The One for You

Linda ParelliEveryone who owns a horse starts off with a dream of riding off into the sunset with their best friend. A lot of times we pick our perfect partner and that dream becomes a reality. Other times however we end up picking our perfect poison. The purpose of this article is to help people pick their perfect partner. As we get into horses we begin to understand that there’s more than just a horse and a person. There are ‘Horsenalities’ and ‘Humanalities’ as well as experience, confidence and goals. It is these last three factors that I’d like to address first.

If you’re inexperienced and lacking in confidence, you’re going to want a certain type of horse. If you’re inexperienced but very confident, you’re probably going to want a different type of horse, both in terms of nature and spirit level. Couple this with whether your goals are low, moderate or high, and you’ve got a lot to consider when it comes to picking your perfect partner. Try answering the following questions:

  • How much experience do I have (1 to 10)? Let me give you an example: If you’ve won three or more world championships and you’ve been riding for more than 40 years, you could probably put yourself up there at around a 9.
  • How much confidence do I have (1 to 10)? If you’ve won a couple of world championships in saddle bronc riding, you can probably put yourself right around a 9.9.
  • What is the level of my goals (1 to 10)? If you want to have a world class performance horse, English or western, then your goal is probably around a 9.5. If you want to go to the Olympics, put it up there as a 10.

So, those are the three big factors when it comes to deciding which type of horse to partner yourself with. Even with that in mind however we find a lot of mismatches. Oftentimes this happens when you buy the right horse for you when you get started, but over time you outgrow that horse.

Let’s say you buy the perfect horse. You’ve got little experience, medium confidence and low goals. As you continue to improve, one day you could look at that horse and think, ‘Wow, my experience and confidence and goals have increased. I think I’m ready for a horse with a higher capacity to grow with me.’

Buying and Selling Buying and selling is a two part story. First, the buyer needs to have a realistic view of themselves; they need to get themselves a horse lover’s mirror. The seller also needs to adhere to this message as well. Making sure both sides are educated really is the solution.

So, let’s say we get into a situation: either the dream horse turned into a nightmare, or we’ve simply outgrown the horse and we’ve decided to sell. Now the buyers have turned into the sellers. As the seller, you need to employ the same strategies you used when you were the buyer. Make sure you have a realistic view of who you’re selling to.

Pat Parelli CuttingI’d like to offer a quick point on Humanality and Horsenality, the system I have developed to categorise horse and human personalities (read more at It’s important that we use that information to create strategies, not excuses. If you’re a Right-Brain Introvert (low energy and perhaps nervous) and your horse is a Left-Brain Extrovert (high energy and confident), that doesn’t mean you should just throw up your hands and say, ‘This’ll never work!’ You’re actually in a great situation, because you can begin to understand what your horse needs and how to make adjustments for that.

I believe we should all look at our commitment to our animals as stewards for life; we can compare it to children. There will come a time when children will cleave and leave. They’ll move out and get married and create futures of their own. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this situation occurring with horse owners, as long we do our best by our horses. We need to be realistic about what kind of horse we have, because that will increase the chances of finding a good partner for them moving forward.

The Perfect Fit In my lifetime, I’ve personally sold over 300 horses and mules. I would say I have around an 80-90% success rate when it comes to matching horses to humans. The best matchmaker I’ve ever been around was the man I learned so much from, Troy Henry. He had a knack for knowing which horse fit with which person, and here’s a quick story that illustrates this.

There were two women at the stables. Each one had a horse that was their nightmare. One woman’s goal was to do reining, and her horse was kind of a plodder. The other woman wanted to trail ride, but her horse was perfectly suited for reining. Now, one woman had paid quite a bit more for her horse than the other. Mr Henry suggested they trade horses.

The One for YouThe woman who had paid a lot more sort of scoffed at this idea, so Mr Henry said, ‘Try this. Just trade horses for two weeks.’ They did, and after two weeks you couldn’t have pried those horses away from their new partners with a crowbar! They found that Mr Henry had in fact matched them up with their perfect partners.

