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Sunday, 9 May 2010

Reflections on my journey as a Parelli Professional

The last three months here at Parelli just flew by and my training at the ranch concluded Friday. After a couple of days of recuperating and just reflecting on my stay and my achievements, I thought it might be time for me to share the roller coaster that has been my journey to 3-Star Parelli Instructor.
I started studying Parelli 11 years ago, in 1999, looking for a way to get my TB jumper to want to load into a trailer. At the time, we had 2 day clinics a couple time a year, no DVDs, no Savvy Club, and only Pat's Natural Horsemanship book as reference. Learning was hard, and we were on our own. It's only 2 years later, after I finished my Level 1, that the first Level 1 pack came out. I bought that and the Level 2 pack, and it took me another 2 years to finish Level 2. Until somewhere in the middle of Level 2, I had no ambitions to become a Parelli Professional, I just wanted to improve my relationship with my horse and get more results. Until I became very disillusioned with my computer career and started thinking about becoming self-employed. I needed to do something I was passionate about - and that was horses, and Parelli.
I then realized that at age 41, and having already spent 3 years trying to finish the first 2 levels, that this was going to take too long unless I made some drastic changes to my lifestyle and made room for my study of horsemanship. That is when I decided to find a way to leave my position as a Senior Consultant for Enterprise Resource Planning systems and start working on my dream full-time.

I made my first trip to the Parelli ranch in Florida in 2003, to attend the 10 week school, which would be the equivalent of today's Fast Track course, only much longer. It was an intense program, more intense than any clinic I had ever attended, and required a lot of physical, emotional and mental fitness. I was determined to succeed, and by the end of the 10 weeks, I was awarded my green string by Pat out of sheer determination and perseverance, not talent. I have never been talented with horses, but I sincerely love them, have always been committed to learn all I could about them, and willing to put in the time and effort to improve my skills and my knowledge. I believe that is what Pat saw and the reason he gave me my Level 3 - in addition to the fact that I passed the assessment, of course!

After applying to become a Parelli Professional, I committed to spending a year at Parelli University, thinking that by then, I would come out as a 3-Star Instructor. That was quite ambitious on my part, and somewhat direct line, although not out of the realm of possibilities. I did not count on the fact that life had other plans for my journey and that I had to retire my Level 3 horse right after completing my level. That was at the end of 2003. By October of 2004, I was back in Florida for my first Uni module with a new horse. Uni was much harder than the 10 week school, so much harder in fact that many people never finished or came back after the first module. We worked very long hours, got no time off, were under constant pressure; we got yelled at, we paid for mistakes, we often felt like no one cared and scared, and we would be so tired that we could barely stand up. At the time, I was much heavier, and although fairly fit for my size, the extra weight really took its toll on me. We did get to spend alot of time around Pat, watched him play with all kinds of horses, got lessons with him and learned alot, and it made it all worth the hardships and frustrations, and once we started acting as a team and building our relationships, the workload seemed easier, and we were able to have fun even though we were working very hard.

Four 10-week Uni modules later, at the end of 2006, I was still only a 1 Star instructor! I had started colts, ridden many horses of all ages and training levels, even Kokomo the mule, jingled horses on horseback at 6:00 am in the morning in the Colorado mountains for 20 weeks, ridden on extreme trail rides on a horse that had only 3 rides on it, gotten bucked off several times, crashed into while playing polocross and suffered several injuries; I lived through the extreme high and lows in my emotions as events unfolded, going from elation to extreme disappointment, anger, including completely shutting down to escape the constant pressure we faced every day.
I laid awake many nights wondering if I could do it another day, contemplating going home and wondering if this was even something I would ever be able to achieve. Some of my mentors did not believe that I could, and that made it even harder. Many people in my entourage encouraged me to leave the program, because it was too hard, and they could not see an outcome. But through it all, I believed that try and luck would be on my side, and preparation would eventually meet opportunity, and I just kept on trying. I found ways to come up with money and resources to be able to continue and go back for more training, and every year, made my way to the Parelli ranch to learn more and hopefully, advance as an instructor.

In 2007, it became clear that I need to get way more fit physically, so I spent a year focussing on losing weight and getting in shape, and it paid off. I also brought another horse to old L3. I left Florida in March with my second star, after 2 weeks of colt start and 6 weeks of Uni training.
By then, I was already broke, had sold my home and had no place to live, owned 2 horses, a truck and a small trailer, and lived in the basement of my mother's house while I tried to find a way to get back to the ranch and build my teaching business; because for the first time, I was allowed to teach clinics and get paid for them (1 Star instructors had to teach for free in those days). I worked several part time jobs to help pay the bills, things like telemarketing and attendant at a pharmacy. The belongings I took with me fit into 5 plastic crates.

When Pat announced the Mastery Program in 2009, I signed up for 2010, for 3 months. It was a difficult undertaking, because money was extremely short, and I was starting to seriously doubt my choices and Parelli's commitment to my success. By then, Pat's new vision meant that he was going to turn out a much larger number of 1 and 2 Star Instructors, but that meant that the level of training of horsemanship had to be much less that what the previous instructors had gone through. You can now earn 2 stars with only 2 weeks of training, or 3 months as an extern! You don't even have to finish Level 3! It put alot of pressure on all the current instructors to improve their skills and advance, because we would no longer compare to the new generation of instructors and would be much more restricted in our teaching if we did not get to the next level. Trusting the process sounds simple, but it is very hard to do when the process spans 11 years and shifts constantly! In my mind, I had no choice - I was going to give it another 3 months, and all I had was going to go into those 3 months. I was going to focus and do my absolute best, and if it did not work out, well, maybe life had other plans for me.

