Animal “Whisperers”

What is wrong with this picture? What is wrong is that this is a completely human centric, human dominated way to approach an animal. It comes from an ego-centered need to control. It is not derived from an understanding of the species. For many people, this is a conscious, desired way of interacting with other species (and even with other humans); and for others it is simply because they have never opened their eyes to see another way. To watch this, one sees a condescending attitude toward the woman, and yet she seems in complete awe of these two, not unlike my memories of young girls swooning over the Beatles (ok…I probably did that part too -)). And this same condescending attitude carries over to interaction with the animals (although this intro video clip does not go so far as to work with the animals – it just leaves you with the feeling that these two animal “gods” will “fix” everything).

Can we live and interact with animals without the need for this kind of domineering approach? Absolutely. The “alpha horse” and “pack leader dog” theories were invalidated quite a number of years ago. Apparently not very many people got the message.  Jose Schoorl put it this way:  “This is so not 2013!”  We do not need to resort to these kinds of emotionally and mentally (and sometimes physically) abusive methods.  Animals communicate – they do it all the time.  We humans have to learn to SHUT UP once in a while and listen.  There is no “whispering” to Milan’s & Parelli’s methods.  With Parelli’s (and others) methods, yes, you typically get a submissive horse that will do “tricks” for you; you get a horse that will obey your commands.  You get a horse that has no depth to the eyes – the soul is lost, the feelings shut down.  It’s called learned helplessness – a recognized psychological disorder.  That is at least until you meet that one horse in a thousand or more that is very strong willed and doesn’t submit as easily.  Then you have to ramp up the physical part; then you get into a fight; then the human gets hurt…then the horse is labeled “crazy” and disposed of.

Learn the participative approach.  Learn to SEE the phenomena that exists between you and the animal – that is where the relationship is.  It is not in you, it is not in the animal – it is that energetic space in between.  It is the dynamic that flows between two beings – of any species.


Photo credit:  LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: Host Cesar Millan and Pat Parelli pose for a picture.  (Photo credit  © Paul Coneys / MPH – Emery/Sumner Joint Venture)


16 thoughts on “Animal “Whisperers”

  1. beautifully put sarah! i saw this a while back and it made me sick. and you hit it right on the mark when you spoke of the ‘magic’ between us our ponies and us. many can not see it or feel it. thanks!


  2. You have absolutely no understanding of Parelli Natural Horsemanship if you really believe that its purpose is to get “a submissive horse that will do “tricks” for you; you get a horse that will obey your commands. You get a horse that has no depth to the eyes – the soul is lost, the feelings shut down. It’s called learned helplessness – a recognized psychological disorder.” That is the precise opposite of Parelli Natural Horsemanship. If you really care to know about that which you are opining, I highly recommend that you learn what Parelli Natural Horsemanship is by talking to the Parelli’s, visiting their ranch, and experiencing it. I am willing to read about the zooanthropological approach that you recommend, if you will do the same and stop vilifying Parelli Natural Horsemanship because you do not know it or understand it.


    • Thank you for your comment Barbara. While I have not visited the PNH ranch to say that I have no understanding or experience of PNH methods (or any other NH methodology) is incorrect – I do have and I understand what operant conditioning is, period. Some of us are moving beyond that, simply put.


  3. I just read the brief intro to the zooanthropological approach. If you will study the work of the Parelli’s, including the foundation in understanding horse psychology and the development of the concept of “Horsenality” , you will see that there is no disconnect.


    • Thank you again for the reply – I think the basic misunderstanding of zooanthropology is that it is not even a “training” method, that is the basic disconnect.


