Wednesday, July 14, 2010

when big name trainers get too caught up in their own egos: Pat Parelli and Catwalk

I keep hoping someone with better footage will post it online, but even though the quality of what follows is poor, it's plenty clear enough: Pat Parelli will go against his own philosophy to accomplish his goal in front of an audience, and if it takes ropes on legs and twitches on gums, so be it.

These are his words about working with an ear shy horse (here, and in all Parelli quotes, I have left the typos as they were):

EAR SHY? By Pat Parelli
Can you touch your husband's ears? What about your best friend's, your child's or your mother's?
If you couldn't then there's probably something wrong with the relationship! This is how I want you to think of your horse's so-called 'problem'. If he doesn't like his ears to be touched its because deep down inside, he does not trust you. There is a flaw in your relationship.
When I talk about the solution here I am going to give you the natural approach, the one that consider's the horse's point of view. To effect a 'cure' you have to gain his trust and permission. The normal way is often to force the horse to accept it, twitch him, tie him, throw him…. In my mind (and in the horse's I'm sure) this is akin to rape and I won't use it.

I guess all that goes out the window when you're in front of a paying crowd and your ego is on the line.

The idea that this went on for several hours is horrific. I can't believe the owner of this horse allowed Parelli near him the next day.

This is an example of what I meant in my comment on the recent Edward Gal post: when a trainer comes to believe his own hype,  he'll do almost anything to protect it, even when it proves to be wrong for the horse he's trying to help.

IMO, the Parellis are way over the line at this point. There is no way either of them would get anywhere near any of my animals.

I hope the huge number of people who follow their work stop and take a good hard look at what's being done to horses in the name of training. Those who walked out on this demonstration are the ones who deserve the accolades.

There are better ways to do this kind of work - with no force and no trauma to the animal. First and foremost, a veterinary exam, a chiro exam, and a dental exam. After all physical reasons for this behavior have been ruled out, proceeding with some work on the issue at hand. And guess what? It doesn't involve gimmicks or being the alpha. It simply involves gaining the respect and trust of the horse, and breaking down the task into small, manageable pieces that build on one another to the end result.

Here's the video posted of the entire 3 days as edited by the Parelli team.  Note that none of the rope restraints show up on their version. A number of people report that the horse was obviously drugged for days 2 and 3.  I don't know. But it's obvious they are hell-bent on getting the bit into the mouth, even if it's the ring instead of the bit itself that goes in. And that Parelli's solution utilizes all kinds of contraptions, lots of drama, and ZERO common sense.

What they said after the Friday session:

Our challenging horse lived up to its billing tonight at the Royal Featival of The Horse demo. Catwalk, an extremely Left-Brain stallion showed us his wonderful spirit and demonstrated that his unwillingness to bridle hasn't been created during the 8 weeks that Robert Whitaker has owned him but is clearly due to many years of fear of being bridled due to the lack of a basic foundation training.
We ran 45 minutes over and a couple of folks were upset at what they think they saw, saying they may post on YouTube. We all have nothing to worry about except misunderstanding. Pat stopped at an appropriate time in the training process when he saw a breakthrough and preserved Catwalk's dignity, which is more important than getting the bridle on tonight. 
How arrogant to blow off all the upset observers - "what they think they saw" - and if this is preserving a horse's dignity, well, I have a very different notion of dignity than the Parellis do.

Vote with your wallet, folks. And if you boycott a horse festival because the Parellis are doing a demonstration, let the venue know why you aren't coming.


Dougie Donk said...

A lot of selective editing going on there! I think in Session 1 of Sat a.m., Catwalk looks like a little horse exhibiting fearful submission - not something I'd ever want in mine.

My 1st ex-racehorse had had his right ear twitched as a youngster in Ireland & wouldn't let me anywhere near it.

I just ignored that hairy grubby right ear; kept on grooming & trimming everywhere else to perfection,unbuckling his bridle to tack him up & thinking "one day, maybe...."

After almost 18 months, he leaned his head against my chest while I was grooming his face & just stood there. I waited for a bit, then dropped the brush & attempted to stroke his ear. Success, Polo mints & turned out for the night. After a week of this ritual, he let me groom his ear properly; right down to trimming the hair!

Right up to the day he died, Allie wouldn't let anyone else near his ear; but trusted me not to do anything horrible. I wouldn't have given that trust up for anything & it was worth every moment of perseverence. How sad that "winning" can take over to the extent shown in the unedited video.

billie said...

There's a huge discussion of these videos going on at COTH and I think the most frequent response to the bridling issue is DUH - how about using a mint, or some other treat when offering the bit? Why try to force a horse who is clearly stressed by being touched on the face and ears to accept it in a weekend in front of a crowd when the rider could do exactly what you did with your horse!

That's the illogical part that drives me batty. It becomes a battle that the human feels compelled to "win," and guess what? When you set it up that way, the horse is the loser, and the possibility of a relationship has failed.

Anonymous said...

All I have to say is YUCK! I've never liked Parelli from the first moment I saw him years ago at an exhibition - it was all flash and show and tricks and all the horses had dead eyes. Nuff said.

