Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Something that I didn't fully consider when I took on my first trimming clients was how different their training methods would be from mine. My two clients both follow Parelli, a training regimen that I'm not terribly familiar with but have taken a quick look at and decided it's not for me. I detest the rope shaking (which I've been told is only used in the beginning levels), and from watching Linda Parelli's round pen work I can't say I'm much of a fan of that either.

Another thing I didn't really think about was that when I go to work underneath a strange horse, that horse doesn't know me from Eve.They have no reason to trust me and they have no reason to cooperate. Because of this I've found that it's sometimes helpful for me to take the lead rope and do some groundwork with the horse as an introduction- this is who I am, this is how I work, can we get along?

So I went out to trim the little arab mare that I started seeing in August, up till this point we haven't had any problems, she was happy with me just rubbing and scratching her and was pretty cooperative without me having to take the lead. But this last time it was different, she's had a bunch of time off (it is winter) and we were working in a strange spot. She just didn't want to cooperate, at one point she started sidling away from me every time I went to pick up a hoof. Hindsight being 20/20 I should have realized she was uncomfortable with the location and asked the owner to move her to the other side of the barn. Instead I took the lead rope to see if she was having an issue with me.

Now I like to think that between Alexandra Kurland and Gwen I've learned how to be pretty tactful with a lead rope. I don't tug, yank, or pull on the rope. I've also learned how to gently ask for something so I'll get a nice, calm reaction from the horse without tension. For example, if I want a hip yield I'll take a little more tension on the rope, look towards the horse's hip and step towards it. I might need to point a finger at the hip or touch the hip to initiate movement but as soon as the horse starts moving I back off and let them finish. One step is all I need.

Okay, back to my story.

I started out by leading her forward to see if she would start and stop with me, she was a little up but she did it. Then I turned and asked her to step backwards 2-3 steps, at this point she started getting pissed. I then went to her side to ask for a hip yield and then she just lost it. She started ripping around me, occasionally stopping to fling her hind legs around. I waited until she calmed then asked her to back up and yield her hips again. Again she took off around me, only this time she spun around to face me and struck with a front foot.

Now I don't know about any of you, but there are three things that I absolutely will not just stand there and take from a horse: rearing, kicking, and striking. When she did that, I'll admit I got a little bit mad, I growled at her and snapped the end of the lead rope at her. Of course she took off again, but I think the fact that I didn't back down made an impact on her because as soon as she slowed down, that was it. She didn't feel the need to take off again and I was able to ask her to walk and back with me again calmly with lots of praise.

The owner was quick to tell me this is how she's always been, and that this was a bad day because she hasn't been worked in so long. I think that's a plausible explanation for how hyper she was, and I wouldn't have thought anything of it if it weren't for her aggressiveness with the striking and kicking. It made me think of the other horse I trim, and that every time I see him lunged he's always turning toward his owner and aggressively double-barreling in her direction. Not to mention the first time I had to take his lead and asked for a hip yield he nearly fell over himself trying to do it as fast as he could, which kind of surprised me.

I know both these owners have learned Parelli techniques from the same trainer, so it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to me that their training might be causing both of their horses to act aggressive and protect themselves from perceived pressure. These are both very nice people who do their absolute best for their horses, I know there is no abuse going on here and yet I felt like both of their horses have overreacted every time I see them do any groundwork. From what I've seen of Parelli's program, I'm inclined to think that their training regimen can create tense, anxious horses.

So here's my question to the blogverse: Is there any grounds for my feeling that Parelli training can make horses aggressive or are they doing it wrong?


  1. I see a lot of people who are Parelli devotees who do not even realize that their horses are acting out aggressive behavior toward them - kicking out toward the person while being lunged, making themselves 19h tall while being asked to back etc. I think allowing some aggressive behavior while 'round penning' them to death for other behaviors leaves them confused, defensive and willing to try being aggressive to defend themselves.
    I could go on but learning to train horses from a video leaves me spluttering with frustration.

  2. Thanks Barbara, that's pretty much exactly it- confused, defensive horses.

    I know that these owners have an actual person that they learn from, but they've probably watched the videos too. I haven't asked them about that specifically.

  3. I'm not a big fan of the Parelli's and their training methods. There was a video one time of Linda practically abusing (IMO) a blind horse, the video has since been taken down. Personally, I think it's a way to make money from people who are at a loss at how to train their horses and they are being taken advantage of. I'm just not a big fan of Natural Horsemanship gurus in general. I'd have to agree with Barabara's comment wholeheartedly.

