What is Natural Horsemanship?

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.

Monty Roberts Natural Horsemanship with Queen Elizabeth II

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!

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Kim Horton

Co-Founder of EQUUS and a keen equestrian, when Kim's not at her desk she's with her horse, Waldo.


  • Dee posted on January 28 2020 at 03:01 PM

    I have started using the Intelligent Horsemanship method on my 4year old TB and am using the Dually head collar. It really does seem to be working and after two weeks of training he is responding to the pressure and release system. He is a nicer person to deal with and more respectful of personal space!

  • Cathryn posted on April 07 2020 at 01:04 PM

    I have just enrolled to the Pat Parelli course! Learning as much as I can in the lockdown, looking forward to putting into practice when I can go see my horse again!!

  • sharon posted on April 07 2020 at 01:04 PM

    I have been doing “natural Horsemanship” for some time. I started with Intelligent horsemanship. Then discovered Downunder Horsemanship, the controversial Clinton Anderson. I have a fantastic relationship with my equine partners. I absolutely love Downunder Horsemanship, I have been doing this training method for over 10years and have never looked back. I ride in halter and line, when I started my youngster with this method his 16th ridden ride with me and saddle was at a sponsored charity ride with over 60 other horses. He was fab no issues what so ever. Both my horses are calm, relaxed and happy boys, they know I am leader. Respect is earned, and I have earned my place as 2 legged horse.

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