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Old 09-24-2011, 03:32 PM
Location: Canada
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Since there's no horse forum, I thought I would ask my question here. For horse owners out there, I'd like to know whether you have any experience with the Parelli method of horse training, and what you think of it. I'm not so much interested specifically in the Parelli stuff, as the ideas behind it - that of not dominating or scaring the horse.

And if you don't agree with that method, is there a method you prefer?
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Old 09-25-2011, 02:31 PM
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Never heard of it, but I'd be interested in knowing more from those who have used this method.
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Old 09-25-2011, 04:06 PM
Location: Canada
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Maybe I should post a link, huh? Natural Horsemanship - The Parelli Method | Parelli | Parelli

The basic idea behind it isn't new to Parelli, but he seems to have made a successful business out of it. The premise is that you make your horse your partner - you don't use any form of violence, including raising your voice. You make the horse want to do what you want the horse to do out of mutual respect. No domination.

At least that is what I get out of it. Now personally, I have always hated the 'cowboy' way of breaking horses - more breaking than training, and it often involved a lot of yelling, intimidation and the horse invariably bucked the first time it was ridden.

But I came across a comment somewhere, can't remember where, that said that if a horse trained Parelli-style went to a new owner, very often the horse required retraining if that new owner didn't subscribe to Parelli's methods. I don't understand how that can be.
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Old 09-29-2011, 08:22 AM
Location: Susquehanna River, Union Co, PA
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I know a man who practices Parelli-style training and he is magnificent - serene, gentle, and powerfully effective. Horses literally follow him around the place.

My guess, having seen this man compared with other trainers, is that a horse trained Parelli-style will not respond (or respond badly) to aggressive commands, prodding or switching. The horse will have learned to be his best horsey self and to be friendly and cooperative; he will expect that his rider will trust him to do what is needed without being 'driven around' like a vehicle. It's a much more subtle rapport.
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Old 09-29-2011, 09:03 AM
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I've been following Parelli's training methods for years, with a couple of friends who had been certified by him as trainers for horse starting and rider training. I got certified at Level 2 and was doing some of the Level 3 rider training when both of my trainers left the Parelli progarm to go out on their own. They left because of a lot of in-house politics and financial issues with being able to use the Parelli trademarked programs/nomenclature for their training businesses; they'd established enough of a clientele that they could use their own names rather than paying Parelli to use his to bring in clientele.

Parelli's programs, in and of themselves, are effective and I think work very well. But keep in mind that Parelli contributed nothing to the world of horsemanship except his marketing of the training techniques, and his expanations to the students of what to do, why, and how, right down to your every body movement. If you look at his programs and get the inside story on many details, you'll understand that Parelli is very careful to phase in stuff to achieve progress, but there's more advanced aspects which he doesn't burden you with at the time until you've mastered the performance of what you are doing ... kinda' the same way that a college course begins with basics and then reveals concepts of more advanced insight at post grad levels. This may ... or may not ... fit in with your learning style and type of communication.

I am also acquainted with a rancher who claims that he "taught Parelli a lot of natural horsemanship techniques before Parelli became PARELLI!". He numbers himself just one of several dozen horse trainers that he knows that have used these same techniques for decades, and they learned from a whole bunch of trainers before them. Just about all of them could practice what they knew how to do with horses, but were reluctant or unable to teach others their techniques, their "stock in trade" for horse training. They learned from each other because they had the insight to understand what the others were doing, as opposed to other methods of horse training (some rather heavy handed ....).

Know, too, that there are a host of other well marketed "natural" equine trainers in biz today ... Clinton Anderson, IMO, is one of the good guys ... and a number of others have the same techniques but are terrible communicators/teachers. I've watched some who are getting the job done with the horse in their body language and exercises, but tell you as a student about other things that is their lesson for the day ... ignoring the actual stuff that they're doing that is making their communication with the horse effective. To my mind, they're horrible teachers for paying students, but they certainly can do the right things with the horses and I can ride the horses that they've trained with the same techniques I learned from Parelli's methods. For example, I haven't had a bit in a horse's mouth for almost two decades ... riding only with the soft halter on all my trail rides.