  4. Thank you for sharing this Sarah. I have worked for many years in animal rescue and have ( like ,many others) listened and used some of the Parelli and Milan techniques … But this was many many years ago) and I am greatefull to people like Montey Roberts for opening up the discussion and showing a way to treat animals better then most people used to at the time.
    But like you Sarah, I have remained open minded and ready to grow and learn more.
    Today I can see what is wrong with Parelli and Milan techniques and fully embrace the zoanthropology approach – although I am still learning every day.
    I am not an Alpha to any animal – This is a human perception and I am not above another living being.We are all dwellers of the same planet and sometimes I lead.. at other times I follow.
    I never had a problem with any of my dogs/ cats/ sheep/horses etc… being around each other and living in harmony and acceptance – they even play together!
    For me the problem ALWAYS comes from the human behaviour not the other way round.
    And I really really don’t like how this woman keeps her horses in tight enclosures, without pasture.. play.. space… That might just be one of her problems!


    • Thanks for the comments Naomi! I agree with what you say – and yes, have done the same things myself in years past regards utilizing certain “training” techniques. Now, much different relationship… -)


  5. Parelli method with horse, in the same way of Millan with dogs, in the same way of clicker training and in general food reward way both with horses and dog, in the same way of conventional/classical equitation is in total opposition way respect to the cognitive paradigm and even more respect to the cognitive-zooanthropologic model.

    Cognition is not about conditioning, Parelli work very well applying Operant Conditioning, but not inside the cognitive model.


  6. I have to agree with Naomi that the Natural Horsemanship movement has provoked much needed change. I just never liked their dominance theory, it never sat well with me and the direction it went from trying to make things better for the horse into million dollar business model makes me believe that their credibility is more subjective and based on charisma and physical attractiveness of their ‘celebrity’ like presenters. Since roughly 65% of the horse owners are women over 40 (European and North American numbers don’t differ much) you do the math.
    On many forums scientists are seen as stuffy lab coat wearing nerds that don’t know what a ‘real horse’ looks like, but the handsome cowboy does! (swoon, swoon, hahaha).

    I like to read and analyze research papers and take from it what speaks to me. I don’t fit in any box, neither would I fit in the cognitive-zooanthropologic box although I have to say that it speaks more to me than anything else so far, but I just don’t believe that one method works in any situation (not yet convinced anyhow).

    We do not live in a perfect world and so we often have to make compromises. My heart gets broken on a regular basis (I would cry the whole 2 hour drive home after spending time with a horse, turn him out for 3 hours and having to look him in the eyes when he reluctantly went back iinto his stall to stay there for 6 days straight until my next visit. There is no cognitive model in the world that is going to help that horse understand, no offence. I used the clicker in order to teach him to lower his head to get out through the man door, as the designer of this beautiful looking barn clearly didn’t have horses on the brain, there are only man doors, go figure, nice to walk a head tossing stallion through that had been in his stall for 5 months straight (sadly, no exaggeration and no joke here) . So why did this stallion not hurt me while he did so to others? I didn’t raise my voice, I didn’t hit him, I didn’t use a chain over his nose and I didn’t yank on the lead rope. I only gave him positive attention and no attention if he tried to bite me or strike at me (actually, the striking was not directly aimed at me, I think the people that got hurt were standing too much in front of the horse). I don’t know if this fits anywhere into the cognitive model, but it got him what he desperately needed, it got him out of his stall. Did I do it right, did I do it wrong, I couldn’t care less to be honest, we both got what we wanted out of the deal. I was still in one piece, the horse was out of his stall and every time after it was easier.

    It is not a perfect world we live in and it never will be, but any change for the better should be embraced. The lesser of two evils is still better. Meanwhile we just keep searching for the answer and we know we will never get there, but we’ll keep searching anyway. Very anxious to go on this new path!


    • Hi Mila – am sorry I didn’t reply sooner, but thank you for your heartfelt post! You bring up some subjects that I actually would like to discuss at more length…but am going to have to put this off for a while as it will get rather involved and time is very limited for me right now (my Mom is having some serious health issues).

