is Natural Horsemanship?
The term 'Natural Horsemanship' has
almost become over-used these days because 'going natural' is the
thing to do! While there are some true practitioners around keeping
it as close to natural as they can for the horse, there are just as
many professing to practice natural horsemanship but not coming close
So what does it really mean?
The dictionary defines 'Natural' as 'existing in or produced by nature',
and 'Horsemanship' as 'the art or skill of caring for and riding horses'.
So accordingly, I define natural horsemanship as the care, training
and riding of horses in harmony with their natural behaviour, diet,
movement and physical being.
This means that someone truly practicing
natural horsemanship will be doing the following things:
Understand or be learning about horse
psychology and social systems.
Providing a herd situation for the
horse to live in - other equine company they can touch (no isolation
from others), with natural breeding and weaning practices.
Keeping the horse in as large an
area as possible for most of the time with access to shelter from
all types of weather - no constant stabling, small paddocks or confinement
to yards for more than a couple of hours at a time unless absolutely
necessary (eg. injury).
Feeding a varied diet of horse suitable
(low sugar) grass, hay and grain (when required) with correct mineral
supplementation to balance any deficiencies - includes providing
salt at all times.
Caring for their hooves with barefoot
trimming and/or enough movement to self trim, and using hoof boots
when protection is needed - no metal horse shoes!
Providing appropriate veterinary
treatment, including worming on a regular basis as required for
the man-made environment they must live in.
horse in a compassionate, respectful way that gives them confidence
and allows them to move freely as nature intended - no bits, spurs,
other equipment or methods that compromise the horse's ability to
perform at their best.
When natural horsemanship practitioners
meet these needs for horses, they provide a good example for others
Can I learn Better Horsemanship?
The first way is to become
a student of the horse. Learn to look, read horse body language and
then listen to what your horse is trying to tell you.
Always ask yourself are
you doing this FOR the horse or TO the horse.
Read a lot (especially
the books listed here), watch as many DVD's as you can afford
(or borrow them from friends or the library) and check out lots of
Go to as many clinics,
courses and workshops as either an observer/fence sitter/auditor to
find an instructor or clinician that you are happy to learn from.
Then take your horse to their clinics as often as possible.
Follow a program of study
until you are accomplished and have something to offer a horse, but
don't get stuck on one method - look at many - they all have something
to offer (see list of study programs below).
Get private lessons when
you get stuck, or to keep you on track.
Join like minded friends
or a group who can support your learning and provide a different environment
to play/study in.
Be goal oriented but listen
to your horse - don't seek awards/levels at your horse's expense.
Make sure your horse is physically and emotionally ready for any progress
in their training.
STARTED ON YOUR HORSEMANSHIP JOURNEY
So, you’ve made the decision to look into this ‘natural
horsemanship’ way of training horses… but where do you
There is a huge amount of information available in this age and accessing
it via the internet is so easy.
Do a search on Natural Horsemanship and you will find over a million
pages and references to a vast array of information and horsemen,
all offering similar types of methods based on horse psychology.
While there is a new awareness that to get along better with horses
we must know how they think, about their social structure in nature
and what language they use, there are still many different and varying
ways to ‘communicate’ with horses.
The common theme is that you need to become the ‘leader’
or ‘alpha’ herd member, to develop the best relationship.
Some horsemen (that includes women too) put more emphasis on control
and domination than on forming a partnership, so the style of learning
you will be attracted to will depend on your attitude to the horse.
Do you see your horse as a willing partner, taking into account his/her
moods and emotions, or do you see your horse as recreation for you,
or even as a means to obtaining status by winning competitions?
is most important to you will influence the method of learning/teaching
you will be attracted to along with the way information is available
and presented. Whoever you choose
as a mentor and/or instructor, will most likely have some sort of
system to follow.
We have multiple ways of absorbing
information so choose what works best for you. .
We all learn a little from either reading, seeing, hearing or participating
in learning activities, but each individual will take in more information
from one or two of those sources. If you know how you learn best then
spend more time studying that way. For example some people learn a
lot from reading so… read lots of books, articles and as much
information you can get your hands on.
