Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Getting to Thoughts on the Horse and Soul Parelli USA Tour 2012

Part One

I think to explain how I got to my conclusions at  the Parelli event, I must first explain how I got to where I am today in terms of my philosophy about training horses. Don't worry that doesn't mean I'm going to go into some marathon telling  of stories but I want to address the process I have traveled in my thinking about natural horsemanship. That term and its meaning is what drew me after all to go to see Pat and Linda Parelli in action.

For me the journey began because of uncomfortable feelings in my gut either while observing, and sometimes by doing, things with horses. Having read Black Beauty as a kid, I already had some inkling horses could end up in bad situations.  My internal reactions to situations around me confirmed the social injustices directed towards horses had changed at a rate slower than what I had wanted to believe.  Watching and learning while listening to that voice inside, I was trying to find a way that suited my horse and my inner turmoil while still keeping me and my family safe.

In those early days, I had never heard the term, anthropomorphism, (something else that Pat Parelli mentioned this weekend and that I initially learned from The Tao of Equus)  but I had seen plenty of examples of it.  People projecting human behaviors onto horses. I could see its use definitely had a negative impact on horses, and even people, although the people doing it failed to see the correlation. It seemed like every time I heard someone refer to a horse as a jerk or blame a horse's mood for some behavior issue,  my gut told me what I was hearing was wrong.  It soon became apparent it was more likely a projection of the human's behavior onto the horse as a justification for lack of understanding, knowledge or even abuse, than it was a sound principle for dictating training practices. 

Big things, little things, it really didn't seem to matter. The whole practice of describing equine behavior with human characteristics and thought processes seemed to be a set up for the horse. My gut screamed out repeatedly  as I watched the resulting interactions between trainers, grooms, owners or handlers and the horses these situations centered around.   By this time in my life I was finally beginning to learn my gut was more trustworthy in judging what was appropriate than many around me especially those calling themselves experienced horse people. The problem I saw was finding someone or something that made sense and kept my gut from doing all the grumbling. I learned early on listening to those rumblings helped lead me to a better way that worked for both my horse and me.

At this time, I had never heard the term, natural horsemanship, either so don't ask me how I actually ended up at a John Lyons clinic.   I don't know what drew me there except the fact that I was seeing enough  around me that made me uncomfortable enough to be thinking maybe I needed to look elsewhere than the Arabian industry for answers in dealing with horses.  Looking back it's another in the long list of things that has helped me along my journey and materialized just at the moment I needed.

From the opening sentence of that first symposium, I recognized the difference in this philosophy from what I was seeing  while working at the Arabian barn. Now, I'm not saying those people at the barn were cruel or anything like that, because they most certainly were not. There was, however,  a difference in the thinking between John Lyons explanations of what the horse was thinking and what others I was exposed to said.  

There were contradictions between what I saw and explanations of the whys and hows that didn't make sense to me. This new perspective helped explain some of those conflicts for me and fit what my own personal relationship with horses had been. That was the beginning of the discovery of natural horsemanship for me.

I spent about ten days with John Lyons going to all three events that were offered. I still have the notes I took during that time but I didn't really need to use them all that much. So many pieces fell into place for me, I felt empowered in a way words can hardly describe.

I have always had a good feel for a horse. Maybe that helped me see I wanted something different. Like anything new, I had to practice and I'm still practicing. My horse didn't always respond like the horses I'd seen but I felt like I had the tools to figure out what my horse was really thinking and needing.

Armed with an understanding of instinct and equine behavior I found I could get inside my horse's head in a way that worked for both of us. It wasn't always fast, but it was efficient. It was easy for me to see the time spent establishing this understanding with my horse would affect everything else I would ever want to do with that horse.

Not only that but it gave my horse good skills to live amongst humans, a responsibility I felt resting on my shoulders as a breeder. What was the point of bringing more horses into the world if I didn't equip them with the skills to live in this world with humans and be good citizens in the process?

Wanting only the best for my horses, I have always felt the best is what they would get if I did my job correctly. Even in that thinking I was basing my belief on the fallacy that everyone around me had the best interests of my horses and even me as a breeder at heart  because that's where I was coming from. I recognized our connection and how our success is all linked, it only makes sense there would be teamwork, another flaw in my thinking.....but still one that motivated me to be a kinder, gentler person in dealing with horses and people.

Over the years I have seen a number of the famous clinicians behind the natural horsemanship movement. Each has his own terms, equipment and techniques but the basic philosophy has always been the same. Each of those people I have studied and understood seemed to have had connections to Tom Dorrance so I read whatever I could find that he had written and articles written about him and on and on.

The differences I have seen tend to be more about style and choice of words than real changes in philosophy. It seems to be a very competitive field and each cowboy ( and they have all been cowboys in some way) seems to think  his way is the best and his tools are the best but that has never bothered me.

