I’ve been reading Linda Parelli’s personal blog and trying not to let the flame wars that erupt in the comments to get me down. Yesterday I spent an hour composing a reply and then realized it would be like throwing a match into a haystack, so I deleted it. The particular topic was about an example of Linda’s using phase 4 with a horse in an extreme situation, which resulted in the horse running his nose into the carrot stick fairly hard until he was able to get his mind back long enough to not bolt right through or over people. I’d recently seen Erin have to do this and discussed it with her afterward so maybe that’s why this particular comment thread affected me so much.
Linda, Pat, the organization, and the program do not need me to defend them, and I’m glad I deleted my response. I am going to write about it a little bit here though because it is still slithering through my brain, distracting me until I can write through it.
It occurred to me that people who have not worked as crew or even talent in movies or television often do not realize how little a video can capture. Even though we all have our own cameras, including webcams and mobile phone cams, general consumers tend not to realize just what goes into making a commercial video product. I’ve been crew, talk show guest, and “talent” (not all at the same time), and even I don’t necessarily remember when I watch a video that we’re only seeing and hearing about 10 percent of what’s going on, if that. And we’re not tasting, smelling, or touching any of it. Nor do we have peripheral vision. Nor do we have that sixth sense, or feel, or intuition, or electrical pulses, or whatever it is that makes us (and horses) look up suddenly when someone has stared at us for a few seconds.
Video makes things smaller, tamer, and contained. Even Avatar in IMAX 3D could convey only the smallest idea of Pandora, compared to the real thing.
All of that means that what we see on the levels and patterns and savvy club DVDs is only a tiny slice of what the horse is experiencing. We can only see a small representation of the horse. We aren’t there feeling his energy and noting the spooky things going on off camera. We also don’t know the horse as well as the instructor does, and so what to us might look like a small spook could actually be a big reaction from that particular horse. Yet the instructor must respond according to what the horse needs, not according to what it looks like on video. And while you can feel the difference between hitting a horse and putting up a block that the horse runs into, you can’t always see that difference on video until you are in the higher levels, familiar with the language and the program, reading horses and humans a lot better.
People who don’t do the program have a much harder time seeing the difference, especially on video. Of course they’re going to be upset when they believe an instructor is demonstrating to novices how to beat a horse! Especially if they believe that the instructor is recommending an action to all humans with all “up” horses. Or if they think that the instructor believes that novices would have the skill to block zones 1 and 2 without once getting the horse in the delicate areas of eyes, ears, or brains. Video already limits context so much that a video snippet is all but useless.
I also understand why people might think that “Parelli-trained horses” are disrespectful or dangerous. If you can see us “doing Parelli,” we’re in the early levels. Most of us don’t have the right balance of love, language, and leadership when we start out, so the ones who overdo the love and don’t have enough leadership, or language, get pushed around by our horses. Those with too much aggression bring up an answering assertiveness in a dominant horse, or a shut-down or panic from a fearful horse. Combine that with how many people turn to Parelli as a last resort, with horses that have already become extreme.
In the early levels we often can’t tell that a horse is tense, particularly if it is introverted and bolts inside rather than galloping away. We can’t read the horse’s phase 1 and 2, and keep applying pressure, until the horse manages to get through to use with a phase 3 or 4. Then as we gain skill and our relationship starts to form, we might want or allow more closeness with the horse, and not keep him out of our space enough, letting go of small transgressions of leaning into us or nipping our pockets go until “suddenly, for no reason at all,” the horse is walking all over us. Of course this looks amateur and dangerous and ineffective. It is. That’s why it’s called level 1/2.
But. Once we get into levels 3++ and 4, the whole “doing Parelli” thing becomes a whole lot less obvious. This is when our partnerships become truly stable and strong. Our body language is less exaggerated, our attitude more calm. Both horse and human know what happens before what happens happens, and don’t have to get as big to communicate with each other. At events where other horses are dancing around with agitation or fear and their riders are proudly staying in the saddle and circling them with strong pulls on the bits and feeling great about how skilled they are because they’re the boss, our horses are standing lazily in the shade, dozing or watching with interest, prompting comments like “You’re so lucky to have an easy horse.”
I suspect that’s one reason Pat and Linda have worked hard to create the patterns and new levels packs, to help people get through levels 1 and 2 (as Pat says, “to break out of Level 1/2 jail”) and into the safer, more skilled levels of 3 and 4. It is especially challenging to progress into the higher levels when boarding at a place that is unsupportive of Parelli students, not to mention those places that are outright hostile. (If that’s you, hang in there, join the savvy club, hang out in the savvy club forum, find a Parelli study group, and eventually you’ll move up though the levels and find a new place to board too, just you watch!)
The previous levels packs were great; the new program is excellent.
Rocky grows more sound each day and I am making our “hand walking” more challenging with games like touch-it from 22-feet away (we both drift to our comfort zone of 13 feet!) and trailering practice (the dentist comes in a week or so). I have noticed just how much more confident I am, how light my signals have become, how consistent and pleasant my corrections have become when necessary, how much trust Rocky and I have in each other now. I am trusting my feel much more, and trusting that if I screw it up, it’s okay, I can adjust it tomorrow. An error in feel today does not mean the relationship is over forever, with either horse. Level 2 is awesome, and I can see level 3 from here.