Thursday, May 19, 2011

Public Perceptions of Parelli People

I don't often tell people I'm a Parelli student. Not even the vet clinic I'm interning at.

Not because I'm embarrassed or anything, but mostly because I don't really see it as a good "political" move. When Parelli is mentioned in a "normal" horse context, it's almost never in a good way. It's often "those Parelli people are so stupid and gullible, paying $500 for a halter" or "That Parelli method is too soft. They just let the horse walk all over them; you gotta show 'em who's boss" or "The Parellis are abusive!" So, gullible, wussy, or abusive. None sound good.

None of these, of course, are true. None of the Parelli halters (or any other equipment for that matter) cost anywhere near $500. They teach people how to be effective without losing their tempers, and reject smacking/jerking as a one-size-fits-all correction. And the abuse charges are incidents that were way over blown by people who already hated Parelli. One "case" was an old video edited to look like a 4 minute Phase 4 with no release. I have the original video: it was part of the level 1. In the real video, the horse is running over the top of his owner, refusing to stand still, and not respecting the owner's or Linda's space; but Linda gives the horse plenty of release and time to come off the adrenaline. But, for ten minutes, the horse absolutely refuses to calm down and keeps doing the behaviors listed above. All of which make a dangerous horse, one which would caused many people to flail on his halter screaming "HO!!!!!" while he barged into them. I've seen it many times. The Catwalk thing was also way overblown: the horse was being dangerous to the point of knocking Pat's microphone off and was evaluated by a veterinarian afterwards, with no evidence of abuse found. As a side note, it was very interesting to see how many people leapt off the "Parelli is for pansies!" bandwagon onto the "Parelli is abusive" bandwagon in a very quick manner. So, what? Are we pansies who let our horses walk all over us or abusers leaving welts on their sides and breaking their jaws?

But, the damage is done and it gets done further every time a Parelli horse is not completely perfect behaved. Anytime a Parelli horse acts up, even in the tiniest manner and/or in ways that many "normal" horses act up each and every day, it's seen by many as a failure of the Parelli program. Is that fair? No, because horses aren't robots. Given the right circumstances, any horse can be dangerous. And for many horses, getting them to the point where they don't randomly explode (like Royal) or stand mostly still for the vet or farrier is a huge accomplishment. But it's a lot funner for the haters to focus on the fact that the horses aren't perfect, therefore Parelli is an expensive waste of time, Q.E.D.

In my short time with the clinic, I have already seen a few Parelli students. Most are people who have decently behaved horses. A couple have been "bad" but I have seen much worse, both from the people who hadn't touched their horses in a year and couldn't get halters on them, to the person who hadn't trained her horse or had its feet trimmed in two years. So, in that respect, the Parelli horses have been mostly good and well behaved. Not perfect, but not horrible.

But Parelli students are in a bind. We are a minority in the horse world, and a largely disdained minority. Every time a Parelli horse is a bit naughty or a Parelli student doesn't have all the answers, is seen as a mark against Parelli. However, less-than-perfect "normal" horses are not a mark against "normal" horse training. Jerking on and screaming at a scared yearling is considered okay, but a wary Parelli horse is not.

What do we do about it? I don't know, but I suspect the answer lies mostly in continuing to do Parelli and do it around other people. I don't mean telling every single horse person I'm a Parelli person, but simply doing it without any fanfare. Not "lookee here! I'm doing Parelli!" but "Yes, I do Parelli. Any other questions?" When I take Royal to shows, I won't hide my Carrot Stick or use a non-Parelli halter. Hopefully, people will see that while my horse and I are not perfect, we are happy and we enjoy doing things together.

Because that, really, is the truth. :)

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