Dave Ellis: The Making of a Horse Person
By Karen Brown

(With excerpts from an interview by Brent Graef)


South Texas will have the opportunity to develop their horsemanship skills with one of the best teachers in the country. David Ellis, a 5 Star Premier Parelli Natural Horsemanship instructor will be visiting our area often this coming year. The first of these clinics will be January 24-26, 2003.

Dave has worked and studied directly with Pat Parelli for over 17 years. He has been involved in the development of upcoming instructors and will now concentrate more on mentoring the less experienced instructors. Now, as a 5 Star Premier Instructor, he will participate in the management of the PNH program. Dave will also spend a fair amount of time at his computer answering questions presented by students from all over the world to the interactive support web site for PNH students. He operates a working ranch in California where PNH is taught and students can learn to apply their horsemanship skills to real life activities under the guidance of an instructor.

David Ellis has been involved with horses since grammar school and the late fifties. As a boy he found himself helping the neighbors with problem horses, and was soon teaching kids from town how to ride. In 1985 while starting colts and “fixing” problem horses he met Pat Parelli at Bishop Mule Days. Certain that Pat was “holding out” on trade secrets, he was dared by Pat to come to a clinic to see for himself the worth of Natural Horsemanship. By noon David knew there was something to this technique. He and Pat hit it off and Dave began studying natural horsemanship in earnest. Dave became an endorsed instructor in 1997and Pat has kept him working nearly every weekend throughout the United States and around the world. David is proud to call Pat Parelli his friend and mentor. He talks about, “Parelli Natural Horsemanship is the name we apply to natural horsemanship concepts that are the techniques originated by Pat Parelli, Ray Hunt, and Tom Dorrance. Pat and Linda have created a step-by-step program that is a tried and true method of advancing from one level of proficiency to the next. There are other good programs out there, but Pat’s is the only one that actually leads you by the hand to show you 1) where to go, 2) where you want to go, and 3) how to get there.”

“This ‘cowboy training’ has proven to help English horses and riders as well. In fact, the greatest increase we’ve seen in people signing up have been in the English disciplines. We’re seeing more and more Dressage people, Hunter/Jumpers, eventers. Even the racehorse industry has turned to PNH. We’re being endorsed by professional horsepeople who are actually using these concepts to make a living, and are considered to be “major players” in their fields. People like Leon Harrel and David O’Connor are saying “These are the things that we have found, that caused our horses to be better than they were before”.”

How does PNH help an English horse (or any horse)? David explains, “We provide a thing called “communication” to the horse/human combination. So, if you wish to have your horse’s head in a particular position while you execute your maneuvers, you’ll be able to ask for it in a way that makes sense to the horse. The idea is that you can ask your horse to put his feet here, his head there and assume a certain position while he executes a particular maneuver WITHOUT putting him in a vice or bind, or by using a set of mechanics to force him to do it.”

David teaches clinics all over the world as listed on his schedule. (see “where’s he teaching” on his website: www.parelli.com/rangerdave/). Clinics are designed to teach students the rudiments and philosophy of particular aspects of Pat’s Savvy System. “Our clinics are set up to provide the tools you need to reach the level of proficiency that you wish to obtain. If you are new to the program, a Level 1 clinic will teach you the essentials of what we call “partnership”. If you are already a good partner with your horse, and your horse is not arguing or carrying on with you, the second stage of the program is called “Harmony”, which means that you and your horse can get some things done together. If you’re already going well with your horse we have another stage, the third Level of Horse-Man-Ship, which is all about “refinement”. So, you can expect to learn various techniques that will enhance each of those three stages; whether you are just trying to achieve a Partnership, whether you are trying to work together Harmoniously, or whether you are trying to really Refine the skills you already have. At the clinics, we show you the techniques to accomplish those goals, and then provide handouts, video tapes, and manuals on ways to continue studying and practicing at home on your own.”

“There will be 20-30 people in a clinic. We teach another format called “workshops” that’s the next level. In a workshop, we’ll take what you already know and improve it. We’ll take the savvy skills that you already have with your horse, and we’ll apply those to a discipline. You can ride any type of horse, and any type of saddle. We do like our participants to be involved in the PNH program, so some of the nomenclature that I’ll use, and some of the techniques we’d like you to use, you’ll understand what they mean. Rudimentary understanding of Parelli Natural Horse-Man-Ship is minimum requirement.”

