‘Kosci’ The Horse

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Some people say that the feral horses of Australia, the brumbies, are nothing more than vermin damaging our national parks. These wild horses are supposedly stupid, badly conformed animals that can’t be trained, and so many of them are shot and end up in cans of dog food.

Don Burke teamed up with master horseman, Pat Parelli, and they travelled high up into the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. They hoped to capture some brumbies and then select one, pretty much at random. Pat would then work with this individual to see whether it could make a good, reliable riding horse.

Pat Parelli

Pat Parelli has won international acclaim with his philosophy of natural horsemanship. This means tapping into the equine heart and mind by learning the language of the horse, and how to use it. Pat says that “Horsemanship can be obtained naturally through psychology, communication and understanding, versus mechanics, fear and intimidation.”

Pat always dreamed of working with brumbies. He has worked extensively with mustangs and other wild horses all over America, but he’s never had the opportunity to work with Australia’s feral horses.

Rounding up the brumbies

This was an unusual capture in that there was no roping, cracking of whips or horses galloping flat out. The brumbies were gently lured onto farm land with salt licks. Salt is much needed by horses in the high country. Once on the farm, Pat took over. He and his team gently worked the horses till they could be herded between long hessian walls and barricades, then into a big round corral. The mob moved at a steady pace, escorted by Pat and his helpers. Each man carried a horse whip with a plastic shopping bag attached to the end. (When training horses Pat often uses a long stick with bits of string or plastic bags tied to the end. To horses, this ‘carrot stick’ is like an extension of Pat’s arm, and they are impressed by his reach.) Pat selected one of the brumbies for training, and named her Kosci, after nearby Mount Kosciuszko.

Gentling Kosci

Pat began to work with Kosci, making sure she didn’t feel trapped or threatened. He used the ‘approach and retreat’ method to build her confidence. This is a step by step technique of approaching or introducing new situations or stimulus to a horse, then rewarding appropriate behaviour by retreating or removing the pressure. This encourages the horse to use its ‘left brain’ and think about what is happening, instead of reacting with fear.

Pat started out by flicking the carrot stick and moving Kosci around. When she took that in her stride and nuzzled the plastic bag, Pat began to swing a rope over her back. Soon he was stroking her nose, and touching her back. Kosci then learned to move wearing a saddle. Pat gave her time to get used to the cinch, or girth strap, in a situation where she felt safe. He did this by setting her loose with the herd, still wearing the saddle. Next came the moment of truth: Pat mounted Kosci and moved her through her paces. She did brilliantly, even managing a canter without bucking!

Pat’s assessment of Kosci is that she has a wonderful nature and will make a great partner for a human. So much for brumbies having the reputation of being pig-headed, incorrigible and untrainable! Pat said that he would remember Kosci for a long, long time.

We will follow up on Kosci’s training in the weeks ahead. She appears to be likely to become a truly outstanding riding horse.

Further information

Pat Parelli’s courses are run Australia-wide under local approved instructors. For details contact:

Parelli Natural Horse-Man-Ship
PO Box 2232, Gosford, NSW, 2250
Phone: 1800 627 404

Parelli Natural Horse-Man-Ship website: