What is Natural Horsemanship?
Natural horsemanship is a horse training style that relies on the horse’s natural instincts and behavior within their herd. The idea is that the trainer or owner of the horse establishes themselves as the leader of the herd, providing a safe environment for the horse to learn and operate in.
This method came about in the 1980s when trainers began to move away from forcing horses to behave using whatever means necessary (usually ropes and other methods of restraint). The goal of natural horsemanship is to build a bond between the human and the horse.
If your trainer talks about using pressure and release they are probably using Natural Horsemanship. The general idea is to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard, tapping into the horse’s instinct to take the path of least resistance, they quickly learn to do whatever gets them release.
An Example of Pressure and Release in Natural Horsemanship:
In Natural Horsemanship, horses learn from the release, not the pressure. When asking the horse to back up, the trainer will stand tall, and use their energy, a lead rope, or a flag to put pressure on the horse. As soon as the horse steps backward, they will release, dropping their energy or training tool to show the horse they did the right thing.
This is very similar to when horses move each other around in a herd. A horse will bare its teeth, swing its head, and move quickly towards another horse when wanting it to move. However, as long as the horse moves away before the other horse reaches them, the aggressor typically backs down and returns to a peaceful posture without touching the other horse at all. If the offending horse doesn’t get out of the way in time, they are met with a kick or a bite from their herd mate telling them to get out of the way.
This is exactly what the natural horsemanship trainer does when asking the horse to back up. They begin by standing tall, directing their energy at the horse to ask them to move backward, similar to a horse pinning its ears at a herd mate. If that doesn’t work they begin to wave their flag at the horse, similar to a herd mate charging.
The last resort of the Natural Horsemanship trainer is to bonk the horse on the nose or chest with the flag which is MUCH kinder than the herd mate whose similar method of communication is a kick or a bite.
A Natural Horsemanship trainer will start teaching a horse by releasing the tiniest backward step. Once the horse has a good understanding of what they are being asked to do, they will ask the horse to back up more with just tiny releases between each step to show the horse it’s doing the right thing while maintaining fluid backward movements. By the time the trainer is done, they shouldn’t need a flag or any tool at all, they should just be able to ask the horse to move backward with their body language and get the desired result.
The example above is a simple groundwork exercise, but a Natural Horsemanship trainer will use the same philosophy to train your horse to accept a saddle and rider, collect, and use it’s body properly while being ridden.
Is Natural Horsemanship Right for You and Your Horse?
Natural horsemanship is commonly used in the western horse world, but it’s slowly making it’s way into the English Disciplines as well. If you want to learn to truly communicate with your horse Natural Horsemanship is a great option. Many people today don’t purchase horses just to do a job. They are looking for a companion or family member and this puts more emphasis on building a strong relationship with your equine than getting them trained quickly so they can get to work.
The best way to decide if Natural Horsemanship is something you want to pursue is to take a lesson from someone who specializes in the method. They will have you practice some basic exercises and help you get the hang of communicating with your horse.
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