A Parelli natural trained horse can be ridden with other styles and will respond normally to that type of rider. The difference is that if you establish the leadership and communication with a Parelli trained horse per the natural style of horsemanship, you will get a better response from the horse ... a more willing effort and the best they can do without more effort upon your part. Opening that line of communication is part of your "pre-ride" groundwork with a horse each time you go to ride it. The result is the difference between a horse being forced to do what you want it to do vs. having the horse do what it wants to do because you've guided it to that decision naturally.

As one who had the opportunity to ride many Parelli trained horses, I was able to ride any of them using the techniques I'd been trained. There was no patterning to one rider for a horse, but a training for the horse to respect the leadership of the rider. I've watched Parelli method students at various levels ground work a horse, even ride them ... and then I've gotten on the same horse at another time and had a good ride with it.

I consider myself only an adequate intermediate level rider, not some horse expert ... like my neighbors who have been "breaking" horses all of their lives on ranches and claim that they can ride any horse for ranch or trail work as needed with a few days of training. Indeed, my trainer used me to do pre-buy inspections for horses for her students ... on the premise that if I could go out and enjoy a trail ride with a horse, then it had to be a safe and capable horse for her students because I wasn't as good a rider as many of them were.

On another front ... true story ... I had just finished my Parelli Level 1 tests, and was starting to see what this horsemanship thing was about. I heard about a horse being given away to a good home because nobody could ride it, indeed ... the owners couldn't even load it up into a trailer without using 6 people and lots of ropes and brute force, and they had great difficulty getting a halter on it. I went by their place to see whether or not I would be interested in the horse, a 3 year old arab-belgium cross. I went into the corral where it was kept, with my halter/lead rope/training stick & string ... and got close enough to start playing the "friendly" game. Within 30 minutes I had the horse responding to most of my asks to move his feet where I wanted them to go, and I didn't break a sweat getting to that point. I had him haltered after that, and did a little more ground work ... finally lead him over to my 2-horse straight load trailer, and asked him to load in. He hopped into the trailer on the third ask, and then immediatel backed out. OK, says I, let's do that again ... a few more times into the trailer and out, and then he stopped in the trailer and stood quietly. I was able to hook up the butt chain and close the door on him without any distress or kicking from him. The owners were almost as astounded as I was at that point ... they got the brand inspection and ownership papers for me and I was out of there before anybody was the wiser that I really didn't know that much about what I was doing. But that's how effective the techniques can be.

Another horse ... a papered Arab gelding, an 8 year old horse that had been bred, farm raised, and passed around from family to family in a neighborhood. Everybody was of the mind that their kids would learn to ride the horse as the horse grew up being handled by them. None of the kids ... who really knew nothing about horsemanship ... were able to ride him. He was given to a horse rescue with the idea that they'd place him in a home that could keep him as a pasture pet. My wife and I ... my wife being the real horse expert between the two of us ... went to see the horse because I wanted to try working with an Arabian after all the time I'd spent with my Morgans. Similar to my experience with the first untrained horse, I worked this one on the ground for about 10 minutes ... and realized that this horse was very intelligent and a fast learner, but also had little patience for anybody who didn't see that he was doing what he was asked to do. I had to really learn how to speed up my reactions to his behavior and recognize that he was doing what I asked from the lightest of asks. I had him in a halter in less than 15 minutes, saddled up within another 15 minutes, and I was riding the horse around the corrals and obstacles there in an hour. We loaded him up without any difficulty into the two horse straight load trailer and left with the papers in hand within two hours. Again, I'm not an expert trainer and I don't claim to have exceptional skills in any way. The sole reason I could work with these horses was by using the techniques I'd been taught to communicate with a horse ... and this was when I had just achieved my Level 1 certificate. I learned later that I had to be very careful to use the lightest touch possible to ask this horse to do anything ... the amount of pressure it takes to get my Morgans to move off is enough to have this guy bolting away instantly. Makes for an interesting trail ride if you ask for so much more than you really want from him, I have to concentrate to keep myself a lot quieter on him so I don't get big surprises.

