Natural horsemanship has enjoyed a dramatic increase in popularity over the past decade from horse lovers of all disciplines. Unlike other training and riding philosophies that “break” a horse's spirit, natural horsemanship strives to work in concert with the horse's innate conduct and herd instincts to preserve its natural behaviors. Although there is a broad range of natural horsemanship practices, all share a common understanding of the keys to success.
One key to successful natural horsemanship involves the development of a horse and handler relationship that closely resembles the bond that horses have with each other in the wild. Spending time studying the interaction between wild horses is the best learning tool. If you are unable to examine horses in the wild, watch films that depict how horses in a herd interact. You must become a dominant member of the herd. A thriving natural relationship endures when your horse respects you as a herd leader. Your horse must trust you, feel safe with you and have a healthy fear of you at the same time.
Body language is by far the most advantageous way to communicate with your horse naturally. Horses are social animals that interrelate through a series of body signals. Verbal cues coupled with firm, but not painful, pressure work in harmony with body language during training. Teaching a horse to turn while working in a round pen is a good example. Asking the horse to turn right is easily accomplished by stepping towards the horse's left shoulder. The horse understands the movement and is compliant without the need for painful or aggressive force.
Horses, like all animals, have natural instincts that interfere with most training styles. With natural horsemanship, however, the horse’s desires work to the handler’s advantage. One instinct the horse has is to move away from pressure. Using this instinct to advantage involves asking the horse to move over or back up while applying gentle pressure. The horse learns to respond to the handler’s request in order to escape the pressure.
Understanding that natural horsemanship practices take time is critical. Building trust and respect is not something that happens overnight. You must learn to act more like a horse and less like a human in order for the relationship to prosper. Those wanting quick fixes to common horse problems should look elsewhere if they are not willing or able to put in the time.