Natural horsemanship is not a new concept but one that goes WAY back, even as far as ancient Greece. It involves utilisation of the concept that horses are not simply a beast of burden or one that should be treated like a machine. Instead, horses are treated like the delicate creatures they are, intelligent, sensitive and capable of emotion. Horsemanship seeks to develop a partnership between horse and rider that leads to a deeper connection and commitment to one another.
Modern horsemanship has been mainly credited to Tom and Bill Dorence, in an effort to encourage more humane and less invasive ways of equine training. Predominately originating in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Natural Horsemanship has been passed on and heralded by many other famous names such as Buck Brannaman, Monty Roberts, Pat Parelli and Linda Parrelli. They all strive to make equine training about helping the horse to feel comfortable in their training environment.
There are many who consider horsemanship to be a controversial method. This is due to the fact that it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It is a very personal art, as every horse and human are different. This, at times, requires a customised approach to enhance the horse/rider development.
The biggest variation between traditional methods and natural horsemanship are that traditional methods rely heavily upon force and coercion training that seeks submission on the part of the equine, which stems a lot from times when horses were used as tools, such as in the industrial age or military usage. Whereas natural horsemanship offers a more modern, kinder and empathetic approach that works with the horse's natural behaviours and instincts and relies heavily on communication between horse and human.
We are not in the business of advocating that any training method is better than another. We simply hope to illustrate the principles of natural horsemanship so that those seeking another way will best understand the basis of these techniques. Horsemanship takes a combination of equine knowledge and self-awareness.
At the core of horsemanship is the foundational knowledge of horse psychology and natural behaviours. Like humans, horses are social creatures and do best when around other horses. They have a herd mentality, so if one horse is spooked, the others tend to follow suit. Understanding things like this can help you to best choose the appropriate environments for training.
When we take the time to respect a horse's natural behaviours, it will increase our equine partner's trust, security, and mental state. Several equine psychology and behaviour courses can be done in-person or online to help you better understand your horse's tendencies. Taking this time to learn is critical to better understanding what your horse is trying to communicate to you.
For horsemanship to work, we also have to take ourselves into account and consider what sort of body language we are giving off to our horses. Natural horsemanship requires intelligence, mindfulness and patience. The way in which we approach training is important. Two of the main training methods in horsemanship are pressure/release and positive reinforcement.
Pressure refers to using force to get a horse to do as asked, while release is the action that helps make it easier for them. For example, the pressure could be when pushing on a horse's side, with your legs, to encourage them into motion, whereas the release could include slowing down or stopping once the horse has performed the action or behaviour you requested. The release, or removal of pressure, is the reward for the horse giving the desired behaviour.
Positive reinforcement techniques such as clicker training are based on operant conditioning that utilises positive reinforcement techniques, like food rewards, once the desired behaviour is carried out. This method is used to teach new behaviours by rewarding correct responses, so it becomes more likely this same response will happen again and again until it becomes automatic.
These methods require self-awareness of our reactions to both positive or negative equine responses.
An essential part of natural horsemanship is using the appropriate gear. Developing a better relationship with your equine partner means that you need to ensure that you are using equipment that encourages their mental harmony.
One excellent place to start is the Holistic Horse Shop. They have everything from bitless bridles to horse boots. If you are looking for a superb horsemanship gear shop, this is the place to go.
Another excellent place to shop for your horsemanship gear is The Western Saddler. They have an incredible selection of western and treeless saddles with a large array of saddle accessories.
If you're looking for high-quality ropes and rope reins, look no further than Total Horsemanship Ltd, as this is their speciality! They also sell rope halters, leads and more.
Natural Horsemanship Trainers
When seeking Natural Horsemanship practitioners, Total Horsemanship Ltd coordinates UK horsemanship clinics for big names, such as Buck Brannaman, David Stuart & Mike Bridges. They also sell a variety of horsemanship books and DVDs.
Sean Coleman Horseman is a great place to take horsemanship clinics in cow work, liberty and gymnastic training and trail riding.
Franck Jeanguillaume is an Equine Psychology, Horsemanship and Rehabilitation trainer that offers clinics in behavioural, horsemanship and bodywork (in hand, groundwork and ridden).
As a Horse Development Specialist, clinician, and eventer, Hanna Walton bridges the gap between natural horsemanship and high-level performance, focusing on dressage, show jumping, and eventing. She offers horse starting, problem-solving, training and competition livery, plus clinics, camps and 1-2-1 lessons.
BMc Horsemanship in Scotland offers UK & International Clinics, horse & rider training using both western & classical horsemanship principles.
Ireland's Only Licensed Parelli Professionals, Chris and Sarah Brady, teach the Parelli Programme and many other courses at their facility in Sallins, Kildare. Chris also starts and restarts young and difficult horses.
Also based in Ireland is Helen O'Hanlon. Helen’s philosophy involves understanding the horse and human’s point of view and solving problems with communication and understanding. Her signature coaching style is one of care and compassion for horses and humans. Helen is also a regular author for Horsemanship Journal.
Angélique Mould coaches clinics on horse and human communication, understanding, trust and feel, enabling understanding, exploration and horse development.
Natural Horse Care
Natural horsemanship also extends to the horse's environment, caring for them in a way that supports their natural instincts, such as foraging for food or enjoying the comfort and safety of a herd and learning where our well-intentioned care may actually cause them discomfort or stress.
Zoopharmacognosy is a fascinating topic that describes the process by which animals self-medicate in the wild on plants, clays, algae and insects in order to restore and maintain health.
Whitethorn Equine Health, Co. Sligo are specialists in Equine Zoopharmacognosy: Providing Equine Herbs & Essential oil supplies, Live online workshops, Mentoring & Clinics for horse owners wishing to support and restore their horse's health with an effective Herbal approach.
Modern natural horsemanship is an intelligent, compassionate and less invasive method of horse training that creates a special bond and relationship between horse and rider. It requires a mixture of equine knowledge and self-awareness that will help improve communication, trust and understanding between both partners. By utilising the appropriate gear and adhering to the guidance of horsemanship principles and professionals, a more cooperative and harmonious equine/human relationship can develop.
If you enjoyed this blog, you'll love Horsemanship Journal magazine, delivering the best of horsemanship to your door bi-monthly in a beautifully designed magazine. The blog and magazine feature training advice and more from the UK's leading horsemanship trainers and coaches and the world's most popular horsemanship teachers.