Friday, March 26, 2010

The Natural Horsemanship Debate

There is a great divide amongst horse people that rivals the Healtcare Debate in the US. And that is the debate of whether or not Natuaral Horsemanship is better than the common sense horsemanship that is taught by Non-Natural Horsemanship trainers. Does the common sense horsemanship work better?

In this trainers opinion yes it does. At least, common sense trainers do not sell you a bunch of products that will supposedly make your horse listen to you. Take for instance the 'Carrot Stick'. Truth be known, the carrot stick is nothing more than a long bat. Not a whip, a bat, there is a difference!

Yet people buy the Carrot Stick by the dozens and the they wave it at their horses like an orange magic wanded Harry Potter and expect the problems to magically go away.

Here is the link to a video of Linda Parelli that you need to watch if you have not seen it already. I want you to watch before you read on and form your opinion of what is happening, then make your comments from there.

Linda Parelli in action

About 10 years ago, I took a horse in training for a woman that was having a hard time with her horse throwing his head up and backing up when she tried to catch him. Then, when she was finally able to catch the horse, and tack him up, he would throw his head when she tried to bridle him. So I went to her place to watch what she was doing.

At that time I was unfamiliar with Parelli and his methods and the woman who owned the horse told me the she has been using the methods that she saw him use at a clinic. I of course, being the forthright honest individual that I am told her that the methods that she had learned were not working obviously.

I watched her catch the horse and sure enough he threw his head and backed up and soon as she approcahed him with the halter. When she finally managed to wrangle her four legged friend and get a halter on him. He started to try to walk all over her,so she started to waggle the lead rope at him to get him to back off of her. When she waggled the lead rope at him, the horse would back up. But me being the astute observationalist, noticed that the snap would rattle every time she would waggle the lead rope at her fine steed.

I told the woman, that the problem is not the horse, but the methods that she employed to train the horse. Every time she approached the horse, the lead rope would rattle and the horse would back up as he was conditioned to do. The head throwing was as a result of the lead rope being waved at the horse. Her bridle, had snaps on the end of the reins and they would rattle,so her horse would throw is head and back when she tried to bridle her horse.

The fix, well that was simple as well, she took the snaps off of her reins, and attached the lead to the halter without using a snap. It took a few sessions, but the horse finally quit his vices. I went out there once and charged her a one hour evaluation fee, figured out the problem, and she was able to fix it on her own. I ended up starting a few horses for her later on and she never went to a Parelli clinic again.

Am I that good? I suppose you would have to ask my clients.

I watched that video, and I have to say, that set the natural horsemanship back to the stone age. Linda Parelli is terrorizing that horse for no reason what so ever. It really is not that difficult to get a horse to respond to you without all of the fanfare. Would I have gotten after that horse?

Absolutely, but I would have only gotten after him once and that would be the end of it. The horse was obviously reacting to Linda Parelli and her jerking him into oblivion more that anything else. So in reality, it was Linda's fault that the horse was reacting the way that he was. The horse is trying to figure out what she wants, and that is quite a feat, as Linda does not know what she wants from this horse. If she had let the horse stand for a minute then start all over she would have had better results.

I have had a lot of horses come into the barn that have been Parellized, and they all act the same way. They have no idea of what you want from them. Once they figure it out, it is pretty easy from there.

I know, but JR, you have not seen the whole video and what was really going on. I saw enough to know who the problem was there. It started when the horses owner was being told to " wiggle, wiggle thump" and continued to go down hill from there.

Linda terrorized this horse and got nowhere with him because it was apparent that she had no clue as to what to do.

Just because a clinician shows up in chaps and is wearing spurs, that does not make them a horseman. I had clients that would wear breeches at a show so people would think they knew what they were doing. There again, it is not your outfit that makes you a horseman.

My personal opinion, is that the majority of these people are frauds. They tell you what you want to hear and promise to fix every bad vice that your horse has permanently. When the truth of the matter is, these old vices will resurface no matter who the trainer is. It is the trainers job to teach the owners how to deal with the problem when it arises in the future and not charge the owner an arm and a leg for cheap products that can sometimes make the problems worse.


fernvalley01 said...

