What's So Natural About "Natural" Horsemanship?

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To tell you the truth - not much. That is, it?s not natural for a horse, a prey animal, to allow a predator to feed it, groom it, and, horrors! - climb up on top of it and direct its feet. That is all completely against what Nature tells a horse is right and safe.
The term ?natural horsemanship? has come to mean a lot of different things to different people. For some, it?s a way to get a horse to do something without a lot of gadgets and equipment. For others, it?s a way to get people to buy a lot of gadgets and equipment! Some consider it a method of altering horse behavior, still others consider it a way of altering human behavior around horses.
?Natural? horsemen have been called ?horse whisperers,? ?roundpenners,? ?rope wigglers,? and a variety of other names, not all of them nice. The truth is, not all ?natural? horsemen have the best interest of the horse at heart. A number of them are just capitalizing on a fad, or borrowing someone else?s good ideas and calling them their own.
The title of ?natural? has been given to horsemen and women of real quality, too.
So what really is all this ?natural? horsemanship stuff?
From my perspective, the idea of horsemanship being ?natural? is in finding a way to communicate with a horse on his level, from his point of view. It?s less about getting a horse to do something, and more about finding out why horses do what they do, and how to use that information to make our ideas become their ideas. It?s about eliciting a cooperative effort from the horse, rather than coercing a behavior.
In short, to me there is nothing different in the idea of ?natural? horsemanship than there is in plain old good horsemanship. Quality horsemanship is the same no matter what equipment you use, whether you ride or drive or just like to groom. It doesn?t matter if you?re a competitive eventer or ?just a trail rider,? whether you like getting gussied up and hauling to shows, or just hanging out at the ranch with your four legged friends. Even if your horse is your work partner, the difference in the quality of horsemanship is the same as if he?s just your weekend leisure activity.
Good horsemanship is good horsemanship, period.
As human beings, we are all blessed with the ability to become good horsemen, and we are all just as guilty of being poor horsemen at times. None of us sets out to be poor horsemen. We didn?t get out of bed this morning and tell ourselves that we were heading out to the barn to wreck some horses. But we?ve all started out somewhere that wasn?t perhaps as good as where we are now, and we all still hope things get better still. For the most part, we want to present ourselves to the horse in the way that is most fitting for him to understand, in order to create the least amount of confusion and stress both in our lives and in the lives of our horses.
So we go searching, and in our search to find those better, more fitting ways, we will, eventually, stumble across someone, or something termed ?natural.? That sounds good to us - ?natural.? Kinda makes it sound like it?s right, doesn?t it? If your experience with something or someone called ?natural? is a good one, that is, the presentation of the ideas fit well with both you and your horse, then you might be a person who likes the idea of ?natural? horsemanship. If your experience is a negative one, or leaves you feeling unfulfilled, you might dismiss the ?natural? folks as silly or pointless. In any case, what you have experienced may have been a fine example of poor horsemanship, no matter what other name comes attached to it.
Good horsemanship doesn?t really care what equipment you care to use, but a good horseman knows that some equipment is more fitting for a job than what you may be currently using. Perhaps, eventually, it wouldn?t matter if your halter was made of rope or nylon or leather, but maybe today, just today, it makes a difference. You don?t need a roundpen to get things done, but some days life is just easier if you have one, and know how to use it properly. Maybe there?s just no reason to be carrying a lass rope or a baggy on a stick for what you like to do with your horse, but if carrying one will see you through something that may happen someday in the future, then knowing how to use it properly is probably a darn good idea.
For years now, folks have applied the title of ?Natural? to my horsemanship, mostly because of the people I have associated with. I don?t sell any special equipment, but I do know how to make good choices there. I don?t ?roundpen? a horse, since ?roundpen? is a noun, not a verb, but I will use that particular tool in the most fitting way that I can. I don?t run cookbook style programs and I sure as heck don?t certify anybody for anything, but all are welcome to learn what I have to share from 25 years of training, instruction and clinicking in the US and several other countries. I?d like to think that what I have to offer is high quality horsemanship, suitable for any level and any purpose, because it?s not so much about training a horse as educating a rider. I can fit a saddle, evaluate a shoeing and even relieve some aches and pains the horse may be suffering. But mostly, I like to share with folks who are interested in finding the best, most fitting ways to present their ideas to the horse, so that the horse will become a cooperative partner in whatever task the person asks of him. It?s been many years of hard work for me, but now, a lot of it just sort of comes ?natural.?

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Gail Ivey

Tom Dorrance

Ray Hunt

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