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A partnership between rider and horse

About a year ago, experienced equestrian Jen Smith decided to take lessons through the Northwest Natural Horsemanship Center at Patterson Creek Farm in Fall City.

Before she began, she had to let go of her prior knowledge and training in order to absorb a new, natural horsemanship approach.

"It's totally opposite from what I've ever done with horses," said the Fall City resident who also works full time at the stables. "The more I get into it, the more I like it. It's just so much better than the old way and the old way is all I ever knew."

Jim "Hutch" Hutchins and his wife of 20 years, Terry, run the Natural Horsemanship Center. They educate riders of every level about their philosophy of training horses, which is based on - but not affiliated with - Parelli Natural Horsemanship.

Pat Parelli is a well-known horse trainer who focuses on understanding and working with a horse's mental and emotional processes, as well as the dynamics of horsemanship using a natural approach.

Following this approach, Jim and Terry focus on building a positive experience with the horse through partnership rather than fear and intimidation efforts, using principles of natural horse communication and behavior to position the rider as the leader, Jim explained.

"Natural horsemanship is not just training, it's a whole philosophy," Jim said. "It's a natural lifestyle with the horse coming first."

The result is that the horse becomes braver, safer, more responsive, more athletic and the rider is better able to work with the horse to get desired results, Jim said.

"I often tell people that we're the opposite [of a standard barn] because we're very different," Jim, who works full time in marketing/advertising/public relations, said. "We very much believe that you teach the horse as a willing partner; with mutual respect."

For a lot of people who come to the center, because they are dissatisfied with traditional methods, it's a very different approach. But it's also very difficult to forget once a rider has been exposed to this way of doing things," Jim added.

The Hutchins have used this approach in riding for the past seven years, but the former Sammamish couple (who now live on the Fall City property) spent most of that time searching for the "ideal location" in which to actually operate an educational center.

About a year ago, they came upon the 40 acres at Patterson Creek Farm and immediately began leasing the property.

"It fit perfectly," Jim said. "The dream of what we wanted to do seven years ago is starting right now."

The educational center offers clinics and training for adults and children at various skill levels, as well as horse boarding, though the focus is as an educational institution, Jim said.

The approach is not specific to western or English riding styles. Though most of the 30 horses on the property are boarders, the center does have about six available for instructional use.

"We encourage people to work with their own horse because you have to build a relationship with your own horse," Jim said.

The center uses seven games to help build the horse-rider foundation essential to the natural horsemanship approach including the "friendly" game, the "porcupine" game, the "driving" game and more.

The driving game, for example, teaches a horse to not be afraid of rhythmic pressure and motion by gradually introducing the horse to various levels of rhythmic pressure, along with patience and trust.

"We don't 'break' horses, we start horses," Jim said.

"We try to listen to where the human is coming from in their own lives and we try to see where the horse is at, too," explained Terry, a part-time nurse and an instructor at the center. "It's the natural way."

Both Jim and Terry grew up around horses. They met on the East Coast and found their way to the Pacific Northwest in 1991 to be with family.

In the late 1990s, Terry bought her first horse, an ex-racehorse named Bill. Finding him to be a troubled horse that was a challenge to train, she attended a Parelli clinic in 1998.

Immediately, she knew she wanted to absorb that approach.

"I had to forget what I knew and start over again," she said.

Terry and Jim founded the center soon after.

"The thing about this whole place is that it's a wonderful place to be and enjoy," Jim said. "Most people who come here for pleasure riding have to say, 'Let's start over. There's a different way to do this.'"

The center, located at 31022 S.E. Redmond-Fall City Road (state Route 202) will host a clinic titled "Zen and the Horse" by trainer Tom Nagel on June 14-15. For more information, call (425) 222-7911 or visit www.nwnhc.com.

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