That sir perfectly describes what these twits are doing to the horses! Instead of simple steady work they are over stimulating these poor horses till they don't know whether to sh*t or go blind! Maybe when it started NH had a decent approach and could be a positive training tool , but it has morphed into something completely ridiculous at this point. If I were in the situation in theat video I would have taken my horse awy from her at the first "wiggle wiggle yank" Correct the horse , and move on.

fernvalley01 said...

COOL! I am first!!

GoLightly said...

It worked, it worked!!

Great post, JR!!

I'll stop singing now.

Anonymous said...


cattypex said...

"Natural Horsemanship" used to be about calm, horse-sensitive training.

Somehow it got all wrong. And gimmicky, and stuff.

Y'know, I am so bad about anthropomorphosing, I can't even throw away a stuffed animal. But... I do understand that dogs, cats, mice, horses, fish and cows look at the world differently from me.....

Cut-N-Jump said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cut-N-Jump said...

I only have to say one thing about this whole thing.

Nit Wit Parellized and I share two things in common. We have the same first name- Linda, and we are both married to a trainer.

Everything else from there? Well the great divide may come slightly close in comparison.

Common sense rules in our world.
Theirs? Not so much.

I used to grant the Parasites kudos in one respect. They have likely saved a lot of horses from being brutalized, roughed up, cowboyed to death or permanent brain fry, by fools who did not know any better. Linda's actions in the video however, shows she is no better than the ways her husband set out to change.

-Kudos for that.

Liz said...

Ok I dont know alot about "Natual Horsemanship" but all I can see is this video is someone who had control in the beginning to no control at the end. But this video does make me feel really smart about what I do with my horses. I think i'm going to go put a halter on one of them just to watch them slip their heads in for me.

TBDancer said...

All I can say about a great many of these "natural horsemanship" folks is, I wish I'd marketed what I started doing with my first horse (back in the early 1970s) because today I'd be a guzillionaire.

Common sense, observation, and a knowledge of herd behavior make for good training and horse handling. You can ask questions, too, of course, but observing someone who is working with a horse (without an audience) is generally going to SHOW you a lot of things. Sometimes what they show you is the way NOT to do things. Other times you learn a lot of really good tricks, tips and shortcuts that are not abusive or expensive AND get the job done.

Gimmicks and "loud bits" (a term I learned from the Meredith Manor guy) often do more harm than good. I've said before that the best training is accomplished by lots of wet saddle pads. I stand by my statement.

kestrel said...

Yeeesss! I really hate that they stole and patented the name "natural horsemanship" because then they try to portray everyone else as somehow 'UN-natural.' Common sense isn't so common, so I'm trying to think up another name for horsemanship that is based on observation, techniques that actually work, and a respect for what horses really are instead of a demeaning fairy tale.

Sigh, I can make a horse bomb proof but I can't make it fool proof...!

CharlesCityCat said...

I really do like using a horse's instincts and way of thinking when working with them. It makes sense to me. Horses are horses, they think and react like horse, not people. They can't think like we do, but we are able to work with them.

Now, the "Natural Horsemanship" movement has corrupted the whole idea and turned it into a friggin joke!

CharlesCityCat said...

Great quote Kestrel!

horsndogluvr said...

Yeah. I want the word "natural" back. It has come to mean so many silly things, and I don't just mean the so-called horsemanship.

Pretty soon somebody will trademark or copyright "common sense" and things will go downhill from there.

Grumpy Ruthie

paint_horse_milo said...

I stopped referring to myself and my training style as natural horsemanship bacause the entire "technique" is really nothing more than common sense horse training.

To give you a better idea of "how I train" yes I do use a rope halter and 12' lead rope and yes I do own a stick (not a carrot stick or magic wand, but a stick with a rope attached). I really only need to use the stick in the early training of groundwork and after a while the stick isnt needed anymore because it is only an extension of my arm and eventually the horse comes to respect myself and my space without needing a stick.

