What's your view on Parelli / natural horsemanship?

(61 Posts)
Frangipan1979 Mon 17-Dec-12 12:34:40

Been offered a loan where the owner does a lot of this. Some people are telling me to run a mile / others are saying give it a go.

Any views?

rogersmellyonthetelly Wed 19-Dec-12 10:09:39

<rolls eyes> I know. Bloody silly to think that an animal as intelligent as a horse can't judge when contact is gentle or aggressive.
Horses are like toddlers. They need boundaries, understanding, endless patience and love!

I know nothing about Parelli but did use someone who was teaching NH to help me load and I have to say I was impressed. I was deeply dubious about it but was at my wits end with horse who would take hours to load, and then crash about in the trailer frightening himself to death. I gave up taking him anywhere.

I had gone right back to the beginning with him - leaving the trailer in the field, feeding him on the ramp, spending hours getting him to put one foot on the ramp etc etc. I had other people try as well in case it was me that was the root of the problem but it made not a jot of difference.

Anyway this lady came, spent some time just talking, stroking and handling horse and then walked with him round the field, past the trailer, round the field again for about an hour. She then got him walking across the ramp and about 10 mins after that he walked through like a lamb. She repeated the exercise a few times then gave him to me and he was fine. I almost wept with relief! She was calm and firm and never threatened him or raised her voice but was insistent that he did what she wanted, and he did.

We travelled happily about for several months until I lost him in a field accident - it certainly changed our lives for that time.

I'm not saying it was purely the fact that she was NH trained, but she succeeded whether several other very experienced horse people had failed so something worked.

schoolgovernor Wed 19-Dec-12 18:59:49

I have a pony who is trained - by me - in a "natural horsemanship" style (not Parelli). I am teaching a young girl to ride on her at the moment. The advantage is that I can first teach the girl to ride in a rope halter, and then when she's in control of her hands, move up to a bridle with a bit. Another advantage is that my pony is used to giving people a bit of space and is unlikely to barge or push her around. She will move nicely away from a suggestion of a hand or a rope.
I think I saw your thread on the Horse and Hound forum - the majority hate anything that's vaguely "nh" over there, but to be fair there is a lot of bad anecdotal feedback about Parelli, and that has tarred all of nh with a similar brush. Just go along and see how you get on with the horse. If the job has been done well it should be a pleasure to deal with. If not, well it's only a loan, you can walk away.

schoolgovernor Wed 19-Dec-12 22:38:00

Some "nh" ish facts that might be of interest or not:
Pat Parelli doesn't claim to have invented what he does. He says "This is so old it's new" and acknowledges the people he learnt from. He originally started to develop his training programme with his first wife, Karen Parelli-Hagen. he met his future wife, Linda while touring in Australia. At that time he toured with a respected horseman called Phil Rodey, who declined the opportunity to become one of the first Parelli instructors. Pat Parelli is quick to emphasise that he designed his system primarily to teach people, not horses.
Monty Roberts claims to have invented what he does and to have done it by going to observe mustangs in the wild. Anyone who has read Horse Whispers and Lies, or his dad Marvin's book Horse and Horseman Training might raise an eyebrow at those claims.
The stuff we think of as natural horsemanship owes more to the vaquero cowboy tradition than any desire to have horses shoe-less, rug-less or stable-less. The trainers who are generally acknowledged as being respected are people like the Dorrance brothers, Ray Hunt, and more recently Buck Brannaman. They were/are happy to have their horses shod and were/are definitely not "fluffy".
A website called The Eclectic Horseman gives an insight into these roots.

tazzle22 Wed 19-Dec-12 23:11:54

I agree with schoolgovorner . I am def not a "parelli ite" but have a leaning towards nh style of exercises /riding but trained with clicker training. To "get there" to a place I was happy I had been through the "traditional" / bhs stuff as well as IH and NH and what becomes the bottom line to me is that every "method" thinks that their one is the "commonsense" one .

iMO you can see good and bad examples of every method every day eg most of the people near me are "BHS" / modern / traditional or whatever one want to lable them with...... yet almost every one I hate to watch ride / interact with thier horses as their legs are never still, they nag their horses and most "boss" the horse around and ignore the horse trying to communicate their needs to them ... they stick more tack on and stronger bits in in response to most problems.

I have also seen some pretty poorly trained "parelli" horses !!!!!!!!!!!

My answer ... it's not the method thats at fault its the person that is not putting good principles into practice well.

I have learnt to ride far better by finding a great nH trainer and now I can be like a good dressage rider and " get something for nothing" with a weight aid or the twitch of a finger. On the ground my horse will move from impercebtible intent form me yet stand still if I scream and shout and jump around like a banshee with no intent ( as will any well trained nh horse).