      I’m going to turn the moderation/approval requirement off on my blog, so others – please feel free to discuss this further if you like. Won’t turn it back on unless I start getting a bunch of “junk” posts. 🙂


  7. hi, I just read this page and watched the short vieo. read the comments then watched the whole 30 min video. I feel if you watched the whole video you would have a different opinion. I am 15 y.o, and would love to study zooanthropology when I leave school at college/university. I do think like a pony natural horsemanship, the founder of which learnt parelli. I watch various youtube videos and books and blogs about this area of horsemanship. I feel that there is no right way. There may sometimes be a right way but its really about giving the horse a choice and letting him/her think the situation through. A horse is a flight/fight animals yes, but they have the capability to think. Look at their body language and the situation. see your horses face how would you feel if you had the face. There is no way of gaining respect from a horse if you don’t respect them. Personal space goes both ways. I agree with parelli on theres the carrot person all luvy duby and theres the dominant human trying to be boss and then theres the inbetween carrot stick person, I use a groundwork stick ( similar to carrot stick ) but not to hit my horse. think of an extension of an arm when I need something to give more show of my space/your space. Its not to hit the horse but it does give more meaning sometimes to tap the horse with a stick and not to have to lean forward otherwise you’ve sometimes lost your intention. I am a follower of Lyn henrys thinklikeapony , I watch and read Parelli posts and many other great horsemen/women but either way it is all natural horsemanship. Gaining respect , gibing respect and asking the horse to think. Whatever your way if it feels right, and it works do it. For years I was the dominant stick person but it didn’t feel right and NH has given me a MUCH better perspective – sorry its so long but my opinion!


  8. Hi harlstanowner – thank you for comments. Actually I have seen the entire video (and several others, not just Parelli). The whole issue is that zooanthropology has nothing to do with any kind of “method” or “way” – except the horse’s way. Natural horsemanship is a conditioning methodology with a goal of control, nothing more. Zooanthropology involves letting go of any kind of preconceived desire you may have toward your pony. Yes, you can look at their body language – but what many people do not understand is that what they are trying to equate with “normal” has no reference point in domestication, none. That is not to say horses and humans should not co-exist together, however the entire paradigm needs to be changed, and we cannot reach that point so long as we continue to approach it from a perspective of “getting the horse to do something FOR human”. There exists another completely different world of relationship that we (a few of us) are trying to convey…and it involves completely letting go of any designs placed upon the animal. These are the things I’m trying to get across. Study people like Lucy Rees, Francesco DeGiorgio…I wish you the very best!


    • Hey, It’s been three years and I never saw your comment! Hey I forgot about this article and just came back to it reading it a few years on so I’m now 17. I’m in a more relaxed relationship with my horse although still a massive fan of think like a pony and I would not have the horse I do today without it, I think it’s great you are spreading this message. I have since read “The cognitive horse” by Jose Schrool ( think that’s right!? ) and think that it’s a very interesting take to things. Although many of these people seem to do things completely at liberty and I may be mistaken here but their videos etc seem be mostly liberty which not many people can do straight away. It would simply be dangerous. How do you get that? I don’t know I’m just rambling/exploring here sorry. It’s interesting how I look at my own routine with my horse and ask whether I’m ‘asking’ or ‘telling’ him something. I’ll look back at this idea some more maybe. I’m starting to get what you mean by the differences to NH and Zooanthropology. Although I think things are labelled as NH to get an audience and can offer something more controlling or more free depending which you go to. Sorry if this made no sense. Anyway good luck with your horsing just really saying a few years on I almost completely agree with this article and still love most of Think like a pony. Have a good day 😀 You’re right horses think differently to us and we should approach them with this thought in mind. However while some people like the idea I guess it’s hard to put into practice and for some Classical/Natural Horsemanship style approaches have the traditional in the training idea with the philosophy of horse language and horse cognition not human language and human cognition. I’m not necessarily saying whether that’s right or not though. anyway sorry this was long just revisiting and posting a thought update in the comments. 😀 x I’m glad there are people who think towards horses like this in the world.

      Liked by 1 person

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