Finding the Perfect Partner & What to Do When You Outgrow Him
By Pat Parelli
Everyone who owns a horse starts off with a dream of riding off into the sunset with their best friend. A lot of times, we pick our perfect partner, and that dream becomes a reality. Other times, however, we end up picking our perfect poison. The purpose of this article is to help people pick their perfect partner. As we get into horses, we begin to understand that there’s more than just “a horse” and “a person.” There are Horsenalities™ and Humanalities™, as well as experience, confidence and goals. Experience, confidence, and goals are the three main factors that I’d like to address first.
If you’re inexperienced and lacking in confidence, you’re going to want a certain type of horse. If you’re inexperienced but very confident, you’re probably going to want a different type of horse, both in terms of nature and spirit level. Couple this with whether your goals are low, moderate, or high, and you’ve got a lot to consider when it comes to picking your perfect partner.
What I’d like you to do now is give yourself a quick little test by answering these questions:
How much experience do I have (1 to 10)?
Let me give you an example: If you’ve won three or more world championships and you’ve been riding for more than 40 years, you could probably put yourself up there around a 9 or 10.
How much confidence do I have (1 to 10)?
If you’ve won a couple of world championships in saddle bronc riding, you can probably put yourself right around a 9.9.
What is the level of my goals (1 to 10)?
If you want to have a world-class level performance horse, English or Western, then your goal is probably around a 9.5. If you want to go to the Olympics, put it up there as a 10.
Your perfect partner is one who complements you in terms of personality, experience, and confidence level, and with whom you can realistically accomplish your goals. Photo courtesy of Parelli Natural Horsemanship
So, those are the three big factors when it comes to deciding which type of horse to partner yourself with. Even with that in mind, however, we find a lot of mismatches. Oftentimes this happens when you buy the right horse for you when you get started, but over time you actually outgrow that horse.
Let’s say you buy the perfect horse. You’ve got little experience, medium confidence, and low goals. As you move through the program and continue to grow, one day you could look at that horse and think, “Wow… my experience and confidence and goals have increased. I think I’m ready for a horse with a higher capacity to grow with me.”
I think it’s a two-part story. First, the buyer needs to have a realistic view of themselves; they need to get themselves a horse-lover’s mirror. Second, the seller needs to adhere to this message as well. Making sure both sides are educated really is the solution.
So, let’s say we get into a situation: either the dream horse turned into a nightmare, or we’ve simply outgrown the horse, and we’ve decided to sell. Now, the buyers have turned into the sellers. As the seller, you need to employ the same strategies you used when you were the buyer. Make sure you have a realistic view of who you’re selling to.
I’d like to offer a quick point on Humanality and Horsenality. It’s important that we use that information to create strategies, not excuses. If you’re a Right-Brain Introvert and your horse is a Left-Brain Extrovert, that doesn’t mean you should just throw up your hands and say, “This’ll never work!” You’re actually in a great situation, because you can begin to understand what your horse needs and how to adjust to that.
I believe we should all look at our commitment to our animals as stewards for life; we can compare it to children. There will come a time when children will cleave and leave. They’ll move out and get married and create futures of their own. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this situation occurring with horse owners, as long as credence is given to these ingredients. We need to be realistic about what kind of horse we have, because that will increase the chances of finding a good partner for them moving forward.
In my lifetime, I’ve personally sold over 300 horses and mules. I would say I have around an 80 to 90 percent success rate when it comes to matching horses to humans. The best matchmaker I’ve ever been around was the man I learned so much from, Troy Henry. He had a knack for knowing which horse fit with which person, and here’s a quick story that illustrates it:
When it comes to selling horses, Pat Parelli says: “We need to be realistic about what kind of horse we have, because that will increase the chances of finding a good partner for them moving forward.” Photo courtesy of Parelli Natural Horsemanship
There were two women at the stables. Each one had a horse that was their nightmare. One woman’s goal was to do reining, and her horse was kind of a plodder. The other woman wanted to trail ride, but her horse was perfectly suited for reining. Now, one woman had paid quite a bit more for her horse than the other. Mr. Henry suggested they trade horses.
The woman who had paid a lot more sort of scoffed at this idea, so Mr. Henry said, “Try this - just trade horses for two weeks.” They did, and after two weeks, you couldn’t have pried those horses away from their new partners with a crowbar! They found that Mr. Henry had, in fact, matched them up with their perfect partners.
Again, there are plenty of exit strategies that maintain the horse’s dignity and respect. Here on the Parelli campus, we’ve had horses that simply got too old to be of service for what we do in the Parelli University, but they made ideal pasture horses for people who were just looking for that.
An essential part of this decision is knowing who you’re selling to. The first thing I look for in passing on this stewardship is someone who shares that same attitude. Also, do they have the means to be a good partner? Some people have big hearts and no clue. Some people have big hearts, all the clues, and no financial means. And some people, well, they just don’t have big hearts. I make sure they have enough knowledge, skills and natural habits.
My basic philosophy when it comes to buying and selling horses is this: in general, horses themselves are worth between $1000 and $2500. Beyond that, you’re paying for the training and the breeding. And, in the not-too-distant future, you’ll be paying for the feeding as well. Feed has tripled in price over the last couple of years. So let’s say I buy a horse for $2500 and we put a lot of training into it here on the campus, and we keep it for a year. Now that horse could be worth around $20,000. But it also cost us another $5000 in feed, shoeing, things like that. So when I decide to sell that horse, I’m going to sell it for around $25,000. That’s how I see it: you’re paying for the training and everything else that has gone into that particular horse.
To conclude, it’s important to look in your heart, apply the strategies we’ve talked about, and focus on the stewardship that a horse/human relationship truly is. It’s up to you to make sure that horse has a bright and natural future, whether or not it’s with you. It all comes down to the philosophy of stewardship.
Main article photo: Courtesy of Parelli Natural Horsemanship