Games experts will teach natural ways to train horses

Natural horsemanship trainer Pat Parelli teaches trainers ways to build trust and partnership with a horse, without using force.
Natural horsemanship trainer Pat Parelli teaches trainers ways to build trust and partnership with a horse, without using force.

VERSAILLES — With his weathered face, handlebar mustache and trim athleticism, Pat Parelli personifies a classic Western rider. But the trainer, an expert in natural horsemanship, says his methods can be used for all types of horses — from rodeo horses to Thoroughbreds to polo ponies to hunter-jumpers.

Parelli and several other natural horsemanship experts will be in Lexington to talk about their methods during the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games from Sept. 25 to Oct. 10.

Parelli and his wife, Linda, will be at the Games all 16 days, giving daily one-hour demonstrations in the Equine Village on developing trust and respect between horse and trainer, what they call "horsenality" — working with the horse's personality. The couple emphasize that the best way to get a horse to do what you want is by understanding its personality, and working with the animal in a kind, loving way, rather than using fear tactics, intimidation or harsh bits and sharp spurs.

The basis of the Parelli method is a positive relationship with the horse. That becomes the primary foundation in everything the rider and horse do.

A starting point is for the horse to have "a good feeling about himself and a good feeling about the human, instead of being in a relationship like a subjugated wife in a prearranged marriage," Parelli said during a recent interview at WinStar Farm in Woodford County.

The well-known trainer was in Central Kentucky to finalize details with the Kentucky Horse Park and visit friends at WinStar, where his natural horsemanship techniques are used, particularly with young horses.

Elliott Walden, WinStar's vice president in charge of racing, said Parelli came to his attention about 2002 after his wife, Rebecca, endorsed Parelli's methods.

Parelli, 56, attended a farm retreat at WinStar to talk about his principles and later sent his staff to WinStar to help break a crop of young horses. Walden said of Parelli: "He does a great job of getting in a horse's head."

For Thoroughbreds destined for the race track, Parelli's methods are beneficial from weaning to early training stages because they give horses confidence, Walden said.

"That's the biggest key," he said. "The thing it can do for race horses is give them confidence, naturally."

A horse is a flight animal. It's first instinct when danger approaches is to run. "That's why God made them as fast as they are," Walden said.

Any time a horse can accomplish a task, whether its learning to go into a van, cross a water puddle or enter a starting gate, "It gives them confidence. That makes them a better race horse," he said. "That's where Pat's principals apply."

A bareback rider

Parelli, who owns a ranch in Pagosa Springs, Colo., and a farm in Ocala, Fla., teaches the Parelli Method at both locations. He also has training facilities in Australia and Great Britain. He owns more than 120 horses of different breeds.

Parelli began riding when he was 3 years old and started to work in horse stables before he was a teen-ager. He became a rodeo rider when he was 17. His favorite event was bareback riding.

As he learned more about equine psychology and what motivates horses, Parelli came up with his own techniques for training, which he developed into the Parelli Method almost 30 years ago.

Even with a heavy travel schedule, logging about 200,000 miles a year all over the globe coaching recreational and professional riders and teaching natural horsemanship, Parelli often rides six to eight hours a day.

Parelli said he has seen too many people try to force a horse do what the person wants, instead of using what he calls "the Seabiscuit syndrome," where the trainer says, "Let's find out what the horse needs to excel," he said.

To see Parelli's daily schedule of WEG appearances, go to

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader