Horses for Heroes

I live in the 3rd largest California county, near the Oregon border, with the 4th smallest population.  Our unemployment rates are the 2nd highest in the state at 26.7%, drug use and manufacturing is in the upward swing, and we are seeing a larger number of kids in the foster care system.  With that said, I am still proud of our county in many ways; neighbors still stretch out a helping hand, communities come together to support kids in sports, FFA, and 4-H, and non-profit and service organizations such CattleWomen, Farm Bureau, Rotary, and Lion’s Club do what they can to support their communities.  Among these incredible organizations is one called “Stable Hands”, a group dedicated to bringing patient horses and people of varying physical and mental challenges together.  I am fortunate to know several of the tireless volunteers through their own love of horses and Parelli Natural Horsemanship. We have been students together and now I am proud to be a part of their journeys in an instructor role.  But, today, I want to share another program that Stable Hands oversees, Horses for Heroes.

Horses for Heroes is specific to connecting horses with our military veterans who have come home with mental, physical, and emotional challenges.  Through Parelli and Horses for Heroes, I met one of our veterans, Craig, whose drive and determination exceeds most people I know.  We met at one of our monthly Parelli Playdays which took place at the facility that houses Horses for Heroes.  Craig was helping with the facility and was there to make sure we had everything we needed, including an incredibly groomed arena!  We chatted a bit and that is when I found out he was fairly new to the Parelli program and wanted to learn as much as he could.  I offered to bring my equine partner, Dan, to the next playday and to let the two play.

The next month rolled around and the two were an instant hit together….Dan was patient while his human fumbled a bit with his rope and carrot stick, and our veteran persisted when Dan went into true left brain introvert form.  Dan’s ears were constantly asking questions and a huge smile was fixated on Craig’s face.  As I watched them that day, it was re-affirmed to me how special horses are and how great of a fit Parelli is with people with special needs.

After that day, time went by and Craig’s physical pain was getting in the way of Parelli playtime, but he was still participating in the Horses for Heroes program (incidentally, their foundation for horses and humans is Parelli).  It was not until last month was I able to see Craig again.

He is in better shape physically and is now getting things in order for this year’s Heroes group.  He has also established his goals for the next stage of his life, to become a licensed Parelli Professional and infuse it into teaching other veterans.  We are planning Craig’s Level 1 audition for next month and he is doing all he can to attend a course in Colorado this spring.

Craig knows he has hard work ahead, both physically and financially, but I know his drive will get him to achieving his goals.

If you are interested in supporting our hero, whether it be through lodging, a lease horse, travel, or a monetary donation, please email me at (NOTE: contributions are for Craig and his pursuit of being a Parelli Professional and are not being contributed to Horses for Heroes or Stable Hands.  Your donations are not considered tax deductible.)

More information on Stable Hands and Horses for Heroes can be found at and

Here is to all our heroes, horses and humans, who make all our lives better!

Erin Fowle is a Parelli Professional, Two Star Junior Instructor, and a Special Education teacher in Northern California.


How Interesting!

First, I want to thank Parelli Natural Horsemanship in allowing me to continue sharing keys to success when developing both your horse and your horsemanship; I believe the more people who are exposed to a more natural approach to horse training, the better the horse industry will be for both horses and humans.

Previously I had shared with you the importance of keeping the relationship with your horse as a priority.  By waiting, feeling, not pushing, and giving your horse what he needs in the moment, you are already ahead of the game.  Helping your horse feel safe, gaining his trust and confidence, and getting both a  mental and physical connection are the four main areas in which you will ensure that the relationship is always first.

To begin, your horse needs to feel safe.  If he is not, then he will not be in a learning frame of mind; he will have only one idea in his head, and that is pure survival, no matter what.  To develop this feeling of safety within your horse, make his fear a priority and do whatever it takes to calm him.  Additionally, if he is not willing to move forward, it is likely he is scared.  The worst thing that could happen to him is to have his “leader” continue pushing him forward until it feels like he has been pushed of the cliff; his fear and anxiety will only heighten.  The best thing that could happen to him is that his true leader backs off, retreats, from what is causing the fear.

Next, your horse needs you to gain his trust and confidence.  Once again, it is critical you do not push or force your horse.  Also, just as with many children, giving your horse choices (which allows him to make decisions), will build his trust.  Consistency is another tool; horses are pattern animals and when they can rely on a positive pattern of consistency, they are more confident in their environment.  On that same note, when a horse is tense and unconfident, repetition will help move that horse in the opposite direction.

Finally, gaining mental and physical connections with your horse will develop and maintain a positive relationship.  Mentally, horses love games!  The moment you lose your cool and get frustrated, the horse chalks that up as a reminder as to why he shouldn’t respect you!  One of my favorite expressions that Linda Parelli always reminds us of is, “How interesting!”  This simple phrase can keep any of us from becoming frustrated with our horses and to seek out why he may be acting in a certain way.  Also, keep in mind that if you are moving more or working harder than your horse, he once again has won the game and you have lost his respect!  Most of all, though, when you step up to the challenge of getting that mental connection, you will see your horse’s motivation greatly increase.  Last, the physical connection can be created by giving your horse purpose in what you are asking him and by being progressive in his development; horses get bored if they aren’t “moving forward” mentally and you will not get that physical motivation or desire.

All in all, your horse is looking for a leader, but he needs a leader who will keep him feeling safe, a leader who will maintain his trust and confidence, and a leader who can cause him to be mentally and physically engaged.

To learn more about “the natural approach to horse training”, go to and sign up for a free 30 day membership!

Erin Fowle is a Scott Valley teacher and rancher.  She is also a Parelli One Star Junior Instructor.  She may be reached at

This article is based on the intellectual property of Parelli Natural Horsemanship and more specifically the article, “Putting the Relationship First”, by Linda Parelli in the February 2009 Savvy Times.




Start ‘Em Young

Recently, my husband, Jeff, answered a question on “Quora” regarding the length of time a mare is in labor.  This proceeded to spark a conversation about various philosophies concerning the foal once it has been born.  I have been around several horsemen/women who believe that human contact with a newborn foal is “taboo”, but, I’ve also experienced, first-hand, the positive effects of handling foals at an early age.

Dr. Robert M. Miller, DVM, has been the most credited professional for coining the term “Imprint Training”.  He has since changed his method to “Early Learning” because there have been misinterpretations of “Imprint Training”.  “Imprinting” is actually a pre-determined form of learning where a foal (as with other species) will attach to anything that it sees moving around.  “Early Learning” addresses learning of a foal at an optimum time.  It also opposes the “old” beliefs of minimizing the handling of a foal and actual maximizes handling.

Dr. Miller, at one period in his career, had to deal with a series of dystocia (abnormal presentation of the foal which causes foaling issues with the mare) in clients’ mares.  In order for the foals to be delivered, there was quite a bit of handling and manipulation.  What he found was that the foals he had spent so much time with, were calm, responsive, and gentle.  From here, he decided to experiment a bit and the rest is history – early learning of foals has proven to be one of the most effective strategies in the development of a horse.

Basically, before the newborn foal even stands up, the goal is to create enough stimuli to induce habituation; this includes lateral flexion of the head, neck, and legs, tapping the feet, applying pressure to the girth/saddle areas, crinkling of plastic, and even clippers.  Addressing the foal’s body openings prepares him for veterinary practices such as oral exams and taking a temperature.  Then, over the next few days, the foal is taught to yield to pressure, to tie and to lead.

Even though early learning has shown over and over the positive effects on a horse, there still are opposing views.  For some, it is believed that there are negative effects on the bonding of the mare and her foal.  In actuality, foal rejection in timid mares has been reduced through early learning techniques as has the number of aggressive mares.  When these mares have been “imprinted”, they have shown to be calm and trusting as broodmares.  Another argument has been that the foals actually are more disrespectful.  If an imprinted foal becomes disrespectful, it is because he was not handled correctly; more than likely, the foal did not receive the follow-up lessons after his birth.  A final argument is that people don’t have the time to do this.  Time is actually saved later on in a horse’s development; he will not have the need to override previous learning/fear/bad experiences and can learn quickly and more effectively.   In fact, Dr. Miller had been informed by his racehorse colleagues that their training time had decreased 75% in the horses who had this development as a foal.  Even more importantly, injuries in both humans and horses have decreased when a foal has experienced proper imprinting and early learning.

