Parelli Horsenalities - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 87 Old 11-24-2012, 06:04 AM Thread Starter
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Parelli Horsenalities

I started this thread as countrylove asked about them on the 7 games thread and I felt it was a large enough topic that will probably attract loads of discussion that is deserved its' on place. I'm sure its' been discussed here before, but the question was asked...

First let us dispense with the Parelli merchandising on the subject, which I think has done a very interesting idea a lot of harm.
From Parelli you can buy horsenality tee shirts, mugs, toys etc etc. I might add that these days the vast majority of Parelli profits go into scholarships for students. Up to 100% of their fees are paid on a means tested basis. So this merchandising does have its' upside
James Roberts felt that the best thing to do with the tee shirts was to use them as dishcloths and never wear them. That does NOT mean he did not subscribe to the horsenality model, just that as an instructor he heard too many people use it as an excuse for not being able to perform certain tasks with their horses. It also tended to make people think of their horses as locked inside a horsenality box which will never change. That is not, and never was, the intention of the model, it is just how some people chose to interpret it in order to give them those excuses. His real pet hate was the fact, and I have heard it myself, that at a Parelli meet when starting a conversation with a stranger the conversation often starts "Hi, my names X and I have a left brain introvert".
Horses live in the moment, and so do their horsenalities. They will have a predominant horsenality, which under stress they will tend to revert to, but they can display any horsenality on the chart at any given time. This is similar to humans. I am inherently a left brain introvert which means I think a lot, don't act from fear much but in general can be pretty quiet. Get me into a place like this forum and I become a left brain extrovert, probably saying rather too much but in thoughtful sort of way.

The aim of the horsenality model is to analyse what horsenality is being displayed at any one moment and then modify your approach to that horse to bring it into a calm, forward thinking (not just forward going), left brain state of mind. This is near the center of the horsenality chart, but erring to the left side.

Let's take a look at the chart. . The idea with this chart is to put a dot in each behaviour pie at the place you think it belongs. Then, once the chart is complete have a look at where the greatest concentration of dots lie and that gives you an idea of the horsenality of that horse. There will be dots all over the chart, but chances are there will be a cluster as well. Filly was originally an Right brain extrovert, as she gained confidence with me she became Left brain extrovert, and has now settled nicely in the cusp of Left brain introvert/extrovert. That is in a familiar environment. Take her somewhere she is not used to and she can become extreme right brain extrovert again.
A word of advice on filling in the chart. People tend to know what horsenality they want their horse to be and fill in the chart with confirmational bias. To avoid that get a partner to randomly call out the attributes and answer, none, mild, moderate, extreme. The partner then fills in the dot. Make sure you cannot see the chart until it is complete. Don't do it just once, horses change over time so do it on say a three monthly basis to chart the progress you are making in getting them left brain near the center.
Make sure you learn all the horsenalities and approaches they need as the horse will change from minute to minute, but probably be the predominant horsenality most of the time. It would be a shame if you had managed to move you right brain horse to a left brain state for a while, but then did not know how to take advantage of it.

There is loads on the web about the horsenalities themselves so I'll only do a brief recap here, shamelessly cribbing from the web as I go

I'll suggest this site as a very quick overview and try and expand on it a bit Working with Your Horse

Right Brain Extrovert (RBE)
Extrovert means "likes to move their feet". Right brain means that they predominantly react instinctively and with fear. They don't use the thinking Left side of their brains. When horses spook and bolt that is instinctual RB (right brain) behaviour. The classic is for them to run from a lion attack. Standing around thinking about it gets them eaten, so they just react with no thought and run. They then go about 1/2 mile flat out then to save energy they stop, turn and face the threat and think about it in a left brain fashion to avoid wasting anymore precious energy that they need to. This turn and face can be thought of as a "pattern interrupt" which gives the horse a chance to think. We can use that knowledge to alter the way we play. I was teaching a 16 year old pony. When he started circling he would not stop, just kept going. He had been lunged a lot in the past and my circling him brought up bad memories and made him go RBE. I needed a pattern interrupt to get his LB to kick in for a split second so he could listen to my cues. I achieved this by travelling the circles so that he suddenly run into a fence, not literally. The shock of the fence appearing kicked his mind LB and gave me a second to influence him. After about five minutes of this he was listening to me much more and we could make progress.

