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Natural horsemanship

Natural horsemanship has revolutionized the way people interact with and train horses. Many trainers, veterinarians, farriers and all levels and types of riders are using natural horsemanship methods to enhance their relationship with horses. Natural horsemanship uses techniques directly related to a horse’s innate behavior – techniques that speak in the horse’s language, rather than our own. Instead of making horses do things we want, natural techniques call on the horse’s natural herd and individual behaviors to encourage the horse to do what we want. This concept runs counter to many traditional methods of force and restraint.Horses are members of a herd where each individual has a specific place in the herd hierarchy. Dominant members of the herd assert control over less dominant horses by first pinning their ears back and then following up with biting or kicking. A dominant horse will always dictate which horse moves away from him and when. With natural techniques, humans learn to gain respect from their horse by assuming the role of the dominant horse and controlling the movement of their horses’ feet. Humans do not do this by biting and kicking, but by adding pressure that mimics biting and kicking. For example, if I ask my horse to back up (move away from me) and he doesn’t, I might tap him on the chest (kicking) with a stick or crop until he moves back. Once he understands what I want, I can back him away just by giving him a look (pinning my ears) that says, ‘I’m asking you to back up; if you don’t, more pressure is coming.’Natural techniques help the horse use the left side (the thinking side) of its brain, instead of the reactive, instinctual side (the right brain). A horse that is reactive is dangerous and hard to work with. A horse that is thinking, listening and focused on his handler is much easier to control. By using training techniques based on how horses naturally think, humans learn to understand the horse, and a partnership can be developed. When we learn to speak in the horse’s language, our horses grow more confident, trusting and accepting of us.Much of the natural methods are taught starting on the ground, not in the saddle. What you teach a horse from the ground will transfer once you get in the saddle. If you don’t have control and respect from your horse on the ground, you aren’t going to have it when you’re riding. I have fixed many under-saddle behavioral problems simply by getting off and doing a little groundwork. Natural techniques can be helpful with loading a horse into a trailer. To the horse, the inside of a trailer looks dark and confining with no means of escape. When a horse is scared, he needs to move his feet (usually by running), which is why your horse may try to run you over trying to get away from the trailer. Many trailer accidents happen because the horse feels trapped and claustrophobic inside the trailer. He panics and tries to scramble out.Natural techniques allow the horse to flee from the trailer if he feels the need. The horse is given the freedom to move his feet if he is scared. The method is approach and retreat. The horse is introduced to the trailer (approach) a little bit at a time, allowing him to run away (retreat) if he is scared. The handler coaches the horse to use the thinking side of his brain, which allows the horse time to understand the trailer isn’t going to hurt him. Once the horse isn’t scared, he usually will hop right in.Natural horsemanship has been around for many years. As far back as 360 B.C., the Greek horseman Xenophon and his treatise “The Art of Basic Horsemanship” laid the foundation for what we now call Natural Horsemanship today. Today’s masters and my mentors include Clinton Anderson, Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, Buck Brannamen, Pat Parelli and Ronnie Willis. Each has developed his own unique and specialized methods for applying natural techniques to everyday training.Natural techniques allow a depth of understanding that seems limitless. It takes time, patience and a deep respect for the nature of the horse. It’s a journey, not a quick fix, but the joy is in that journey.Send questions or comments to

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