I also so a lot of flexing and suppling - but thats not NH patented. Every solid horse and rider should know (and typically does) to teach their horse to flex to both sides and be supple.

I also ride in mecate reins. Mostly because I like the feel, the lead rope if I need it, and the weight of the slobber straps. But I didnt buy it from some BNT I got it on ebay for a fraction of the price.

The point I guess is that it truely is a shame that most of those BNT in NH all seem to change to the fraud side instead of staying on the natural side. I have NEVER been a fan of Parelly, I used to follow some of Clinton Anderson's methods, but now even he is getting really "buy my products" type.

I just ride my horse naturally (whatever that can be considered now) and with common sense. I approach the horse like a horse and treat him as such.

cattypex said...

At the tack meet this weekend there was a booth selling "lunge whips" and "carrot sticks" for under $10. HA.... the "carrot sticks" were not orange, either.

And... lo and behold, they were... um... lunge whips with short lashes.

horspoor said...

I'm pretty sick of rope shaking, rope halters that are jerked on, sticks that are waved at horses and 'softening'. WTF jerk jerk jerk on one rein...cuz you're softening him. KMA you morons. Or my other favorite...'disengage the hindquarters'. Uh, it is a poor turn on the are actually ENGAGING the hindquarters.

JohnieRotten said...


I am glad you mention disengaging the ass end. I can't stand that. You are sooooo correct when you say that you are actually engaging the hindend when you turn the the horse on the forehand.

I had a client in from Flagstaff that would yank the horses head around to his shoulder and make the horse turn on the forehand everytie the horse would go faster than a trot. I had to teach the horse lope transitions and everytime I would stop the horse to ask for the departure the horse would turn his head to the inside and move his butt over.

I had a Lyons enthusiast once tell me that if a horses tries to buck you need to disengage the hind end. Au Contraire my horsie friends, there again as we always say, move the shoulders.

horspoor said...

Yeah, if they are trying to buck...move something...front back just unlock the bugger before he unlocks you. lol

JohnieRotten said...

My preference has always been to unlock the front end not the back. I like a horse that learns from the begining to move his shoulders first, that way they never really learn to buck.

horspoor said...

I agree, but in the moment....I'll just move whatever I can. lol I own Miss Swappin-Ends...she doesn't really care which end the buck is coming from. I just don't even let her get started. I know she can get rid of me. It was a real rude awakening for me...even if I knew what was coming she could still get rid of me. Had to re-learn what I do for a horse that bucks with her...changed up my way of doing things. You know that old 'ride the horse you are on' deal. Not easy to change the habits of years...but dirt samples are great reinforcers of what to do and not to do. lol

Cut-N-Jump said...

HP- It's amazing what comes to mind at times like that, to remedy the situation. Sometimes it is things you learned long ago and far away, others it is something that just popped in there and somehow it worked.

Unplanned dismounts are never fun or a good thing. Can't exactly look for a soft spot to land while you're flying through the air.

Anonymous said...

You all really have no clue about what was going on in that video. Linda P is as good a horseman as her husband. The seven games have helped me and my horse alot.

I really doubt that JohnieRotten could even come close to bring able to do what Pat can do. I would love to see you even try.

fernvalley01 said...

flyintheointment, WTF???
Are you just posting to see if you can hear us all laghing together? Whatever Linda P was doing in that video had nothing to do with helping the horse and everything to do with her showboating at the expense of the horse! Otherwise she would have actually paid attention to the horses responses!
as for the 7 games? do any of them involve actually sitting on a horse?

fernvalley01 said...

Sorry JR, my turn to be an ass!

Anonymous said...


I have been riding my horse some. But that is not the point. You all act lkie JR is so great. Most of what he says seems more like crap to me.

Like I said I am sure Pat P. could out train JR any day of the week. Alot of what Pat teaches horses us designed to give the horse confidence on the ground.

Anonymous said...

JR will probably delete my comments anyway since I am going against him. He is not my Horsie God!

GoLightly said...

When I hear disengaging the hindquarters, I assume their butt end falls off.

