by Garrett Eigenhuis
Horses were the furthest thing from my mind when my friend asked me to attend a local “roundup” for kids at a small barn 6 years ago. It was a bright spring day. A gentle breeze cooled us off from the beating Georgia sun. I stood there in my tennis shoes, awkwardly waiting for my turn to get on the horse. Still, to this day, I remember that first ride. How the saddle squeaked under my weight. How looking down on everyone else gave me an excited chill. How, when I looked up and really felt that horse move under me, I felt like I was someone else. Something else. No longer was I entirely me. Something changed—clicked —within me.
I got in the car that day, looked at my mom, and said, “This is what I want to do” with more conviction than I ever knew I could have at age 11. A couple months later, I found myself volunteering at the same barn, learning everything I could about horses. I learned how to groom a horse, how to feed a horse, and, most importantly, I learned Pat Parelli’s Seven Games.
My Equine Partners/Teachers
Principle #7 of the Parelli program is “Horses teach humans and humans teach horses.” Looking back on my experiences, I realize how true this principle is. My horses have taught me so much—how to be patient and quiet with my right brain introvert (RBI) and how to be extroverted and interesting for my left brain extrovert (LBE)! As much as I have taught them through the years, I would argue that they have taught me more. So, without further ado, meet Pal, Koda, and Legolas!
My first horse that I truly connected with was a Quarter Horse/Arabian cross named Pal. Looking back, I realize that Pal took care of me. He patiently let me learn and figure things out and gave me experiences that caused me to fall even more in love with horses, even though some of them taught me what not to do. I can recall one specific experience like it was yesterday: I had just finished riding him and got off to let another student have a turn on him. I went and stood at the gate while she asked him to go forwards. Instead of going forwards, Pal started to back up … toward me. I did not think much of it at the moment; Pal was a left brain introvert and often gave his opinion whether you wanted to hear it or not. Naturally, I got out of the way of the backing horse. Surprisingly, his hindquarters turned with me as I moved away, and Pal continued to back toward me. I began to catch on that something was up, so I went up to his face and rubbed him. I started to walk away, and Pal followed. I had no idea what was going on. I started to trot, and Pal trotted with me, the rider still on his back doing nothing but watching us. We trotted and walked around the whole of the arena before I stopped and rubbed him again. That was the first time I had ever connected with a horse. Sadly, Pal passed away earlier this year, but he left me with a passion and love that will keep his memory alive in my heart for the rest of my life.
After I passed my Level 2 auditions with Pal, my parents moved onto a 30-acre farm to allow me to get a horse and continue my education. After a few weeks of renovation and preparation, I convinced them to drive with me to Ohio to pick up a nurse-mare foal. I could not have asked for a better first horse. Koda, now 3, has been with me since he was 1 month old. As an LBE/RBE colt, he overflows with energy. Being an introvert, directing that energy and attention has been one of the most challenging lessons I have had to learn; however, it has been invaluable to me. Koda has balanced out my horsemanship to the place where I can play just as effectively with extroverts as I can with introverts.
Legolas, or “Legs” for short, has been my partner for 2 years now. Robin Harris, a 2* Licensed Parelli Professional, received him with rope burns on all four feet and understandably severe trust issues with humans. After giving him a restart and another chance, she brought Legs to Georgia to get some more experience in one of her workshops. I was lucky to be attending that workshop. At this point, Pal was starting to show his age and I began to realize that I was not going to be able to push Pal to do any of the physically demanding maneuvers that I would need to do in Levels 3−4. Robin let me play with Legs on the ground and sort of “test him out.” I was interested but skeptical as I did not have the money for another horse. I talked to my parents about it, and they agreed to let me go spend time with Robin and Legs in Alabama. Needless to say, I did not come home empty handed. I used all the money I had, and my parents loaned me some money to cover what I couldn’t; Legolas was now mine! Legolas, an RBI/LBE, has made me so much softer and smoother with both my thoughts and my actions. He makes me think before I act and go slowly, rather than erratically and thoughtlessly. Even though he can, does, and is playful, curious, and confident, I always have that RBI cartoon that says, “Be gentle with me,” which Linda Parelli so geniusly created, in the back of my mind.
I cannot even begin to list all of the things my parents have done to make it possible for me to pursue my passion. From working to lower costs to learn at a natural horsemanship barn, to buying a 30-acre farm for horses, my parents have given me so much physical, emotional, and financial support. My Georgia and Alabama Parelli friends have been so helpful and inspiring as well, if not for just being able to ride with them, then for the slight competitive drive I have to not let them get too far ahead of me in the levels program.
I owe so much to Robin as well. Right before my first workshop with her, I had felt capped and was starting to burn out. Then she showed me how much more there really was to learn. Since then, she has been so supportive and an absolutely wonderful teacher, keeping me engaged, focused, and, most importantly, moving forward. I learn just as much from watching her as I do when she’s teaching me, which is why I continuously push my teaching skills to become better and better so that I may be able to guide and inspire others the way Robin guided and inspired me.
Six* Licensed Parelli Professional Dave Ellis and the Parelli Foundation have also been a major source of inspiration for me. I have had the opportunity and privilege twice to spend several days learning with Dave. In addition to coming away from those days feeling ready to learn even more, Dave has inspired me by the sheer knowledge and mental ability he possesses. I will never forget when I first saw him set something up for the horse and simply wait. Instead of having to tell the horse “no” several times before the horse could find the “yes,” Dave simply thought so far ahead that by the time the horse got to what Dave had set up, let’s say a lead change, the horse simply couldn’t do anything but a correct lead change! I was, and still am, amazed by the ingenuity and expertise of his horsemanship!
Linda and Pat Parelli have created such an ingenious program that facilitates simple, easy-to-understand methods that set you up for success. However, the best part of the program is that it doesn’t end at Level 4. That’s only the beginning of the journey. Once I complete Level 4, I plan to go spend time with both Parellis, learning as much as I can from their knowledge, wisdom, and experience.
I am so grateful to the Parelli Foundation. Through this support, I have had so many doors open for me. Riding with Dave and expanding my knowledge of horsemanship and being a part of an organization that makes the pursuit of natural horsemanship attainable for students like me are just a few things that the Foundation has done for me. I am proud to be a scholarship recipient of the Parelli Foundation, and I look forward to giving as much and more back to the Foundation and the Parelli community as they have given to me.