Right Brain Introvert.
RB is already explained. Introvert means they prefer not to move their feet. To my mind this is one of the most dangerous horsenalities for us to deal with. An RBI will often not show outward signs of fear. They will look calm and composed and cope with their fear by trying to block it out and pretend it isn't happening. If you don't recognise this state and keep pushing on with the task then two things might happen. They could go catatonic, which is kind of a happy place prey animals go into when they know they are dead and give up fighting (apparently associated with large endorphin releases) or, much worse for us, they explode. Anyone ever seen a really calm horse that refused to move and was stubborn, then for "no reason" exploded into a bucking fit, threw the rider and headed for the hills. Of course there was a reason, they had gone RBI and been pushed just a little too far.

Left Brain Introvert
This is a real thinker of a horse. LB means they use the LB thinking side of their brain more than the RB side. Introvert means they choose not to move, but would rather stand still and conserve their energy. They have to be given a reason to do anything. They bore very very easy, then can become "naughty". The challenge for us when working with an LBI is not to get frustrated with them. We have to think up incentives to do anything. For example when teaching our LBI snappy upwards transitions the corner game worked miracles. This consists of asking him to only go from one corner to the next of the school. Once there he gets a rest, and maybe a treat. After just a short time, being LB, he figured out the game and put real effort into getting to the next corner for a rest (maximum around 7 seconds rest, or it is less effective). After a time we can miss out the odd corner rest and go two sides of the school and so on. Just to emphasise the "don't label your horse" aspect I would add he can be RBE in other tasks, so we approach them accordingly.

Left Brain Extrovert.
This is a fun horse, but can have a bit more go than many of us would like. He is always looking to play and have fun. He can drive field mates nuts with his hyperactivity. This horse needs lots of challenges. Quick changes of activities. He can be bored easily and then makes up his own games to play with you, so try (with the emphasis on try) to stay one step ahead. I like to have a good arsenal of pre-prepared ideas for this sort of horse as I can't make up new ones on the spot quickly enough. If you don't keep up they will tend to dominate you so be warned.

I'm going on holiday today, but will check back in next week to see how many flames this post has created. Of all the Parelli ideas this is probably one of the more controversial. I think that this is because they have over marketed it to some extent so that people have lost focus on its' true meaning and worth. Used correctly it can transform the way you deal with horses, especially if you get to play with a fair few which you don't always have time to really get to know intimately.
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Last edited by Pegasus1; 11-24-2012 at 06:11 AM.
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post #2 of 87 Old 11-24-2012, 02:22 PM
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I just would add that left brain / right brain are not to be considered as a scientific concept but as an educational help for the rider.

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post #3 of 87 Old 11-25-2012, 08:00 PM
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I am not a fan of the charts and categories and labels, but I much appreciate how parelli originally described a horse's personality aka horseanality in his natural horseman book. To quote:

"Just as important as knowing how a horse moves is knowing how a horse feels about what he is doing. In playing with different horses, I've noticed that all horses have their own "horse-analities", or what we call personalities in people.

A horseanality is based on 3 things: innate characteristics, learned behavior and spirit. Every horse has his own horseanality because of these separate ingredients.
1. Innate characteristics are what the horse is born with, his genetic makeup. I've talked about horses being born cowards, claustrophobics, and born full-throttle aholics. To what degree is a horse born with these characteristics? Some horses are born as gentle as dogs, and others snort at everything the day after they are born. These are innate characteristics. The horse hasn't had time to learn anything else yet.
2. Horses get their learned behavior first from their mothers, second from the herd, third from their environment, and fourth from us.... Part of a horse's horseanality today is based on learned behavior. A horse can actually change his horseanality or modify it through learned behavior.
3. Spirit is part of a horse's innate package, but has to do with the amount of life or energy he puts into things. Spirit is the multiplying factor. For example, horses are born with the innate characteristic to be sensitive and aware of things. If a horse doesn't have a lot of spirit, he is not going to put a whole lot of energy into his sensitivity or awareness. But a horse with a lot of spirit is going to really react to something another horse would practically ignore....