Just to illustrate this is not a bashing or uppsing of any one method..... I remember one lovely day and friend and I working together in an indoor school and our neds about six feet apart. She on a young classically dressage trained stallion on only his second outing and me on an nh trained mare we were just realising was "in season" .... and both of them getting eager to do what nature called grin .....all both of us had to do was shift weight and they both backed up !!!

so frangipan ........ please dont be predjudiced .... go look

If its a bargy, ill mannered, spooky, nervous ned then leave.... whatever lable / method applies wink

Ivvu6 Thu 20-Dec-12 16:23:55

I use to look after 2 lovely ponies who´s owner loves all that natural stuff. When I got offered them I gave it a go(I use to be a proffessional show jumper) and I tell you RU! If you want to get anywhere and take part from shows and actually do well, then it´s waste of time! lol
Good luck! smile

Ivvu6 Thu 20-Dec-12 16:24:21

I ment RUN lol

Stinkyminkymoo Thu 20-Dec-12 18:15:32

Parelli does not equal natural horsemanship. There is nothing pleasant about it.

As others have said, NH is mainly common sense IMO.

schoolgovernor Thu 20-Dec-12 20:27:19

I don't think natural horsemanship = common sense, nor do I think that any horsemanship = common sense. When people talk about using common sense with horses they either tend to apply too much human behaviour to horses (and therefore aren't as great as they think), or they overlook the fact that someone, somewhere, taught them to understand some decent basic horse behaviour. None of us came forth from the womb understanding what makes horses tick we were taught about it, and we either learned good or not so good stuff.

"None of us came forth from the womb understanding what makes horses tick we were taught about it, and we either learned good or not so good stuff. "

Quite right - when my horse was ill recently, someone at the yard told me I should do what my instincts told me. Well, my instincts told me, "Take him home, put him in your bed and tuck him up under the duvet." grin

rogersmellyonthetelly Thu 20-Dec-12 23:19:03

Yeah, maybe common sense isn't the right phrase, more like horse sense, or as someone once put it, equine tact! Learn how horses think, and look at the world through their eyes and you won't go far wrong. It doesn't always mean accepting whatever they do, just understanding it makes it easier to see ways to modify it so it's acceptable for us!

CatPussRoastingOnAnOpenFire Thu 20-Dec-12 23:51:27

We had a loaner who was into Parelli. He loaned our slightly odd pony. He used to spend hours flicking a bit of rope all over him. The horse would retaliate by trying to rip his face off! Never made a blind bit of difference!

Zazzles007 Fri 21-Dec-12 07:25:54

Hahaha Catpuss, I think that is more the sort of person we are talking about who is a "parelli-ite" as opposed to someone who is natural horsemanship and employs good old fashioned horse sense. grin

Callisto Fri 21-Dec-12 11:19:00

I think that common sense = not anthropomorphising any animal, whether equine, canine or anything else. Assuming that an animal thinks and acts like a human is the first assumption any novice makes. No-one is born with innate knowlege, but common sense helps with sifting the useful knowlege from the crap and this applies to anything.

BigBoPeep Mon 24-Dec-12 16:20:00

well I hate the phrase natural horsemanship - nothing natural about it, or any horsemanship - natural is horses running wild. horsemanship is human. NH is just as much into its bits and bobs as conventional, it's just that its a flicky rope rather than a pelham etc.

IMO, most problems can be solved by simply trying to see things from their POV, not projecting human stuff onto them, and it's amazing how many people just do not get that.

CatPussRoastingOnAnOpenFire Mon 24-Dec-12 16:58:32

Actually, I think that ponies DO have emotions very similar to humans. I've seen jealousy, rage, fear, mischief, adoration, depression and joy. And ive stood and watched them and known exactly what they are thinking!! It's more about remembering that horses aren't as complicated as people. They are more than capable of reasoning, and even planning to a certain extent, just on a much smaller simpler scale than people. They don't do conscience or guilt.

Pixel Mon 24-Dec-12 23:00:50

Ha yes like the other day when I arrived at the field to see dpony in the distance legging it up the hill. My friend said "Oh I think I spooked him when I went along the bottom just now" but I said "No he's been up to some mischief". It was just written all over him but I can't really explain how. Anyway, I walked along to find he'd been trashing the electric fencing angry.

DolomitesDonkey Tue 25-Dec-12 20:42:39

Depends on the practitioner.

Jean Paul pignon is a world away from some twat brandishing a dually but lack of c'mon sense.

It's the smart way to deal with horses - mind over matter, trouble is many think it's about being a complete pushover.

