This will be a long post Cliff Notes Version:
I like most everything about the Parelli program so far. It has literally changed my life and the lives of horses around me. Read on for the explanation.....
I grew up with horses. I am middle aged now. Training, clinics, breaking youngsters, getting on problem horses, showing, rescuing the starved and old....I grew up in a horsey family. My parents raised warmloods, thoroughbreds, and some quarter horses. I was literally riding before I could walk. I was in a professional lesson program with a top name hunter/jumper competitor by the time I was in fourth grade. Got into dressage and took countless lessons. Did some western showing, some trail riding, and so forth. I was the one that would jump on an untrained 4 yr old and be cantering them around the pasture in the wide open after 2 or 3 rides. This isn't meant as a brag, it's just the history of where I came from with horses. Horses is ALL I have ever known. It's ALL I've ever done.
Now I am a barefoot trimmer, and my full time job is working with and around and underneath horses. I see ALL kinds, from the highly trained show horse to the rank rescue horse and everything in between. Foals, to 35 years old. Big, small, trainable, nasty, you name it.
I also encounter all types of owners, from highly professional trainers and competitors, to backyard sally who never sees her horse except when I'm there to trim its feet....
I was led to the Parelli program because of a horse I own that I was having consistent problems with, no matter how much I rode her, trained her, changed her feed, treated for ulcers, changed her tack, etc.... We were just missing something. We were butting heads too much, she was having too many tantrums out of frustration, and I was getting too upset to enjoy owning her.
Friends began lending me DVDs to watch and talking to me about Parelli. Previously I had a "bad taste" in my mouth due to all the neativity I read on forums. I had both positive and negative experiences with Parelli horses so I was kind of undecided and skeptical.
At this time I have watched ALL of the DVDs from Levels 1 - 4, the Success Series, the Patterns course, and about 15 various Savvy Club monthly training videos. I am a Parelli Connect member, and a monthly Savvy Club member. I have been to two Horse and Soul Tour Stops, one where I drove my own horse 16 hours one way to be a demo horse. Pat worked with her about 2 hours. Here is my summary:
1. Cost of Videos and Equipment:
Yes it is expensive. HOWEVER: what horse equipment is NOT expensive?! Seriously! I used to spend $45 for a dressage training DVD, or $450 for a nice leather training bridle, or $175 for a pair of breeches..........so how is a $250 Parelli bridle, or a $19.99 DVD excessively expensive and a rip-off? It's not. If you want to attend a George Morris clinic, you will pay for it. If you want to own Jane Savoie's training DVDs, get out of your checkbook! Parelli is NOT charging excessive fees for anything he sells. In fact, I find his stuff much more affordable than most traditional dressage type equipment! $150 for a martingale, no problem, $280 for a high quality sheepskin saddle pad? That's normal. So why is Parelli attacked for charging normal prices for good, high quality equipment?
2. You have to use Parelli brand Equipment:
No you don't. I don't remember hearing one single time, Pat or Linda Parelli say that if you don't use THEIR equipment, you cannot be successful. They will say that you need a specific length or weight of rope, or that your saddle needs to fit well and not hinder your horse, but they actually do not push their products in their videos at all.
Many people don't like the idea of the "carrot stick" because it's just a whip with Parelli's name on it. Well, not really. It is stiffer than a typical dressage whip. It doesn't "woosh" in the air, or crack like a whip can. That makes it friendlier and less threatening to the horse. Yes you can use any type of stick that acomplishes the same thing.
3. You only play games and never ride:
False. You start riding right away in the beginning levels. Pat has addressed the problems of people perpetually stuck in Level 1 doing ground work. I heard him at a tour stop say - people tell him they've been doing Level 1 for 3 years now, and it makes him cringe. He said you should be able to master Level 1 in a WEEK! Then move on people! I would say 75% of everything I have watched in all the DVDs has been focused on saddle work. Yes the Parelli focuses on the RELATIONSHIP above all else. So if you are going to damage your relationship with the horse by focusing on a certain detail of performance, then you need to step back and reassess. But nowhere in the training materials does Pat or Linda say not to ride, or stay on the ground for 7 years doing the 7 games like so many people get stuck doing.
4. Catchy terminolgy and cutesy sayings...childish and annoying:
Many people have been taught to dominate a horse. Give him an order and he obeys. I have even heard Julie Goodnight say this on a training tape, "There is only one conversation that should ever occur between a horse and a human - the human says horse this is your captain speaking, and the horse says yes ma'am!" So Parelli I feel is trying to change the way people think. Get you to think as a TEAM with your horse. Give and take, relationship, and mutual rapport and respect. Love, language, and leadership. Too many people think of horses as dumb slaves that ned to be commanded and whipped or spurred when they don't respond. Yes the terminolgy is different, but I find it a bit refreshing after so many years of traditional dictatorship type training.
