An Experience Born of Desperation

By Clare Marie Miller

Clare and Chipper at the Nita Jo Rush Parelli Natural Horse-Man-Ship clinic in Nottingham, PA

I used to joke this seven year old QH, rescued from New Holland, was sound … he just wasn't sane. Chipper is often viewed as a horse with potential, but one who had unfortunately fallen into the wrong hands. Resentment and disrespect were a constant challenge, and retaliation a constant threat.

I often felt like I was holding him back, like there was someone out there who could do better than me. But I was also afraid to let go, as I knew very few people would have the patience to tolerate this kind of behavior for long and I was afraid of what might happen to him. It didn't take long to realize I was in over my head. Not the perfect horse by any means, but a horse worthy of my time all the same.

Seeking the help of a professional trainer helped immensely, however it became evident that he was waiting for ME to take charge. Not new to the world of horses, but certainly not a trainer, not even close; I lacked the know-how to deal with this situation. A friend loaned me her Parelli Level One video and I set out one hour a week playing the games the best I knew how. Signing up for our first clinic was a blessing and by the end of that clinic, I could see there truly was a partnership in the making. [See NHM Volume 5, Issue 5, Of Interest.]

Had I not been seeking a solution to the challenges with Chipper, I may have never given a second thought to these games. Now that I have, I'm thrilled; he has taught me more than any "ready made" horse could have ever done, and I am learning more all the time. Learning new ways to play the games and adapting my knowledge to the specific horse has been fun too.

For example the friendly game meant a lot to this horse. Don't get me wrong - you could waive a plastic bag around him, and he would barely notice it. Tossing the rope over his back or around his legs didn't worry him at all. But touch him with your hand on the saddle, girth or sides, and you had better have your guard up or you were likely to be bit (poor fitting saddles, girth sores and the use of spurs had been evident).

Many people would say you need to smack a horse like this, let him know who is boss. That would not have taught him to trust me, and after all I'm sure he thought he was protecting himself. I used approach and retreat, going just as far as he could tolerate, and retreating back to his neck in smooth reassuring movements. Within thirty minutes I had accomplished something I hadn't been able to do in two years. I could rub the entire area, his eyes were half closed, and he was as relaxed as I had ever seen him. Playing the friendly game with my hand on these areas has had a dramatic effect on his ability to trust, and as you can imagine has changed the way he responds to leg pressure when riding.

I feel much more confident now that I have these tools of communication, the Parelli Seven Games, and am looking forward to learning so much more in Level Two.

For more information:

Clare Marie Miller

TLC Animal Nutrition, Inc.
216 Sleepy Hollow Rd.
Nottingham, PA 19362

Parelli Natural Horse-Man-Ship
PO Box 3729
Pagosa Springs, CO 81147