By Courtney Clarke
2-Star Parelli Instructor
I have the privilege of being one of the Partners with Horses 4-H Group’s Parelli Instructors in Durand, Michigan. While there is no specific Natural Horsemanship curriculum currently designed for 4-H clubs, with a little guidance and modification the materials available can be made appropriate for teaching kids. I’ll now share some things that I have observed to be successful in the Partners with Horses club.
Try to develop relationships with local Natural Horsemanship instructors or ones that visit your area for clinics. Most Natural Horsemanship Instructors are eager to help youth learn the program, and they’ll often offer discounts or donate some of their time to help your club via lessons and workshops. Having regular input from certified instructors will relieve leaders from having to fill the role of horsemanship instructor themselves and it will help the members to make progress quicker.
Utilize the resources on the Parelli Savvy Club site. The videos and articles here can provide an endless source of answers to questions and problems your club’s members may have. Giving members assignments to research a particular topic, such as the zones of the horse, and present it to the group will give them ownership and problem-solving skills for their personal horsemanship journey.
Make meetings topic specific. Choose a theme, skill, or pattern to focus on at each meeting. For instance, you could do a series on freestyle rein positions via video examples, simulations, and then ridden experimentation. Narrowing down the Parelli Program into bite-sized pieces till the members master a foundational skill will keep everyone progressive, safe, and having fun.
Instill the importance for positive patterns in regards to planning and safety. If you can teach them how to set horsemanship goals and create plans to achieve them, they’ll be far more successful than if you don’t. I had a great time breaking down goal setting and session planning in a horseless workshop with the Partners with Horses club this past year. Focusing on teaching safe, savvy habits from the start is also important. Good skills members should be familiar with are catching, haltering, warming up online, saddling, mounting, and basic riding skills (go & whoa, rein positions). With these skills in place, soon members will be making progress on their own by leaps and bounds!
Have regular group practice sessions, playdays, and Parelli Games tournaments. These group activities will not only keep members engaged and motivated, they also ensure members are practicing skills learned in meetings and lessons. Overall trouble-spots can be identified this way too and turned into focuses at the next meeting, such as members having trouble protecting their personal space, not understanding the correct use of leg aids with the rein positions, and so on.
Following the Parelli levels program and teaching skills through tasking members with items on the auditions self-assessment check-list is a great way to keep everyone focused and progressive. For instance, at one meeting have everyone grab a chair and see if they can halter and/or bridle their horse while sitting down. The application of the games and development of problem-solving skills will be a great learning experience. For those interested, officially auditioning for a level is a great source of recognition for members, much like earning an award at fair would be.
If your club’s members are interested in showing their horses in classes at fair, seek out help from professionals and qualified amateurs in your area that are familiar with the show disciplines. If you can find one that is open-minded about natural horsemanship, that would be ideal. With a solid Natrual Horsemanship foundation in place, others should find your club’s members and their horses a joy to teach. Understanding and knowing show ring etiquette and expectations will help your members bridge the gap between Natural Horsemanship and competition letting them not only be successful, but a good example to others who may want to add Natural Horsemanship into their club’s curriculum too.
I hope you’ll find these tips helpful with your own 4-H group. I wish you and your 4-H youth a very successful 2016! Please contact me for support if you need it.
2-Star Parelli Instructor