At the root of all this is the horse’s “horsenality”. Amongst the snark against Natural Horsemanship, people seem to continuously state the utter uselessness of “horsenalities”. Yet it is such assessment of a horse that exactly allows the horseman to accurately evaluate a horse to adapt his/her methods to said horse – thus enabling horseman to work with any horse they come in contact with and bring said horse to its utmost potential. Most claim this should be “common sense”. Well, wake up. Common sense is not so common. Furthermore, handling horses and what to do might not be innate to some people and really, everyone has to learn to a certain degree, even if what they learn and then practice comes naturally to them. Understanding a horse’s way of being on a conscious level can aid a person in adapting their methods and learning how to approach that specific horse, on a conscious level. It can also help an individual to more fully understand why a horse is behaving the way it is and thus having the potential of eliminating frustration.
Parelli has developed an assessment of a horse’s “horsenality” based upon two observations: whether the horse is introverted or extroverted, and whether the horse is (at its foundation) right-brained or left-brained. This is not to say that a horse cannot have one horsenality but display tendencies of another. For example, a low level of confidence can result in a horse becoming introverted as it reverts to its natural survival instincts – a non-confident horse is going to lack curiosity, which might be in its best interests for its survival. A horse who has given up the fight (due to a forceful rider/etc) might become introverted rather than acting extroverted. Also, being right-brained and instinctive can also benefit a horse greater than being left-brained and thinking a situation through at first (at times) – flight might be a better option than standing and thinking through what to do when a lion is staring you in the face.
Generally, the extroverted horse is a horse who wants to move his feet, whereas the introverted horse would rather move its mind and emotions. Right-brained horses require you to earn their trust in yourself and in your leadership, whereas Left-brained horses are more apt to challenge your authority and leadership – they are dominant (pushing/biting things, etc). RB reactions and horses are instinctive and not thinking, whereas LB reactions and horses are presented with a lot of forethought. You can determine whether a horse is Introverted or Extroverted and LB or RB by evaluating three aspects:
1. Speed of feet – the horse who is constantly in motion and moving its feet is Extroverted, whereas the Introvert prefers to move his mind and keep his feet relatively still.
2. Respect versus trust – the horse who requires its handler to earn a greater amount of respect is the LB, whereas the RB is going to require its person to focus more on earning its trust to balance the partnership.
3. Afraid versus Pushy/Dominant – the Extrovert is typically pushy, dominant, and bold, whereas the Introvert is more apt to be afraid.
The following are the four Parelli horsenalities and how one would address one versus the other, and why it makes a difference:
RBI (Right-brain Introvert)
The RBI is often recognizable by its stance – it will stand with all four feet underneath him (ready to propel him forward) and his ears flicked back as he keeps an “eye” on what might be occurring behind him. It is often easy to move their front end around, but more difficult to move the hind end around; this is because a horse’s power is derived from its hind end, so he is not going to want said hind end to be disengaged or otherwise compromised, should he find it necessary to flee. He will be defensive through his hind; you may even find it difficult to pick up his feet, particularly his hinds. Because they are RB, these horses have a tendency to react first and think later. The Introvert aspect of them results in their cooping up their emotions – they keep everything inside. This is why they will often pause at a request – not because they are being rebellious, but because they have to get past their emotions for a moment so as to think the situation through and decide how to react. If they are pushed and are not allowed the time to think, boom, their emotions explode. The horse will either give up all fight or will explode “out of nowhere” after freezing and “running away inside”. Thus, one has to match their energy level to the horse in question – a RBI requires a person to go slow and to have the same very “soft” energy that they have. They are looking for leadership and so require a strong leadership and trust in their rider. Rather than walking up to these horses, have them instead come up to YOU. Back away from them as you face them, to draw them towards you; at liberty, they are more likely to approach you from behind than to parade up in front of you. Do not walk up to their heads – walk up to their shoulders; doing so allows them to then turn their heads and touch YOU rather than vice versa. Directing them to touch various “scary objects” and leading them through obstacles (and then directing them to do it themselves) really develops their confidence and thus their curiosity.
LBI (Left-brain Introvert)
These are the horses most apt to buck in resistance and are the most likely to be pushy and labeled as lazy because they refuse to move forward (especially under force). They are likely to use their nose as a sort of weapon – whether it be to push their handler over or to nip at their pockets as they demand treats. LB horses are always getting into things and LBI’s specifically are very happy to stand a distance from you with an insolent look on their face. You will usually find it more difficult to push their front end around than their hind, since horses dominate through their front end. These horses cannot be pushed or forced – at their worst, they will either retaliate or will simply shut down, which is why it is vital to EARN their respect so that they WANT to do what you ask. In addition, they are very rest and food motivated. They require a great deal of assertiveness and will challenge your authority at anything (even picking up their feet), but often also demand that their rider be fair. With a LBI in particular, one definitely wants to match their energy level – act as if they are going too fast and you want them to slow down (even if they are simply plodding - the power of reverse psychology)!! Reward the slightest try with rest and they will give you more. Same as with the RBI, it pays to have these horses come to you and to approach their shoulder versus their head. These horses are also more difficult to have approach you though, as they are very independent and confident alone (I've spotted my LBI out grazing at pasture in the middle of some of the worst blizzards, content by himself, whilst everyone else huddles together in the shelter).
