What is Natural Horsemanship?
Natural horsemanship is a philosophy of training, riding and working with horses which uses the horse’s natural instincts and behaviours rather than inducing pain or fear. A proper understanding of the horse’s behaviour and methods of communication means that the animals do not need to be forced to act in a certain way. Natural horsemanship is kinder for the horses and can result in a better relationship between owner and rider. This approach can also prove to be more effective then harsher regimes.
Natural horsemanship has its roots in ancient times, specifically with the writings of Xenophon, a Greek philosopher and soldier who wrote in the fifth century BC. The modern form of the practice, often referred to as horse whispering, developed in the Rocky Mountain States and Pacific Northwest of America. Early recognised practitioners included who in turn influenced Ray Hunt and his follower Buck Brennaman. Other high profile practitioners include Monty Roberts and Pat Parelli.
There are many systems or schools of natural horsemanship but they share many common ideas and practices. Natural horsemanship is based on the understanding that horses evolved as herd animals which interact which each other and which need to escape from predators. They have a complicated system of communication which mostly involves body language rather than sound. It is possible for humans to learn this language in order to better communicate with horses and to understand their natural instincts.
Natural horsemanship employs these forms of communication together with gentle pressure in order to coax rather than to force horses to respond. Horses will form respectful relationships with people who treat them well. With the natural horsemanship process the animals feel safe and so remain calm and will then establish strong bonds with their trainer. This can yield extremely impressive results.
As with other training techniques, natural horsemanship relies on conditioning the animals through pressure and release. The horse is coaxed into behaviours via the application of pressure and that pressure is released when the horse responds in the correct manner or at least attempts to. In other words natural horsemanship employs reinforcement rather than physical force in the form of inflicting pain. To achieve the best outcome, the handler must be a master of timing, feel and consistency.
Natural Horsemanship Popularity
The practice of natural horsemanship has become extremely popular in recent times. Many books have been written and videos posted extolling the virtues of this approach. In avoiding fear based training methods, exponents replace inhumane methods with a kinder regime to produce a happier animal and a more willing partnership between horse and human. The greater level of trust which horses feel can help to eliminate behavioural issues and to promote improved performance in all riding disciplines.
Ultimately it is hard to quantify the merits and success rate of any form of training. The evidence is always anecdotal but there is much to suggest that natural horsemanship can really work wonders when conducted by a skilled practitioner.