 Looking around at the loyal followers of each, I tend to think it's a matter of teaching styles and learning styles. The important part is what works for the horses and their people who are involved with me. The whole idea of looking at things from the horse's perspective and doing what the horse needs to teach him/her made perfect sense to me then .......... and it makes perfect sense to me now. Pat and Linda Parelli did nothing to change that view, nor would they want to..... It was easy to see from their first words that we were on common ground. How solid that ground was to be determined over the course of the weekend.

To be continued.................



  1. I have never attended a Parelli type clinic, nor seen much of what they do.Unfortunately what I have seen or heard has been extreme,either for or against but not much in the way of detail. I often wonder what it is that polarizes folk about clinicians. I take what I can from each person coach and work with what I know towards the betterment of my horses.It seems that if we are open to learning , any number of people can teach us something .

    1. I have seen the polarity too. There was even some discussion about detractors at the clinic.

      I try to be open to what someone has to say because you just never know when something will click that works. Throwing the baby out with the bath water has never been helpful. Just because there are parts I didn't agree with doesn't meant the whole thing was flawed.

      Having seen so many horses being forced and gimmicked into things, it is obvious to me there needs to be changes made in the industry. I think anything the gets people to understand how to treat their horses humanely and be safe themselves is worth considering.

  2. Like fv, I have never been to a parelli clinic but don't care for a few things they do; the helmet topic, selling a magical carrot stick for an absurd amount of money. But if they are trying to teach people not to project human emotions and thinking into their horse's behaviour, then we might actually agree on something. I've seen first hand the damage done to horses because of this thinking. Horses suffer in old age and injuries when people say " we don't euthanize grandpa because he's old and crippled." sometimes i think people like this need to have kids so they will stop treating their animals this way.

    1. There was quite a discussion about the projection behavior. It is definitely one of the things they are against. So much of the abuse I see is justified by such behaviors, I can't help but think educating others about the fallacy of this thinking has got to be the start of something good.

  3. I've always tried to do the best I can for my horses. To know what they are feeling or why they are reacting a certain way is a sense I think you develop the more you're around them. If I'm stumped about a behavior I'll always take the next step and try and figure out how to help them through whatever it is bothering them. Or what I can do to make them understand what I'm asking. We have back and forth conversations. All my horses seem to be happy, they have good manners and they are ridden carefully and brought through their training slowly.

    That said, I'm just not a big fan of certain 'natural horsemanship' guru's. There are a very few in my book who are not in it for themselves and the money they can make. I know a lot of people follow their idols with stars in their eyes but I'd rather work it out for myself and not take the word blindly of some self-professed expert. So I guess like everything else in the world everybody has their own opinion about certain things.

    1. Unfortunately, there are not enough people who really want to understand what their horse is thinking. I see so much of horses being punished for not doing right when they don't even understand what is being asked of them in the first place.

      While I'm not impressed by all the commercialism, I understand that some people need to be a part of something like this to have the strength to buck the system in the barns where they board their horses. The sense of community built being a Parelli fan definitely empowers some and gives them the tools to stand up to those critical people around them. While the commercial is what turns me off, I saw lots of evidence that it turns others on. My guess is without that big draw, some would not be motivated to even attempt to make changes. For me, whatever works is good as long as it makes life better for horses and safer for people.

  4. I like your response, fernvalley. I haven't seen a whole lot of his work either. I guess I was turned off by his incompetent followers. And, his clinic at the Equine Affaire, a few years ago, that didn't offer anything for the viewer to 'take home', but rather, was an impressive circus act.

    As for the incompetent followers, I'm sure every clinician has a bunch of those, perhaps I just haven't been around them.

    Perhaps I'll take a look at what he has to offer, I do try to learn from anyone, and haven't given him half a chance.

    1. I have seen incompetent followers for other clinicians. It always amazes me how someone can take good information and twist it to suit their needs.

      The basic elements I saw were based on a sound premise but it could easily be manipulated by someone not paying attention and only hearing what they want to hear.

      I know of people getting hurt because they trusted their horse when it clearly didn't deserve the kind of trust it was given. Repeatedly this weekend the Parellis reminded people these are tools to build trust but a horse is still a horse first and trust can not be taken for granted. There were no blanket assurances if you get this game done, your horse can be given complete trust.

  5. Like fv, I tend to take a little of this and a little of that from every clinician/mentor I've been fortunate enough to have.They all have their good points and their weaknesses. Ind like the part I mentioned in your other post on this subject, there is only so much we can absorb in the moment that we are in. We all want the best for our horses, and sometimes we let them- and ourselves- down, usually from ignorance. Going to clinics or taking lessons has helped many of us to better ourselves and our horses. We can never learn too much, and no teacher is infallible.

    1. I couldn't have said it better.

      There were things said that I didn't agree with at all. I will mention them when I get to that place but they were small in the big scheme of things. I actually got a couple of ideas on particular problems I am dealing with and ideas on a thing or two I'd like to try just to see what I get. I'm pretty sure I'll be learning the rest of my life and both Parellis said the same thing.