xavierbaecke Sun 17-Mar-13 00:33:52

I would like to take the opportunity to comment on the Parelli system, but also to go into some deeper problems when the combination of humans and horses are concerned (I apologize for the length of this thread beforehand, but I want to be nuanced in my statements and provide ample argumentations to my views rather than making some statements out of the blue). Although I now work as a professional historian, in a previous life, I worked as an evolutionary biologist with a specific interest in behavioural ecology (quite a transition, isn’t it). Consequently, I have always looked to horses in quite a different way and looked for systems who, in one way or another, were complementary to my view. Surely, my professional biological work never had anything to do with horse behaviour, but you can imagine that one get’s a nose for trying to unravel behavioural patterns in all species one encounters. Because I was also riding and always had a close relationship to horses, I could apply my general behavioural knowledge to horses themselves.
Before I get to the issue of the Parelli system, I want some wrong statements, which were quoted on this site or others, out of the way. Firstly, it is true that ‘natural horsemanship’ is a branded term. It is used to coin a certain way of dealing with horses and you will not find the term being used before the twentieth century. On the other hand, it is wrong to stress that human-horse relationships are artificial or not natural, because horses need to be in the wild. Such a statement leads us to forget that horses are basically domesticated animals and have been so for thousands of years. True wild horses, leaving out some disputable exceptions such as the prezwalski horse, are regretfully not around anymore. For sure, some people will refer to wild mustangs herds, roaming the North-Amarican plains, as being wild horses, but they are actually domesticated horses which have survived in a natural environment again. This being said, we must not forget that still a lot of the original instincts are still present in horses, but those instincts are bendable for horses to enter in a relationship with humans. This flexibility is the product of thousands of years of breading and domesticating the original wild horse.
This brings me to a second point, where my expertise as a historian proves valuable. What the Parelli system does, as most of the so-called natural horseman’s systems, is in fact not new at all. When looking at historical sources, you might discover that a lot of the basic ideologies expressed by natural horsemanship nowadays, was already present for a long time. Surely, the concrete way of applying them may differ in their details, but a lot of principles can be found in such sources. Popular amongst natural horsemen and –women is for instance Xenophon, who speaks of many methods which can also be found within natural horsemanship, but are in fact also applied by many experienced, professional and conventional (I do not like the word ‘traditional’, because in my historical opinion natural horsemanship seems more traditional than a lot of the modern uses) trainers.
Breaking-in is a formidable example of such a process and a typical American I might add. To break in a horse, with its quite aggressive connotation, is a term which is mostly used in Western language. To demonstrate the contrast, let me present you with the Dutch word: zadelmak maken, translated in English this would be something like saddle taming, a word with quite a different connotation, wouldn’t you say. It signifies a more gradual process in getting a horse to get used to a saddle, which in fact renders the western method to be the more exceptional. Adding to this argument, is the work of king Edward of Portugal written in the fifteenth century, who carefully explains the gradual appliance of the saddle to the horse and, of course in another kind of terminology, describes a method that nowadays would be called light-riding (which is a non-exclusive component of the Parelli free-style savvy).
Returning to the main question at hand, what to make of the Parelli system? Let’s even extend that question to what to make of natural horsemanship in general? In my opinion, natural horsemanship is an essential evolution within a world, where more and more people are getting the ability to get in touch with horses, but have less and less time to get in touch with horses and are more and more encouraged to think in a ‘mechanical’ way. Natural horsemanship is actually nothing new than the good horsemanship of the old days, now applied to new necessities of our modern way of living and our modern way of thinking. Within the development of such a natural horsemanship, Pat Parelli has made an invaluable contribution. Even if his system has disappointed some people, it has helped a great deal of other people and, what is more, it led to discussions as the one we are having right now.
But what differentiates the Pat Parelli from other great horsemen or natural horsemen. Is it his great talent as a natural horseman? For sure, this is one of the aspects. However, there are even greater men around there (one of the greatest is Jean-Francois Pignot in my opinion, just watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIHY0Y5Fw4o). Where the difference lies is that Pat, together with Linda Parelli’s consumer-customer experience, has successfully attempted to work out a system that can be taught to a great deal of people. And therein also lies the problem with the Parelli system. Such a system enables people with different levels of experience to engage in horse training, and those people often expect quick results and ‘mechanical’ answers to their own horse problems. Next to that, people often want to read in the system what they like to read. The great trouble with the failing of Parelli for a lot of horse enthusiasts has quite often nothing to do with the system on itself, but more with the way people approach the system and how people read the system. Adding to this problem, could be the fact, and this is something which Parelli enthusiasts need to recognise, is that Parelli has become (and probably always was) a commercial enterprise. Sometimes, more exception than rule, you will encounter people being disappointed by official Parelli instructors. In such cases, I suspect the commercial nature of Parelli being one of the problems. People have to pay to become a member of the Parelli community, then they have to pay to get de DVD’s to enter the program, then they have to pay for taking ‘auditions’ so they can be officially recognised as level 1-4 horsemen and then they have to pay to enter the instructor’s program. In other words, people willing to become a Parelli instructor have to make a considerable investment and, consequently, one cannot be too finicky about their abilities to help others with their problems. Nonetheless, as far as I am able to scope, I must say that most of these people are quite able to undertake their tasks, perhaps only failing when working with severe problem horses.
