Tag Archives: Parelli Natural Horsemanship
Parelli Parade of Preposterousness

Parelli Parade of Preposterousness

From a recent visit to an online equestrian forum:

I am sending this to a couple different groups as I feel it is important to get the word out to potential Parelli followers. As many of you know, I am currently recovering from a brain injury from a fall from a horse this summer. This was a green horse but he spooked while I was getting off, something any horse could do and the odds of a serious accident on a horse finally caught up with me. One thing I have noticed is an ad for Parelli and Linda is jumping a horse bareback and no helmet. Also while I was bedridden I watch a couple of his episodes and he had a a young person who was physically disabled riding without a helmet and it was obvious her balance was not good. I sent a letter to Parellis asking them to please advocate the use of helmets. This is their reply, which I think is totally STUPID coming from professionals.

Patti – w.wa

Does this look like a good idea to you?

Does this look like a good idea to you?

205-0025The Parelli Faculty’s response:

Hi Patti,

Thank you for taking the time to write us. We understand your views and concerns. As quoted by the faculty at our ranch:

You are quite right – helmets are fabulous things and they save many lives. Tragically though, people who ARE wearing helmets also die or suffer serious head injuries in accidents with horses.

Our program is intended to address the safety problem at its root – which is behavioral – rather than address the symptoms of it. Our message is about developing the relationship with the horse, and the savvy level of the rider, so that unsafe behavior is addressed long before the rider gets on the horse – rather than allowing the unsafe situations to continue to occur and hope that the helmet, body protector, etc, will protect us from the consequences.

The reason you do not see our people wearing helmets is because we try to teach people that rather than be brave because they are wearing a a helmet to protect them, they would be better off not riding until their horse is behaving safely.

People have called us brave for not wearing helmets, but we say they are a lot braver than we are. We would not get on their horse until we had addressed the issues that cause it to behave in unsafe ways.

We hope this helps,

From the Faculty, Parelli Centers

As a fascinating conclusion to this insanity, a post about Linda Parelli’s recent fall.

People respect this man’s organization enough to send them a great deal of their hard-earned cash. I understand that there is a lot to be learned from any trainer, especially one so accomplished as Pat Parelli. Yet I hoped that he would feel the responsibility incumbent upon him by virtue of all those faithful adherents and send out a message in support of safety and security. Doesn’t Parelli Natural Horsemanship have lawyers?

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Just Hold Your Horses!

Just Hold Your Horses!

That one episode of Parelli Natural Horsemanship on RFD TV has had me thinking for days. All it takes is for one seed to be planted and off we go, eh?

Linda Parelli demonstrated one exercise for going to get the horse that encapsulates so much that is right about horsemanship. She carefully showed how to walk out into the paddock, field or barn to get the horse for riding in a way that maintains or builds a horse’s confidence. She spoke a lot about confidence, because that’s a Parelli trope. But it kept occurring to me that it’s not just about confidence. It’s about seeking to establish and maintain equal footing in the relationship with the horse.


I know I’m as guilty of this as the next person. We grab a halter and stride purposefully out to the stall, filed, paddock, one intention, very clear. We march right up to our horse, pop the halter on and march back to tack up. In a way, this is imposing our will on a horse who might have had other plans. It can leave the horse feeling gobsmacked and kidnapped. Realistically speaking, of course, we can’t just say,

oh Dobbin, I know you were counting on lazing and grazing all day, so I’ll just mosey back home and pay my bills instead of working on those lead changes.

We ride horses for a reason. Notwithstanding PETA’s arguments, we have to get stuff done.

Linda Parelli demonstrated her method of going to get a horse for work. The essence: hold your horses! Don’t be in such a hurry that you can think only of your purpose and forget to build the relationship and the horse’s confidence. I would add that oftentimes we are not really thinking about what we are doing or how we are doing it at all. Our minds are someplace else. Parelli approaches the horse slowly, making eye contact as soon as she is within range. The moment the horse notices her, she stops. If the horse looks or turns away, or in the worst case scenario, runs or walks away, she stops in her tracks and waits for eye contact. This allows the transaction to happen on equal terms. How often we forget that this is an interaction between two beings. It’s not grabbing a grocery item off a shelf! When eye contact is re-established, she moves forward with the same slow deliberation. She speaks softly to the horse in greeting. Once she is beside the horse, she doesn’t just slap on the halter and make off with him. She takes a moment to scratch or rub some itchy spots, to greet him as he’d like to be greeted, and then gently puts on the halter. The horse will be glad to see her next time, especially if there’s a touch-oriented greeting, or an occasional cookie. For she has made the initial contact one of equality rather than a forced intrusion. She doesn’t then march off to the grooming stall with only her purpose in mind. She and the horse walk together. There is touch. This is the equine version of conversation. There is play (Parelli games on foot). It’s a peaceful and cooperative transition from separation to togetherness that is diametrically opposed to striding into the paddock, haltering and yanking the horse back to the barn.

Though less easy to encapsulate in a paragraph or two, Linda Tellington-Jones’ TTouch and T.T.E.A.M. method of making and maintaing intimate and respectful contact with a horse, and ensuring that calm and effective learning can take place is even more effective in creating a mentally and emotionally stable learning environment. Or a calm mind for hacking. At some point, I will write about this in detail. Suffice it to say that touch is the salient word here. Just as Parelli centers her greeting on awareness and touch, Tellington TTouch focuses on touch as the medium of communication for all of horsemanship.

