What is Natural Horsemanship?
What is Natural Horsemanship?
Over the past 40 years, Natural Horsemanship has come to the fore in horse training. Also known as “horse whispering” it focuses on building a relationship with your horse, using the same behaviour shown in wild herds.
It caught the public’s attention thanks to a Hollywood film in 1998 called The Horse Whisperer featuring Robert Redford
Where has it come from?
Although it is a current training method, many of the principles can be found as far back as 400 BC, when Xenophon documented methods of training using reassurance instead of punishment. Classical equitation masters from the 16th Century onwards have also expanded on gentler training methods.
Over time, however, some of these methods were lost in commerce as people wanted faster results. This was mainly in ranches in America where horses needed to be broken in quickly and sold for profit. Techniques were created which forced horses to accept riders, where they were tied, starved or beaten into submission.
During the 1980s lectures and demonstrations started to draw more attention to the natural, reassurance-based training methods. Having been endorsed by the Queen, many wanted to try this new technique to improve their own relationship with their horse.
How does it work?
The basic technique is to apply a pressure of some kind to the horse as a “cue” for an action and then release the pressure as soon as the horse responds, either by doing what was asked for, or by doing something that could be understood as a step towards the requested action, a “try”. Timing is everything, as the horse learns not from the pressure itself, but rather from the release of that pressure. These techniques are based on the principle of reinforcement, rather than physical force, which most Natural Horsemanship practitioners avoid using whenever possible.
Who teaches it?
Many of us have heard of high-profile practitioners of Natural Horsemanship such as Monty Roberts. The famous horse whisperer has spoken of his friendship with Her Majesty, the Queen, saying without her support he would still be a cowboy in California. He described how he first met the monarch: “She sent a man over to California – I thought it was a joke. They brought me to Windsor Castle in April of 1989.” Pat Parelli is another well-known high-profile practitioner.
A simple Google search will display names and locations of practitioners in the UK.
Natural horsemanship vs traditional training techniques
The Natural Horsemanship movement is slightly controversial in the mainstream equestrian community, with criticism levelled at practitioners on several levels, while Natural Horsemanship advocates in turn are highly critical of more traditional methods.
Gentle training methods have always had to compete with harsher methods, which often appear to obtain faster, but less predictable results. In particular, the cowboy tradition of the American west, where the economics of needing to break large numbers of semi-feral horses to saddle in a short period of time led to the development of a number of harsh training methods that the Natural Horsemanship movement specifically has set out to replace. However, many of the original Natural Horsemanship practitioners do acknowledge that their own roots are in the gentler methods of some cowboy traditions, particularly those most closely associated with the “California” or vaquero horseman.
For many its personal preference and experience – it might work for some and not for others, BUT don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!