Let’s leave behind the commercial argument, which I will not consider right here (because in the end everyone is free to start with the Parelli program or not), and get to the key issues of the program. One of the most heard arguments against the Parelli system is either the creation of problem horses by the system or the boredom or frustration that the system renders. Let me begin with the first problem, the creation of problem behaviour with horses. In my opinion, this problem lies with two important reasons, one which is indirectly created by the success of the program, the other with people not paying attention to what is actually taught within the program.
What the program does in terms of animal behaviour is first the acceptance of humans as being not a threat to them. This is actually a very good lesson, the more because it focuses on general methods in giving horses a safe feeling. The so-called ‘friendly game’, which in later levels gets extended to the ‘extreme friendly game’, is nothing more than a very intelligible work that is often looked over in conventional training methods. ‘Extreme friendly game’, for instance, is nothing new or revolutionary. It has long been used by the mounted police force in training their horses to be comfortable in the most extreme situations. What is more, this first simple game of the Parelli method demonstrates the invaluable asset of implying behavioural methods into training programs. The so-called ‘approach-retreat’ system is an excellent example thereof and essentially the best method to train a horse to learn to adapt to all kinds of variable situations.
The trouble that however originates from such an approach is that many horses get to feel really comfortable being around with humans, in a way they accept humans as being part of their interspecies flock. But this also means that this confident ‘left-brain’ horse is now going to apply other instincts on his human companion. Off course, this does not go for all horses, but mostly dominant horses (the so-called left brain horses) will prove to be a problem. Here problems may arise and, in my opinion, the program still has to little attention for how to deal with dominance issues (I am not saying that the methods that are being used in the program, do not offer the tools of dealing with dominance issues, because they do, but it needs consequent approach). A particular problem is formed by the so-called right-brained dominant horses (horses which are initially afraid, but, once the fear is gone soon go to dominate). They are the kind of horses who spook from everything they see, but which hold a dominant position, or at least show dominant behaviour, within the herd.
Nonetheless, it is clear that the authors of the Parelli system are conscious of these troubles. The DVD series ‘horsenality’ is specifically designed to deal with these issues, although it still leaves people with quite some questions. Consequently, depending on your own abilities and natural feel of horses and on the type of horse you have, results may differ, even leading to the creation of problem horses (which are actually not so problematic, they are quite often horses who are initially afraid and timid, who then have learned to accept you, but consequently start to utter dominance over you).
A more fundamental issue in creating problem horses lies with the people applying the system. As Parelli puts it nicely, there are two kinds of horse people with problems, the ‘carrot’ people and the ‘stick’ people. Let’s be honest, most people starting out with something that is called ‘natural horsemanship’ will be found in the category of the ‘carrot’ people and the question is quite often how much they take Pat’s own comment truly to hart: “be as firm as needed and as gentle as possible”. Most people following the program have little trouble with the last, but are quite often ignoring the first. Sometimes it is necessary to be firm and when you watch Parelli during his shows, you will see that he has a keen eye which amount of pressure is needed. When people start with the program and only apply very gentle pressure (phase one or two as called in the program) they will not get a lot of results. What is even more, when their friendly games encourage their horses to become confident in their neighbourhood, their lack of proper pressure or consistency therein renders horses who become ‘lazy’ or even ‘dangerous’ (because they will develop dominance issues).
Is this due to the program, I think not. It has more to do with how people approach the program and how people approach the horse. This problem is further enhanced because ‘natural’ is often equated with ‘only gentle’ and this is a great misconception. The statement that “we must not see horses as equals” proves my statement here. Natural horsemanship is about using the natural behaviour of the horse to get better and more enjoyable results and, more importantly, to create better situations for horse and rider. The partnership which is implied is as much an equal partnership as the partnership horses have with one another. In this regard, I want to take it even a step further, we should not only regard horses as our equals, and we should not regard horses as humans. A problem often encountered by many people who look in natural horsemanship a way to turn a horse into a human partner. This is not only unnatural in my opinion, but even doing injustice to the horse. The partnership consists of one between man and horse, not in trying one of the parties into one another. What the partnership, rather than a purely dominance relation, do require is that the human partner, being the most rational of the two (or at least so we assume) needs to learn the language of the horse and not the other way around (and this can justifiably be the major objection to more conventional training programs).