Early learning in foals is not new – there are historical records of similar techniques used all over the world in earlier times; Argentina shows some of the earliest records. Some Native American tribes, such as the Cherokee, have a tradition of “spirit blending” with their mares and foals.  The mares are handled daily for a week before foaling and the handlers also talk to the belly so that the foal will recognize voices.  Once the foal is born, similar handling, as described by Dr. Miller, of the newborn foal then takes place.

I have personally found the topic of imprinting and early learning very fascinating and we have incorporated Dr. Miller’s method into our breeding program.   I have no doubt in its effectiveness and would recommend it to any of you who find yourselves amongst a newborn foal.  But, if my word isn’t good enough for you, try this:  “It’s the only way.  It’s common sense.” – D. Wayne Lukas, one of the top rated Thoroughbred racehorse trainer in the world.

To learn more about handling foals, Dr. Miller has several resources:  “Imprint Training” (video),
“Early Learning” (video), Imprint Training of the Newborn Foal (book).

Erin Fowle is a Scott Valley teacher and rancher.  She is also a Parelli One Star Junior Instructor.  She can be reached at

Source:  Natural Horsemanship Explained: From Heart to Hands, Robert M. Miller, DVM

Common Threads

Even though I am a student of Parelli Natural Horsemanship and now a 1 Star Junior Instructor, I am always interested in listening to other people within the equine industry; granted, there are many whom I would not have any desire to pursue any kind of learning from, but more often than not, I seem to glean some sort of new learning that I can infuse into both my horse’s and my own learning.

This past weekend, I was fortunate to attend the California Backcountry Horsemen’s Rendezvous, held in Red Bluff.  This annual event brings units from all over the state to a common location – members collaborate and learn from one another, while having a good time socializing!  There is an abundance of workshops to attend, so it’s always a chore deciding which would best fit one’s needs.   For my mom and I, one workshop stood out, “Mule Mentality”.  We knew that was a priority for us as we felt there would be a bit of psychology involved.

We heard all sorts of phrases and ideologies that seemed to resonate in what we had learned over the years from Pat and Linda Parelli, but, ironically, at the end of the session, the presenter asked the audience if they had heard of “natural horsemanship”.  He and his wife then continued to make a statement, that if we were truly “natural” with horses and mules, we wouldn’t put a saddle on their backs and ride them.

How interesting!  I pondered this for a moment and thought, “If these high quality trainers didn’t understand the idea of natural horsemanship, then what about the rest of the equine industry?”   More ironically, though, is that I perceived these two people as being “natural horseman” because of how they developed their animals.

This, once again, triggered some thought, and that is when I came to the conclusion that although many people out there are not acknowledging themselves as “natural horseman”, they truly are following its philosophy – using the psychology of the animals to train and develop rather than using fear, intimidation, and mechanical means.

Throughout the presentation, Barry Krohn and his wife Amy, spoke about how the animals dictate the timeline of their training and how each animal is very different and shouldn’t be treated in the same manner.  I also heard words such as respect and rapport.  They stressed the importance of backing off when an animal is not sure of itself and how using imagination to help the animals feel more confident is critical.  Barry also showed how to use steady pressure to move the animal around and that doing everything on both sides of the mule is necessary.

Whether they admit it or not, Barry and Amy are natural horseman because they believe in a philosophy of how to develop a horse and a mule.  Being “natural” with horses and mules is not about NOT doing things that horses don’t do in the wild, but taking their innate characteristics to develop them in the world of humans.

I am very glad I met Barry and Amy; the industry needs more people with their skills and their belief system.  They have many common threads with the best “natural horseman” out there, as do many other clinicians.  These are the people we need to learn from and to support; they are the ones making a difference for horses and mules.

Until next time, happy trails!

Erin Fowle is a Scott Valley teacher and rancher.  She is also a Parelli One Star Junior Instructor.  She may be reached at

Barry and Amy Krohn own and manage Valley Mule Company in Corvallis, Oregon.  Their website can be found at

Putting the Relationship First

I had grown up taking traditional riding lessons with the goal of eventually doing well in the horse shows I entered.  I always loved going on trail rides and hanging out at the barn, but showing became a main focus.  Along the line, I was fortunate to have some great teachers, including a couple who, in hindsight, put the relationship first with all their horses and students, and whose philosophy of playing with horses followed in line with some of the best natural horsemen.  It wasn’t until 1998 when I was able to experience first-hand what putting the relationship first meant; I had found natural horsemanship through a program in which I could learn and grow as a horsewoman. 