The last 12 weeks were amongst the hardest I have ever experienced. Not because of the hours or workload, I was used to that by now, having spent so much time on both ranches. But because of the pressure of once again riding in front of Pat every day, and operating within the highly volatile, constantly changing and high adrenaline environment we call Pat's barn. At this level, we are in charge of our own learning, there is no teaching going on, but if you can observe, remember and compare, you might learn what you need to learn. Finding time to do just that is the challenge, because Pat's students are all tasked with a heavy workload which includes everything from feeding horses, grooming, facilities maintenance, administration work, auditions, to barn chores and picking up rocks and sticks in the pastures. My day started at 5:00 am every day, and by 7:30, my horses had been fed, groomed, tacked up and I had ridden them to the barn so they would be available to move cows, ride in the Precision Pen with Lauren Barwick, pony horses or whatever other activity might be happening that day.
At the end of the first 6 weeks, I was frustrated and discouraged, and wondering if it was all worth it. I hardly did any riding except for those early morning rides up to the barn, there was just too much work! Whenever I did ride, Pat always seemed to show up when things were not going so well, and when I had some great rides, he would not be around to see it! I was seeing 20 year olds that were in my classes last year being promoted way faster than I ever was and wondering if this was at all a fair system. For weeks, I received no recognition, no feedback and just felt like no one paid any attention to my efforts, my achievements and sacrifices.
I was very discouraged.
By week 8, Pat was getting ready to leave for Colorado and I thought I might ask for a few minutes to hear his thoughts on my progress, and he promptly referred me to Lauren. After that, I thought my fate was already sealed and I just took all the pressure off myself, thinking that it no longer mattered, his mind was set. I still tried hard and worked hard, but I stopped expecting anything - I just tried to learn as much as I could, and focussed on taking my horses to the next level. By then, Kalley had come back, she had taken over horse development, and she was my inspiration every day. I tried to watch everything she did, asked her my horsemanship questions, and she helped me get to a new understanding of the nature of the horse. I had finally turned loose, and as a result, I was able to learn more in the last 4 weeks than in the last 3 years! Amazing how things sometimes work themselves out!
When Lauren announced that Pat was awarding me my third star, I was actually conflicted. I took me several days to even accept that it even happened, and then to get over the fact that it did not come straight from Pat. For some odd reason, I felt cheated out of my very big celebration - it did not feel REAL. I expected something more formal, an applause, some kind of tangible recognition to come with it. But it was just a regular morning conversation in the office and it felt like my dream had been somehow diminished.

I got over it after a few days! My third star is what it is, no matter how it was delivered, and it was up to me to celebrate what it took to get there and how much it meant to me! And just a few weeks after I had started wondering if I would even come back to Parelli, I have now committed to be back in November to teach the 4 week Fast Track - coming full circle!
Mark Twain said « It is better to not receive honors you deserve, than to receive honors you don't deserve »; well it sure feels good to receive the ones you do deserve!
I will be back in Quebec in a couple of weeks, after a few days of R&R here in Florida, which I desperately need before the long trip home! Clinics start May 29th and I look forward to continuing on my journey and my dream to help horses and humans who love them!
3-Star Instructor and Mastery Student in sunny Florida


  1. Geneviève, thank you for writing about your Parelli experiences in such detail. I'm 52 with only 5 years horse experience and currently in Level 2/3 Online with my recued PMU mare. I'm trying to decide whether the FastTrack program and becoming a Parelli Professional are the right option for me. I don't mind the sacrifice, time and effort involved; it's the uncertain employment future that worries me. :) Yours is one of the few posts I've read which provides a glimpse beyond the glossy magazine cover.

  2. Hi Linda. Becoming a Parelli Professional has become much easier in the last year with the new alternative pathways that Parelli is offering (you can look it up on their web site under Professional Program). However, it is not a life for everyone, and only a few instructors are able to make a good living only with teaching Parelli. Most have a second income in the household. As a one income earner, it's very tough because the expenses are so high, especially if you are committed to ongoing education as I am - going back to the centres to keep upgrading your skills and stay close to the source. But if you have a dream and are really committed to do it, anything is possible! And the best rewards in life come from achieving the impossible and pushing yourself past the limits you may think you have - having no regrets and knowing you have tried your hardest and gave it your best.

    In the mean time, I will be blogging again about my last 2 months at Parelli, painting a very different picture as things are evolving constantly! Merry Christmas!

  3. Genevieve,

    I admire your honesty, and determination to succeed in qualifying as a Parelli Professional. I also do not believe that most people can earn a living only as Parelli instructor. The $200K plus they tell you can earn on their website must be only for a very few instructors. In addition, they are turning out so many new instructors right now, there will be greater competition for the students out there.

    I am also wondering if the quality of instruction is as good with the newly qualified instructors (two week course) as with those who qualified under the "old system."

    Like Linda I enjoy that "yours is one of the few posts that provides a glimpse beyond the glossy magazine cover."