My journey of helping the world become a better place for horses and the humans that love them started after my education in real horsemanship began.
In 1972 I began a 14-year professional rodeo career, riding bucking horses all over the country with great success – I was awarded Rookie of the Year in 1972. But I always wanted to train animals, particularly horses, and I got an opportunity to study with Mr. Troy Henry who was noted as one of the greatest western horsemen in the United States.
Mr. Henry’s expertise was not only in training horses, but training people as well, and then putting them together to be successful. I had been with him for five years, received a good foundation and was just starting to feel like I was beginning to get it, and suddenly in December of 1981, he passed away.
One of my clients, Dr. R.M. Bradley, DVM, suggested that I come down to northern Hollywood in southern California to put on a seminar for his clients, to share what I had learned in those last five years.
I had no idea what a seminar was, but a good friend of mine from high school and college, Dr. R.M. Aidian (also a veterinarian) helped me put my first one together, and as fate would have it, the famous Dr. R.M. Miller turned up as well! This was March 1, 1982. And what a coincidence they were all Dr. R.M.!
As a result, Dr. Miller wrote a three-part series in the Western Horseman magazine called, “A New Look at Old Methods,” in which he featured my philosophy and techniques. My phone started ringing off the hook with people wanting to take lessons, clinics, and have me come and help them with their horse.
Dr. Miller then helped me start a program called, “Have Help, Will Travel,” and I traveled all over southern California, from stable to stable, helping people with their horses.
I promoted three-hour sessions, and mostly dealt with behavior problems such as horses that didn’t like to be shod, horses that wouldn’t take a needle, horses that didn’t like to be dewormed, horses that bucked, wouldn’t stand still, and wouldn’t load in the trailer… which was my number one request.
I offered a 25% discount if you brought five friends to watch the session, and a 50% discount if you brought ten friends. Well, very soon, I had as many as 100 people watching every session.
I was traveling all over southern California and Arizona, and on weekends many people got their friends together and asked me to do clinics on riding. I started realizing that people needed help with their horses on the ground before they needed help riding – to develop a relationship and communication, and better safety. This then expanded to a few places like Colorado, Oregon, Northern California, and I was soon asked to go to Australia in 1987.
On my third trip to Australia, I met Linda. She brought her big, 1400 lb Thoroughbred horse who was out of control.
In that one day, Linda was able to ride her horse with just a halter and lead rope, the same horse that she couldn’t even stop with both hands and $300 worth of gadgets on his head! I immediately recognized that she was a special student.
Linda started my business in Australia, created the tours that kept me coming back for three years until I told her I couldn’t live without her and asked her to come to the United States and be my partner.
For the next three years, we lived in our motorhome with a trailer full of horses and dogs and traveled around the United States and Canada.
We also toured Europe and Australia and were searching for a site for our future home and teaching center. We both knew we needed to stop the wheels once in a while, and have an ‘eagle’s nest’ for aspiring students. We eventually found that perfect place in beautiful Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
We were traveling and giving as many as 75 clinics a year on weekends, and sometimes during the week – almost every weekend except Easter and Christmas!
We would go north in the summer and south in the winter, to Australia twice a year, and Europe once a year.
We decided there needed to be a name for what it was we were doing. Linda said to me one day, “Well, every second word out of your mouth is ‘natural’…” So we agreed the perfect name was Natural Horsemanship.
After doing clinic after clinic after clinic… it became obvious that two things needed to happen:
1. There needed to be a way to group students as learners.
2. We needed to be able to help people, no matter where they lived, or what they could afford.
The first solution? I had a martial arts background and loved the “belt” system, it is one of the best ways to group students as learners – so we created the Levels Program.
The second solution? The creation of the Savvy Club in 2003 – the first membership of its kind for supporting students of the Parelli program of natural horsemanship.
The Savvy Club was a way for people who couldn’t come to clinics or our courses, to learn at home. I had always wanted a long distance home study course for my students with correspondence capabilities.
After twelve years of a subscription-based Savvy Club, technology – which is not my forte – presented us with an incredible opportunity. We could design a simple, sequential, effective learning program and produce the most innovative, internet-based educational program in the world to meet the changing needs of horsemen and women today.
This means that no matter when a student joined, they could start at step one and continue to step twelve in the first year, and then the next, and so on. This way there are no missing pieces.
With interactive technology, we are able to identify where students’ specials interests or needs are, and then be able to give them not only a hub of information but also the spokes they need in order to excel.
We have always wanted a program that people could learn at their own pace, step-by-step, level-by-level, and after launching the concept in 2003, the new Savvy Club is a whole new dawn.
My Son, My Teacher
Many of you may not know that my son was born in 1983 with a condition called Hydrocephalus. At three months of age, Caton Ryder Parelli went into a coma and had an emergency procedure to drain the fluid off his brain via a shunt. The MRI showed so much brain damage, the doctors said he would probably never walk or talk, and should be institutionalized.
Not only did Caton have that challenge, but he also had a stroke at the age of 12, and lost the use of everything on his right side. Since then, he has recovered about 60 percent of his physical capacity, and what I’ve learned by being his father has been a major factor in shaping my life and career.
Caton has been my guiding star for creating a program for everyone, no matter who they are, or what challenges they have. What you or I can learn in three to ten steps might take Caton 100 steps. Taking the time to learn how to think all those steps through was a powerful part of what helped us create this life-changing horsemanship program.
I have always been good at oral reports, and Linda is a very intense student – she has been writing down my teachings and philosophy since 1990 and putting it all into a sequence to create a pedagogical learning process that everyone can follow.
Together we created a movement that has forever changed the horse world, and we feel very blessed to be surrounded by some of the nicest horse-loving people on the planet: our students; a passionate team of instructors all over the world; our dedicated teams at Parelli headquarters in Colorado, the UK, Australia, and Switzerland; and especially our partners. We couldn’t have done it without you.
Just remember one thing: Our future is in our hearts and our minds as we Keep It Natural.
Yours Naturally, Pat Parelli