“I would say the greatest challenge for most people when they begin practicing “natural horsemanship” concepts is turning loose of the idea that you’ve got to be the Boss. Getting people to act more like kids, to have fun, to smile a lot, and to still get their horses to go along with their ideas is my goal in any clinic. I try to show people how to still be in charge, to be a “leader” but not to be a dog-gone dictator or a boss, to let them know that it’s okay if the horse makes a mistake. It’s okay if the people make a mistake. That as they go along, they’ll make fewer and fewer mistakes.”

“Just enjoy your horse, let your horse show you what horses are about. They are marvelous creatures and too many of us sit back and try to tell them how to do their life, rather than to enjoy what they have to offer to mankind.”

“We feel that in Natural Horse-Man-Ship, there are six elements that allow you to excel. One of those elements is the tools that you have to use. Some tools “most traditional tools” are either designed to cause pain or confine your horse or restrict his movements. The tools that we employ with Natural Horse-Man-Ship are teaching tools; they are designed to convey a message, to enhance our communication. So if you already have tools that are, in fact, communication designated tools, of course you can use those. If you have tools that are “pain inducers”, or confinement tools, they won’t be any good to you. We would expect that you would want to use the best tools available to get the job done.”

Pat Parelli has developed his own equipment over the years. Much of the program is taught to the human and the horse using a rope halter and rope hackamore. That’s because people need to earn the right to hold a set of reins and horses deserve a chance to learn without destroying the sensitivity of the mouth. Only after the horse and human have progressed beyond the teaching phase the snaffle bit is introduced. Not until the horse and human have completed the foundation training is any other kind of bit used. At this stage, the bit is truly a line of communication, not a control device. Control of the horse is gained in the foundation program (Levels 1 through 3) and the human will have developed his skills to the point to be worthy of the title Horseperson.

“The principles you’ll be taught in these clinics are actually better served outside of the arena, out actually doing something with your horse, enjoying your horse. That’s putting principle to purpose. You’ll find that you can actually improve upon your specialty event and do even better in competition after progressing through this program. As you improve in the program, you begin to learn some aspects and techniques that will address those endeavors that are inherent with arenas: such as shows, dressage events, Hunter/Jumper, cutting, reining, barrel racing, roping. For years people who want to have a recreational horse, and enjoy themselves, and don’t want to have to be pulling and jerking on their horse or smacking it around with a quirt, or ramming the spurs home, have benefitted from our program. They just want to go for an enjoyable pleasure ride. The beginning levels work the best for folks with those goals.”

“We regularly get people who have been hurt with horses, who are afraid. And they are looking for some way to get their confidence built up. Many of these people who were afraid to get out of a walk, find themselves trotting and loping around, and enjoying it. They are just overcome with emotion, they will just break down and cry out of sheer joy that they were not afraid. It’s not that they were able to do a “this” or do a “that”, but they felt so good about themselves inside, being able to do something that they’ve wanted to do for years, but have been afraid to do. And for me, yes, I like to see long slides and fast spins and high jumps, I enjoy that. But seeing the day to day people saying “I felt good about that” to me, that’s the warmest part of all.”

Dave’s final thoughts followed this question: If you were to try to describe PNH in only one word, what would that one word be?

“SAVVY” S-A-V-V-YY Savvy. Savvy is a Spanish word, which means, “to know”. It doesn’t mean, “to know about”, it doesn’t mean, “to know of”, it doesn’t mean, “to think about”, it’s an all-encompassing word, which says deep down inside of you, you know. Here in Parelli Natural Horse-Man-Ship, we’re all about savvy. To know what the horse is about, to know inside what we need to do to help the horse, and the people be the best they can be. To me, that’s the word for Natural Horse-Man-Ship.”

Find out about Dave’s clinics by accessing his website: www.parelli.com/rangerdave/, or contact Brent Graef at 806-499-3239 or 817-320-2195 or BrentGraef@msn.com. Dave will be conducting several clinics in 2003 in the San Antonio area. Openings are limited so don’t wait until the last minute to sign up.

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