Equally important in Parelli’s and Tellington-Jones’ methods are taking the time it takes to get the job done. I have so often wanted to shout at myself and others: “Just hold your horses!” We need to spend more time with tasks that at first might seem menial, unimportant. But what is more important that establishing a secure bond? If you’re at all familiar with attachment theory (in human developmental psychology), you know that youngsters need a secure relationship with their adult caregivers in order to develop normal social and emotional development behavior. It is my belief that this is the basis for much of modern horsemanship’s “friendly” and “join up” concepts, as espoused by trainers such as Frank Bell, Pat Parelli and Monty Roberts.

This change of purpose from the immediate, human gratification of getting the horse for the work we have planned, to a perspective-altering “using-the-getting-of-the-horse-as-a-teaching-tool” is an easy one to make. And holding your horses has far-reaching benefits for the relationship between human and horse and the social and emotional development of the horse, which can only increase his learning and performance.

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Horse Training and the Fine Art of Mediation: Common Ground?

A couple of days ago I was watching Parelli Horsemanship on RFD TV. Half the program was devoted to “asking permission to approach the horse.”

It’s about time! This segment was a thrill for me. Watching Linda Parelli demonstrate how to “go and get your horse” in a polite way was a pleasure. It was the first time I’ve seen anyone in the big-time, TV horse world talk about respect for the horse’s personal space. Extrapolating on the idea of the approach, one can see that the Parellis are not just talking about the initial approach, but about all of horsemanship itself.

To paraphrase Robert Benjamin in his article From the Horse’s Mouth: On the Nature of Equine and Human Negotiations, It’s the difference between attacking the other’s reality and and asking polite permission to enter it. I was struck by how both Benjamin and Johnnie Moore described horsemanship in terms of negotiation. And how they nailed my feelings about most people’s direct approach to human-centered horsemanship. Most trainers teach human-centered horsemanship. Even the much-loved Pony Club of America Manuals work from the premise of the human at the center of the relationship. Though natural horsemanship people talk a lot about the horse, they often forget one thing: interaction between two individuals (the horse and the human) is a negotiation, and the side of the horse must be treated with equal consideration and politeness. Hence the little thrill I got from watching Parelli Natural Horsemanship last night. Did anyone else see it? What do you think?

Both Pat Parelli and Robert Benjamin remind us that humans humans retain more predatory behaviors than we think, and that we do not recognize them when they surface in our negotiations with other humans and with horses. It is when they surface in negotiations with horses that they trouble starts. Benjamin goes a step further by suggesting that we also share some prey behavior with horses “despite the intervening eons of time and the human capacity for reasoning.” He says that our “frequent regressions into tribal behaviors” are a sure sign that we have not abandoned our prey psyche. But I digress.

Benjamin’s main point, and an opinion he apparently shares with Parelli, is that throughout the interactions between horse and trainer, as well as horse and rider,

still part of our Western folklore is the conventional wisdom about how to train, or more bluntly, break a horse. Still practiced in some quarters, in negotiation terms it is a form of ultimatum–“you will do as I demand, or else–the beast needs to be “broken” and bent to the will of the trainer. As herd animals, so the theory goes, they must be forced to regard the human with the complete deference given to a dominant stallion.

This statement applies not only to the initial “gentling” period, but also to anything we teach or ask a horse to do. To illustrate this point, I will describe a simple situation from way back in the annals of learning to ride.

My trainer and I were hacking out on a mountain. My recalcitrant pony thought the better of crossing a creek. We tried one method and one method only: pressure and (hopefully) release applied with considerable force until the pony had no choice but to acquiesce.

I started with gentle pressure on his sides. He stood stock still, quavering with fear. As I increased the pressure, so his efforts to evade it increased. We spun madly on the creek bank (this is how I learned to stay on). Whenever he’d spin one way, I was instructed to force a one reign stop in the other. Man, was I dizzy! The pony stepped up his efforts to avoid pressure by adding backwards movement, at speed. My instructions were to sit tight. We were going to force this issue. He wasn’t going to be allowed to “get away with” not crossing that creek. Long story short, we were there a half hour, I fell off more than once, he was frothing and shaking, and we did eventually cross the creek, like a frog with a rider. His reward for the punishment? A couple of rubs on the neck.

What had just happened? Instead of calming and instructing him, we scared the bejeesus out of him. We forced our own reality on him. YOU WILL DO IT OR ELSE. I don’t think that once he got over, he said to himself, “Oh, ok, that wasn’t so bad.”

If on the other hand, we had allowed the poor little guy to approach the creek in a way that didn’t scare him, perhaps riderless, or after calming him with TTouch, or both, it would have been a more rational crossing. He might have learned something. As it was, he learned only one thing: I have to do what those ladies say, and I have to do it now.

We showed him absolutely no respect. No understanding of his fears. No deference to his existence as a separate individual with boundaries of his own. In short, it was not a negotiation at all. There are many trainers who feel that negotiating with a horse, even in the initial stages, is setting a dangerous precedent, and that the horse must never be allowed to feel her is in charge. Here is where I have come to disagree with those trainers. In a peaceful negotiation, no one is in charge. Each side wins. Each side gets what they need from the interaction. Between man and horse, the horse understands what is being asked, and understands that it is not dangerous or terrifying. Man understands that there is a set of boundaries that apply to what you can ask a horse to do at any given time. The locations of these boundaries change over time. That’s what we can exploit in the training scale, with no harm to either side.

If we had taken even more time (more than a half hour for your first ever creek crossing is not too long), building his skills and comfort level with crossing tasks before we even left the yard; if he had the confidence instilled by work in the labyrinth, for example, that initial crossing might have borne the fruit of cooperation, understanding and mutual respect that Linda Parelli was talking about. For many years, folks in the field of mediation have been watching animal training as a way to hone their craft. I think it’s time for us to start taking cues from them.

I still feel guilty about the way that pony was trained.

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