey Ruel
3/152 Cromwell Drive
Alice Springs, NT 0870