A revolution in the way people relate to their horses was launched at a very special event at the Williamson County Ag Expo Park last weekend.
"Are you ready to change the world?" horseman Pat Parelli asked the crowd of horse lovers who flocked to Franklin from as far away as Michigan, Maryland, Arizona and Texas.
The answer was a resounding "Yes!"
"This weekend we're starting something really big," said Parelli. "This is my life's work. I'm trying to change the world: one horse, one person, one demonstration at a time. My goal is for you to become horsemen. This is a personal development program, not a quick fix."
Parelli, 55, has been getting paid to work with horses since he was 12 years old, and has been teaching other people how to get along with horses in a positive, progressive and natural way for 27 years.
His vision now is to have 100 Parelli teaching centers worldwide, staffed by graduates of the higher levels of his program.
In the last few years, he and his wife, Linda, have been presenting up to 14 free tour stops per year, trying to get the natural horsemanship message out to people all over the country.
For 2009, they have cut down to seven three-day weekend "Celebrations" in the United States, one in Australia and one in England.
At each celebration, Parelli will work for three days with a horse rescued by the Humane Society of the United States. In Franklin his new partner was "Beau," an 8-year-old Thoroughbred cross, rescued by Gallatin-based Volunteer Equine Advocates, Inc. Beau's physical recovery took many months: when VEA took him over he was so weak and emaciated he could barely walk.
"Together Pat, Linda, and HSUS are standing up to...shine a light on the tragic situation of horse neglect and abuse and to teach people a different and compassionate way to be with horses," wrote Parelli staffer Norma Vela in the event program.
Beau had been extensively handled and even ridden, but, like many horses, he had never truly accepted a human as his leader. Parelli worked with him in a long session each day, until, by the end of the third day he was on Beau's back and riding around.
Beau is now going to the Florida Parelli Center for a month or so to make sure he is ready for his new, "forever home." Numerous people have already applied to adopt Beau.
Parelli said many people thought "natural horsemanship" was only for starting colts, or for working with problem horses. In fact, it's for all horses and all kinds of riding. The important thing is always to put the relationship with the horse first. "Take the time it takes so it takes less time," is a favorite Parelli saying. In this context, it means taking time to establish a solid foundation of trust between horse and human before moving on to specialized training.
For some people the highlight of the weekend was watching Pat Parelli's sessions with Beau. Others had come to see Linda Parelli play with her two horses at liberty and take a dressage lesson on her horse Remmer from master teacher Walter Zettl.
Canadian Lauren Barwick and her mare Maile are also appearing at the Celebrations this year. Barwick and Maile won gold and silver medals competing in dressage at the Paralympic Games in Hong Kong last fall. Barwick was a top rider, planning on a career with horses, when her back was broken in a barn accident in 2000. Now she plays with her horses from a motorized scooter. In 2005 she told the Parellis about her goal of competing in Beijing at the 2008 summer Paralympics, and they have been helping her ever since.
"I knew deep down inside that my dream was accomplishable, but not in the traditional methods of riding," wrote Barwick in her blog. Watching her with Maile you can see how the horse-human bond created and nurtured by natural horsemanship has contributed to their success in competition.
All three days were special, but Friday was "a history-making day," featuring the first-ever "Savvy Spotlight," the first of a series of games and competitions Parelli is planning to launch in the upcoming months and years.
"There's nothing wrong with healthy competition as long as it honors the dignity of the horse," said Parelli, There were no losers on Friday - everyone who participated got a special ribbon. The ribbons were different colors, according to the scores given by Parelli and his panel of judges.
Four times as many people applied as could be accommodated in the Savvy Spotlight. Accompanied by music of their choice, each person had the length of one song to show what they could do with their horse in one of the four savvys: on line, at liberty, free-style (loose rein riding), and finesse (upper level riding). If the judges liked what they saw, a whinnying noise was played at the end of the song, and the music went on to song number two, and, in some cases, number three.
It was as unlike a regular horseshow as you can imagine. Spectators said they liked the way each person got a critique of their performance from Pat. They also liked the way participants weren't penalized for "mistakes," but were rewarded for showing savvy in getting themselves out of potentially awkward situations.
The Savvy Spotlight finished with a Freeform section where horsemen, singly or in groups, could show off whatever they wanted.
"I'm proud to see how far along everyone is," commented Parelli at the end of the day.