Again, there are plenty of exit strategies that maintain the horse’s dignity and respect. Here on the Parelli campus we’ve had horses that simply got too old to be of service for what we do in the Parelli University, but they made ideal pasture horses for people who were just looking for that.

An essential part of this decision is knowing who you’re selling to. The first thing I look for in passing on this stewardship is someone who shares that same attitude. They also need to have the means to be a good partner. Some people have big hearts and no clue. Some people have big hearts, all the clues and no financial means. And some people, well, they just don’t have big hearts. I make sure they have enough knowledge, skills and natural habits.

My basic philosophy when it comes to buying and selling horses is this: In general, horses themselves are worth between $1,000 and $2,500. Beyond that, you’re paying for the training and the breeding. And, in the not too distant future, you’ll be paying for the feeding as well. In the USA, feed has tripled in price over the last couple of years. So let’s say I buy a horse for $2,500 and we put a lot of training into it here on the campus, and we keep it for a year. Now that horse could be worth around $20,000. But it also cost us another $5,000 in feed, shoeing etc. So when I decide to sell that horse, I’m going to sell it for around $25,000. That’s how I see it - you’re paying for the training and everything else that has gone into that particular horse.

To conclude, it’s important to look in your heart, apply the strategies we’ve talked about and focus on the stewardship that a horse / human relationship truly is. It’s up to you to make sure that the horse has a bright and natural future, whether or not it’s with you. It all comes down to the philosophy of stewardship.

Ears Forward

Don’t be a loner when riding your antisocial horse. Take control and demand some manners. Horses that misbehave towards fellow horses in group situations are a hazard to themselves and others. One ‘pinny eared’ horse can disrupt an entire trail ride or group training session and create a dangerous situation. Clinton Trail RidingA horse being grumpy and pinning his ears is really just as bad as kicking another horse. In a herd situation, what does a horse do after pinning his ears? He backs the threat up with his hind feet. Horses always warn that they’re unhappy by pinning back their ears. If they’re ignored, then they back up and act like they’re going to kick. If they’re still ignored, then they kick. In this case there’s not much difference between a thought and an action. A horse will always give you a warning that he’s about to be disrespectful. It’s your responsibility to read his body language and act accordingly.

While no one wants to be on an antisocial horse, keep in mind that it’s common for horses to get a little cranky when another horse comes near them. This is especially true if the horse is a dominant horse in the herd. As the other horses are coming up on him, your horse is just saying, ‘Hey, you better stay back or else!’ So if your horse pins his ears or gets cranky as another horse comes up close to him, he’s not a particularly bad horse, he’s just being a horse.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I accept this behaviour and neither should you, but before you start to fix a problem, it’s always good to know how and why it developed. Why would a horse pin his ears or kick at others? It may be due to a lack of respect. Maybe you never taught your horse to respect you, or you’re not giving him enough to think about when you’re riding. As a result, he has time to cause trouble and worry about keeping other horses out of his personal space. When it comes to training horses and working with them on a daily basis, I figure the horse has 23 hours a day to do whatever he wants – eat, sleep, play, whatever. I only ask for one hour out of his day and the least he can do is put on a good attitude and respect me. I make no excuses for cranky attitudes in my horses, whether they be a mare in heat or an extremely dominant horse in the herd. When I’m riding them, their attention and focus better be on me.


When it comes to cranky horses, there are two schools of thought on how to deal with the problem. The first group of people avoids riding in group situations and only rides their horses when they’re sure they’ll be alone. The second group of people makes excuses for their horses and tries to take the responsibility off their shoulders and put it on someone else’s.

If your horse is kicking or pinning his ears when he’s around others, he’s telling you that you’re not keeping him busy enough and he doesn’t respect your leadership. A lot of groundwork, moving the horse’s feet forwards, backwards, left and right and always rewarding the slightest try, will teach him to respect you and keep his attention focused on you. Although this probably won’t cure the problem, it will certainly help by laying a foundation of respect.