No idea what on earth that could mean.
What, you cut the connection?


What'd did I miss, FV?
Dang, working really gets in the way of reading blogs.

Anonymous said...

You all really have no clue about what was going on in that video. Linda P is as good a horseman as her husband. The seven games have helped me and my horse alot.

I really doubt that JohnieRotten could even come close to bring able to do what Pat can do. I would love to see you even try.

You missed me posting this GL and I also said that Pat Parelli could out train JR any day of the week. But then I deleted my posts. But now I stand by what I said.

JohnieRotten said...

FV if you feel the need to be an ass feel free. What did we miss?

fernvalley01 said...

I guess she deleted her post , but there was a gal singing the praises of PP and LP and suggesting they were tha ultimate , sorry but "that Bullsh*t is Bullcrap"

JohnieRotten said...

No problem. I have to agree with you FV that is bullcrap

JohnieRotten said...

You must ne talking about the ointment queen

fernvalley01 said...

that would be the one .I almost want to take a PP clinic just to see the "7 games" though knowing me I would loose my manners and beat someone to death with their own carrot stick

JohnieRotten said...

is this a challenge?

If so bring it on

Anonymous said...

That would be fun to watch. The ilustrious JR try to train a horse better than Parellis.

JohnieRotten said...

Like I said, bring it on.

horspoor said...

Well Fly, I used to know PP. He used to be a very good horseman. Great timing, great feel, he could read a horse like few can.

I'm not so sure about what he is doing anymore. It seems more showman than horseman anymore.

Yes, it is good to have confidence on the ground, and undersaddle. Your horse should have confidence. You can't learn to read a horse through a dvd. You can't gain years of experience and timing with a dvd and one horse. Just not going to happen.

My issue is that the Parelli's seem to be selling a one size fits all program. Buy this halter. Buy this carrot stick.

Have you looked into the studies they were doing at UC Davis on all release and no pressure? I think it would be a good read and an eye opener for you. Parelli's are about pressure and release...what we witnessed in that video was all pressure and no release, and a very confused worried horse.

Honestly I kept waiting for the horse to go, "Up yours you idiot I'm coming over the top of your happy ass." But it didn't. Horses are by nature very forgiving and are prey animals, and Linda was banking on that. Poor horse.

horspoor said...

Oh and just so you know....Linda is not as good a horseman as Pat. No way, no how. They aren't even in the same zipcode.

Anonymous said...


I am just saying that JR does not know what he is talking about.

Cut-N-Jump said...

Fly you are really funny. JR has fixed horses the Parellized folks have ruined. I have yet to hear of one case, being the other way around.

Anonymous said...

Fly-But then I deleted my posts. But now I stand by what I said.

Deleted or not, yours is but a fickle, thoughtless mind...

That is just so classy of you.

rosesr4evr said...

Hold on!!! I am laughing too hard to type right now!!

FLY-You ride your horse "some"? HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HAH Ah well, what's the point?? What people forget is that the only way to get a willing working partner under saddle, is to....Duh dun duh...WORK IT UNDER SADDLE!!!

Horses get very good at what they're doing at the time. If a horse has been standing around in a pasture, that's what he's going to be good at. Same if you take said horse out of the pasture and start working him on a DAILY basis, he will get better at whatever you are working him on. Now whether or not the horse progresses to becoming a well trained animal totally depends on the person who is working him and how they go about it.

There are no shortcuts to getting a good saddle horse. Groundwork can help you in the saddle, but it doesn't replace wet saddle blankets and good training and it never will.

YOU HAVE TO GET ON AND RIDE!!! Stop waving sticks around and wiggling lead ropes. I would say use common sense but I think it's all too rare and not everyone has it or can use it. People have become a disposable society and they think they can get do it yourself instructions for everything. Not everyone can train a horse, most people can't even ride one after many years of lessons, yet a lot of folks think it would be great fun to start or train their own. There is a reason we have horse trainers, because not everyone is talented enough to do the job.