I've come a long way since that beginning with Parelli natural techniques, but the basics are still the basics and work for me when I ride other horses today. I agree with the natural horsemanship techniques ... but the key to using these properly is to learn about yourself. It's a different world than many horse trainers use, and it can work for you ... but I have also seen a fair number of people who can't or won't apply themselves to what they must in natural horsemanship. It's not for everybody ... no matter how hard they try, it just doesn't fit their personality or how they think. For some, it's a matter of finding the trainer that they can relate to, for others, it's only a matter of time and effort which they may or may not be willing to expend.

Last edited by sunsprit; 09-29-2011 at 09:46 AM..
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Old 09-29-2011, 11:28 AM
Location: Canada
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Very interesting posts. I"m going to reread them again later when I have more time. What I couldn't understand was how a horse that has been trained wouldn't respond appropriately to another rider, but the explanation of how the horses don't respond well to raised voices and aggression makes sense.

I don't know anything personally about Parelli, only that I have been using many of his methods since before he was Parelli too, I guess. This all came to a head recently when I thought I was on the same page with a young woman who had her levels in teaching English and Western, and she was dying for a chance to ride. My horses needed more time than I could give them and I thought this would work out to our mutual benefit.

I have been slapping myself on the head ever since because it was a horrible thing to witness. I later tried to explain how unnecessary it was what she was doing, but she wasn't getting it, and I'm just not about to let her on my horses as is.

I had heard vaguely about Parelli before, but I really only read about his methods because I was searching for something to explain to her what I did not want done to my horses.
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Old 09-29-2011, 01:10 PM
Location: Keosauqua, Iowa
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I'm not real familiar with Parelli, although I know who he is and have read articles about him. I was a follower of John Lyons many years ago when I was actively working with horses and liked his methods. Although I never used them to train a horse from the ground up - the horses I worked with were all trained to some extent - I did use a lot of his techniques to work on specific issues. The methods were simple, quick, easy to understand, and the training seemed to stay with the horse.
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Old 09-29-2011, 03:06 PM
Location: Central Texas
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sunsprit, it's very clear that you picked up quickly on what Parelli, and pretty much all of the other people teaching these techniques out there are actually teaching, which is PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT THE HORSE IS SAYING. Once you do that, and the horse realizes that, hey, THIS monkey has BRAINS!, things become much easier.

Plus, evidently, you have or had Morgans. (Who are/were they? Who knows, we might be realtged through our horses!) They're pretty good at teaching you that, too. I always tell folks new to the breed, "If you ask a Morgan, they'll give you 200%. You almost have to keep them from hurting themselves trying to give you what you asked for. However, if you try to TELL a Morgan, they'll look at you (all 100-200 lbs. of you), look at themselves, and decide that if your math and physics is that far off you're not quite bright enough to be the one in charge, and they'll question everything you tell them from then on to make sure you're not asking them to do something stupid that's going to get the two of you hurt."

I attended several John Lyons seminars in the early days, and got some of his videos. My husband, who hadn't gone to the seminars, was watching a couple of the videos, and he said, "This guy isn't a horse whisperer. This guy is a PEOPLE whisperer!"

