The term natural horsemanship is used for a philosophy that requires trainers to work with horses according to their natural instincts and communication methods. The philosophy teaches us to understand that it’s impossible to train horses through pain or fear; horses should instead be trained by applying pressure and then releasing it.
Here, it must be noted that the concept of natural horsemanship is different from the philosophy called “wimpy” horsemanship; unlike the former, the latter puts relationship above everything else. Natural horsemanship, on the other hand, requires the trainer to use firm and fair force whenever necessary for ensuring complete safety both for the handler/rider and the horse.
However, it has to be remembered that when practicing natural horsemanship, one must not use pain or fear as tools for motivating the animal; the philosophy also stops trainers from forcing the horses into submission.
The Basic Concept
Under the umbrella of natural horsemanship, there are a series of theories or schools. The section below includes ideas that are common to the majority of them.
Use the interactive nature of horses to train them- Horse is a social herd animal. It has evolved to showcase the ability of escaping predators and take part in social interaction. The animal is known for possessing a highly advanced communication system, which is mostly practiced in the form of body language. What’s important here is that humans can learn using body language for communicating with horses.
These animals use head positions, ear positions, speed of their movement, actions like showing their teeth or swinging their hips, threatening gestures, etc for communicating. They tend to escalate their behavior if their early warnings get ignored. Natural horsemanship uses horses’ ability to use and understand body language for training them.
The trainer/handler following this philosophy uses body language in cognition with gentle pressure of other forms for making the horse respond. Horses usually take very little time for developing a respectful liaison with humans who successfully treat them in a firm, but fair manner.
Make sure you are making the horse feel unsafe. The majority of trainers practicing natural horsemanship would admit that it’s impossible to develop a healthy relationship with horses using fear and pain. The primary aim of a trainer must be making the horse feel safe and allowing it to be calm all through the process of training. An animal that feels safe and calm when spending time with its handler would automatically bond with the person. The results of that would most likely be amazing.
Notice the animal’s natural instincts. For getting desired results the trainer must have in-depth knowledge about the natural instincts of the horse he or she is training. The person should also be aware of the animal’s communication system. Here, it must be noted that while the basic natural instincts and communication system of horses are same, individual animals always have some unique patterns. Trainers must always be aware of those patterns.
Learn the art of operant conditioning through application and release of pressure. The basic technique involves application of a particular form of pressure so that the horse starts acting in a desired way; the moment the horse responds, the said pressure gets released. The response of the horse might be an act it was requested to do or a step that clearly indicates that the horse is in the process of completing the requested action.
One skill trainers would need to develop for this method to work is timing; that’s because horses tend to learn not from the applied pressure, but from release of the pressure.
Make the horse practice leading exercises. To see natural horsemanship offering desired results quickly, you should make your horse practice some leading exercises. Attach a lead rope to the horse’s halter and lead the animal from different positions (behind, front, and beside). These exercises will help the animal to learn to give you some personal space; this, in turn, would make the bond between you and your horse even stronger.
Besides the above ideas, the other concept that binds the majority of the natural horsemanship approaches is utilization of groundwork for establishing boundaries. Setting up communication with horses also holds extreme importance; that might require you to use exercises, liberty work, and long reigning.
The History of Natural Horsemanship
Natural horsemanship is definitely not a new concept, but its popularity has increased significantly during the last twenty years. Right now, you’ll come across a series of videos, tapes, books, websites, etc. that teach equestrians different aspects of this philosophy. Natural horsemanship is basically a philosophy which uses behavioral reinforcement for replacing different inhumane practices applied for training horses; this helps in meeting the ultimate goal of turning horses into happier, more willing, and calmer partners.
We have already mentioned that natural horsemanship doesn’t involve use of any pain and fear based training method. It’s true that humans have been aware of gentle and natural training methods since hundreds of years, but that didn’t stop people from using techniques that require breaking the spirit of horses for training them.
According to the advocates of natural horsemanship, the fact that makes this philosophy a must try is that it allows the horse develop trust on its trainer. If you don’t hurt or scare the horse you are looking to train, the animal would gradually learn how to work with you or other humans as a partner; it would stop treating you/humans as its adversary.
A large number of techniques practiced in natural horsemanship have their roots in the ancient times. The concept of being sympathetic with horses when training them surfaced during or before the times of Xenophon; his essay On Horsemanship stands as the testimony of this claim of ours.
The said essay by Xenophon influenced humane horse trainers following several disciplines including dressage and natural horsemanship. Natural horsemanship movement of the modern times began its journey mainly from the settlements in the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest.
The main reason why harsher methods of horse training were practiced by a large number of handlers is that those techniques have been found to deliver quicker results than the gentler techniques; however, the results offered by those unsympathetic methods are much less predictable.