In past weeks I have noticed a lot of negativity whenever Parelli Natural Horsemanship is mentioned on blogs and forums. For all the apparent success of PNH as a business, it is somewhat surprising to me that so many people have difficulty saying anything good about it. You’d think that with a program as popular as PNH, the negative comments would be a small minority. But perhaps the disparagers are small in number and just have loud voices.
I don’t really want to talk about the quality of horsemanship of other businesses. I have my views, just like everybody. However, I am more curious about the venom people have for horsemanship businesses because of marketing strategies and success .
Parelli is arguably the most widely known and used system of horse training in the world. There are others that have a large following too (like John Lyons, Monty Roberts and Clinton Anderson). The thing they have in common is the power of their marketing machine. Irrespective of what you feel about the horsemanship they teach and promote, a lot of effort, time, hard work, skill and expertise has gone into making them household names (at least in the houses of horse people).
This is important to consider. These guys and their marketing power should not be dismissed frivolously. They are an important and valuable force in the horse world.
It’s easy to see why they are important when you consider their popularity and influence on people and horses throughout the world. But why are they valuable when there are many other training approaches available that are as good or perhaps better?
They are valuable because of their popularity. Very many people have been inducted to the idea of looking for better ways to train and interact with their horses because of Parelli and others. For a lot of folks, these trainers were the first introduction to considering the horse to be little more than a machine. Up until Parelli splurged onto the scene, ordinary weekend riders could never dream of becoming trainers and skilled horse people. Before Parelli most average riders had few choices about where to get help with their horse problems and where to learn better horsemanship skills. Most training was focused on competition and horsemanship was just something you absorbed along the way if you were lucky.
Even people who came through the systemized approaches to training (eg PNH and Lyons) and left in search of a better understanding of horses and how they operate, were only able to succeed because the program system encouraged them to think differently. An awful lot of horse people who came to study the teachings of Tom and Bill Dorrance, Ray Hunt and others, have done so because Parelli etc got them searching for a better way. I know that many people who come to my clinics were once enrolled as PNH students or informally followed the Parelli, Monty Roberts, John Lyons or Clinton Anderson systems.
For years, one of the first questions people asked before sending their horse to me was “do you use natural methods?” In the minds of the average horse owner, so-called ‘natural’ methods are the preferred choice for starting and re-educating horses. Whenever people strike a problem with a horse they inevitably go searching for a trainer that fits the ‘natural horsemanship’ profile. The concept of natural horsemanship is so widely held as a better approach, even though nobody can adequately define what it is. I believe this is largely due to the marketing success of Pat Parelli and others.
In fact, I think it is probable that programs like Parelli and other mega-marketers have done more to benefit horses and horse people than Dorrance, Hunt and the rest of us clinicians combined. They simply have influenced far more people to keep searching to be better with horses. For my money, this is a good thing, no matter my views about the horsemanship they teach.
So when people argue they don’t like the training programs that are very good at self-promotion and marketing themselves, I wonder if they are considering how many people have gained from those programs that would otherwise still be using brutal equipment and brutal methods. You may not think very highly of the methods they use compared to what else is available, but it’s hard to argue that many horses are not better off since the words ‘natural horsemanship’ became a normal part of the average horse person’s lexicon.