The best way to get a horse over pinning his ears or kicking other horses is to expose him to it, let him commit to the mistake and then correct him. Protecting him by keeping him away from other horses is not going to make his cranky attitude go away. In fact, it will only make it worse. A lot of people who have horses that misbehave in group situations mistakenly think that keeping their horse in the barn while the others are riding and only sneaking in rides when the arena is clear will fix the problem. That’s like putting a band aid on a sore – it fixes nothing. Instead, I’m going to share with you two different strategies that will shape up your horse’s attitude.


First, you need to set the situation up so that you can correct your horse. It’s best to practice this at home in an arena or in a pasture. You wouldn’t want to take your horse on a trail ride with twelve other horses and try to address the problem. Find a starting point and then build from there. Ask a friend to help you. It’s important that the other horse is quiet and doesn’t have a problem with another horse being close to him. You’ll have your hands full enough fixing your horse, let alone trying to deal with two cranky horses at the same time!

When you’re set to go, have your friend ride his horse away from you while you follow close behind. You want to dare your horse to pin his ears back and act snarly, and if he truly has a problem, this shouldn’t be hard to do. Point his nose toward the other horse’s hindquarters and, if he pins his ears back or gets cranky, immediately bend him in a circle and put him to work. Really make him hustle his feet. You want him to clearly understand that his behaviour is unacceptable and if he even acts like he’s going to get cranky, there are going to be consequences. Those consequences are moving his feet and working hard.

This not only keeps the horse from kicking out or biting the other horse, but it also teaches him why he should avoid kicking in the first place. If he kicks, he has to work hard. Bend the horse in a circle until you feel that he’s got his attention back on you, and then go back to following the other horse and dare him to misbehave again. If he does, no big deal, just bend him around in a circle again. You may have to repeat the process several times before the horse finally understands that when he acts cranky, you’ll make him work hard. When he remains pleasant and relaxed, you’ll leave him alone.


If you have an extremely dominant horse, you may find that the first strategy isn’t enough to make him want to change his attitude. If that’s the case, try this. Like in the first situation, you’re still going to dare the horse to act cranky by riding him close to the other horse. However, instead of bending him around in a circle when he misbehaves, you’ll tap him between the ears with a dressage whip to make him feel uncomfortable. This sounds aggressive, but keep something in mind, when a horse is misbehaving you need to get in and get out. Be black and white with no shades of grey. You’re not whacking the horse so hard that he drops to his knees with brain damage. You’re more or less surprising him. You want him to think that every time he flattens his ears back to his neck, they hit him on the head. Your timing is really important here – you have to time the tap with the exact instant the horse pins his ears back. That way, the horse will think he’s making himself feel uncomfortable.

As you’re following the other horse, keep your whip in the middle of your chest or over your shoulder so that the horse can’t see it and know it might be coming. You want him to honestly think that he’s whacking himself with his ears, and when it comes, you want it to shock him. So, as you’re following the horse along, keep the stick in the middle of your chest and as soon as the horse even acts likes he’s going to get snarly, use it between the ears. This’ll surprise him and make him throw his head up. Then pretend like nothing $happened. Think of it like an electric fence. When you get zapped by an electric fence it doesn’t really hurt; it takes you by surprise.

Arena Monsters

Horses can be very suspicious animals and when something has frightened them they tend to remember it. You have probably experienced a horse that every time they get to the place where they were first scared they expect something to happen. Arena Monsters

Horses are very location specific in the way they behave and are quick to associate a certain place with their behaviour. Almost every arena has a ‘scary’ place in it and typically it is as far away from the gate or barn as you can get. This is no coincidence - the further away from the barn (which represents the safety of the herd to your horse) it gets, the more unsure the horse becomes and the stronger its urge to run back to safety. In some cases it may be good to avoid a trouble spot, like when you are first warming up a fresh (or volatile) horse or if you have questions about your ability to control the horse if he spooks.

