Horsenality


By Maddy Butcher

  • The Parellis have arguably made horsemanship more accessible to more people than any other entity in the world.
  • Horsenality is a single component of a greater body of work that gives horse owners, especially women, safe access to their horses in a way that no other program has managed to do.
  • If Horsenality can help.

Over the years, we’ve chatted with many women who happily share breakthrough moments with their horses. Those moments happened because understanding the horse’s behavior through Horsenality allowed them to gain more confidence and respond in a way that gave them results.

We say, “Hooray for you!”

After all, the horse doesn’t care if you label it dirty, clean, handsome, ugly, left-brained, or right-brained. If you handle your horse in a way that’s safe and humane, that treatment should be applauded.

Many women who embraced Horsenality have matured and become more experienced. As is only normal in their educational journeys and thirst for knowledge, they may have started to learn about horse brain chemistry and the horse’s evolution and existence as a prey animal. These owners and riders may have started to get curious about what actually goes on in their equine partner’s brain.

Introversion, extroversion, right-brainedness, and left-brainedness – the pillars of Horsenality – are not going on in the horse’s brain.

Yes, it is true that some horses can be more flighty or more aggressive than others. But placing human traits on horses (widely defined as anthropomorphism) can get us into trouble because horses lack a developed frontal lobe and are not capable of complex human emotions.

The horse is a prey animal who learns to react according to previous encounters with humans and what it has learned from its herd members (assuming it hasn’t been isolated). Its behavioral choices are the result of deeply engrained interest in self-preservation, not its unique “personality.”

The horse has a dense corpus callosum that unites the two halves of the brain. It features an immense amount of white matter or myelin which is indicative of an incredible density of neural activity. So much for left-brainedness and right-brainedness. Of course, the human has a corpus callosum, too. Watch this educational video about the Left v. Right myth. 

Clinton Anderson is equally guilty of presenting false science in his program. He refers to “the thinking side of the brain” versus “the reactive side of the brain.”
He might have the right idea – horses have a flight instinct when their sympathetic nervous system is engaged. That’s ‘reactive’ alright. Alternatively, they may appear to be ‘thinking’ when they’re relaxed and their parasympathetic nervous system takes over. But introducing terms like ‘thinking side’ and ‘reactive side’ is inaccurate. If Clinton studied the Autonomic Nervous System of the horse, he could present a more informed picture.
When students try to mesh science with Horsenality, they may experience cognitive dissonance. That’s when you try to marry two contrasting, incompatible beliefs. Our brains like harmony and brace against disharmony, so we try to find a way to have all our thoughts get along.

Not surprisingly, it might be easier for Parelli fans to continue to embrace Horsenality while still, nonetheless, absorbing more evidence-based concepts. This position is especially understandable and problematic if Horsenality has helped them connect with their horses. It might seem tragic, confusing, and downright disloyal to shed one concept and embrace another.

Can you live with cognitive dissonance?

Can you advance your horsemanship while still embracing Horsenality tenants?

The answers, as we have discovered, are highly individual.

BestHorsePractices’ mission is to review goods and services with an eye toward stripping away the hype and asking:

“Does research support it?

Research doesn’t support Horsenality, but scores of horse owners do. If they are making progress and making their horses’ lives better, all the better.

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