I recently left a barn (felt a bit like leaving a cult) where Parelli-style natural horsemanship was the main technique used with the horses. I was suckered in by the rhetoric and felt like I was philosophically on the same page as the trainer. It wasn’t a show barn and, in fact, not a lot of riding went on. As far as my riding goals were concerned, I saw plenty of red flags early on (plenty of flags in general, if we are being honest. My horse and I would happily never see a flag again), but the training was affordable, and the facilities and turnout were nice. I thought I would just give it some time and see how the trainer did, try to keep an open mind and learn something new. My horse needed a better foundation, and a slow and careful restart from the ground seemed like a good judgment call.
Over just a few months, though, I felt that my horse went from being merely “difficult” to outright dangerous. The trainer had 2 months working 1-on-1 with the horse, then began to involve me in weekly lessons. When I saw how significantly the horse’s behavior had deteriorated, I was shocked. But the trainer explained that things often get worse before they improve, that the horse was previously shut down due to abusive training measures, and I shouldn’t be surprised if he needed to re-learn everything as if for the first time.
To me, it felt like Groundhog Day, where the horse and I were repeating the same “discussions” every time I asked for something. Those discussions escalated to arguments, and the topics of those arguments increasingly expanded to include everything from standing in the barn aisle to walking back to the pasture—things the horse did perfectly well before leaving for training. I was afraid even to go out and hand graze him because he would explode and fight from the end of the lead rope over the most minor things.
All the while, it wasn’t clear to me whether it was my fault or the training. I definitely had a number of long, brooding drives home where I contemplated whether I was the reason my horse’s behavior seemed to worsen week to week, especially since the trainer so often reassured me that her sessions with the horse were going perfectly. Every time I would try to have a frank conversation with her about it, it would naturally circle back to that self doubt and self recrimination, and I would agree to give it another month.
I finally found a new situation for the horse and moved him. A month out of that program, and it’s like I have a new horse. Yes, we had the same “arguments” at the beginning. But the confrontations were virtually one-and-done. We worked through it, the behavior stopped, and we moved on. I don’t see the same bullying/threatening behavior on the ground. Even the spookiness has improved, and that’s despite being on a new property with a smaller turnout… all that to say, WTF was that trainer doing to my horse? Has anyone else experienced these results with natural horsemanship? I’m about this close to starting a bonfire for my rope halters and 14 ft yacht rope, because all I can say is it really did a number on my horse’s sanity.