Claire said...

hadn't got round to watching the video yet, but gathered it was something of that sort...

so does he say the camera is lying, then? pah.

Valentino said...

Someone's gotten too big for their britches - his wife too.

Did you get to see the video of Linda Parelli abusing that poor half blind mare that was circulating a while back?

I feel the same way about horse training gurus as I do about organized religions: there is something to be gained from every ideology, but beware when the leaders start to believe the hype... that their way is the only way... or that they have the right to trademark and charge for something that is common knowledge or common sense.

It sounds like (from the Horse and Hound site that there is an outcry - I sincerely hope so!

Grey Horse Matters said...

Unfortunately, there are so many horse training gurus nowadays who have so many followers that I'm afraid it's the horse who always comes up on the short end of the stick, so to speak.

I'm not a fan of Parelli or any other 'natural horsemanship' guru and I can name quite a few who absolutely anger me. I did by the way see the wife with that poor blind horse and my feeling is she should have been whipped for her behavior. Still they have a lot of flash and dash, a huge bag of tricks with cutesy names and people looking for training answers which they are willing to supply for the right price. I really have no respect for most of these guys (and women too) who take advantage of horses and their owners for their own ego and the huge amounts of money they make off their victims.

Our horse Donnie had lots of problems when we first got him and touching his face, ears, bridling, haltering and grooming took a lot of time and patience. We have earned his trust by working slowly with him taking it one step at a time. And now as disgusting as it may sound he loves nothing better than to have you put your fingers in his ears and scratch them all day long if you would.

I do wish people would take the time to know their horses and work with them employing kindness and patience. You'd be amazed at the achievable results when some understanding and sympathy is used to help with a problem.

billie said...

Kate, I'm glad you brought up the dead eyes of these horses - that to me is the biggest crime of all.

billie said...

Claire, it's crazy that they are taking the perspective that the people who are upset don't even know what they saw to upset them. It's more smoke and mirrors, I guess, or else an arrogance so supreme it's frightening.

billie said...

V, I posted about Linda Parelli as soon as I saw that video. I was livid - we have Salina with one eye and the thought of someone treating her the way Linda Parelli treated that horse infuriated me.

billie said...

Arlene, thanks for yet another example of a reasonable approach to a horse's issue. Some of this has to do with the fact that people want fast solutions to problems that simply require an investment of time and patience.

I've seen the same tendency in the therapy world - parents wanting their children "fixed" - quickly - which I believe has resulted in far too many children being put on psychotropic medications when they shouldn't have been.

Parenting and horsemanship involve investing our time, our energy, our patience, and our love and respect into what is, or should be a lifelong commitment.

Valentino said...

Hi Billie-

Just found the link to a petition calling for an investigation of the Parelli / Catwalk incident...

billie said...

Thanks, V, I will go check it out right now!

jme said...

my mom forwarded this to me last night and i wanted to comment then, but all that would come out was expletives, so i held off until this morning after a cooling off period :-\

disclaimer: i have always thought parelli was an egotistical jerk with questionable methods (like a lot of other NH gurus i have no respect for....)

he's not a great horseman, he's a great businessman. he just takes the old, abusive methods 'natural' horsemanship claims to oppose, gives them a polish, adds in some folksey sounding cowboy 'philosophy' and then expects us not to notice it's just a clever rebranding of the same old crap.

then, when we do notice, he insults our intelligence and tells us we aren't understanding what we see. in other words, 'i know it LOOKS bad, but it's ok when I do it because i'm special - i know how to terrorize and abuse a horse the RIGHT way.'

um, pat, i think we get it. we're calling you out for being a charlatan and a money-obsessed fame-whore who exploits horses for personal gain and abuses them to spare your fragile, overinflated ego. that's what i see. nothing mystical or obscure to understand there.

Matthew said...

Yes looking at the dead eyes in the abused / Rollkured horses is just horrible. They look like abused slaves, which is what they in fact are.

billie said...

... in which j calls a fame-whore a fame-whore!


I wish I could have read what you'd have written last night!

as usual, thanks for stopping by - I am hoping this provokes you into a new post over at your blog... :)

billie said...

You're right, Matthew. Slaves to the whims of the humans who claim to care for them.

Jane said...

One of the worst crimes (IMO) the Parelli's perpetuate, as proven in this video, is the idea you can get a strange horse to trust you with their deepest fears nearly immediately. Generally, it seems the people who go to them for help are new horse owners without a lot of experience, and want "natural" (read kind and appropriate) training for their horses. Or people who have had trainers who are far *worse* than the Parelli's, making the P's look like angel saviors for their horse.

It's so frustrating. I wish there were some form of owner education out there on HOW to choose a trainer, what red flags to watch for etc. It can be overwhelmingly confusing to a first time horse owner to understand why what Parelli did was awful, but their former trainer who rode kindly and quietly, but tapped the horse with the whip to encourage the horse to work through something is NOT awful.

billie said...

Jane, I understand what you mean -
on some level though I also think the thing to do is trust our gut and pay close attention to the horse.

In my experience the horses' reaction to the trainer is the best clue. If the horse is escalating, or conversely, shutting down, it generally means the trainer, whether kind or cruel, is pushing the horse too far, too fast.