Horseback Riding

Overcoming Obstacles

April 30, 2012

Caton Parelli achieves show-ring success and helps his dad become a better teacher.

Caton and Pat Parelli

Caton and Pat Parelli meet and greet fans at the AQHA booth at the 2012 Road to the Horse colt-starting challenge. Journal photo

From America’s Horse

AQHA Professional Horseman Pat Parelli has traveled around the world, teaching others about horsemanship. But how did he hone those teaching skills? Find out in this story, adapted from the March-April issue of America’s Horse magazine, which goes to AQHA members as a member benefit.

Pat’s son with his first wife, Karen, was born with a condition known as hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. At 3 months old, Caton Ryder Parelli went into a coma, and doctors warned his parents that if he lived, he’d likely never walk or talk and would need to be institutionalized.

Twenty-eight years later, Caton is a regular fixture on the show scene, participating in AQHA, National Reining Horse Association, National Reined Cow Horse Association and National Cutting Horse Association competitions, as well as some ranch horse events. The gregarious young man was featured on the cover of the March-April America’s Horse, and he made a few appearances at the AQHA booth at the Road to the Horse colt-starting challenge, posing for photos with fans and signing autographs.

“Horses, to me, are one of the greatest teachers,” Caton says. “For me, they teach me how to maintain my balance, they teach me to be more flexible, which is a challenge, they teach me a lot of things. They teach me so much I can’t even put it all into words.”

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But for someone not expected to speak, he’s well-spoken, passionate and effusive when it comes to talking about his American Quarter Horses. And he’s also very successful.

“Caton won his first belt buckle (last) April at the Orange Blossom Spectacular reined cow horse show,” Pat says proudly. Last summer, he won about $700 in NCHA events, and his goal is to reach the $2,000 mark, at which point he’ll earn another buckle.

Pat believes that as Caton has stretched his comfort zone, working to become more independent, “that’s the kind of stuff that really is making him into what he’s turning into, (allowing him) to make the kind of split-second decisions you have to make in reined cow horse and in cutting. You’ve really got to think fast and move slow. They’re not easy events at all, and he’s pretty good at it.”

He’s also good at making friends, and as he has moved into the horse-show world, Caton’s list of friends just keeps growing longer.

“Everybody knows him at every show we go to,” Pat says, “everybody likes him, everybody talks to him.”

When they first started going to cuttings, Caton “couldn’t get a run down to save his life,” Pat says, and other competitors and spectators were very encouraging. Then when his abilities expanded to holding his cattle for the two-and-a-half minute run, “the whole place just cheered and went crazy for him. And now, he’s marking 70s and 72s, and people are really going crazy for him.”

When Caton won his belt buckle, he had the audience in tears, Pat says.

“He has got a charismatic way about him that people really get attached to. I think that has been one of the coolest things, to see how other people respond to him.”

Not that it has been an easy road for Caton.

“To my dad’s credit, he has been very patient with me,” Caton says. “And believe me, I need people with a lot of patience. I learn at a different rate than most people. Sometimes my passion gets in the way, but I’m trying to learn what it takes to improve the quality of the horse industry one horse and human at a time.”

And that fact – that Caton learns differently than others – has shaped Pat as a teacher.

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“You feel terrible when your child has anything wrong,” Pat says. “But after getting over that, you start to realize what the gift is. And for me, I think the gift is that it helps me … if it takes 10 steps for one of my students to learn something, it might take him more than 100 steps. I’ve learned to be a better teacher by breaking things down in even smaller chunks, which then helps me even understand more of what it is that I do.

“The more I help him, the more I’m actually able to help my other students who want to learn how to show.

“I always tell people, he’s God’s gift to me.”

In many respects, he’s the gift that keeps on giving, the wise horseman who keeps on riding toward his goals.

“I’m doing all these things,” Caton says, “because I want to be the best cowboy ever was born.”