I recently overheard a conversation between two lifelong horsewomen. One of them was very outspoken. She proclaimed that she learned everything about horses that she needed to know from her mother, who was also a lifelong horsewoman. She then started criticizing Natural Horsemanship, and the Parellis in particular. She mentioned an experience she had with a Parelli instructor who came to assist her with fixing her horse’s loading issues, which, I’ve noticed that 99.9% of the time, a horse’s loading issues are actually their human’s issues. From the sounds of it, this Parelli instructor tried to explain to this woman that the goal was to get her horse to want to go onto the trailer. Unfortunately, the instructor wasn’t able to get through to this woman, who continued her story with, “If I want my horse to load at 6am to go hunting, and he doesn’t want to load, he is still damn well going to load!” She concluded by talking about how when the ace (a sedative) wears off when she hunts this horse, he starts trembling all over.
I found this woman’s remarks deeply disturbing. I, too, learned much of what I know about horses from my mom, a lifelong horsewoman, but the difference is I didn’t stop learning, and I didn’t close myself off to other methods and philosophies, and my mom encouraged me to keep learning. While I don’t agree with 100% of what the Parellis teach, I do like a lot of it because it works for me and my horses. The best way to learn is to stay open to other training methods, try them out, and keep what works for you, discarding what doesn’t work and what doesn’t resonate with your heart and your horses’ spirits. Remember, too, that there will always be people who misunderstand and misuse certain training methods. We shouldn’t let these people give the entire method a bad name.
I remember the first time I ever saw the Parellis. It was at an Equine Expo in Pennsylvania, and the Parellis and their horses came galloping into the arena, music blasting, and then they played with the horses. Yes, it was entertainment, but it was also damn good horsemanship, and it was abundantly obvious that the horses were having fun, too. What I like about Natural Horsemanship and the Parelli methods is that they recognize the horse as a sentient being. The horse’s desires and free will are a key part of these methods.
The reason I found the woman’s remarks about her horse and her style of horsemanship so disturbing is because what she really is isn’t a horsewoman, but a bully. She fails to recognize, or perhaps just doesn’t care, that her horse has emotions, that he is a sentient being. Imagine drugging a person, shoving them onto a trailer, then making them run around the woods, pushing them to a point of trauma so severe that they tremble violently once the drugs wear off. This is assault. This is abuse. But somehow some people still think it’s totally fine to do to a horse.
I should’ve spoken up. I should’ve found a way to try to open this woman’s mind so that maybe her horses wouldn’t have to be victims of her willful ignorance and abuse anymore, so that maybe she could discover there’s another way, a better way, to be a horsewoman. I was so upset at the time that I didn’t speak up because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do so in a diplomatic way, that I would just cause her to shut her mind even more tightly. But I’m speaking up now. I’m living by example through my relationship with Snowy. And maybe next time, I’ll find a way to speak up in the moment, to have an open dialogue, to show others the depth of connection you can have with your horses if you remain open, aware, loving, kind, patient, and humble.