Lily will be coming home soon from the trainers. Long story. So I will be working her from home while she bakes a bun in the oven. I will get you some video or just send you a plane ticket!! That way you can check out the area for yourself and see if you want to move here!!! I think ya'll would like it!!

Val said...

A lot of people do not teach their horses to respect human personal space and it can be very frustrating and ugly if you are the one who has to teach an adult horse for the first time that he/she may not walk all over people. That being said, I can sympathize with LP in this situation and on camera, no less.
However, this understanding does not override my lack of awe as I watch her work this horse. I know enough about Parelli techniques to understand what she is trying to do, but her timing leaves a lot to be desired. I have seen much better results and "finesse" from no-name trainers.

I, too, am frustrated by the divide between "natural" and "conventional" horsemanship. I believe that marketing and money are at the root of the problem. There is no price-tag on good instincts when working with an animal, but that makes it even more highly coveted.

bhm said...

When I was taught to disengage the hind quarter it required moving the shoulder so that the back legs cross. Is this what you mean?

JohnieRotten said...


that is more like lateral flexion and if you do want to 'disengage' the hind end that is what I prefer. The people I have seen do it just yank the horses head around.

By teaching a horse to soften laterally you can get a horse to rate, slow down drop his head an relax.

GoLightly said...

Oh, please.

When/where did you ever hear the instruction "disengage that horse's hindquarters, please? I would like him heavy on his forehand."?
Seriously, that's a really silly phrase.

I was worried about beginners and mimicry, with that video, aimed at newbies.
Pretty much goes against anything I ever saw about basic horse handling.
Of Course, handling the tough guys takes a different skill set. It wasn't shown in that video.

bhm said...

That's what I'm talking about a lateral flexion. If you bend the neck the horse can continue to go forward. Good bolters can run remarkably fast with their head bent to the side.

I've always heard "circle the horse" to describe this. Lately I've heard "disengagement" used amongst english riders to describe it. I'm not sure were it's coming from probably western riders? In the dressage area you will here "engagement" and "disengagement" used a lot in regards to the hindquarters so perhaps this is were the NH got the term. Disengagement of the hindquarters means that ischium is raised and the horse is not working off the rear. Another term is "the sit of a horse". This is also called engagement of the hind quarters were ischium is bend down.

bhm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JohnieRotten said...


I understand what you are saying. And yes bolters can run with their heads to the inside. However, we deal with bolters a different way. If we have a horse that bolts, we let go of their face for a moment and slowly take hold andblet them slow down on their own. I have seen far too many people take hold and continue to pull on the horse only to have the horse go faster.

One of my old clients used to panic and pull. Before she came to me she went to a trainer that would tell to pull the horses head to the inside and use a crop to 'disengae the hindend and say whoa'.

The horse would run faster when she pulled, and when she finally got the horse to stop his head was cranked to his shoulder. So, yes the horses hindend was disengaged, but the problem was not fixed.

I am not a dressage rider, I am an old scholl trainer who likes a horse that is soft. I use some dressage fundemtals in my methods, but I do know that I prefer to soften the shoulders so they are moving freely, when the shouders are moving, the hind end is engaged. Lateral flexion is important. As far as that horse that kept bolting goes, once I was able to strengthen the riders confidence, she was better able to deal with the problem by letting go.

I personally prefer no to do circles as I have never felt that is the best way to fix the problem long term.

Amy said...

rosesr4evr: This!

I did some Clinton Anderson groundwork when my mare realized she could walk all over me because I was a noob (I found PP to be way too hokey, CA explains things better, to me) and on the ground I had a much better horse.... but I learned the hard way, after teaching my crabby mare bad habits, that you need to work it out in the saddle, and, here's what the NH guys don't want you to know...

If you are inexperienced or lack confidence, you are gonna have to bite the bullet and hire a competent trainer that can ride out the back behavior. My trainer has put several 30 day training sessions on my mare, and in between those months of training, while I try to save more money, we do lessons so I can keep working on riding her at home, more competently and confidently. You cannot possibly develop feel if you don't have someone you trust on the ground. I'm still a noob, but I am much more confident than I was before.

