Friday, March 18, 2011

Parelli - Natural Horsemanship

So I didn't really want to write this post, but everywhere I go I hear something negative about Parelli and/or Natural Horsemanship, so I decided to write a response, something that I've never been able to voice in person when confronted with the issue.

Let me start off with some history. I got my first horse when I was 9 and the woman who I bought him from/helped me find him (she was a half owner) was my trainer. I've talked about her a bit before this, we'll call her DVO. Well, DVO is a very good trainer, I have a lot of respect for her and she uses various techniques all combined into one training system that is all her own. She uses Parelli as one of these systems so that was what I was started on.

I enjoyed Parelli, I mean what kid doesn't want to grow up to be able to ride your horse bridleless? I bought a rope halter, lunge line and carrot stick. Some of this was from Parelli, some of it wasn't. It didn't really matter what maker the tools had as long as I had them. Grady was a horse that responded very well to Parelli training. He was bratty but really wanted to please. He learned to lunge nicely without taking off without me, he learned to bend and not bolt, to stop and stand still for mounting, to be caught in the pasture.

I learned even more than he did. I learned to read horses' body language and to use my body to influence theirs. I learned to have an independent seat and to use the most subtle aids possible, I learned to make boundaries and I think most importantly I learned to establish a great partnership with a horse.

As I grew older, I heard less and less positive things about Parelli. I've been to a couple of his tours and thoroughly enjoyed them. At that point, to me, it was obvious that he was a very good horseman. He was fair to the horse but still got results. He didn't let them get away with bad behavior, but he didn't push them too hard. I switched trainers and passed my Parelli Level 1 assessment on Grady. My new trainer, JF, also used some Parelli methods, though like most natural horsemanship trainers I know she didn't follow only one train of thought, but instead a blend of several. She helped my with Jazz and eventually we passed our Level 2 assessment.

That's something I really enjoyed with Parelli was the assessments. I'm a very competitive person, I like to have set goals and succeed at those goals so these assessments were perfect for me. Through JF and others I heard more negative things about Parelli. One was that he was very jealous with his students, oftentimes if a student looked like they were getting as good/successful as he was or better, he would go out of his way to make things difficult for them, oftentimes ultimately resulting in the student's quitting. This wasn't that big of a deal to me. I was happy with the training system, the man behind it didn't really matter to me.

I have the first edition of this book,
and while not amazing, I enjoyed it.

Over the years one of the main complaints that I have heard about the Parelli system is the marketing - how oriented it is on using only Parelli's magical tools. But really I don't see it that way. You can buy a carrot stick from multiple places, they now make a generic brand that sells for about $10, of which I have several. Personally I prefer a carrot stick as opposed to a lunge whip, partially because it's what I grew up using. Rope halters also aren't hard to find. I think I only own one Parelli halter and all others are from multiple other places. I will say though that just any rope halter won't do. Those terriby stiff and thick rope halters really aren't doing much for you like a soft flexible one would. You can buy a 30 foot lunge rope too without having to rely on Parelli. You don't need the bits or the bridles, the pad or the saddles either. Just work with what you have. I don't really remember Pat ever saying, you just need my awesome tools and your horse will be amazing in no time, though that's how people seem to interpret it. Sure, he markets his tools, what horse person that has their own line of tack doesn't? I mean can you name someone that says "Yeah, I created this line of tack, but don't buy it, I mean it's really not different from anything else out on the market."?

Alysha & MoonPie - Green Ball Friendly gameClinicians are for the sole purpose of trying to market their form of training to as many people as possible. That's another argument that people have, that they are trying to make it a one-size fits all kind of thing. I don't really agree with that either. The point is that you are supposed to learn to read your horse. Is he refusing to do something because he's scared or is he being defiant, does he not trust you or is he doing it because he doesn't understand what you're asking or does he hurt? How you ask your horse to do something depends on why they're doing or not doing something.

I must admit that I am a self proclaimed follower of the "old" Parelli. After he started coming out with the new programs - the HorseNalities and the patterns, the cradle bit, etc. I just kind of ignored it and kept with what I had always been doing. Personally the patterns don't seem like anything special to me, I already had my own idea of the horsenalities and the cradle bit is just another tool that I haven't found a use for. There are many people I'm sure that have benefitted from these new things, but I'm sure there are just as many people that haven't.