However, at some point, in order for you to have total control over your horse, you must be able to take him into places where he may not want to go, maintaining his obedience. If a horse comes to believe it has a say so in where you try to take it, your authority will gradually erode to the point that you can’t leave the yard or take a circuit around the arena.

When a horse is spooky or frightened, the best thing to do is turn him toward the scary object and ask him to stand, take a deep breath and relax. You should reassure your horse by using a soothing voice and by rubbing his neck. Make sure to take a deep breath yourself as this will show him that you think everything is OK and that you have it all under control and he need not be afraid. Try to avoid turning your horse away from a scary object while he is still frightened because that will almost certainly trigger his flight response.

With an emotional or volatile horse, I would begin working in the ‘safest’ part of the arena, using small circles and lots of changes of direction to build confidence and obedience in the horse. The more you change directions and cause the horse to swing his neck from side to side, the calmer and more compliant he will become. With this in mind you will find ‘S’ shaped turns more productive than circles. As the horse relaxes and gets more comfortable, start expanding the area by venturing toward the scary place gradually and always returning back to the safe place to build confidence. Eventually I would be working closer and closer to the scary spot until I could ride the horse into that area without a reaction.

There is a very effective technique to use when working with spooky horses. First, keep in mind that you will always have more control over a horse when his neck is bent; when it is straight out in front of him he can get away from you easily. So as you approach the scary area, you’ll want to keep his neck slightly bent to one side or the other. An easy way to accomplish this is to ride in a serpentine pattern doing constant changes of direction.

Make sure that each and every time you turn you turn towards the scary place and not away from it. Weaving back and forth and turning him toward the scary spot will accomplish several things. It will keep his neck bent for greater control, it will keep him in an obedient frame of mind because he is responding to your directives and going where you said, and it will put him a little closer to the object every time you turn while preventing him from bolting.

When a horse is frightened or spooky, he needs the rider’s calmness and reassurance to let him know he will be OK. I would put my hands down on a horse’s neck to steady him any time he became tense or unsure - it is not really a reward, just a reassurance that I’ve got everything under control. I also give copious praise to my horse by petting him on the withers or neck when he is obedient and brave in the face of a scary thing.

The rule of thumb with horses is that you have a three second window of opportunity to reward, release or punish, in order for him to make an association between his actions and your actions. It follows that the sooner in the three seconds the better. If a horse is rewarded in a timely fashion he will remember it for a very long time. The important part is not whether or not he remembers the reward, it’s whether he made an association between his actions and the reward. If the association is made he will remember it for some time - horses have exceptional memories.


Give and Take

BridlelessBefore getting started in anything technical it is vitally important that you learn the art of give and take, writes Tina Kaven.

In my last article I talked about the thought processes behind training, riding, showing and further education. Now, I’d like to talk about my approach, theory and methodology.

This is simply my way, you can take what you want and leave what you don’t like! First and foremost, I work off of a ‘reward based system,’ verses a programme based upon fear. This is important because, as we discussed previously, you have to know where you are going before you can lead the way in an effective manner, and establish a relationship based upon trust. Now for the breakdown of how this works in the programme.

I am starting with the overview before we get into details. I call it the ‘take and release.’ This terminology refers to the method of utilising the reward based system. The idea is that you give the ‘take’ (or cue) and release as soon as you achieve the response you require. This way you reward the appropriate behaviour. What exactly is the release? It is simply stopping the cue at the very moment that the horse responds, thereby releasing the horse. Ultimately, what a horse wants is no different than what we humans want. We desire to do things right, stay out of trouble and learn that we are OK - no, better still, that we are good and appreciated for who we are and the efforts we make.

