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HSUS Staff Saddles Up for Parelli Natural Horsemanship Training

Hands-on course will teach skills needed to help neglected and abused horses

  • Keith Dane, Director of Equine Protection for The HSUS, works with a mustang at the Parelli Natural Horsemanship Campus. The HSUS

  • The tools and techniques of the Parelli method will help HSUS staff in their work to improve the lives of horses and protect them from neglect, abuse and cruelty. The HSUS

  • Staff members are learning how to understand and work with many different "horsenalities" at the training. The HSUS

  • Pat and Linda Parelli take a break during the course. The HSUS

World renowned natural horsemanship trainers, Linda and Pat Parelli, are known for their gentle approach that puts the horse first and focuses on love, language and leadership to build a solid, trust-based relationship with horses—from the ground up.

This week, HSUS staff from Equine Protection, Animal Cruelty and the Direct Care centers will get to experience these techniques firsthand while participating in an intensive training course at the Parelli Natural Horsemanship Campus in Pagosa Springs, Colo.

"A horse's welfare is directly linked to his ability to safely and effectively interact with their human caretakers. Often, when the HSUS is called in to assist with a horse rescue, we find that the horses are not bad or dangerous, they simply haven't been taught how to be good "partners" with humans. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to learn directly from Pat and Linda, so we can apply our knowledge in our work to help at-risk horses," says Stacy Segal, equine protection specialist at The HSUS.

Follow the group's training and progress reports:

Monday, September 13, 2010 by Keith Dane, Director of Equine Protection for The HSUS

Our team arrived at the magnificent Parelli Natural Horsemanship training center in Pagosa Springs today, eager to learn how the tools and techniques of the Parelli method can help us in our work to improve the lives of horses. Our itinerary would be geared toward the needs of horses and humans when they are brought together under the worst of circumstances—cruelty seizures, neglect cases and the sometimes long road to recovery and rehabilitation at horse rescues. The Parellis are committed to helping HSUS develop a standardized program of methods, techniques and protocols for the horse rescue community, and we were delighted to hear of their plans for working with us on this.

We’re eagerly anticipating our week of intensive study with the Parellis and their staff, as well as a visit to the LASSO horse rescue facility here in Pagosa Springs, where we will put our newly acquired skills to good use assisting with rescued horses in various stages of rehabilitation. I am sensing that this week will be the beginning of a whole new chapter in our work with horses, and even in the horse rescue community’s model of rehabilitating and transforming neglected horses from one person’s “damaged goods” into someone else’s desirable companion for life.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010 by Scott Beckstead, Equine Protection Specialist and Senior State Director for Oregon for The HSUS

I am constantly amazed at the countless ways that animals help us and enrich our lives. But I am especially thrilled when they assume the role of teacher and impart to us lessons that make us better humans. Today I learned from a sorrel paint mare named Scarlet. From a distance, Scarlet is heavily-muscled, big-boned, solid as stone. But a closer look reveals her true nature: She exuded unending patience and grace.

The new insights into horse psychology and behavior that I'm learning help articulate many of the notions I have long held about my equine loved ones, and indeed about the equine species in general. Now that they have taken shape, I can use them in my quest to further the cause of protecting horses from cruelty, neglect and slaughter. If we begin to see the individual qualities of every horse, we can be more effective and precise about finding homes for horses that are rescued from cruelty and neglect.

Our work this week at the Parelli ranch will make us better horse advocates, and ultimately, better people. Scarlet is an example for me. She was honest, gracious, and more generous with me than I deserved. I wish the world had more teachers like her.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 by Carolyn Schnurr, Equine Protection Project Assistant for The HSUS

An enormous part of responsible horse ownership is establishing a loving relationship between a human and a horse based on communication, trust and respect. The Parelli program teaches exactly that. The seven games create a language to serve as the foundation for a human-horse partnership. And building a relationship in this way helps curb bad behaviors, promotes safety in human-horse interactions, and fosters a deep connection between the two partners that better ensures they will be companions for life.

An amazing experience I had today illustrates that connection. I reached a point with my new equine friend where I could walk alongside her without any tension on the lead rope, and she would match the speed of my movements. It was incredible when I began walking backward alongside her. Without any tension on the rope, she too walked backward—step by step—until I stopped. To have that level of understanding pass between the two of us, even when I was completely removed from a position that imparted any sort of physical pressure or verbal cues, was incredibly powerful.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 by Jennifer Kunz, Ranch Manager at The Duchess Sanctuary, an HSUS Direct Care Center

Managing the 188 current equine residents of the Duchess Sanctuary means that I get to spend a lot of time with horses on a daily basis. Our intention for these permanent residents is to provide them with a lifetime of safety and security, and that involves kind and respectful handling. Natural horsemanship is not a new concept to me, but I was a novice to the Parelli method until arriving here in Pagosa Springs. While none of our residents will be leaving the sanctuary, any improvement we can make in our handling of them is a wonderful thing. The Parelli tools, such as the seven games, allow us as human caretakers to treat each horse as an individual, develop a deeper relationship with them and further our understanding of horses in general.

Although all of our practice horses were exceptional to work with, I have learned over the week to recognize the subtle differences in their personalities, and have come to understand the modifications that we need to make in our language, in order to speak to them. When we learn the language of the horse and communicate at their level, we create a safe partnership with them. It is a powerful message for current horse owners, and one that I hope encourages others to consider bringing a horse into their lives.

Friday, September 17, 2010 by Holly Hazard, Chief Innovations Officer for The HSUS

Pat and Linda Parelli spent a great deal of time this week discussing the miscommunication that can result between humans and animals, simply because we are wired differently. This is certainly true when considering the predator instincts of humans and the prey instincts of equines. As humans, our actions—which are often intended to signal friendship and respect—may in fact trigger fright and flight in a horse. In order to have a successful and celebratory relationship with any animal, we must unlock their perception of our actions and modify our behavior to communicate what we actually intend.

Our group spent many hours this week awkwardly—and in many cases amusingly—learning new communication skills. And we’ve been practicing not only with horses, but with each other. Time after time during the exercises this week, the signal my partner would send me was unclear or confusing, and even though we shared a common goal, that signal was lost between us. But with a simple tweak or turn, the message would become clear.

This wonderful exercise helped me undertand the power of communication and gave me a strong sense of empathy for our animal rescue and rehabilitation crews, who are faced with the challenge of trying to communicate with a variety of animals every day.

Saturday, September 18, 2010 by Stacy Segal, Equine Protection Specialist for The HSUS

Today we visited LASSO, a local horse rescue organization, to apply our newfound knowledge to their herd of rescued horses. Pat and Linda—and our amazing instructors Ben, Jeanne and Vicki—met us there to offer encouragement, support and advice.

Our first task was to walk into a paddock with eight horses and let one of them “catch” each of us for haltering and a play session. Cooper, a sweet Palomino gelding approached me; I offered the horseman’s handshake and off we went.

As Cooper and I got to know each other, it became evident that, although he clearly was seeking leadership, he was quite unconfident. We spent a lot of time playing the friendly game, and eventually built a level of trust. As we turned our horses loose for a much-needed lunch break, I heard footsteps just behind my shoulder—my heart melted as I realized Cooper was following me by choice, truly the best compliment a horse can give.

This week has changed me as a horsewoman and as an advocate. I can’t wait to share what I've learned with the horses in our care and the rescue community as a whole.

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