    Nothing takes the place of working calmly and consistently in little steps with horses. Again that's my opinion and how we do it. We've had huge successes this way. Then again everyone has their own methods and what works for one doesn't always work for another. You just have to find what works with the horse you're training at the time. It's give and take and using your brain to figure out the right combination. No one size fits all is going to work on every horse. So now that I've gone a rant about this for long enough let me wish you and your family and critters a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Healthy New Year.

  4. So well said Grey Horse Matters!
    "Nothing takes the place of working calmly and consistently in little steps with horses."
    I am not a fan of anyone touting methods that can be used on every horse -meaning: take each horse as they come. Their personality has a lot to do with how you are to go about their training.
    I'm with you Quarters! - I will not allow striking or kicking in my direction under any circumstance. I like how you reacted to the situation you were faced with. An immediate response of NoWay- you're not gonna do that to me!! And then working slowly and calmly again allowing the mare to calm down and receive praise for the proper behavior.

  5. I have a HUGE opinion on N.H. stuff, after seeing truly willing, smart and sensitive horses MESSED up with it. Thats not even mentioning the people!

    There are some true horse whisperers our there and they don't need knotted rope halters, carrot sticks, or to move horses feet, to gain respect.

    Unfortunate, but what I've seen is anything but natural.
    It's quite anthropomorphic .The whole of people I'm closest to treat the horse like a human- tit or tat like the horse premeditated an action against the "human partner". In retaliationand by them , the smarter human, threateningly twirling a lash on the end of a stick- shows the disrespectful horse the
    meaning of respect( and blows their hocks out at the same time) by making them go back and forth, moving their feet till they are so exasperated- they stop!

    It's widely misused, greatly misunderstood
    Highly and grossly distributed! Ya know what people really want from it??
    They want something " NATURAL" , I mean the name says " natural" . They are duped by a word and thinking that riding in a rope halter is the truest form of

    All that said, I learned many things about my mare by reading watching some N.H. video's. Yet, I still use common sense over the retaliation moves I see some of my stablemates use.
    I can load any horse I've tried to, and without moving their feet but again using common sense and fairness.

    I think that little Arabian you worked with, acted out of fear..and repeatedly being chased, trapped pursued...till she sometimes explodes...and the owner thinks its normal? Um, she's talking pretty loudly to me about self preservation because she thinks she knows what's coming!!!

    I'll shut up now. :-)

  6. I don't have enough experience with Parelli-trained horses to really know - but I do have one horse - Drifter - who was trained at least partly using Parelli methods. And he can try to be an aggressive little dude - we've had to work through things like cow-kicking, striking, biting and kicking out and rearing when lunged. I think it's partly his basic personality - he's a very studdy gelding and may have been gelded late - but I think it's also his training. One of the things I've seen with Parelli is that some of the people starting out in it are pretty inexperienced with horses - that's why they like the "package" approach Parelli offers - so they're not all that good at working horses in terms of their body language and ability to "read" the horse. With Drifter's prior owner, that was certainly the case - she said so herself. So if the horse is behaving aggressively - even more minor things (that can escalate) like stepping into your space or head-butting - the owner may miss the signals or not know what to do. So the horse learns the behaviors and then gets reinfocement if the owner is intimidated.

    But I doubt that this problem is limited to Parelli, although I don't like the "drilling" approach of Parelli or some of the other "natural" horsemanship people - I think it can lead to irritated, shut-down horses.

  7. Thank you all for your comments, I think you're all right on.

    I just watched a video of Parelli working a young horse (it won't let me embed, poo) and I could see the signs of impending aggression in that little horse too. Head craned in the air, body bent completely away from Parelli, looking for every opportunity to get away from him mentally- not to mention the very "in your face," predator approach that Parelli has- I'm left pretty certain in my opinion.

    Unfortunately these owners aren't going to change their training program and I wouldn't be the right person to talk to them about it anyway. I'll just have to keep working around their training.

  8. Now I'm definitely not an expert on any training technique, but here is what I think. I think most of these NH methods take exceptional feel and exceptional timing to get good results. And unfortunately they tend to appeal most to people who don't have those traits.

  9. You have a point there, too bad when I went and looked at Parelli himself he didn't seem particularly good at reading the horse either.

    Go on YouTube and search for "Pat Parelli - The 7 Games - Part 2" posted by Tunderhorses and watch that horse's body language. That's an inverted, tense horse.