This is a widely misunderstood method. As a general rule riders do not release their horse at the appropriate time, which costs dearly and creates a great deal of misunderstanding, mistrust and frustration for both parties. Horses are intelligent regardless of what the public as a whole (and sometimes riders) believe. The issue is that riders do not reward/release the horse at the appropriate moments and therefore miss the opportunity for the horse to understand and grasp correct and incorrect behaviours.

I use the terms ‘take’ and ‘release’ because when I am working with others my goal is to help people learn the proper timing by highlighting to them the exact moment of opportunity. When we miss that opportunity we miss the chance to reward the horse and consequently train the horse to misbehave or to respond to our cues incorrectly. In addition, when we don’t give the release, the horse learns that there is nothing that they can do right, creating the atmosphere of frustration.

Further down the line the horse will give up his desire to please the rider and, as frustration increases, it results in many, many good, high quality horses being missed or dumped. The more clarity there is in the boundaries, the more intelligent and capable the horse will be (and appear to be). This changes the entire situation and I should add that the better rider and trainer you will feel and become. In addition, the confidence of both horse and rider is boosted tenfold! In the next few months I will dissect the actual application of all of the aids (voice, seat, leg, and hand) while keeping in mind that the ‘take and release’ is a requirement of success.

Tina Kaven is a multiple World Champion in western events. Learn more at

Sight Seeing

Does your horse like to look around when out on the trail? That’s fine but if this turns into disobedience to your aids, then you have a problem. An obedient horse will be focused straight ahead and will go in the direction you ask at the speed you dictate without constant direction from you. Trail ridingMany riders micromanage their horses by constantly steering and correcting speed with the reins, so the horse becomes dependent on that. Once you cue a horse to go at a certain speed, and in a certain direction, he should continue on that path and at that speed/gait until you ask him to speed up, slow down, turn right or turn left.

To check how obedient your horse is, find a target and give him a cue to walk or trot straight towards it. Lay your hand down on his neck with a loose rein and see if he continues. If he changes speed or direction without a cue from you it means you have a horse that is either disobedient or co-dependent on you and you have some work to do. You need to break your habit of micromanaging, give clear directives and give your horse the responsibility to obey. Correct him with your reins and legs if he makes a mistake but leave him alone when he is obedient. Use enough pressure in your corrections so that he is motivated to behave.

I have written a lot about having nose control on your horse. He should not be looking around while you are riding him either in the arena or on the trail. Simply correct the nose with the opposite rein - if he looks right, bump the left rein and visa-versa. Do not try to hold the nose in place just correct it when he is wrong. I use the point of shoulder as a guideline; he can move his nose all he wants as long as it stays between the points of his shoulder. As soon as it crosses the line he gets a correction. In short order, he will keep his nose pointed in the right direction.

Keep in mind that just because you control the nose it does not mean you control the rest of the horse. He can easily run through his shoulder and go in the opposite direction that his nose is pointed. The most important thing is to control the horse’s shoulder but if you cannot control the nose you have little chance of controlling the rest of the body.

How strict I am on the horse’s nose and his looking around depends somewhat on the horse, his level of training and his willingness to be obedient and subordinate. If I am riding a horse that has proven to be well behaved, responsive and obedient, I may let him look around a little, as long as he does not alter the course I have set in either speed or direction. On the other hand, if I have a horse that has proven to be disobedient, spooky or otherwise fractious, I will have a zero tolerance for looking around.

If you have a cow-bred horse, you will have to factor in his training, temperament and obedience in order to decide how strict you will be. You should always correct a horse when he changes course without a cue from you but with a cowy horse, that is bred to be very alert to any movement in his environment, you may have to cut him a little slack as long as he remains obedient.

The most important thing for you is that you have a clear and consistent view of what will be corrected and what is expected of your horse. That’s why I use the points of shoulder as a landmark - that way I have clearly defined what I expect and I know exactly when to correct the horse and when not to, so that the horse can clearly understand the rule and that I can give consistent corrections. You’ll have to use your own judgement with your horse, but as long as it is clear and consistent, your horse will learn quickly.