What is Parelli and should I consider buying a Standardbred or Thoroughbred?

Pat and Linda Parelli - Love, Language and Leadership

Pat and Linda Parelli - Love, Language and Leadership

Question: Hi April: I have a couple of questions:

1) What is Parelli training?

2) Where can I read more about Parelli?

3) What are your thoughts on getting a horse from one of the accredited horse rescue facilities?

4) I am 5’4″ 170 lbs and am interested in getting a horse in a year or two. It has been recommended to me to get a thoroughbred 10-20 yo. How about a Standardbred? I am taking beginner lessons, I was an avid rider 40 years ago. I am 58 yo and on a weight loss program. My reward will be a horse after a couple years of lessons for pleasure riding and to maybe learn very, very novice dressage for my own pleasure and dropping 30 lbs. Your advice and comments are appreciated. Thank you.

Answer: First, I have to say good for you! Getting back on a horse is a big dream, and good for you to be brave enough to do it. Owning a horse will help in your other goals, especially for strength and mental happiness. Horses do so much for us.

Parelli Training
The system of Parelli training is to work with your horse on his level; meaning that you, the human, must learn his language and speak to him in his language. This includes body language, voice (lack of it), mannerisms, and ‘play’.

Parelli teaches you to think and move in new ways. It shows you a faster road to better results and gives many people new hope with their horses who are struggling to understand them and deal with the problems that occur.

It is a fairly long system that takes time and dedication to absorb, but it does feel more natural once you are tuned in to it.

Parelli is not new. There are many old masters (Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance) who showed us this style years ago. Although it was never ‘coined’ or named Natural Horsemanship, I know personally I have used pieces of Parelli methods my entire life. I have an original Ray Hunt book and studied it back in the 60’s. Then one day, a man named Monte Roberts took the concept and branded it, and it surged into a huge corporate entity. Parelli was working hard during this time, and I think he jumped on the marketing bandwagon along with a few others (John/Josh Lyons), and they branded the name Parelli, and Natural Horsemanship. It was a huge move forward for the horse industry, spawned a whole new social culture with horses, and grew the horse population by leaps and bounds. I still don’t know if Parelli, Monte Roberts, John Lyons and a few others fully realize the gift they gave the equine world. I only wish I had the sense to brand something back then, but I was too busy riding everybody’s horses.

Parelli has numerous books and DVD’s about their methods. Another great Natural Horseman is Adiva Murphy, who studied under Pat Parelli personally for half a year, and developed her own style, and is able to teach it eloquently and effectively. She has a great deal of information on her own site, adivamurphy.com, or you can watch video on my site at horsemansu.com. We are just in the process of creating an entire new series on Natural Horsemanship, and Adiva has some amazing new video out that is a fraction of the cost of the competition, and she gives amazing amounts of information, delivered in smooth, easy to understand concepts. She can take complicated methods and break them down into transferable skills that anyone can learn. I would strongly suggest to give her a look.

Parelli has a site, parelli.com, and if you get the chance, audit a clinic if he comes to your area (where are you?). He does not give anything away, so his methods, both in DVD form, clinics and hard goods can really add up. I suggest you find someone like Adiva Murphy, or another quality clinician who you can follow. Be careful though, as many so-called Natural Horsemen have sprung up, but cannot deliver the product. I often cringe at what I hear out there.

Rescue Horses
I think it’s wise to look for a riding horse from a rescue. You can find some very nice animals there; some that are completely sound and well trained. One of my students has a rescue mare (half Arab) that is just beautiful, and she always places in shows. The original photos of her were not so beautiful though. I was shocked the mare survived. It’s horrific what people do to horses.

A good rescue looks after their animals and places them in appropriate homes to make sure it doesn’t need to be rescued twice. If you find a rescue that doesn’t match the criteria, walk away. Many people are now calling themselves a rescue to obtain free money to feed their own animals, and are not in it for the rescued horse’s sake (and some of these are accredited). There are rescue facilities whose horses look like they need rescuing themselves. Take the time to go look and if you find something, make sure they allow you to try the horse several times. And don’t forget the vet check.

Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds
I’m not good at recommending an ex-track animal. Forget the thoroughbred, unless it’s so bomb proof you simply cannot pass it up. Standardbreds can make okay riding horses, but here is my list of why I don’t recommend them:
1. For a newer rider, most of them have to be rebroke to saddle. Pulling a sulky is not the same as being broke to saddle. It is a chore you may have to farm out. Why go to that extra expense?
2. If you find one that has been on the track for one year or longer, they can be stiff laterally and longitudinally, creating unsoundness through the spine in the future when you begin to ride them. Horses cannot bend their bodies laterally in a cart, causing them to become rigid and stiff over time. Although you can get lateral flexion later, why go to that extra effort? The longer they raced, the stiffer they are.
3. They can be quite tough in the face/mouth. Although you can create a soft mouth on almost any horse, it is something that an experienced trainer could accomplish. They tend to pull and lean on the reins/bit, which is what many have been trained to do for racing. It can be very uncomfortable to always feel like you have to hold the horse up all the time. They can be very heavy on the front end.
4. They are not trained to move left and right the way a riding horse would move. Again, just another thing to try and undo.
5. I have only seen one Standardbred whose legs I liked. I find many of them a bit too ‘camped out’ (back legs), and other front-end weaknesses (although many stay sound their lifetime).
6. Standardbreds can be a bit odd in their gaits: uneven, no rhythm, lots of forward but a ‘pull’ forward instead of a ‘push’ forward. Not a good start for dressage.

While these comments may sound a bit extreme, I am trying to educate you to what you may find with Standardbreds. There are some who make lovely riding horses and stay sound for a lifetime. They are more the exception than the norm. I have owned them at one time, and tried to rehab them for under saddle. I can say, with experience, that it was ten times the work my Arabians and other breeds were. I had to first undo a ton of stuff, then put a foundation back on, then build up from there.

As far as Thoroughbreds are concerned, I rehab many of them each year. I love them, but they are not a horse for everyone, and not one I would recommend. Again, soundness issues and ‘hot’ mentalities can prove challenging. A friend picked one up from the track, we spent two years to get her to where she was quiet and going well, only to pull up lame with a mysterious undetectable unsoundness. She is beautiful, but only from the kitchen window now.

I do understand the value of saving a horse’s life by giving him another job to do. I cannot though, in good faith, tell a client (I get paid good money to find horses for people) to look at Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds. If it is going to be your only horse and you will be paying for board, look for a horse that is broke, sound, quiet and you feel a connection to. There are so many other breeds and crossbreds that need a home too, and I look for horses by this motto: “if you take an okay or challenging horse and train him, he may end up a fairly good horse. If you start with a good horse, you end up with a great horse.” And in the end, a good horse costs the same to feed as a bad horse.

One of my favorite crosses is anything half Arabian or Morgan. Not that the purebred Arabians and Morgans aren’t nice, but they can be a bit expensive. The half Arabian crosses seem to stay sound, and have nice temperaments. I am a bit partial to Arabians, and bred Polish Arabians and showed them for many years. My quietest horses were the Arabians. They are tough, no matter what their size, and have bones of steel and generally great feet. They bond to humans easily and can be loyal and safe. I have many half Arabs and Morgans in my lesson string, and all of them are sound, great horses. These are two wonderful, versatile breeds that need a second look.

Before I end this reply, I just want to say that I wish you all the success in your ‘two year plan’. It takes a brave soul to embark on the “equine journey” later in life. You will wonder why it took you so long. And drink one litre of water ½ hour before each meal. I kid you not, it’s a great weight loss trick, and very inexpensive. Try it!

One response to “What is Parelli and should I consider buying a Standardbred or Thoroughbred?

  1. Cool post, I’ve just got a labrador dog to train.

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