These guys LOVE to move their feet, play with various objects, and move their minds. With an extreme LBE, you might have a lot of trouble slowing them down; allow them to move forward a little, then stop and rest, gradually increasing the time and speed of forward motion but stopping them before they get worked up and take off. They bore easily and so require mental stimulation – you always have to be one step ahead of them in developing exercises that keep their minds busy. They are also very dominant and since they love to move their feet, can be apt to getting into trouble under-saddle – they are very “in your face” and extroverted! On the ground, it might be difficult to move their front ends around and under-saddle, it can be difficult to motivate them (rest! mental stimulation!). They require a rider to earn a great deal of respect as well. LBE’s can be quite insolent in the things they do as well and will challenge your authority or retaliate if they perceive you to be unfair. Since they are very confident, like the LBI they are difficult to create “draw” in – that is to say, it can be difficult to have them approach you and stick with you at liberty since they are sufficiently confident to be off on their own. If they feel you are providing insufficient leadership, they will take the leadership “into their own hooves”.
The RBE is a horse who requires strong leadership, as he possesses much of the same qualities as the RBI, except he is obviously an Extrovert, versus being an Introvert. This horse can also be dominant and pushy, particularly through his front end, like the LBE. He is naturally not as confident as an LBE though and is more afraid than bold. Much like the RBI, barn sourness can be an issue if you are presenting insufficient leadership – if they do not feel you can ensure their survival, they will ensure it themselves by returning to the protection of the herd at home! Their first instinct is to react rather than think, so they need to be taught to be “calmer, braver, smarter” and to rely upon your leadership for direction (which must be earned). If punished, this horse is more apt to develop distrust and to become fearful. Since he feels an innate need to move his feet, he will exert a great deal of energy to flight.
As a side note, as one develops a horse, while they still maintain their “base horsenality”, the horse will become balanced and better rounded – they will become a less extreme version of their horsenality. For example, a Right-brain Introvert at its extreme might never be curious, tucking its emotions away inside, and always prone to explosion if pushed the slightest. As the horse is developed and its emotions “balanced” however, the same horse can develop confidence and thus curiosity (become more extroverted and thus more “centered”), and be less prone to explosion and more prone to trusting your leadership and thinking a situation through. If you can, imagine a scale, where Extrovert and Introvert exist at opposite ends of the scale. The same can be done with RB and LB. Your job as a horseman is to “center” a horse so that it, when fully developed, sits as close to the center of the scale as possible – not overly Extrovert nor Introvert, and not overly instinctive but also not overly “thinking”.
So as one can see, though much of this is innate to many individuals who have been around horses for years, there is also much room for conscious adaptation of one’s methods. Also, it is important to understand why a horse is behaving in a certain fashion, so as to properly and efficiently address the behavior in question. For example, I am going to deal with our RBI kicking differently than I would our LBI. Our RBI kicked towards me once upon a time when I became to focused on picking up his feet – he was giving me all the signs that I was pushing him (he had done well already, but I wanted “better”) and when I ignored the signs (his becoming more and more introverted), he finally kicked at me. Due to his abusive past, he was afraid and had insufficient trust in me – when I, a predator, pushed the issue, he finally resorted to kicking to get me away from his hind end (as a RB, he was simply being defensive through his hind end – he felt it crucial to his survival to keep his hind feet firmly planted on the ground). Rather than reacting and punishing him (which would only have served to create more distrust), I let the issue go. I apologized profusely to him and left it for another day, instead rubbing him all over until he relaxed. Instead, I work on it bit by bit, moving slowly, until he is giving me all four feet. The slower you go, the faster your progress and taking such a route can actually allow for very quick progression. Our LBI, however, used to kick (among other things) as a youngster. Punishing him would only have created resistance and retaliation (actually, I can say this through experience, since I handled it “traditionally” at the time and did attempt to punish him). Instead, I later learned to ignore the kick and instead earn a greater level of respect from him overall. As soon as his respect in general for me increased, the kicking out (and other such “qualities”) evaporated – they had been a manifestation of his overall lack of respect and dominant behavior towards me. With the RBI however I would focus on earning his trust at the time (then perhaps he would allow me to successfully pick up his hinds), whereas with the LBI if he were to do the same today, I would make him move his feet and work hard for a minute or two before asking again. This is the importance of horsenalities, or just understanding how and why your horse behaves the way he does. Without understanding your horse, one cannot effectively communicate and address him. Of course actual horsenalities (as they pertain to Parelli’s system) are not necessary for this; many people learn how to understand and read horses without Parelli’s direct “horsenalities”. Pat has simply developed a wonderful easy to understand (and refer to) system to help the average horse person. I often refer back to the horsenalities themselves because I find knowing a horse’s horsenality allows me to understand a horse very well and thus communicate to it better than I would otherwise; it is simply another tool that helps!