True Natural Horsemanship
by Cathy Fleace
Part I of II
True natural horsemanship is a style of horsemanship that has increased in popularity. Maybe you’ve been exposed to natural horsemanship through the “Horse Whisperer” movie or you’ve seen Monte Roberts “tame” a horse in his 15-minute miracle, or perhaps even seen him on TV or read his book. I get many questions related to this style of horsemanship when people call to ask me what it is I do with horses!
I would like to clarify what “True Natural Horsemanship” is. There are three aspects about a horse that are present in every single horse, regardless of training level or discipline type that you study with your horse.
Find a Good Teacher
A key aspect to successful true natural horsemanship is for the human to find a good teacher/mentor. Remember that a good teacher always explains the “whys” behind everything so you can become independent of them and learn to think on your own. Make your own goals and plans. Be safe, have fun, and gain the knowledge you want for whatever it is you want to do with your horse!
Understanding the Nature of the Horse
Of all the horse’s natural survival instincts, flight is the most evident, strong, and important to the horse. A horse is a prey animal blessed with an ability to flee that is second to almost no other animal. Their instincts tell them to run from what scares them or from anything that may appear to be trouble or danger. They only stop to look back later.
Contrary to this number one instinct, the human is countering this natural instinct by trying to confine the horse. Confinement comes in my forms and perhaps in many ways that most wouldn’t even think of as confinement! We confine them in stalls and then to turn out we put them in solitude paddocks or load them into stalled trailers to get to a show or event, only to put them in a stall again when we get to the event. We get them out only to “work” them under saddle or confine them with a rope connected to them to “control” them “inside” an arena. We further confine them in bits, reins, tie-downs, cross-ties, halters, and lead ropes. You name it, we’ve got something to cramp the horse and “MAKE” it impossible for them to “FEEL,” in his mind, like he has a choice concerning his safety. In actuality, for the horse to be truly comfortable and trust us, he needs to know his flight instinct is possible.
A horse turned out 24-hours a day, with a run-in shed for shelter doesn’t often learn to weave, crib, and make threatening faces at passersby. The price to pay for such freedom? A little less convenience for humans….
Feeling of the Feet
The second most important instinct for the horse is freedom to move his feet. The one-liner I’m always reminding my students is ‘You can’t make a horse stop and you can’t make a horse move.’ Sound confusing? It did to me at first, until I understood the meaning behind it; so let me explain:
When handling a horse that wants to move – go with him, give him a job to do. Think about what it is that the two of you need to work on, perhaps it’s canter departs, circles refined with rhythm and keeping straightness in mind, or whatever the goal – go to work on it. Before you know it, your horse will be asking you to stop. Read your horse and listen to when he is telling you he wants to stop – and then stop!