The second problem, being people getting bored or frustrated by the system, has in my opinion everything to do with human mentality and is perhaps something Pat and Linda or other natural horsemen should make a video about. Again there are two issues to be concerned here. First, since I do not have to make money of getting people into a program I teach, I can be harder in my statement (by which I do not want to attack anyone personal, whatever system they like to follow): there are a lot of people, especially recreational or sportsmen, who are riding for all the wrong reasons. I do not mean that all the ‘good people’ are into natural horsemanship and all the ‘bad people’ are into conventional horsemanship, also people engaged in ‘natural horsemanship’ are sometimes doing it for the wrong reasons. A useful question is always: why are you doing your horse activity? Quite often people only get focussed with results and personal ambitions and the interaction with the horse gets lost somewhere along the way. I am not saying that you cannot have a purpose or ambitions with your horse activity, but if the horse itself gets out of the picture, then you have a serious issue to deal with. If you like jumping over things without wanting to spend time doing other things with your horse than jumping, why not doing motor cross? (you will make higher jumps at higher speeds than you ever will be able to do with a horse). When you want to race at incredible speeds, but you do not want to work with your horse, why not buy a racing car and go on the circuit? (you will be able to race at speeds a horse can never sustain).
Why am I making such a hard statement? Simply because behind the arguments of boredom or frustration, there lies the argument – which people won’t explicit – that they do not want to play the games or that they do not have the time for playing the games. A variation upon this argument is that they do not like it when their horse does things they haven’t ask them to do. In other words, they do not like their horses to be living creatures, they would rather have them to be machines. When you are getting bored with the games or frustrated with something that does not work, ask yourselves why you are getting bored.
Surely, this does not apply to all people getting bored or frustrated. Quite often people try and try the program, but they have the feeling that no progress whatsoever is being made. In some cases, they even feel that things are getting worse. This has to do with the second issue I would like to address, namely the way people approach things. Humans are linear and problem solving creature. Furthermore, certainly in our modern days, people tend to think very mechanically: If there is a problem, there must be a fix. This being said, it is important to realise that the Parelli system never stated to be an easy-going system. The reason that so many DVD’s are being produced and that so many video’s can be watched on the ParelliConnect site, has not only to do with commercial opportunism, but also with a clear concern with the problems natural horsemen seem to encounter when dealing with their horses (the more because every horse and every human is different). For sure, it is not an easy task to work out a system that applies to all cases and it is this fallacy that most people frustrates when starting with Parelli. Nonetheless, it could be argued that the Parelli system is the most exhaustive of all natural horsemanship programs out there. So a first important advice is, take your time and allow yourself to take your time. No one ever said it would be easy (even if Pat and Linda quite often make it look easy, perhaps something they should be more mindful of).
Of course, there is more going on. What I almost always seem to notice in the criticism is that the system does not work and it reminds me to the many times that I did not have success (take in mind that for a time, I only worked with the Parelli book and nothing more). It is partially my biological education that always made me return to an ‘organic’ approach. When something did not work, I went working with that. Questioning myself and analysing my horse. I tried new ways, paid attention to the signals I send and sometimes even took whole steps back. Next to that, I spent a lot of time being with my horses, being in their herd. Observing them, see what moved them (literally and figuratively) and paying attention to their behaviours on and off line. I created my own games next to the Parelli games (which turned out to be applications of the Parelli games when I got my hands on some videos of Pat). One of the most important things, in my opinion, is to get ‘organically’ when working with horses. This is actually not a new insight, nor is it restricted to natural horsemanship. Many professional horsemen, training horses in conventional styles, know this and apply this. Why? Simply because some of these methods are traditionally been taught to them, but, more importantly, they spend a lot of time around horses. Horses are a part of their natural environment and they ‘naturally’ learn to read them. What natural horsemanship does is an attempt to give such insights to people, amateurs or otherwise, who do not have the luxury of being with horses all the time or who have less feel to learn such things on themselves. Natural horsemanship, by definition, encourages humans to understand their horses so they can improve their relationships with them and by consequence also their joint ambitions, wherever they may lie. It is not stating something new, it only opens up a system for success which was previously (and still, perhaps to a lesser extent) used by professionals out of experience and pragmatism, to a public of horse laymen. But in the end, it is up to the student to become a master, a path that goes not always over roses. Then again, isn’t that true for anything worth doing?

