Yesterday I got to watch a Parelli session that my friend Jane arranged for her mare. She’s had the horse for 6 years and has had problems haltering and bridling her off and on for that entire time. She’ll go for long periods when everything is fine and then stretches where the mare panics. No clue why the change. Jane finally got to the point where she just couldn’t take it any more, and I understand. It’s frustrating to have your pet not trust you or not listen to you for something so simple after such a long relationship.
Now, I’m not against Parelli, per se. What I don’t like is that the system thinks it is the end-all-be-all to the exclusion of all other methods. I think it’s great for people who haven’t figured out horse body language, and it’s very pro-horse in that it doesn’t rely on forcing the horse to do anything. But that’s also where I think it breaks down. When we ride horses in sport, we often have to push them past their comfort zone in order to teach them something. We try to build them up to it, but at some point, we introduce something new that has the potential to confuse the horse or make him uncomfortable. For example, tapping the horses hocks when first teaching piaffe. Anyway…I was open to see what this Parelli instructor, Jean, had to say but I was also skeptical.
The first thing Jean did was have Jane fill out a form about her mare and her relationship with her mare. It turns out that the mare is a right-brained extrovert, which means she’s basically flighty and nervous. Yup, that’s her, but she also has a very strong work ethic. BTW, PJ is a left-brained introvert. Then, Jean and Jane went out into the field to meet the mare. Jean said that with this type of horse, you need to allow the mare to let you into her space instead of just going in with guns blazing. They waited until the mare put both ears and both eyes in their direction before they went closer. If the mare went in the opposite direction, they didn’t force the issue. Eventually (yes, it took time), they were next to the mare, who still eyed them suspiciously. Over the next hour, Jean and Jane rubbed the mare with their hands, then a lead rope, then the famous Parelli stick. Throughout the entire process, they let the mare dictate how far they went. If she was okay with touching her neck but began to look nervous when they moved to her back, they went back to her neck. At the end of the session, I could see the mare more relaxed then when she started. Jean called this the Friendly Game, and it is the first of the Seven Games.
Jean didn’t tell Jane anything she didn’t already know and they didn’t do anything to the mare that Jane hadn’t tried herself, but the intent was definitely different. We often think of our horses as our horses and they should do what we say. But because the mare had such trust issues (naturally she’s like this [that right brained extrovert thing], not anything that Jane has done with her), asking her to do something she was uncomfortable with was a huge issue to her, where it wouldn’t be to a horse like PJ. Moving forward, Jean said that Jane would have to sacrifice what she may have wanted to do for what the mare would be comfortable with, with the hope that eventually, the mare would trust her enough to do what Jane had originally wanted. You can see how that would be difficult for someone who wants to ride. For example, if the mare is not comfortable putting on the bridle, well then don’t for today and instead just let the mare sniff the bridle. One big takeaway was that Jane has a strong energy associated with her. She’s a confident woman. Well, that scares the mare. Jean said that Jane should center herself and basically be a more wimpy version of herself before doing anything with the horse. I understood why and it made sense but it would mean Jane would need to change who she is and that is not something anyone can maintain indefinitely.
Overall, I think the session helped reset the relationship between Jane and her mare. Now, Jane has a lot of work in front of her.