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A Winding Path to Horsemanship By Linda Mannix

My goal as an instructor is to be so effective my students will never need to hire me again. A bold statement from someone who makes her living as an instructor of natural horsemanship. But Kathleen Sullivan has high aspirations for her students in their search to attain the elusive goal of becoming "horsemen".The recent move towards "Natural Horsemanship" has become a million-dollar business. But the roots of this approach go all the way back to Ancient Greece and the great horseman, Xenophon. Throughout history, horsewhisperers have often been considered quacks for their unusual way of handling horses. But whispering had nothing to do with it. It was all about the human understanding the horse from the horse's point of view. Thanks to Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, Buck Brannaman, Pat Parelli and other clinicians, this more perceptive manner of handling horses is becoming prominent today. We are learning again that horsemanship is not only about teaching the horse, but also about educating the human to understand the horse. Kathleen Sullivans search for this knowledge has been circuitous. As a child, she wished she

was a horse when she whinnied to her friends. Her mother had to buy parsley and convince the little girl it was horse fodder, so she would stop grazing in their front yard. Secretariat raced across a poster over Kathleens bed. Breyer models comprised her herd. She started taking riding lessons at 8 years old and continued wherever she could, often trading eight hours of barn chores for a single, blissful hour in the saddle. Kathleen left horses behind to earn a B.S. in journalism at the University of Colorado, followed by a law degree. Abandoning the crush of urban Denver, she packed up her dog and went looking for a job on the Colorado Western slope. She landed in Pagosa Springs. Within eighteen months she was running her own practice.Then one August afternoon in 1995 Pat Parellli came looking for an attorney to represent him in a deal to buy the ranch that would become Parelli's International Study Center for Natural Horsemanship. Kathleen once again was drawn into the world of horses.If she was such a horse lover, Pat dared her, she should come ride at his place. Never one to avoid a challenge, Kathleen took him up on itand rediscovered her deep attachment to equines. She began closing her law office every day at 3 p.m. to ride and study at

the ranch, where she absorbed everything Pat and Linda Parelli could offer. Kathleens commitment to horsemanship paid off when she attained the Parelli system Level 3 certification.Soon afterwards, Kathleen happened to voice her frustrations with the law to Linda. There was always argument, always difficulty; everything was either win or lose. Linda suggested that maybe Kathleen should do something else. Maybe she should become an instructor for Parelli. Of course! So Kathleen began a new quest, this time to become a teacher of humans in the ways of horsemanship.Eventually Kathleen became a well-respected Parelli system instructor. When a friend asked her to join him at a nearby clinic held by Buck Brannaman, Kathleen jumped at the chance to continue her personal study of horsemanship but didnt imagine the further opportunity awaiting. Brannaman's clinic exposed her to the rest of the story and revealed a level of excellence attainable with horses she had not previously thought possible.

Riding and learning with Buck was an unbelievably positive experience. He opened my eyes to more detailto the end product, where we are going with all the horsemanship. Parelli gave me the foundation for teaching humans and Buck refined my knowledge about creating a foundation in the horse."Kathleen now combines her

experience in both human and equine training to benefit her students. She teaches the basics of horsemanship while explaining where this pursuit ultimately leads and why it is effective from the horses point of view. Her students don't have to wait for months or years to see the whole picture, nor do they struggle with advanced theories without knowing the underlying basics.Her experience as a lawyer also honed her verbal skills. "I am a better teacher because I have multiple ways to explain horsemanship so that it makes sense to each individual student."Ronnie Willis once said that the horse will tell you everything you need to know. I knew he was right, but was frustrated to think how long it might take to figure out what my horse was actually saying. I wanted somebody to explain in terms that I could understand immediately. I firmly believe, with a little more focused guidance we can progress faster and more effectively with our horse and ourselves. It is so easy to be running in circles and not even realize it. A two-minute comment from somebody who's farther down the track might help fix the problem in no time flat. That's the joy of instructing, to give students that well-timed comment and see the change, sometimes instantaneously."

Having horses and understanding horsemanship are two different things. Kathleen truly wants horse owners to have a better understanding of horsemanship. "As

instructors, we're trying to improve our students knowledge without requiring they spend millions of hours with countless horses the way Bill or Tom Dorrance did. Our students may never achieve the feel of these legends, but they can pursue it. And in the limited time most people have, the help of a good instructor is pricelessthey dont have to go through so much trial and error to get to an adequate level of horsemanship. Students always progress faster with somebody guiding them." For Kathleen, the satisfaction comes in guiding her students to full independence as horsemen.Based in Pagosa Springs with her two horses, Kathleen Sullivan teaches natural horsemanship in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and other places by request. To reach her call 970/946-9681 or email her at Kathleen@kathleensullivanhorsemanship.com.