5. Parelli horses are spoiled, rude, and pushy:
I do think a lot of "Parelli horses" have major behavioral issues because so many people are stuck at Level 1 for years and never progress. Or they don't understand the psychology behind the games, or the horse's body language. I have seen Pat discipline horses, and get downright rough with them when the horse purposely and intentionally defied his requests and disrespected his space. I have seen it in real life, and on some of the DVDs. He asks nicely, and with as little force as necessary, but is ready to back it up with more "bite" if needed. Trust the horse will respond, but be ready to correct if he doesn't. That is one of the principles he teaches over and over. I think people are ruined on Parelli by being around Parelli horses owned by beginners who misinterpret the program, or don't follow through. Middle aged women with empty nest syndrome and extra cash who go out and buy a big old spoiled greenie and then "do Parelli" probably isn't the best respresentation of what the program can do. Sorry for the offense, but many people "do" a program or method in their speech, but in their actions......eh, not really.
I work with horses daily as my job, and I have seen "Parelli" horses, that didn't know the most basic of basics, but their owner thinks they are highly trained in the Parelli program.
That's not a good representation of the program.
6. Parelli hasn't invented anything, only copied the older masters:
Yes, and in fact, he states this on darned near every DVD he has ever produced! You can't hardly watch for an hour without hearing a reference to Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, or several others from back in the 70s. He has done tributes just to honor those people. At both tour stops I attended, I heard several references to those masters and what they taught him. Just yesterday on a DVD Pat said he wanted to share something he figured out years ago. Then he stopped and clarified - well, he didn't figure it out for humanity, others already had, but he had figured it out for himself so he wants to share with us how he came to learn this.....
All the claims of Parelli being a rip off an a sheister for packaging what others taught him, really aren't justified. I cannot count the number of times Pat says that what he's about to teach or talk about was taught him him back in 19____ by ________ (whomever.) There is no grand delusion that he invented any of this stuff.
If anyone actually takes the inititive to WATCH him in person and on DVDs, instead of believing internet gossip, they would know that Pat and Linda Parelli reference these masters on just about every training topic they discuss! I was not expecting this at all and was quite shocked to hear these names brought up over and over again.
Pat actually tells MANY stories of mistakes he made, or misconceptions he had that were straightened out by some of those old masters, for him. IN SUMMARY:
Can the Parelli program by misused, abused, or totally misinterpreted by beginners and advanced horsemen alike? Sure! Any program or method, or traditional training system can! How many people in history have abused horses with draw reins? How many have gotten horses injured trying to load them in trailers, or rope a cow when they didn't know what they were doing? How many dressage riders have ridden horses high headed, hollow, and behind the bit and thought they were "riding dressage?" Countless! Humans are flawed by nature, and prone to error in anything we do.
Are their spoiled, nasty, unrideable "Parelli" horses out there that we come in contact with? Sure! But there are many non-Parelli horses fitting that description too. The method is only as good as the one applying it. And ANYTHING we apply to a horse has the potential to be screwed up. If I have learned anything so far while studying the Parelli program, it would be this:
Smile, have fun, enjoy your horse, focus on solutions and not problems, don't blame the horse, don't be a direct-line thinker, recognize that most "problem horses" are because of problem humans, make things interesting and provocative for the horse, don't drill and kill, give the horse more responsibility and trust he can handle it, don't be so critical and negative! Learn to see the good in every horse and every situation, view challenges and problems as opportunities.....
But most of all, I have learned a LOT about myself. I have learned that no matter how many years of horse training and handling experience I had, there was so much I didn't know or was doing wrong. Just changing something so simple as the look on my face and the intention in my heart, can change the ENTIRE outcome of a session with a horse.
You cannot get frustrated, angry, or upset with the horse. You have to remain positive, look for the good in the situation, accept small steps of improvement.
So am I a carrot stick totin', Kool-Aid drinkin' extremist? Heck no! Whatever works, works.
If it doesn't work, try something else, as I did with the one mare that I was just getting flat NOWHERE with....but if you're happy, horse is happy, you're having great success and no issues, then what you're doing is obviously just fine. But the Parelli program is just one more arrow to tuck in your quiver if you encounter a LOT of horses on a daily basis like I do, or come up against some problems that you just can't seem to fix the traditional way.