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The McLean system of Horse Training

© 2017



Horsemen don't do Peer Reviews, they haven't got time but after many Years and a lot of thought, noting that the Scientists often review Horsemen (Monty Roberts, Pat Parelli and myself) the time has come. I write this also, on behalf of the many Horses I meet, that have been Victims to this system. (provided by University of Sydney)


The Century of tireless work to educate Horse Owners a better way for Horses, by People like Tom Dorrence, Ray Hunt, Pat Parelli, Kel Jeffreys, Jim Wilton, Monty Roberts, and Thousands of others, and evolving for the better, is under attack imho, because  over the last 10 Years, the good of this work has been equally negated, by the popularity of some Scientific Training systems on the back of the Title, instant believability, uniform and words that are too big for most to understand. Hundreds of Thousands are being influenced. Video's down further.

The Trigger for my writing this piece, is the fact that over the Years, I have met and had to fix, at least 20 'Rearing Horses', several Bolters and seen many distressed and unhappy Horses, victims of the well meaning Folk who use these systems and are swept away with big words and slick phrases. These numbers are rising as the system spreads, with 3 in a Week recently.

I am most concerned about the serious 'Risk Management' issue of the attack on the "One Rein Stop", happening at lectures around the Country.

This is to 'Level the Playing Field' and the first right of reply from a Horseman.



On occasions I was blinded with science, some interesting other parts pretty basic. However, he did spend quite some time criticising the "one rein stop" saying that it causes the opposite shoulder to bulge etc. and that it would not work with a bolting horse. He has missed the point completely that the one rein stop prevents the notion of bolting in the first place. He stated that horses should only be trained with the two-rein stop. He constantly emphasised pressure/release in rein handling



 The McLean system (which started off as the 'Tom Roberts' system and build upon as time went on), more about that later, has been the cause of an increasing regularity in my seeing cases of aggrieved Horses via email complaints and directly but more regularly of late, watching too many Dressage Horses behaving badly and even a number of F.E.I. Horses, all the way up to Grand Prix Horses, having to be retired or  slid out the back door to save embarrassment or even sold on.

 I have watched the progress or not of a lot of Dressage Horses in the last 20 Years and always have the Camera handy. Because of my ability to read the Minds of Horses, that Camera always gets the shot as the Horses always report to me, often Months in advance.




I note the "One Rein Stop" being used to stop 'Bolting' in this higher level test!! as the Horse decided on Bolting after the Rearing didn't succeed.  The 'One Rein Stop" seen saving the F.E.I. Rider ( a McLean Pupil), from certain disaster. Ironic indeed.




Yes, they are the best Judges of all and are never wrong. Almost without exception, Horses trained via this system have:

  • Lost their Soul

  • Are Sad in the eyes.

  • The majority suffering a McLean Term 'Learned helplessness'

  • Have ruined Mouths

  • Exhibit their frustrations in Life via two of the highest communicatory behaviors, that of rearing or bolting, and

  • are inevitably 'above the Bit'

  • don't like their Handler.

These symptoms are universal across them all. So what is the system??

Well like Tom Roberts, Monty Roberts, Parelli and others, The 'McLean System' is a system of 'Ground Manners' It is not a 'Horse Starting' system. Sold with the power of the Phd and the use of very big words that many don't understand.

‘ Response landscape graphs conceptualizing the effects of arousal and affective state on training outcomes of operant conditioning in animal training "




Now McLean and Karl both passionately believe in their systems, they may be right but the Horse World must come to the realization that any system "is only as good as the Dummy on the end of it" and so the more technical the systems, the higher degree of failure on the Ground, out in the 'Coal Face' of the Industry, the greater the failure and more the confusion for Horses. These systems are a 'Horse Welfare' issue.

Both systems come with lot's of big words, most being 'Scientific Club Speak'. This is both by intention to impress their Peers and potential Clients and as marketing tool. Even if they were the best systems on the Planet, the delivery ensures confusion amongst the Clients. Many of the words and some of the statements, defy understanding by all but the Intellectuals amongst us.



