by Robin Payne-Ryan
I have been a horse lover from the first moment I knew what horses were! I grew up in suburbia, not understanding why my parents couldn’t fit a horse in our backyard. When I got my first job at age 16, before even buying a car, I bought a horse. I was so certain that I would know what to do with my horse (an unbroken range mare) because I had spent my childhood reading horse stories. All I needed to do was show it love, right?
I received lots of advice on how to start my mare. Some of it was good—some, not so much … but I had no way of filtering the good advice from the questionable methods. Over the years I have invested quite a bit of time, money, sweat, love, frustration, and then more of the same again in a succession of horses. Sometimes I felt like I was succeeding, and sometimes I felt like I was hanging on by a thread.
I got into Parelli Natural Horsemanship (PNH) because I couldn’t easily stop my new Thoroughbred. When I asked my dressage instructor why my horse seemed to be getting more and more difficult, her unsatisfying answer was that I was just getting him more fit. Then in 2002, I saw a performance at the annual Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event given by Linda and Pat Parelli, paired up with David and Karen O’Connor. I was immediately hooked! I dragged all of my newly purchased Parelli equipment for Levels 1-3 on the airplane home and dove into PNH. I have been practicing it ever since.
However, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. I ran into numerous obstacles in my horsemanship that seemed to be fixed in clinics taught by Parelli instructors. But then after coming home from those clinics, feeling on top of the world because I had made so much progress, I often felt like I went downhill again. I needed another clinic and another. … I was clear that the “issue” was in me, but the answers seemed so elusive.
As a female international airline pilot, I was a strong type “A” personality. I had always thought of this as a positive trait. But I began to see that in connecting with horses, type “A” is not necessarily an asset. I was too direct and too pushy. I also began to realize that I didn’t want to stay quite so type “A.” It was exhausting! I wanted to expand into a more restful, flowing existence. While I had been getting my horses to perform what I asked them to do (usually), I didn’t have their exuberance or trust.
Then, something clicked inside me. I don’t know if it was hearing the many mantras that Pat teaches, (and my instructors constantly reiterate), for the millionth time, or if due to my personal inner work, that I finally got it, but all of a sudden, my horses changed. My left-brained introvert, who used to work hard at doing as little as possible, started clearly asking me, “What do we get to do next?” When I turned him out with the other horses at the end of our session, he made it plain to me that he would rather play with ME! And couldn’t we play a little bit longer? He’s gotten so enthusiastic! The best part is that we’re BOTH having fun! Even when things aren’t going right, I’ve learned to laugh, slow down, and “isolate, separate, and recombine” (one of my favorites of Pat’s sayings) with a light heart.
Now I am giving back by serving on the Board of Directors of the Parelli Foundation. It is my great honor to be rubbing shoulders with like-minded folks who care about the welfare of horses and the people who love them.
What I have found is that deeply practicing PNH doesn’t just instill training techniques; it expands the human into a much more stable (pun joyfully intended), rounded person. And then the horse naturally flows into being a respectful, loving partner. I finally have the relationship I had dreamed of when I was a little girl!