  10. Hmmm interesting. I DO some Parelli with Laz. I say 'some' b/c I'm not an avid follower and never am sold 100% to something. HOWEVER, for us, it's helped TREMENDOUSLY with our communication and NEVER has he acted out aggressively like this. In fact, the very reason I started up w/ Parelli was I was struggling with our communication and he was being very aggressive and rude and too much in my space, etc. My friend who has successfully done Parelli with her horses, whom I trust and her horses are such sweet, happy, different breeds/personalities, etc suggest I try it out. I did and we had really great results. I can't say enough good things. I think if done incorrectly; which could be easy and if you are not patient and ALLOW the horse time to process, things could go awry and lead to the horse feeling frustrated and possibly aggressive. However, that is with any/all training. I wouldn't hold the Parelli training accountable; I'd hold the horse owner accountable for something wrong with their communication.

  11. I'm really fascinated by following this. I had horses for almost 14 years 8-21 years of age and my riding was mostly pleasure. My sisters has stuck with horses her whole life and shows quite a lot. She is not a fan of NH. But then again, she is set in her ways, so to speak.

    I am back into horses after a long absence, and NH I find fascinating. I wonder if the videos you are watching are with horses that are new into the program as horses that are trained "NH" usually respond to a fairly light touch... I also know my young QH will paw the ground if I "drill" for too long. Not striking at me, just bored.

    As with any training, there are the good and the bad. I have never watched Parelli, but I did go to a clinic with Buck and it was interesting. His "green" horse was amazing...

    I am impressed with my trainer... calm, kind, and patient. If he was doing something different, I would probably be doing that right now. But he is a NH person... but he calls it "Equine Communication", but it is very, very much NH I would say.

    One thing I have noticed with my QH is how responsive he is now to my legs and body movement (look, leg, lead) and my seat. I try NOT to use the bit and I ride him on a very loose rein. That is good horsemanship, I think, not NH.

    I think a really good point you make is that many of the NH people are new to horses. I would say that is much more to blame than a method... Not understanding the difference between a horse's manners (bored versus aggressive) is not good at all.

    I am a bit confused, though. If my horse is having issues, I would much rather deal with it on the ground, than in the saddle. And just lunging around and around tuning me out is not getting his respect or attention. I find asking him to do EVERYTHING on the ground that I would ask him when I am in the saddle is a very good thing. I'm betting you do to.

    Thanks for this issue... I do like NH a lot, but I am always willing to read the pros and cons. Thanks!

  12. I have some friends who love the Parelli method and others who dislike/despise it. I worked with lesson horses who were trained to Parelli groundwork and, for the most part, they were very easy to work with if you knew how to handle the line. Retaliation with the line is different than defining space and boundaries and is incorrect. Horses who are volatile or edgy are not being handled correctly, regardless of the training program. I think that pretty much goes without saying.

    That being said, I am not a Parelli or NH fan. My understanding is that the horse wants connection with the person for guidance and that all training (ground or undersaddle) should be biomechanically sound. There are many things in the Parelli and other NH training programs that do not resonate with my philosophy of working with horses on the ground or undersaddle. For example, leaning back to back the horse while ridding is biomechanically incorrect. Watching the ears of a horse being backed this way shows that many are irritated (maybe even in pain) by this technique, because they must walk into the riders seat bones. Obedience drilling forces them to comply and negates "reading" the horse. Unfortunately, to less experienced riders, this technique makes sense (lean back to go back). When experienced riders subscribe to it, I just scratch my head.

    I am all for groundwork, but give me Connected Riding, Centered Riding, and Classical Dressage if I must assign labels to my training preferences. Great discussion topic!

  13. Wow, this is a hot topic! I've posted about this before on my blog- so here goes my very long response :) I have to say that I agree with Story and Kristen. I think it's the trainer/horse owners fault, not the technique style. Obviously they are not doing something correctly to get such an aggressive/rude horse. I grew up with a Parelli trainer and I had a blast doing it and I still use some techniques with all of my horses. I have never had an issue with it causing the horse to become aggressive or any thing other than respectful and wonderful, trusting partners. Grady was a green broke brat when I got him and he has become the best horse a little girl could ever ask for. Jazz didn't trust or respect me whatsoever and our Parelli groundwork helped so much in creating a lasting bond between us. What I learned through Parelli is that not all horses require the same kind of training, which people seem to think that Parelli focuses on. Also, it does require a very good feel and timing, which you should develop eventually, though many people fail miserably and do ruin the horse. Though I'd have to say that they'd probably ruin the horse no matter what technique they use! I've mentioned this before, but I've lost respect for the current Parelli marketing and training, I stick to what I grew up with and avoid the "cult mentality" that often follows Parelli. Here are my posts about Parelli that you can read, should you care to, so I don't write a novel here in the comments: and

  14. I ditto Grey Horse's comment... it's a matter of give and take while seeing what works for the individual horse.

    Happy Holidays to you!! I enjoy reading your posts!