Which is true. What they're all doing is teaching the people how to pay attention. They each use slightly differing techniques to do it, but that's what it is at rock bottom. It's amazing how many people who have horses don't know how to do that.
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Old 09-29-2011, 03:57 PM
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Originally Posted by TexasHorseLady View Post

Plus, evidently, you have or had Morgans. (Who are/were they? Who knows, we might be realtged through our horses!)(snip)

My first Morgan ... an incredibly capable athlete and one of the most willing horses to carry me and backpacks on long days of trail rides in the mountains, up and down hills at a walking pace that had everybody's quarter horses at a trot ... was "Destiny", from the Bosch herd dispersal in Colorado. "Dutch's True Destiny" was his registered name; if you know the Morgan breeders in this area, then you know his breeder/first trainer. Classic working Morgan lines and conformation, at 14.2 hands built like a solid brick sh*thouse. I called him "dutchman" because he was ... as you describe ... a very discerning horse and somewhat stubborn if you weren't giving him a reason to respect your leadership. When I bought him, he'd been out to pasture after reaching national top 5 in class levels in driving, dressage, and jumping ... and he knew that I didn't speak horse or know very much except which end of the horse to feed. Jeanie Bosch even had him trained to kneel down so she could get into the saddle on him (she was a rather short, stout woman) and then he'd stand up for her.

My wife could ride him using the standard dressage cues, but I never learned where all those pushbuttons were.

After several months of trying to ride my handsome guy, I took lessons from a number of front range riding instructors who were gonna' teach me all about horsemanship. What they didn't understand was that my Morgan wasn't a player for their heavy handed tactics. I came real close to giving him away because I couldn't ride him ... even though my wife had no issues except that he was a strong headed independent kind of ride. It was apparent that the Bosch family didn't use heavy handed tactics to train or ride him to national class levels ... even though they didn't consider themselves "natural horsemanship" trainers or riders.

Enter a Parelli trainer, who I signed up with in sheer desperation to be able to ride my horse. Within 10 minutes she had my horse completely doing anything and everything you could want ... and then some. Piaffe up a trail over obstacles? No Problem. Hold a steady gait in the arena, or up a trail? Back up from an obstacle or a spot in the trail? No Problem. And she did it with only the halter and a lead rope.

First lesson was to get into a closed arena and ride our horses ... without any halter, reins, lead ropes ... nothing except the saddle and us on our horses. I watched a lot of people break down in this exercise, just couldn't deal with having no tools except body language. Fortunately, my horse responded reasonably and we were able to walk, trot, and change direction without too much difficulty. From there it was the Level 1 training pretty much per the Parelli syllabus, but I discovered I had way more horse than I'd ever dreamed of. As he gained confidence and respect for me, we went out for trail rides that were amazing. I've never enjoyed a canter in the woods, but he could carry me up and down hills at a trot all day ... about a 9-12 mph pace ... and then still be able to canter home if asked. My wife did that a number of times because his canter was so smooth ... we'd change horses at the end of the day and I'd ride her tired quarter horse home.

The rest of my Morgans came from Laramie ... another well known breeding operation ... Ann Mears. She had a world champion Morgan that came in at the top of the class in Paris a number of years ago (IIRC, that was MMLyndon).

I attended several John Lyons seminars in the early days, and got some of his videos. My husband, who hadn't gone to the seminars, was watching a couple of the videos, and he said, "This guy isn't a horse whisperer. This guy is a PEOPLE whisperer!"

Lyons is one of the trainers that I don't have much respect for. He's great with horses, but if you watch his body language and how he moves a horse, he's not telling a lower level student what he's doing to accomplish his results. If I didn't have the insight into natural horsemanship I do now, I'd still be lost under his tutelage. He's a poor communicator with people, IMO ... or is deliberately stringing out the concepts that he's allegedly teaching to get more paid lessons from his students. I think he knows that he's doing that, he's too smart to claim ignorance of his teaching goals per lesson.

Which is true. What they're all doing is teaching the people how to pay attention. They each use slightly differing techniques to do it, but that's what it is at rock bottom. It's amazing how many people who have horses don't know how to do that.
Living here in Wyoming with so many horsey people, I see it all the time. Everybody and their families think they're the greatest horse breeders and trainers ever. So many of them breed terrible horses, so many of them don't have a clue except to use a bigger bit and a bigger whip to ride their horses. And many of them think they're horse people because they've got hundreds, if not thousands, of horses that they own.