But, what exactly does it mean to put the relationship first with our horses?  In simple terms, it means putting the task, or the goal, last; rapport, connection, trust, and confidence must have priority.  It’s about putting the horse’s needs first.  Sure, anyone can make a horse do things, but it takes a horseman to create a partnership where the horse offers to do things for the human.

 So, how do we build rapport, connection, trust and confidence?  It really comes down to doing the “little things” with our horses.  When you interact with your horse, there are four core ways to help build the relationship.

 First, wait for your horse to come to you instead of you catching him.  When a horse has trust, motivation, and desire, he will want to be with you and will not “run” to the other side of the corral or pasture.  Just “hanging out” with your horse and spending undemanding time with him will help develop that trust, motivation, and desire; read a book in his stall or pasture, take in the scenery around you, or take your horse for a little nibble on the grass.

 Second, instead of just putting the halter on, feel what it is feeling like; is your horse braced or shut down, or does he willingly put his nose into the halter?  Make haltering, grooming, saddling, and bridling important and your horse will start to offer you more.

Third, don’t ever push your horse.  Your role as a horseman includes being observant.  You must notice if he has any reluctance or resistance.  This is often due to a lack of confidence or trust in you as a leader.  When he’s unconfident, it is time to back off a bit and time to find the place where he becomes confident and trustful again.

 Fourth, you must give your horse what he needs at any given moment.  If he is upset, you must find a way to calm him.  If he is tense, retreat.  If he is “naughty”, give him time to play.  If he has lost his motivation, get it back. Go back to the concept of “Horsenalities” and utilize techniques designed for those “Horsenalities”.

 Start building that relationship with your horse now – a great resource for you is a free 30 day membership to Parelli Connect (  There, you will find hours of free video footage to get you started on your journey.  It is also a place to connect with other natural horsemen and to see how they are progressing in their journeys.

 Next month, learn how to build rapport, construct a feeling of safety, trust and confidence, and how to create a mental and physical connection with your horse.

 Erin Fowle is a Scott Valley teacher and rancher.  She is also a Parelli One Star Junior Instructor.  She may be reached at

 (This article is based on the intellectual property of Parelli Natural Horsemanship.  “Horsenalities” is a registered trademark of Parelli Natural Horseman

Playing with “Horsenality”

 Last month, you were introduced to the concept of horses having an innate “horsanality”, just as humans tend to have a predominate type of personality.  Horse can fall in one of four areas:  right brain extrovert, right brain introvert, left brain introvert, and left brain extrovert.  But, keep in mind that horses can all exhibit behaviors in all four areas.

To begin, right brain extroverts are looking for safety.  Most often than not, they can’t stand still, are over reactive, and are spooky.  These horses have difficulty, backing up, standing still, and are often scared.  When playing with this type of horse, it is crucial to make things simple, as they get confused easily, with a desired goal of causing him to become more relaxed.  Consistency is very helpful, whether it be through patterns or transitions.  Matching the horse’s energy and adding a bit more will interrupt his fear pattern.  When playing on-line, use longer lines to allow the horse more “drift”, and keep sessions short.  Finally, respect any thresholds the horse is experience; don’t “push him over the cliff” when he’s hesitating.  Other things that don’t work well with right brain extroverts include holding him back, which just increases his fear, or straight lines, which causes him to gain more speed (straight lines are okay once he has more self-control).  Additionally, being too soft and not being a strong and focused leader will also increase his fear. 

Next, right brain introverts are unpredictable, shy, hesitant, and tend to shut down.  These horses are seeking comfort.  Success comes when the human goes slowly at first and waits for the horse to “come out of his shell.”  When this horse begins to trust, he will offer much more.  Wait time is essential; ask and then wait until he does what you ask or at least looks to you for more direction.  Just as with the right brain extrovert, be consistent because he has trouble with change.  Once again, keep it simple and utilize repetition to seek calmness.  Be sure to not ask for too much at one time and stay soft.  Getting bigger and punishing a right brain introvert will lead to a loss of trust and will cause a retreat back into his shell, a total shutdown.

