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A furore has broken out over Pat Parelli’s treatment of showjumper Robert Whitaker’s stallion Catwalk during a demonstration at the Royal Festival of the Horse (9-11 July).

The Parellis were trying to put a bridle on the reluctant horse using their natural horsemanship technique. But angry spectators branded their actions “abusive” after the stallion was twitched and hobbled in the two-hour session.

The demo has led to 1,150 people joining a Facebook group called “Parelli is neither ‘natural’ nor ‘horsemanship’”, damning Pat Parelli’s techniques, and there’s a 154-page debate on the H&H online forum.

Forum user Elsbells was there. “I’m as mad as a snake about it all,” she wrote and Chestnutty Mare added: “How can anyone say that the horse wasn’t distressed. Where was the dignity in all this?”

Another forum user noted: “We were unable to watch any more and had to walk out,” with another saying: “It was my first Parelli experience and it will be my last.”

There is also an online petition to urge equine welfare charities to look into the Parelli demonstration.

But Alice Bell, from the Royal Festival of the Horse, told H&H: “We immediately went to inspect the horse with the senior vet. He examined him and was completely satisfied the horse’s welfare had not been compromised.”

A spokesman for Parelli said: “We do feel that we made some mistakes and want to apologise for them.”

And Pat Parelli told H&H: “Although we at Parelli, the vet and the owners of Catwalk are all perfectly happy that the stallion is of fine health and suffered no duress, we are ready to accept that nothing we nor our community of Parelli practitioners say will change the mind of a few hundred people who are out to shout us down.”

Robert Whitaker said he felt the situation had perhaps been blown out of proportion.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (22 July, ’10)