Along with this, I must say that Pat & Linda have not impressed me in recent events. There have been several incidents that I just don't understand what they were thinking when they did it. It's not what they teach, it's not something that they would promote. These incidents include working with the show jumping stallion Catwalk, the recent Road to the Horse and others. (Very good response to the Catwalk incident here.) What were they thinking? I don't know, but that's not the Parelli that I support, and not one I want others to follow. I was disappointed when Pat got bucked off at the Road to the Horse competition. I mean he used to be a professional bronc rider, what happened? But people change. He's getting older, he's not the person he used to be, but I would argue that neither is anyone else. We all change.

So I have to say I'm not a Parelli "follower." I'm not in that cult of people that believe he's all that and more. I liked the old system of Parelli and I'm sticking to it. Parelli is just one technique in my box of training tools. It has really helped me with a variety of horses. It's helped me to gain not only their respect and trust, but learn and grow as a trainer myself.

I advise you to watch this video. I loved it.
It shows what you can do when you have a
true partnership with your horse. You can
accomplish a lot as long as you listen to your
horse and they listen to you. You don't have to
do Parelli to acheive closeness with your horse,
it's simply one of many paths to get there.

One issue that I think there is with the Parelli system is that it is often marketed as a self-taught system. Buy the Level 1 pack and you can train your horse yourself! But this isn't for some people. Some people need that in-person guidance. They need someone to show them how to do things in person and correct them when they're wrong. That's where so many problems come from is that people teach themselves to do Parelli, but instead they are just making things worse. And the worst part is that they're convinced that they are doing it right. Reading a horse comes with experience, it's not something that can be taught just through watching a video. I think people wanting to do Parelli should simply find a trainer in their area. I know of many awesome Parelli trainers, but Parelli is not only what they do. It's also a lot of common sense, which I support whole-heartedly.

Sorry this has been so long, but there's just so much more that I can write. I will end this post by saying that while I don't like the new system of Parelli or the man himself, I support the basic concepts. They've worked for me. I can tell you that the best feeling in the world is to have your horses choose to be with you when they have the choice of running away and hopping on a horse bareback and bridleless in the pasture to go for a short canter around the field is awesome! Just choose what works for you and ignore what doesn't. Most importantly be fair to the horse. But realize that just because there are many people out there that despise natural horsemanship and its followers, there is always a flip side to everything. As a horse person, I think our greatest responsibility is to educate ourselves.


  1. "Absolute power corrupts absolutely"

    I think that's what happened here, somewhere amidst all the money and fame they lost their way and became showmen instead of horsemen. That's my take, anyway.

  2. THANK YOU for this great post! I have been practicing natural horsemanship for about 10 years... I studied at the Parelli center in Colorado... and I even performed in one of their tour stops with my horse. Despite all of this, I have never considered myself a "follower" of Parelli, and never fully bought-into their lingo hook, line, and sinker...
    Rather like your trainers, I incorporate Parelli into a varied training program to develop sport horses that are sound in both mind and body.
    I don't buy their expensive equipment, and I don't watch the DVDs either. I learned Parelli when Pat & Linda were first developing their home-study programs, and I actually won the trip to study at their university when I performed at the tour stop! Other than those 2 weeks.... I have been completely self-taught. Once you learn the basics about horse psychology... you don't need any of the other "stuff" they market anyways.
    I do think that the Parelli system is an ingenious tool that every-day people can use to develop dynamic communication with horses.
    But I don't like the direction Pat & Linda have gone with it, and I think they have lost a lot of their original customers in the process. Though they certainly aren't hurting for new recruits! It's become another huge American corporation. However, none of this changes how I feel about their original program.... and personally, I think there are still A LOT of people out there who could benefit greatly from it!

  3. @smazourek - I agree. They've just gotten too much into the marketing and kind of forgot about where they started out and putting the horse first.

    @Jenny - You're welcome :) I think people are too quick to dismiss Parelli when there are some valuable tools in his training system. Just because someone says you should buy their stuff doesn't mean you *have* to which is where I see a lot of people get hung up.

  4. Awesome post! What I absolutely LOVE about what you write is that you stick to what works for you and your horse and that you follow your own truth above anything else.

    What I also love is that eventhough you encounter some aspects that you do not like or agree with, you don't throw the baby out with the bath water! You keep what is good, what you resonate with... and the rest you sinply ignore.

    That, to me, is savvy!