Left brain introverts are often described as being “lazy” or “stubborn”.  Quite simply, he is always wondering, “what’s in it for me” or, “why should I?”  He is a thinker, not a mover.  The goal for these horses is to motivate them.  At first, using incentives, such as treats, rest, or scratches, will help build motivation.  Reverse psychology is huge with this “horsanality” so asking him to do less than what he is offering you will cause him to offer more!  Similar to the right brain introvert, giving time to think will also motivate him; he’s not slow, he just needs to get over those thoughts of being resistant.  This guy will thrive with variety and not a lot of repetition.  He also dislikes working too much and not being able to play enough.

Finally, the left brain extrovert loves to play.  He’s mouthy, bites and strikes, is exuberant, and is often described as being “naughty”.  He likes to move his feet and gets bored very easily.  He thrives with learning new things weekly and often enjoys learning “tricks”, especially when he can use his mouth, such as picking things up from the ground.  Left brain extroverts are more successful on longer lines as they give him the room he needs to move.  Furthermore, slow, calm riding is not what he’d prefer to because he wants to be able to go somewhere.  If being perceived as being “naughty” and is punished, he’ll start showing aggression or, he may completely shut down and go into his shell, much like a right brain introvert. 

Overall, to have success with horses, understanding their innate “horsanality” is a critical piece.  The integrity of the horse is maintained; thus, allowing his development to be positive and progressive.  Fear, intimidation, and mechanical devices have no place in this type of horse development.

 To learn more about “horsenalities” and how to get great results with your horse, visit Parelli Natural Horse Training at

 Erin Fowle lives in Scott Valley and is a teacher and rancher.  She is also a Parelli Professional.  For more information, contact her at

(“Horsenality is a registered trademark of Parelli Natural Horsemanship and is part of the intellectual property of Pat and Linda Parelli)

Natural Horsemanship and Horsenalities

For many, when they hear the term, “natural horsemanship”, they often envision Robert Redford in the movie, “The Horse Whisperer”, or they may even see Alec Ramsey riding bareback and bridleless across the beach on the “Black”. Films like these have added a sense of mystery or “magic” to the idea of natural horsemanship, when, in reality, natural horsemanship is simply a “philosophy of working with horses by appealing to their instincts and herd mentality. It involves communication techniques derived from wild horse observation in order to build a partnership that closely resembles the relationships that exist between horses” ( 

Fundamentally, natural horsemanship recognizes the prey vs. predator relationship of humans and horses and utilizes psychology rather than fear and intimidation to train and develop the horse.  Humans, as the predator, are direct line thinkers and results driven; whereas horses, the prey, desire safety, comfort, and play.  In order to create a positive relationship with their horses, natural horseman must develop a language with the horse so that the two may communicate effectively.  

One of the key components in developing horses naturally is the ability to “read a horse”.  Thanks to people like Pat and Linda Parelli, “reading a horse” has become something that even the most novice horse person can learn over time.  The concept of HorsenalitiesTM enables the human to determine a horse’s innate nature and then use positive strategies to develop that horse. 

Just like people, horses can be placed into four different quadrants based on their characteristics: left brain extrovert, left brain introvert, right brain extrovert, and right brain introvert.

Left brain horses tend to be dominant, pushy, tolerant, unconcerned, confident, and curious; whereas, right brain horses are more fearful/nervous, defensive, reactive, emotional, unconfident, and spooky.  Extroverts like to move their feet, have high energy, more “go”, are quick, and have a tendency to run.  Introverts are the “thinkers” and need time.  They have low energy, more “whoa”, are slow, and have a tendency to stop.

Horses can exhibit behaviors and tendencies from all the quadrants due to genetics, environment, and learned behaviors, but each has a predominant HorsenalityTM.  One of the best ways to help determine what type of horse you have is to take the time to observe your horse when it’s on pasture or with other horses.  Does he move his feet quickly or just “mosey” along?  Does he buck and run playfully?  Does he seem okay at one moment and then “explode” the next?  These are all clues as to what HorsenalityTM he is and can be a crucial part of your relationship with your horse. 

The next time you spend time with your horse, keep these characteristics in mind – next month, learn different ways of approaching each type of HorsenalityTM so that you can put the relationship first with your horse – you’ll be safer, will have more fun, and will be on your way to excellence in your horsemanship.

(HorsenalityTM is a registered trademark of Parelli Natural Horsemanship)