Common indicators of Horses from this and the Phillip Karl system can be:

  • Horses 'above the Bit'

  • Braced in the Jaw to protect themselves from the Hands of Rider's

  • Having substandard Mouths with little Lateral control.

  • Unhappy disposition, obvious stress and no relaxation,

  • Hollow Backs, lack of engagement and tenseness shown

  • Substandard Muscle development, indicating the failure of the adapting of the systems.

  • A dislike for most Handlers'



The basics of the McLean system, started out exclusively as one where the Handler held the Reins of a Bridled Horse, near the Chin and repeatedly jabbed, pulsated, jagged (or you pick the words) the Bit in the Mouth of the Horse, to get it to submit, to stand, to go backwards and forwards or to 'park'. (stop and stand) All the things we teach the Foal on Day 10 of it's Life but in a halter of course.

I note with interest, having watched at each Equitana since the first , that as the Years went by, the system changed with the introduction of the Dressage Whip as the original jagging on the Mouth wasn't working well enough during the backwards steps and 'Parking'  and was not a good look in Public. This  tool was then used to send the Horse backwards, when the jagging of the Bit in the Mouth wasn't working, or as I know, was causing too much crowding of the Handler. (as such systems all do)

 No doubt and ironically,  Pat Parelli influenced it slightly ( as the Carrot Stick became the Dressage Whip)  So the system has been one that has evolved as McLean saw deficiencies with it. It never had a foundation of merit or History because Tom Roberts never had a system either. He too was an 'intellectual' .I have spoken to many of the Old Fellows across Australia that have had to fix many Horses that were not responding to his Floating system ( which doesn't control the rear end of a Horse.) Here is one later example, where the whip had largely replaced the jagging of the Mouth.


I would therefore submit, that the jagging of the Mouth of a Horse via the Bit rather than being ethical, is 'cruelty to animals', a fact lost upon all those who have followed the system. It is this aspect that frankly completely puzzles me for any Horse Trainer should know that the jagging inside the Mouth of a Horse, with half a Kilo or more of Steel, makes Horses 'upwardly mobile in the Mind' for their one thought must be to attempt to protect themselves.

Here another Horse and victim of the system as photographed by me.





Habituating a horse to frightening stimuli with "over-shadowing"  

Here again, we see the following:

  • Horsemanship being taken backwards towards the Old Days again.

  • An unhappy Horse

  • An ignorance Mouth

  • Brute Force on a Mouth, not giving, no lightness and needing a whip. No timing, no 'advance and retreat'

  • A failure to include the Horse in the training process. Bullying it with brute force

  • No empathy, no reward.

In fact, I call this "Flooding' a word the Scientists hate.


I could go on and on. I have Years of Cases in my Files but I have made the point.

I merely strongly warn Horse Owners' and Trainers' to NOT bump a Bit against the Jaws of a Horse. Everything about the thought is Neanderthal, unfair, unjust and cruel and Barbaric. This is 2017, we are supposed to have come a long way. It is anti training of all things good and complete training of the 'upwardly mobile Mind' in Horses, that make them try and escape forward and upwards....or completely 'Shut Down' with 'Learned Helplessness"


Like this one that came to me last Year, via this system and it had completely shut down where it wouldn't walk. Wonderful Mare. 2 Days later......


I further submit, that the mere fact that You may be able to walk a horse forward, back a Horse up and make it stand, is not new and is not a Horse Starting system, not a tool for -re-educating so called 'Problem Horses' ,It has no use. The Parelli system works a treat on those simple Goals, staying completely away from the Mouths of Horses. Foals get taught the Halter stuff at Day 14 of their Lives.




So in the end, the 'Scientists' decided to take on the Horsemen, at this, the 'Way of the Horse, 'starting competition' over two Days of 3 Hours each. an unbroken Australian Stock Horse put into each Round Pen, ready for the Contestant.

McLean had a Scientific Pupil, from the Australian Broadcasting Commission and so they decided to film for A.B.C. Quantum, the Scientific Show.




"If You want the most accurate opinion of a Horse Training system, just ask the Horse. They tell You all, are never biased and always speak the Truth"





The British Horse Society

Doctor Professor McGreevy, N.S.W. University, Equine Studies.


The "Phillip Karl System'



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