What Is Horsemanship?


Horsemanship is an ancient skill that has been passed down through generations for centuries. Horsemanship can be used to describe any equestrian sport and refers to the process of training and caring for horses and riding them. There are many horsemanship principles that you might want to know about to increase your understanding of this fascinating world!

For a long time, horses were used for work and needed to be trained quickly to become compliant, these methods may yield fast results, but they are not reliable over time and can damage horses mentally and physically.

The most important thing to remember is that horses are not machines. They have their own minds and thoughts, which means they need a lot of patience from the rider for them to be happy with what's happening around them at any given time!


Defining Horsemanship


We asked our readers, authors and natural horsemanship practitioners how they define horsemanship, here's what they said:



“The way of BEING around a horse that fits a horse. It’s not just stuff we DO - it's more important to understand the why, when and how”

Ben Longwell - True West Horsemanship

“The ability to interact with the horse offering a two-way Conversation, and then believing, addressing, and supporting the horse during the interactions to create a mental availability, emotional quiet, and physical softness.”

Samantha Harvey - Alternative Horsemanship

“The horse must maintain it's natural disposition - If we make sure our horses are both mentally and physically comfortable in their work - this produces both a superior athlete, as well as a far more rewarding relationship.”

Brandon McAulson - BMc Horsemanship

"The understanding and skills necessary in the human and the horse to have a foundation, then to be successful in practical work, sport or entertainment". Of course, every job or sport needs its specific training; some more, some less. Horsemanship covers - in hand, liberty, freestyle and finesse riding techniques. Also, it will touch on most practical work and sports to some degree, so the speciality training should fit on seamlessly.

David Zuend - The Horse Place

“The whole thing is an art, and I approach it like an art, with the respect and dignity that it deserves.”

Buck Brannaman

“The word horsemanship is used a lot, to me horsemanship is using communication, understanding and psychology. If you aren’t communicating on that level, then you may be using mechanical devices, fear, or hope and a prayer!”

Pat Parelli


History of Horsemanship


The art of horsemanship is a very old one. It has been passed down through generations for centuries from people to their descendants or other riders in the area where they live, and it was often an essential skill that helped them survive.

The idea of working sympathetically with the horse's nature goes back at least to Xenophon, who wrote in the fourth century BC that "a horse is a delicate animal and needs to be treated with care." The ancient Greeks believed horses were intelligent, social animals capable of feeling pain as well as having emotions like joy or fear.

During the industrial age, horses were seen as mere tools, but in the last century or so, a new generation of riders have created partnerships with their horses rather than seeing them simply and solely for what they can do.

Tom and Bill Dorence are generally credited with modern horsemanship. Today, many famous names learned from these two men, including Buck Brannaman, who is considered to be one if not the most influential people in equine training history!

The modern Natural Horsemanship movement developed primarily in the Pacific Northwest of the United States in response to a need for training that was more humane and less invasive than traditional methods.

The Dorences were the first to really start teaching horsemanship as a way of life rather than just riding horses for sport or work purposes only! They believed that if you want your equine partner happy with what's happening around him/her at any given time, then it is upon them - the horseman - to make sure they are comfortable in their environment.

These two men also created many of the principles and techniques based on horse behaviour that have been passed down through generations, including Buck Brannaman, Monty Roberts, Pat Parelli and Linda Parrelli etc. These modern horsemen and women have brought natural horsemanship approaches to the attention of equestrians around the world.


What are the Principles of Horsemanship


At its core, horsemanship principles are based on horse psychology and natural behaviour. The principles are designed to help the horseman understand and communicate with their horses.

The Principles of Horsemanship can include Training, Communication & Understanding.

In terms of the application of these methods, they can be divided into two broad categories: Pressure/Release and Positive Reinforcement.

Pressure is the use of force to make a horse do something, while release refers to any action that makes it easier for them. For example, the pressure might be pushing on their side with your legs to get him into motion, whereas releasing would include slowing down or stopping when the horse performs the action or behaviour you want. The release is the removal of pressure and is the reward for the horse giving the desired behaviour.

Positive reinforcement techniques like clicker training which is based on operant conditioning that uses positive reinforcement techniques like food rewards when the desired behaviour occurs so it becomes more likely this will happen again next time around) to teach new behaviours by rewarding correct responses until they become automatic).


Equine Psychology


Over time through research, we have learned a great deal about equine psychology. Horses are social animals, and they need to be around other horses. They also have a herd mentality, which means that if one horse is spooked, the others will follow suit even though there may not actually be anything wrong with them or their environment.

Understanding horse psychology helps us understand how to train them and what they need for their mental and physical wellbeing.


Understanding the Horse's Natural Behaviour


The terms horsemanship and Natural Horsemanship tend to be used interchangeably; natural horsemanship was coined by Pat Parelli in the 1970s. It is a philosophy that emphasizes understanding and respecting horses' natural behaviour, using minimal equipment to train them in ways they would learn on their own if not interfered with by humans (i e. until these behaviours become automatic). It also advocates for an increased awareness of how our actions affect a horse's mental state as well its physical body language or "body talk".

Understanding the horse's subtle communications can help you communicate, as does understanding how your own body language is interpreted by horses. This is a horsemanship skill that can be learned by anyone. Still, it takes time to develop the necessary understanding of both horses' behaviour and your own body language for this communication process to work effectively without any misunderstandings or confusion on either side.


What is the difference between natural horsemanship and traditional horse training?


It would be wrong to say that one method is good and the other is bad; there are amazing horse trainers and owners/riders in traditional horse training and natural horsemanship.

Traditional methods rely more heavily upon force or coercion to train animals into submission for human purposes. Traditional Horse Training largely stems from the Military and early domestication of the horse. 

Natural Horsemanship is a more modern approach to horse training that relies on understanding the animal's natural instincts and behaviours. It also focuses heavily on communication between human, and equine partners.

In all horse training, our understanding is growing and being incorporated into all kinds of horse-human relationships.


Why is horsemanship controversial?


Horsemanship is controversial because it's a very personal art. There are numerous different ways to train horses, and what works for one person might not work as well with another horse or rider/owner relationship - so there can be disagreements about how best the job should get done!

As with anything in life, some are entrenched in their way of doing things (and won't budge) but also people who love exploring new ideas :) Don't worry if you find yourself disagreeing on some points - just remember we all have our own opinions that make this world such an interesting place! 

Anyone who is doing their best for their horse's mental and physical welfare deserves respect and understanding whatever path they choose to follow.


Interested in learning more about horsemanship?


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