schoolgovernor Sun 17-Mar-13 10:23:16

Well, that's all very enlightening. I expect Op decided whether or not to take her Parelli horse on loan months ago though.
I can sum up my reservations about Parelli (not the NH movemement!) in a few words:
Barney the one-eyed horse. Abuse on an instructional DVD.
Catwalk. The day Pat P lost the plot in public.
Horsenalities. hmm
The Yo Yo game and heavy metal clips.
Depriving horses of food and water (recently confirmed by Pat as something he would advoctate).
Pseudo "equine behaviour".
Oh, and did I say Horsenalities??

There are some great trainers out there from the more "western" approach. I think Pat is "the best of the worst".

superfluouscurves Sun 17-Mar-13 14:15:46

Interesting thread. Back in the days when I rode more regularly, I inclined towards natural horsemanship (don't know much about Parelli)

eg understanding why a horse is shying at a puddle that is no more than 3 cm deep - because horses eyes perceive depth differently to the way we do ... once you understand that ... you can be more patient resolving the issue and avoid wrongly "blaming" a horse for being "deliberately" nappy

Agree xith BigBoPeep "IMO, most problems can be solved by simply trying to see things from their POV, not projecting human stuff onto them"

xavierbaecke Sun 17-Mar-13 14:31:01

Dear school governor, you make some very interesting and good points, at least, you bring up some issues that will trouble a lot of people when dealing with ‘natural horsemanship’. I believe it’s important to bring such points to the table and discuss them, because they only can learn us how to deal with horses in a more efficient way and rather than short pro and contra statements, it is my opinion that a thorough discussion is far more beneficial to everyone.
Concerning the videos, I will not try to legitimise Pat Parelli concerning the 2010 video, but I am also not going to condemn him. The same goes for the Linda Parelli video, which I have seen a half year ago (but trying to look it up again, it was removed due to copyright issues, so I am not going to make any direct comments about that one). First of all, I would like to point out that for all the videos Pat Parelli has made; we can all agree that this video is the only exception where his dealing with the horse went over the top. So let us keep perspective here. Secondly, I think it is important to notice that the kind of abuse that is demonstrated here should not be overdramatized. To be honest, I have been to quite some horse markets, jumping events (which are a big thing in Belgium) and other horse competitions, and I rarely encountered an event where no harsher and more irrational methods were being applied. Most of this problematic behaviour I witnessed behind the scenes (I am one of those people who always want to have a look what happens in the trailer department of a horse show). People hitting their horses on the head when they when the horse was frightened to be put on a trailer, people driving their spurs into the side of the horse when it showed some resistance to them, etc. Luckily, these kinds of people are always an exception amongst many others participating, but nonetheless, every event seems to have one or two of them.
To be sure, this does not legitimize what Parelli did during the show; it only tempers the dramatic online outburst which it rendered. I have difficulties making comments about the horse itself or what exactly was going on there, since the movie is quite short and has a terrible resolution. That being said, I do not think that Pat Parelli dealt with the situation in a good way. Everyone agrees this horse had severe bridling issues, and in my opinion these issues necessitated a lot more time and a lot less stress within the environment than such a demonstration could offer. The crucial mistake Parelli made here, was not screening the horse well enough up-front. This was clearly not a horse to be used during a demonstration; a different approach was most definitely in order. In other words, Pat clearly made an error of judgment even before the show began, and this lead to a world of trouble and many disappointed viewers. By stating this, I do not feel that methods being applied here were wrong (as far as I am able to judge), but rather that the way they were applied was wrong. I also do not think that Parelli people, rising up in Pat’s defence, should make quick judgements of the horsenality (a usefull concept to which I will return later). This horse was not simply a horse resisting bridling because of dominance issues, more was going on here (by which I do not say that dominance was not one of the factors, again, I cannot judge such a case by watching a low resolution movie, nor do I think anyone could). In the end, the fact remains that Parelli broke some of his own rules, probably under the pressure of hundreds people watching him and expecting success, and, consequently, because of the dangers that commercializing his methods imply. What this demonstrates to me is that people make mistakes and Pat Parelli is no exception to that rule (nor do I think the best horsemen in the world). The only thing I regret is that the Parellis did not use such examples to explain what they were trying to do and to indicate where they went wrong. We should evade making mistakes. But when we make them, let’s try to learn from them.
On the other hand, I am also quite critical about people using such an incident to discard the entire Parelli system or natural horsemanship as a whole. If we are keen to agree that Parelli made a mistake here, let’s also agree that in many of his demonstrations he does good things (even if you do not want to take up the entire system, you would probably agree that some of his methods are interesting nonetheless). What we should better focus our energy on, is to discuss the methods being applied and the system as a whole. Schoolgovernor brought up some points that seem to disturb him, most notably the yo-yo game and the concept of horsenalities. Regretfully, he doesn’t explain what he finds disturbing about them. I will try, from my own point of view, to explain why I have sympathies for these methods and concepts as expressed within the Parelli system.
Let me begin with the yo-yo game. This is not an uncommon criticism uttered by people unfamiliar with the Parelli system and is, to some extent, disputed within the world of natural horsemanship. I can agree with these criticisms, but they have more to do with how the yo-yo game is applied than with the fallacy of the method on itself. The greatest problem people have with this game is that it targets a very sensible part of the horse’s body and that pressuring this part is therefore essentially wrong. This is partially true, but then again it is for this reason that even the most conventional methods target this part of the body. A bridle, for instance, is used in every kind of horsemanship, applies pressure to the head area of the horse (and this is why certain ‘problem’ horses have so many difficulties with accepting the bridle). Consequently, why can we apply pressure on the head area when riding a horse, but can it not be used on line?
Critics will answer that the level of pressure which is applied to the head area when wiggling the line is too high. One criticism I read, stated that this gave the horse severe back problems and resulted in a bad posture of the horse. What this indicates to me is that people fail to grasp the concept of what is intended by the yo-yo game. First, applying pressure on the head of the horse is not uncommon when horses interact with one another. When horses establish dominance relations or when horses challenge dominance positions, they often start by a ‘stand-off’. Horses go on facing each other and follow up by biting towards each other’s heads, resulting in the back-flipping of the horses’ heads. Everyone who has regularly observed horses will have seen this type of behaviour and will recognize the same pattern in the yo-yo game when phase four is applied. So it is not unnatural, but should it be applied on a regular basis? The answer is yes and no. The issue about the yo-yo game is the right amount of pressure, and, again, this is where people fall into their mechanical thinking again.
