Horsemanship is a word that is used to describe man’s attempt to interact with a horse: horse-man-ship. There are many ways to do this. Some are better than others. Some are downright inhumane.
“Natural Horsemanship” is getting a lot of press these days. There has been a HUGE advance in the last several decades on focusing on horsemanship training and techniques that are much more humane and respectful of the horse. Many of these techniques are referred to as Natural Horsemanship. With the increased emphasis on these concepts, we are truly living in exciting days in the world of horsemanship. In general I agree with and try to practice “natural horsemanship” concepts. I would like to talk a little more about what I mean when I use the term “Natural Horsemanship”. In addition, I would like to clarify some misconceptions about Natural Horsemanship that I have encountered.
What is natural?
Let’s be realistic. It is not natural for a horse to:
- have a human on his back
- have a contraption wrapped around his head
- have a bit in his mouth
- have metal nailed to his feet
- eat hay
- get dewormed and vaccinated
- willingly walk into a cave on wheels (a horse trailer)
In the purest sense of the word, horsemanship (having any kind of relationship with a human) isn’t at all natural for the horse. We really need to recognize that the only way to be 100% natural with a horse is to turn him loose.
I started off in my horsemanship (at 47 years of age) by following the training techniques taught by an expert who described their training as “natural horsemanship”. The concept is to work with a horse as much as possible in a way they can best understand. This requires that we understand horses and what motivates them. We are trying to speak their language. I am all in on that philosophy. And, I had great success early on with my horses. In fact, others that I went trail riding with started asking me for help with their horses (that’s another story).
When it comes to horses, we have to make a choice. If we really want to be 100% natural with horses we cannot own any. We leave them alone in the wild. On the other hand, if we want to have horses we must admit that there are things we are going to do that are not natural for them. Yes, we should be as natural as possible, meaning that we learn about and utilize the methods that come most naturally and easily to a horse. But we should not be so focused on doing things “naturally” that we exclude doing what is necessary for the benefit of both human and horse even if it is not totally “natural” for the horse.
I find the term “natural horsemanship” to be a pretty good term in that it communicates we should be as “natural” with a horse as possible. So, I will continue to use it with the caveats mentioned above.
What about all the horsemanship methods out there that are called “Natural”?
People who claim to use natural horsemanship methods generally fall into one of the following categories:
True natural horsemanship
These are people who truly understand the nature of horses. In everything they do, they try to incorporate this understanding. There are many varieties of training methods that are used, but they are all based on the same fundamentals.
Missed the boat
These are people who believe that what they’re doing is “natural”. However, in reality they don’t really understand true natural horsemanship. What they’re doing is natural for them, but not for their horse.
Jumping on the bandwagon
In every field you will find people who will adopt buzzwords if it will help them to accomplish their goals. Horsemanship is no exception. The methods that some are calling “natural” are only bad methods with a good name. And, they’re using that name in order to advance their own agenda.
What about horsemanship methods that aren’t called “Natural”?
There are also excellent trainers whose methods are truly built on natural horsemanship fundamentals. However, they don’t describe their methods as “natural”. You shouldn’t overlook a trainer simply because he doesn’t use all the right buzzwords.
There is so much to learn about the human-horse relationship that even a lifetime will not be enough. For people who are new to horsemanship, it can all be very confusing and frustrating. The only way to learn is to jump in, learn from our mistakes and keep going. Don’t assume any given expert should be listened to without challenge. No one knows everything. Everyone is always learning and changing (even the experts).
And, as much as you can, “keep it natural”, be a life-long learner and have fun!