  15. I am NOT a fan of the Parellis or their methods. Or their marketing, for that matter. They cater to beginners and then irresponsibly advocate NOT wearing helmets (because, according to the Parellis, their riders do not get on the horse until the horse is so well-trained that it will never spook, therefore helmets are not necessary; and anyone who wears a helmet has not trained their horse enough and is using the helmet as a crutch instead of properly training their horse--and, no, I am not making this up).

    The video of Linda being very aggressive with the blind horse (that was previously mentioned)was put on a Parelli Level ONE Training Video. Because they thought it was such a great example of how beginners should handle their horses (?!?!). Then there's the video of Pat tying a horse's leg up and putting a gum line on a horse to bridle it (that was the whole Catwalk debacle). Yeah, how gentle and "natural." Oh, and as for teaching trailer loading, here's a real gem for ya:

    I do some liberty work with Salem, and it's all hand signals, pressure/release, reward, etc. Not exactly rocket science. When someone said, "Oh, I love watching you do your Parelli work," I was SO livid! I said, " I can't stand those people!!!"

  16. For those of you who have done some Parelli work, thank you for commenting and know that I do agree that you have to be thoughtful and take your horse's feedback into account.

    I'm still not a fan of Parelli but I can see how someone who really checks in with their horse and can read them could make it work very well. Though I think a person like that could do well with any training regimen.

  17. I don't blame any horse type training out there! It's usually the owners. I think if you write a Clinton blog, Pony boy, Richard shrake, Carolyn Resnick, etc. You will all have the same stories. This trainer is awesome, this trainer sucks!!!! That is why there is multiple math teachers and multiple colors to wear in clothes! Not everything fits one person!!! But it doesn't mean that one person teaching is wrong either! I do follow Parelli. I tried all the other NH trainers and didn't understand them. For me Parelli was easy for me to understand and follow. I also liked they start with catching your horse and how to put that spaghetti halter on! What's the point of me buying a trailer DVD, if I cannot even catch my horse, nor halter him. Then, if you cannot do Parelli A, you do not proceed to Parelli B, and so on and so on. But I think an owner out there doing any program with their horse! Is better than not trying to understand their equine partner at all. So for me, I love Parelli helping me understand my equine partner and for Parelli helping my young gelding in the capivity of the human world. But I do support all horse teachers out there:)

  18. I pretty much believe it all comes down to the handlers/owners. No method is fool proof and if you don't have the timing or feel, as Story said, you can take something that worked really well for the clinician and turn it into a nightmare for the horse.

    It is also about time, not timing, but good old fashioned time. Learning how to teach horses properly takes lots and lots of time. It make take little time for some people to do something with a horse at a clinic, but that doesn't mean that horse is trained either. It will take lots of correct repetitions for that horse to truly be trained. I think many people at those clinics think the horse IS trained once the big name clinician is finished with it, or even the small name trainer at home. Yet, for the horse it is an ongoing process that continues long after the clinician or trainer is gone.

    Happy Holidays to you, my friend.

  19. I think some people get great results with parelli and others end up creating horses who are very angry and defensive.

    I think a lot of people doing parelli are trying to follow a cookie cutter program. Which doesn't work for a lot of horses and can only get you so far.

    Like others have said, I don't think there is enough emphasis in the program on biomechanics and correct balance.

    I did do parelli for awhile, and it did teach me a lot. (I knew very little about training beforehand.) But clicker training has taught me SO much more! :)

    I've learned though, to try to evaluate people and trainers as individuals, rather than judging whole training programs. I have seen some videos of people who do parelli who have lovely balance and connection with their horses.


  20. Anyone have some opinions on Clinton Anderson? Are his horses responsive and respectful, but they lost their equine-ality getting there? How can i get my horse to be honest and open with me but have him still do what i ask? I don't want to shut him down, or make him a push-button robot.

    1. Personally I don't like how he treats horses or people and I've heard second hand accounts that back up that opinion.

      I think if you really want to have a good relationship with your horse and have training be a conversation you can't do better than clicker training. I've had great results with it and will continue to use it, check out for lots of good info.