Bringing me to my second point, the Parelli program explicitly states that before you enter in the yo-yo game, three other games should be played with the horse, the so-called friendly game, porcupine game and driving game. Especially the last one is essential to have good results with the yo-yo game. In the driving game appropriate pressure to move a horse is being taught. This implies that pressure (which you can also apply with the ‘carrot stick’) is applied to the front end of the horse in increasing amounts, and this pressure is released on the moment the horse back-ups. Only when the horse acknowledges this pressure, the yo-yo game can be started whereby the same amount of pressure is now induced by making use of the rope. By no means is it encouraged to apply great amounts of pressure on the line and by no means is it encouraged that horses should flip back their heads every time the yo-yo game is played. If this is the case, than the program clearly states you should work on the driving game again.
What essentially happens is that the mechanical thinking human wants to have quick results, racing through the first three games and doing the yo-yo game. Surely, this has results when enough pressure is applied, and, consequently, people are happy because the result they wanted is achieved. Therein lays the problem. The yo-yo game is not just about a mechanical movement you want your horse to make; it is about creating a balance in ‘approach and retreat’ behaviour and in establishing your leadership in creating that balance. The simple backing-up is not the only thing on which success has to be measured. Disappointed people who blame the yo-yo game for back issues or bad posture (not to speak of another more dangerous result this can render: rearing), have perhaps been applying too much pressure on their horse’s head. What you want in the end, is the horse to move back with just a small wiggle of the rope (not making him to flip-back his head or being disturbed by it in any way) or, even better, by a small wiggle of the fingers. If this is achieved, you have achieved communication upon which a partnership can be established, and this is a result more important than the mere mechanical movement of the horse.
One of the arguments critics can now bring up, is that the program is not paying enough attention to how people approach their horses and how they play the seven games. This is a criticism I could agree upon, although the Parellis make a great effort in trying to deal with such problems. Horsenality is actually one of the products in trying to make students focus more on their relationships and levels of communication than on the sheer mechanical results. I find it always a little bit strange when people, claiming to be sympathetic of ‘natural horsemanship’ challenge this idea of horsenality, because the concept is in itself an improvement for people who want to establish such a relationship and, to my knowledge, it is the only systematic approach in trying to understand how horses behave and how to link that behaviour to appropriate training methods.
Is it a perfect explanatory system? Most definitely not, it is rather a sort of new paradigm, allowing people to tackle problems they might encounter in a different more organic way; a paradigm shift which I can only applaud. To be sure, this is not a thorough scientific theory about horse behaviour nor does it intends to be so. It is a generalised framework that should be used as a tool to focus more on the horse’s behaviour when playing the games. It tries to empower people to think outside a directional and mechanical approach when their horses are doing something else than what they were expecting from the game they were playing.
There can, however, be formulated some criticism against the system of horsenality. Firstly, when this concept is used as a kind of all-explaining theory of horse behaviour and this is indeed something that certain Parelli enthusiasts are doing and to some extent is encouraged by the Parellis themselves. However, when you look at the DVDs, it becomes clear that the main purpose of the horsenality concept is to encourage people to learn to work and play with their horses rather than to follow a standard set of rules (the same logic sits behind the Pattern series). The risk that ever lurks is that people are going to approach this system in the same mechanical way as they have approached the games and thus ending up with other problems of the same kind. People tend to classify their horses according to the left-right brain scale and the introvert-extrovert scale and hope to find a new set of rules to deal with their type of horse. To some extent the Parellis are conscious of that and are producing a lot of movies on the Parelli member page to deal with more specific characteristics of horse behaviour. So the system is one of constant refinement, but offers in my opinion a very good starting point for people to deal with certain issues.
A second criticism is perhaps more fundamental, it is the static and rigid subdivision of horses according to their horsenalities. Horse behaviour is not something one can divide in four simple categories and it certainly is not static as well. This is certainly acknowledged by Pat Parelli, even in his earlier work such as his book. The way a horse will react depends on many factors, his current mood, the state of the horse-human relationship, environmental factors, etc. Quite often, Parelli students go on classifying their horses into one of the four categories (which they often do with a remarkable success, demonstrating the effectiveness of the program) but assume that behavioural state of their horses won’t alter with time. For instance, horses with a lot of energy and a high ‘move’ factor (extroverts) who are easily scared (‘right brain’), will become more and more confident over time. But these horses can also have a certain degree of dominance instincts within them (this goes for a lot of stallions) and will consequently behave like left-brain extroverts. Just by simply working from one of these categories will not give all the answers to dealing with these kinds of horses and, in some rare but not uncommon instances, result in problem behaviour. Also dominance, which is most accentuated in stallions, but certainly not absent in the behaviour of mares or geldings, is barely treated (often regarded as being an element of left brain horses, which is not always necessarily true).
Nonetheless, the concept of horsenality remains one of the few systems that take account of the variety within horse behaviour and that links the necessity to read this behaviour to training methods. By this virtue alone, the program is commendable. The criticism that the concept of horsenality is too abstract, generalised or static, masks the fact that many other ways of training, natural or conventional, often do not take into account the variety within horse behaviour at all. As far as my limited knowledge allows, I have not found any alternatives out there trying to teach students to link their horse’s behaviour to a holistic training system and, in the end, that’s what natural horsemanship is all about. So being conscious of the limits of such a general approach, it remains in my opinion a good, albeit improvable, starting point for working with different kinds of horses. Rather than all together discarding such a concept by just commenting you do not put a lot of faith in it, I think it would be better to further such concepts and try to develop them into better frameworks, whether this is done by Parelli and his students, by other natural horsemen –and women or by conventional trainers.