When selecting a horse, you should select one with the innate characteristics you like and those that fit your personality, whether it is mental attributes, disposition, or spirit. ... Don't pick your poison ... Understand that whatever spirit a horse has is what you've got to deal with, and leave it alone. If you don't, you'll destroy the horse's spirit, and that's a mortal sin to a natural horseman."
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post #4 of 87 Old 11-27-2012, 12:16 AM
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While there is an increasing body of science to support the concept that horses have different temperaments and some behaviours will occur more or less frequently depending on the temperament type, there is no good data to substatiate the Parelli Horsenality chart/descriptors.

Certaintly we are only at the very beginning of understanding equine laterality (brain hemispheres) and at the moment there is almost no evidence to believe that equine laterality is the same as human laterality.

And lastly, horses don't possess a frontal cortex, that part of the brain that is responsible for reasoning, insight and self awareness. So its highly unlikely that horses have a "thinking" brain that's distinct from their "reacting" brain.

Some research has shown that more reactive types learn pressure based cues more quickly than less reactive types, but its theorised that the more reactive types are less able to tolerate pressure cues so learn more quickly how to find the release so they can be rid of the pressure. Less reactive types don't care so much about the pressure so they put up with it for longer and thus seem to learn more slowly.

I think it is useful to be aware of temperament differences and understand how your horse is most likely to react to given situations, but I think the big danger of the horsenality approach is that it encourages people to shoehorn their horse and then blame the horse when it doesn't do what they want. There are a lot of value judgements embedded in the descriptors used in the horsenality charts and many of the descriptors such as "forward-a holic" indicate inadequate training irrespective of the temperament of the horse.

The vast majority of unwanted behaviours listed in the charts are most likely caused by poor training, usually not releasing the pressure at the right time, using too much (or occasionally too little), going too fast for the horse and giving the horse confusing signals. This can happen irrespective of the temperment of the horse and the solution is always with the rider or handler. Labelling the horse won't help unless we change what we are doing and use the horse's responses as a guide to how well they've understood what we are asking of them.

Horses are blameless participants in training- its up to us to get it right
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post #5 of 87 Old 11-27-2012, 05:47 PM Thread Starter
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I would like to point out that Dame Nuit is correct. Horsenalities do not imply a physical laterality to the brain, it is just a model to allow humans to think about the idea. We could call it the lemon and the orange side of the brain if you like, but that would interfere with the visualisation of the chart, which does have left and right sides.
The point corymbia makes about not shoe horning your horse into a particular horsenality I entirely agree with and covered extensively in the original post.
Parelli actually suggests that the initial horsenality chart be filled out on your horse before it is handled much. Don't forget Pat comes from a strong colt starting background numbering 10s of thousand horses so a bias in this direction is to be expected. Thus, in an ideal world we get a chart which reflects the horse inherent, pre-human interference, characteristics.
The horsenality changes can then be used to see how training is progressing and if you need to change your style with a particular horse to get it to the near middle of the chart we desire.
As to the idea that horses do not have a thinking brain as distinct from a reactive brain that tends to fly in the face of all the evidence I have seen when working with horses, and indeed the behaviour we see on TV of prey animals being chased by predators.
The initial reaction to a predator attack is clearly one that is completely instinctive and is so fast I suspect that motor engrams are involved. These are pre-recorded actions to a stimulus that don't need any brain processing to activate. Once activated they can actually be very difficult to turn off, even by humans.
If a horse lived it's whole live in this reactive state there would be an incredible waste of energy involved. They would continue to react strongly to all stimuli which would increase energy output and reduce time for energy input. It therefore seems obvious to me that they do have a section of brain that learns from experience, if this was not the case we could never be able to teach them not to be scared of plastic bags etc. It is this learning part of the brain we wish to develop (left side in Parelli speak), or maybe we are just trying to reduce the time that the reaction takes to play itself out and the part of the brain that evaluates whether the energy expenditure is needed kicks in.
It is perfectly natural that horses should have evolved to have different horsenalities. The genectic aim would be to maintian the viability of the herd in general, not just a specific horse. If a herd had too many outgoing horsenalities who loved to explore, to take an anthropomorphic analogy, that herd is less likely to do well as they will be expending too much energy. If a herd has a preponderance of introverts who prefer not to move then they will starve in lean times when resources are harder to find. If the herd has too many reactive animals they will be likely to waste too much energy running from everything that moves. Thus it is natural that a balance of horsenalities should have evolved to help the herd survive under a variety of conditions.
I believe that there is some research that already points to this conclusion for human evolution. It was put forward as an explanation as to why there are some extreme risk takers in the human population, many of whom don't live long enough to have children. The idea is that in times of need these risk takers where the ones that would look over the next hill for resources, whereas the majority would not. Again there is evolutionary pressure for there to be a small proportion of a particular personality type. Too large a number and to many of the tribe die prior to having children, too few and the tribe suffers in times of hardship.
The fact that science is only just uncovering this in horses is that until recently (when compared to research on humans) very little research had been done. I would recommend Andrew McLean as a good source for what is known about horse psychology, and more importantly where more research is needed
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post #6 of 87 Old 11-27-2012, 11:56 PM
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that's not how evolution works. given the highly adaptive nature of evolution it's far more likely that horses evolved to have the ability to change from 1 to any of the 3 other horsenalities depending on it's situation (and it's situation alone, not innate characteristics). because a herd of very similar and highly adaptable horses would survive better in any natural situation than a herd of horses with highly varying and immutable innate behaviours.

