was asked to speak about Natural Horsemanship at the First Annual Suwannee
County Animal Expo held on November 5. I was not sure what I could find
to say, since Natural Horsemanship is so “natural” I don’t
even think about it anymore.
But once I
put pen to paper (yes I am still a person who writes it on paper, first,
and then I embellish via the keyboard.), I realized what a good article
it would make…so here it is.
about NH (Natural Horsemanship) a lot nowadays but very few people really
understand what it is. In other words, they are knowledgeable about
NH trainers, and the string halters and sticks, or might even mention
the Parelli Seven Games.
But they do
not point out that Natural Horsemanship starts in your mind.
it is a different way of THINKING about horses and training them. Well,
to a real NH person, the word training isn’t often used, but there
!!!, I used it.
Ray Hunt (one
of the oldest NH pioneers still alive) says “Let your Idea become
the horse’s Idea”…and “fix it up and let him
(the horse) find it”. Ray Hunt also says “If the horse is
right on his feet he’ll be right on his head”.
ALL THIS MEAN AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, HOW CAN IT BE ACCOMPLISHED?
thoughts and words are the essence of Natural Horsemanship. But how
do every-day people like you and me get there?
and clinicians like Parelli, Brannaman, Lyons, Clint Anderson, etc.
TRY to teach us feel, timing, and balance. Apparently these 3 things
are all you need. Knowing what to do, how and when to do it (and more
importantly, when to stop doing it) is bound together within feel, timing
talk about “when to stop” or the release. Horses learn from
the release of “pressure”. Pressure can be nothing more
than your eyeballs focused on your horse.
If you release
the pressure at the wrong time, you’ve lied to your horse.
have been lied to are easy to spot:
They are the
ones who throw their heads up instead of softly backing up.
They are the
ones who hesitate or refuse to enter a horse trailer or go over a jump
They are the
ones who step away or kick at the farrier instead of lifting the desired
Yes, I have
had horses like this, we all have.
is a way of THINKING and you can start immediately, without buying anything,
including a new horse!
All you have
to do is change your MIND. They say women do this every minute so it
can’t be that hard!
all the “devices” you currently have in your arsenal that
are used to FORCE a horse to do something, and decide not to use them
any more. Here’s a short list. I am sure you can think of more:
chains over the nose, whips, bits, spurs, draw reins; all force horses.
A bit? Yes,
because if they do not respond to the pressure, they feel pain. And
in pain they may relent and do what you are asking, not out of desire,
but out of survival. Horses that DESIRE to be ridden are a joy. You
can easily spot horses that desire to be ridden: the stand for their
saddle untied, they stand to be mounted quietly, they may even step
over to the mounting area to “pick you up”.
are for punishment according to the dictionary. Yikes!
created the carrot stick to be used not as a punishment but as an extension
of your arm. That is how it should be used, since a horse can understand
your INTENT….your THINKING.
says “horses don’t care how much you know, but they know
how much you care”. This is true. They can feel a temper. Anger.
have been around people with bad tempers are VERY easy to spot. This
I will not go into here since most of the horses we get from other trainers
act like they have been around people with bad tempers.
to my story: Changing our Minds. Aside from removing the tools of force
and intimidation (short list: whips, bits, spurs, chains) what else
can we do?
this: Horses don’t follow BULLIES or COWARDS, they follow LEADERS.
So how can we become a good leader? By being fair and honest.
has written a whole book about this: “Horses Never Lie: The Heart
of Passive Leadership” Get it. Read it. And while you are at it,
you may as well buy “Consider the Horse” and “A Good
Horse is Never a Bad Color”. OK so I lied: you do have to buy
some of you have at least changed your mind enough to keep on reading,
let me move on before I lose you: NH is not about TRAINING, it is a
lifestyle. A mental and physical way of horse husbandry that is “natural”
to and for the horse.
here are just a few things that we do in order to maintain a natural
lifestyle for the 25 or so horses that we personally own and the ones
who come for boarding or training:
are foaling or drying after a bath, they are outside 24/7. no stall
is some bizarre hoof “issue” they are all barefoot. All
ages, all breeds.
We do not
start horses under saddle til they are 4 and their spines and scapula
are mature. Yet they are delightful to start under saddle, naturally.
We do not
train them to be caught and halter nicely (halter-break..yikes, sounds
painful)… we do not train them to lead, we do not train them for
the farrier. They just sort of grow up and do it better and better,
nicer and nicer. Naturally.
wean our foals by taking them away from their mothers and making them
be alone or with other screaming weanlings. When the foals are about
4 months of age, a gelding “uncle” from the pasture next
door is placed into the baby pasture. Of course our mares know this
gelding so naturally there is no trouble.
One by one
(perhaps one a week if the weather cooperates) we remove a mare from
the baby pasture until the last mother is gone. None of our mares ever
look back. They know the foals are in good company and protected. None
of the foals cry, no one runs back and forth, since they are weaned
the Uncles: The young horses will take on behaviors so similar to the
“babysitter” it is uncanny. So we use our two well-bahved,
calm geldings Dancer (age 25) and Billy (17). Like most smart “natural’
horse trainers we use our (good) horses to teach young or “dysfunctional”
horses that come in for training. 24/7 these good horses are out there
training for us. No human can teach a horse what another horse can teach
Now here is
where I might get into some trouble. NH is almost always THE EXACT OPPOSITE
of what most conventional vets, farriers, and trainers will tell you.
Notice I said “conventional” as more and more “holistic”
vets are available, as are natural hoofcare specialists and natural
Let me tell
you about one recent example: “Normal vs Natural”….
Mare: arrived her with 2 fractured sesamoids. All the vets (incl. 3
at the U of Gainesville) were unanimous: “put her down, she will
never even be sound enough to carry a foal”. Frankly even our
Holistic vet agreed. I did not put her down, and that was only the first
step of my plan of doing the exact opposite of what the mainstream would
We were told
to keep her in a stall for at least a year. I did not: she was outside
24/7 within 3 months of her injury, in a small pen (we used portable
panels) which I kept enlarging until it became…gradually, over
a couple of months, most of a 1 acre pasture! When I removed the panels
for the last time and Ilene had an entire pasture “open”
to her I was afraid that she would re-injure herself by flipping out.
But since it was not new territory, no new neighbors, etc., she just
grazed quietly onward.
her away from other horses, she’ll run and re-fracture her ankle”.
Again, I did the opposite….why would she run if the other horses
did not run? I put her with a miniature gelding at first. Even if he
did run, hee hee, she could slow trot and keep up with him. That’s
when I first saw she was sound.
We were told
to keep shoes on her for “support”. Wrong again, I kept
her barefoot, knowing that an unshod hoof is healthier and has more
circulation (and less likely to founder) that one with nails in it.
And to further the circulation I put one of my wrista magnets on her
ankle ($6 at Wal-Mart!). (Photos on this website, sale page under rescue
I could go
on with more examples of Natural vs. Normal but I think you all get
the idea. JUST THINK! Naturally.