schoolgovernor Sun 17-Mar-13 15:01:39

To be honest xavier, I'm losing the will to live reading your posts.

Horsenalities - apart from being widely criticised by real equine behaviour experts... I think the reason why many people who support nh training have a problem with this way of looking at horses is that it encourages people to be inflexible in their thinking about horses. They stop looking at the horse in front of them in that moment. Do you think someone like Buck Brannaman attempts to slot horses into such categories? The reason you haven't found anyone else attempting to teach in this way is because it's not a good idea. But as Pat relies heavily on a system that is a franchise, and has to look the same the world over - it's a solution that he's come up with to do the best he can. (I have sat wearily through the Horsenality DVD teaching several times, it's still crap).

Catwalk - the video is rough, but the treatment dealt to that horse is beyond dispute. Pat abandoned the approach and retreat method very quickly and went into roping legs and levering the horse down with a thin rope under it's top lip. Disgraceful, and comparing it to other instances of horse abuse is hardly relevant. That is what someone who wants to influence the world of horses was prepared to do in public. I shudder to think what he does away from the crowds.

The Yo Yo "game". Smashes the horse around the face with a heavy metal clip. In fact, as nobody seems to pay much attention to the correct fitting of a rope halter in Parelli, the clip often smacks horses round the face just when they are running about "playing" - because the noseband is too big. Strangely enough, when you watch the really good trainers in action - people like Buck, Mark Rashid etc, they manage to get their horses backing up without the help of a bit of metal to hit them with. They also get the horses backing up with relaxation and correct flexion... something it's hard for a horse to do when forced.

Oh, and I know all about the order to "play" the "games" - Friendly, Porcupine, Driving, Yo Yo, Circling, Sideways, Squeeze... Very clever to use the word game when talking about something that is anything but for the horse. Generally, on any Level 1 clinic, you see horses going through some things that are far from games to them.

Barney the one-eyed horse smacked about by Linda for a prolonged period. Well, I have that DVD on my shelf, because it was part of the Level 1 instructional set. Linda was not only beating up on a horse that for a lot of the time couldn't even see her coming - she was teaching beginners that it was fine.

There are some excellent examples of the natural horsemanship approach, unfortunately Parelli isn't a great example and has done a lot of harm in the UK. So many barriers have been put up with the horse-owning public because of their experience of Parelli. Now anyone with a rope halter in their hand gets lumped into the same mediocre camp.

Booboostoo Sun 17-Mar-13 15:20:12

I'm with schoolgovenor.

Horsenalities: a loads of codswallop dressed up as science in an attempt to legitimise the background claims.

Riding skills of PP and LP: you must be joking, under any system, Western, English or what have you, a horse that is not working from behind is a poorly trained horse. LP's demonstrations of dressage movements are about as sophisticated as my 2 year old showing a half pass with 'My Little Pony'.

Marketing: ferocious marketing machine, designed to fleece people who know no better into thinking that perfectly common place behaviours that most horses know (or can easily be trained to pick up) are somehow miraculous and can only be brought about if you invest in a £50 stick.

Reality: the videos. Impatient, arrogant trainers cutting corners and getting frustrated and cruel when quick results are not easily forthcoming.

(xavier if posts do have to be 3,000 words long please use paragraphs)

Pixel Sun 17-Mar-13 18:27:44

Phew Sheldon Xavier, lucky I'm a good speed-reader otherwise I'd have gone blind.

In other words, they do not like their horses to be living creatures, they would rather have them to be machines. Had to pick you up on that one as I've already mentioned the Parelli demonstration I saw at Windsor. I've never seen such a bunch of brain-dead, dull-eyed horses in my life. It was in total contrast to the paradressage demo which went before it, where the horses had bags of spirit and energy and were clearly enjoying their work.

True wild horses, leaving out some disputable exceptions such as the prezwalski horse, are regretfully not around anymore. I think exmoors are truly wild apart from round-ups once a year (am I right in thinking that?). They were mentioned in the Domesday book so have certainly been on the moor since then and they live in natural herds all year round with no human intervention. Unlike the mustangs they aren't descended from domesticated ponies that went back to the wild, they have always been wild, at least the feral herds have (obviously there are some bred in studs but not all that many I don't think otherwise they wouldn't be on the endangered species list).

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