There's a big question that has surfaced in the world of social media and here it is: Did Pat Parelli ever abuse horses?
Well... it's complicated.
In one way, yes. In another way, he's done more for the horse industry as a whole, than any other trainer in history. Please allow me to expand on both sides of this coin.
Even though I have created my own mastery program, with a deeper focus on performance and balance, and no longer teach the Parelli methods, read why I left Parelli if you want more on that, I can't deny the positive growth spurt I experienced in the fifteen years I spend in Pat and Linda Parelli's back pocket. The amount of energy, charisma, and passion this dynamic duo has for the horse industry has, without any doubt, shaped the way people think of horsemanship on a global scale. Not everyone has heard of Parelli, but most have heard of natural horsemanship. And this is definitely, in some indirect way, linked to what Pat and Linda have done for the industry.
Currently, however, the detrimental whispers of "abuse" and "mistreatment," have surfaced among some members of the horse community. I wonder, what would it mean to the horse industry, if one of its heroes struck out in anger toward another human or horse. Would it wreak havoc on people's trust? Should it wreak havoc on people's trust? Here's what I think...
"Let those without any sin, cast the first stone."
I've seen Pat Parelli mistreat horses in a moment of anger, but I've also seen myself in moments of anger and even ignorance, and I don't like what I remember. I've also seen thousands of students in moments of anger. Including women and men of all ages. We never shine in our moments of anger, confusion, or frustration. But I've seen the moments where we do shine bright, as well. I've seen the good side in people. I've seen Pat slow down, and reach deep inside a horses psychology to prove that life will be OK. That humans are good. I've seen him love more, and care more deeply than most people are capable of. What recent circumstances tell us, is something we all should have figured out a long time ago. That Pat is a human being. Not a hero. Not a God. He's just like you. He has weaknesses just like the rest of us. So in the case of horse mistreatment... I give him an imperfect, but passable score. Understand, I don't condone mistreatment, I never have and never will, but I also believe in seeing bigger pictures and not getting stuck in the forest looking at one single instance of anger or misunderstanding.
There are those who think any kind of firmness, is mistreatment. There are those who think, riding is considered mistreatment. But those thoughts can quickly be corrected by understanding the truth that even locking a horse inside a fenced area is a form of abuse and mistreatment. So, in order to move forward, beyond the single trees, and begin to see the whole forest, we have to understand the balance of horse/human interactions in our world to get the whole picture. In short, for horses in captivity, Pat has done more good than harm.
And... that doesn't leave him faultless. Nor, any of us. We are still humans who make mistakes. Let's instead, work together to make life better for horses and humans, rather than find ways to destroy each other.
In the case of human mistreatment, I've seen both side of this coin too. I've seen Pat withhold love and affection, and pour condemnation down upon the individuals around him. Often, those closest too him. I've seen him abandon the people he loves, for the human instinct to "have more." But I've also experienced what he's willing to share. I've worked side by side with him and watched as he shared his home and private life, and decades worth of expertise with thousands of people. I wish people could hold it all together. I wish people could truly be heroes without being trapped in the human condition. But I've never seen it. Whenever I've been fortunate enough to get closer to the source of inspiration, and the passion that these brilliant people hold, I've experienced their raw human side too. I've seen this in people like Pat and Linda, Monty Roberts, Clinton Anderson, and people outside the horse industry, including Tony Robbins, Steve Jobs, and other brilliant business leaders, both men and women. We are all human!
So... what does that mean to you? What will you do if you see the forest, instead of the single trees? What will you do, if your hero dies, and the human emerges? For years, I've watched as Parelli students pick out a single good idea in Parelli, and blindly follow him to the end of the world. Then one day, a single bad tree is presented and they blindly turn away from the whole program. I understand, that at a deep, instinctual human level, we all have this short-sighted understanding of what we experience, and the balance of what's good and bad can be tipped in either direction quickly. What I hope for my readers to understand, is that when we focus our efforts, we can begin to see beyond the single trees or instances of negative behavior. We can be less judgmental of others, and more judgmental about ourselves in an effort to make progress. We can learn to see where we fall short, and try to shore up those faults, even if it doesn't happen over night. We desperately need to see the current circumstances for what they are and not turn a blind eye, but we also need to see, and not ignore, the whole picture. If we're going to take the horse industry forward, let's do it together, without reverting to blame and judgement.
Let's use what good and wonderful things that have been presented to us, and leave behind the bad. Let's take charge of what we learn next, without the intent of putting the heroic identity on the creators of those good things. Let's use our better judgement and walk a more flexible path, in the way we think about others.