At one point, I bought the main equestrian facility in my area. Was gonna' get into boarding and have an indoor arena I could use during the winter months. To help promote the facility, I joined up on trail rides with a number of the social horse groups in the area. Most all rode quarter horses ... a few had Morgans and Arabs. They'd see me show up on my 20+ year old Morgan with only a halter/lead rope and give me grief about not having all the tools to do the job for the day. My alfa-minded horse would be leading the way up and down the trails ... and through the streams and creeks and brush where most of their pampered horses would not go. Indeed, the group ride leader would have the group rest for awhile when he would explore trails ahead to be sure that it was a safe trail for the group. He used to ask me to wait with the rest of them, but I insisted upon stringing along with him. He soon got to know that my horse was willing to go anywhere ... including places which I thought were a bit much for my skill level. Dutchman has jumped over logs which I thought were absolute trail blockers ... fortunately, I was able to hang on, but it wasn't fun for me, it was survival.

Sorry to say that Dutchman passed away a few years ago at age 26. He was a goin' horse until a few days before he died. But his old style Morgan buddies on the ranch here can do almost everything he could ... but without his pananche or elegance or smoothness; they're not ever going to be show winners like he was, nor are they expected to be. That horse taught me a lot about myself, and I'm indebted to him for the education.

What I do find interesting in the natural techniques is that I might not ride one of my horses for awhile ... where they'd normally be very "rank" for lack of use ... and head out to do a little friendly and ground work with them. All of my boys remember their training well ... because it's really playing to their instincts; most times I can have them hook up within a minute or two, and then we can do the rest of their groundwork to be sure that they remember how to disengage upon request or the other games that we play before I saddle them up and get on. Even then, I'll still review what we know for the first few minutes before we head off to load in the trailer or hit the trail from home.

Last edited by sunsprit; 09-29-2011 at 04:13 PM..
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Old 09-29-2011, 04:20 PM
Location: Central Texas
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The name Bosch rings a bell, but I know who Ann Mears is, have talked with her online. My breeding program was based on Lippitt Morgans because my foundation mare, love of my life and sister of my heart (we even had the same color hair) was a Lippitt and it went from there.

My idea of a Morgan horse is pretty much like your Dutch - one horse that can do it all with panache, and do it all day long without breaking a sweat. A horse to go on a trail ride with, not one to be transportation. Lydia was all about "hey, let's go see what's around the next corner or over the next hill," whether it was (she was 14.2) being way out in front of 40 horses of various breeds because they couldn't keep up with her, or wanting to go see the panicked flock of 20 ostriches that were running all around their pen ("Cool! Can we go closer and look at those?" ). She spoiled me, and left me at 32, but her daughter and grandson are still on the place keeping me on my toes and reminding me to listen.

John Lyons in the early days and John Lyons later on, two different men, it seems. Between the knee problems and the marriage problems, he seems to have lost his way. But in the early days, if someone wasn't catching on to what he was telling them, it was because they weren't listening. (Which, of course, was exactly why they needed to be there!) Example, in EXACTLY the words used at the time:

John: "Don't look for the specific cue I'm using, use one that makes sense to you. Watch how I'm communicating with the horse."

Student, at break: "I couldn't tell exactly what cue you were using to make the horse do that, so I don't know how to do it. What cue was it?"

I don't know how he managed not to smack them, frankly - I sure would have! (That's probably why I don't teach.)

I did see Zip walk out on him once, when John was seriously needing knee surgery and was trying to use Zip to demonstrate how to work with an unbroke horse (because John couldn't use a real unbroke horse right then). After being given cues to do things that were wrong and then being given cues to do things right, Zip, after looking at the crowd a few times like, "I'm sorry, folks, John has lost his mind, but I'm doing my best to keep the show together," finally walked out of the round pen, carefully through the crowd, and all the way back to his stall, with John following him, apologizing all the way. Zip forgave him, but I don't think John tried that again.

My own problem with Parelli is that I've seen too many Parelli students who missed the entire point and, like the student mentioned above, think it's all about the gimmicks and tricks.
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