either that or they would diverge from the herd and create their own species (or a breed within a species) due to their behaviour being adapted to different circumstances
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post #7 of 87 Old 11-28-2012, 05:45 AM Thread Starter
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To reply to Christophers' points.
The point you make is a view of evolution, but recent research is looking at the survival of a species, not just individuals. Here are some interesting links
Having the Right Blend of "Personalities" Can Impact the Survival of the Animal Group

The second paper is particularly interesting. Look at
Implication 3: stability, resilience, and persistence of populations
on page 455.
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post #8 of 87 Old 11-28-2012, 06:23 AM
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Well shucks...I thought horses were so much more simple then that! lol fight...or FLIGHT! Isn't that the basic motivation for us all under physical pressure? To me, it seems like a lot of human emotions and characteristics given to a rather simple animal. As some have mentioned, not based on fact, but based on our human need to understand and dissect our horses. LB/RB, I personally don't think they are that complicated and need that much classification. I do believe some have a stronger "flight" response then others. Maybe I'm wrong, but this is what I've learned in my years of handling horses.
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post #9 of 87 Old 11-28-2012, 06:58 AM Thread Starter
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Why would you believe that horses are less complicated than other animals ? Even humans. They just perceive the world and react to it in a very alien way to us. Their brain is also organised to be optimised for one time learning which ours isn't. I would agree that they don't have the complex problem solving abilities of humans but in their own way they are just as capable, you just have to remove the human biased view of what constitutes a powerful complex brain to understand this.
I cannot even begin to really understand what it feels like to be a horse as my brain is wired up in a totally different way, my eyes work in a different way and my hearing has a different sensitivity and range. But I would like to try.
In a way that is what makes us Natural Horsemen. We try to see things from the horses point of view, and try to adapt our behaviour to make communication with them easier.
The more I read about current research into how animals behave and think the more complicated I realise they are. I am currently reading Animal Learning and Cognition by John M Pearce This is a very academic book and I would only recommend it to real enthusiasts but for me it is proving fascinating. I'm afraid it does include details on animal behavioural experiments that were done in the past, and some may find distasteful. But the truth is those experiments were done and it would be a waste of the animals suffering if those results were not now used to increase our current understanding of animal behaviour and improve welfare standards today. They were done in a different age when animal welfare was not the issue it rightly is today. Pavlovs dogs, for example, had surgically implanted tube to collect and measure saliva.
For a more equine oriented book then Equitation Science would be a good starting point.
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post #10 of 87 Old 11-28-2012, 07:06 AM
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Pegasus, I'd like to use this chance and thank you for being on this forum! You share very valuable, inspirational and structured opinions and information, from which I benefit a lot. I really enjoy reading your posts, so I naturally hope to see more from you. :)
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