Oh, and I have no problems popping a halter to get my mare's attention, and she knows how to back up Parelli-style.... what Linda was doing was ridiculous, and abusive in the sense that she confused the living shit out of that poor horse.

bhm said...

I agree with you that the horse has to go forward. Pulling straight back is not going to help and can lead to the horse gaining momentum. After all, the let race horses lean on the bit.

I was trying to remember who told me that a circle was a disengagement. It was a riding instructor ten or twelve years ago who I use to talk to online. I think she meant that the horse in a bent frame has a harder time getting it's butt under it while maintaining speed. I'm still not certain if this is true.

Yes, circling is practical if you are in an arena and you need to avoid horses on the rail. I agree with you about, say if you are in a field, to just let the horse run. Once the horse takes off and starts to loose momentum I encourage the horse to keep running until it gets tired. If bolting does not=fun they tend to stop.

JohnieRotten said...

Tired is good. I totally agree with you there. Let em run it out. They soon learn that it sucks being that tired and having to work afterwards.

kestrel said...

Aaand, the 7 games are NOT games to the horse. It's only a game if both parties are having fun folks! The 'games' are pressure, pure and simple, designed to get the horse to react in a certain manner. Call it what it is. I've seen a lot of horses ruined by people who thought it was fun to go out and put unrelenting pressure on a horse, not ever stopping to realize the horse had had it already. A trained horse will enjoy showing off it's skills, but back off and give them a break after they've done their job or they get bored and crabby.

Groundwork is important, but it can be overdone. That's where timing comes in. Backing off before the horse is sick of repeating a movement that it really sees no use for. I've noticed that PP's now give treats... to keep the horse from leaving...snork!

Kaede said...

Other than the video when PP is shaking the lead rope, I've only ever seen one Parelli video. A young woman gets her horse to back into a trailer, by voice command. Which I though was pretty cool. Though I have never seen any reason to do it myself.
Um, I am unclear on concept. What is PP trying to get the horse to do in that shake shake thump video? At first I thought she was trying to teach the horse to lounge but I have never seen anyone do it that way. Was the horse being pushy while being lead?

kestrel said...

From what I have read of their theories, shaking the lead and rapping them in the chin bones with the lead shank is to get the horse to back up. It does work, but can be brutal if not used with timing, and in my opinion is a coarse way to accomplish defining space. According to the articles I've read, you shake the lead then escalate to whacking the horse's chin bones if it doesn't move, setting the stage to have a horse that backs up when the lead is wriggled. I still do not understand why 'heavy metal lead shank whacking chin bone' is more kind and 'natural' than a stud chain or any other tool.

The rope halter they use is featured in an old 1800's book that I have under "Training Halter." It's another tool that can be brutal in the wrong hands. The knots are designed to cause pain by putting pressure on nerves.

Don't get me wrong here, I am not against using tools for training. Horses are way bigger than I am, and I absolutely need a mechanical advantage at times. I have a problem with evading the truth.

If you use a mechanical aid admit it, and have respect for the tool. A carrot stick is a whip. A dandy whip. I've seen people raise some huge welts on a horse because they didn't think a 'carrot stick' would hurt their horse.

Kaede said...

I do know there is a difference between dogs and horses, I've never had trouble teaching a horse to lead either. But I do have a REALLY BIG DOG. 250 pound of hair, teeth and drool.
Him I had a hard time teaching to lead.
I ended up using a pocket full of liver treats to persuade him to walk beside me. When he walks were I want him to, pop in goes a treat.
Maybe this is something new, but normally I don't spend a great deal of time leading a horse around. If it's going to be much more that a half mile I'm on that sucker. Forget the halter and lead rope, I bring out a bridle. My dog I have to walk for 45 minutes a day at least, hopefully two sessions of 45 minutes a day. Squirrels or no squirrels. My dogs teeth are longer and sharper than my horses teeth too.

kestrel said...

Crickets...*lighting campfire* What JR, you're busy working instead of blogging for my amusement? Well humph! ;)