Others may learn more from watching, so videos, DVD’s and observing
clinics are a good choice, and then there are those who learn best
by doing – getting hands on help, so participating in clinics
and lesson are ideal for them.
When you’ve identified your preferred learning source, do some
research to find out where you can access the information you want.
The internet is an obvious starting place so search for clinicians/instructors
in your area, home study programs, support groups (including discussion
groups) videos & DVD’s or books written on natural horsemanship.
Then immerse yourself in learning by
buying those books, ordering a DVD or that home study program and
better still, attending a clinic.
Doing all three is better still as even if you do learn best by participating,
you will still need some reference material to fall back on when you’re
at home, alone with your horse again.
Try to get involved wherever you can
to soak in ‘savvy’ as Pat Parelli says. If there’s
a local study group, then join and go to as many events as possible.
Buy or borrow as many DVD’s as you can lay your hands on, subscribe
to newsletters and find clinic organizers who can help you get into
a starting out clinic.
Even if there’s not one being held at a suitable level for you
right away, attend higher level clinics to get an idea of where you
If the clinician or instructor has a home study program or DVD’s
then get those so you can continue to learn after they have gone.
Find out if there is a local instructor
who follows their methods so you can get help if needed. By
being involved in a program that has achievement levels, you can be
motivated to stay on track and keep moving towards the goals you set.
If there is no achievement program or you don’t want to participate
in that, then write a list of all the things you’d like to improve
with your horse and yourself, and find out what you need to do.
Re-write that list as positive things you'd like to achieve and review
it every now and then to remind yourself.
It helps to have friends or family who are supportive so share your
dreams and find someone to join you on the journey. Even if it’s
just a discussion group member who shares your passion, having someone
to talk things over with and share the highs and lows of your journey
will be essential.
Stick to sharing your journey only with those who support you and
are positive about what you are trying to learn. If you fall into
the trap of defending yourself or trying to justify what you are doing
to non-believers, the negative energy will drag you down.
Some people will feel threatened by your new skills or interest in
something different and will try to undermine your beliefs, so spend
more time with positive people and just be polite without trying to
push your new found skills or information onto them.
Often, our enthusiasm for wanting to ‘show others a better way’
is not understood or seen as a threat.
Rather than trying to tell people what you think is best, just become
a great example and they will see, then ask when they get curious.
As a result they may be more open minded about what you tell them,
and could actually become interested too.
the partner (horse) you wish to share your learning journey with carefully.
Many people look for better ways to train their horse because they
have problems that either they have caused or that the horse came
If those issues or problems are too dangerous for someone of your
skill level to solve, then enlist help to determine if your horse
should spend time with someone more experienced first.
Or, find out from a reputable instructor, what small steps you could
do to work through the issues safely.
You may need to take more time and
also learn some more skills with another easier horse, before you
are ready to tackle a true ‘problem horse’.
In fact, if you can learn some skills with a horse who has been naturally
educated, your progress will accelerate by many times.
You can also learn skills by simulation - something many clinicians
use to help a student first leanr a particular feel or technique.
Find another person who is happy to have you use them as a horse -
that way your horses won't have to suffer your mistakes and the person
can give you accurate feedback.
Then you will be more prepared to work with a horse that knows nothing
at all or has issues.
Try not to put yourself into a situation where it’s ‘the
blind leading the blind’ or ‘green horse – green
One of my favorite Parelli-isms is ‘(Experienced) Riders teach
horses and (Experienced) Horses teach riders’.
Above all, enjoy the journey and be prepared to ‘take the time
Home Study Programs available worldwide:
Preparing a young horse for his
first trailer loading experience by getting him confident over strange
Notice the safe tie up board (so
legs don't get caught between rails) behind the foal with an inner
tube to attatch the rope to when first tying solid.
Have the foal's mother close by
when first introducing to the trailer.
Horsemanship is ....
COMMONSENSE or HORSE SENSE
often comes from experience so here's some you can learn from without
having to make the mistake.
If you're not sure about something, check with your instructor first.
Always wrap your loose reins around the top of the neck near the
ears whenever you are off the horse to ensure he doesn't step in them,
causing a panic when they pull on his head/mouth.
Always tie horses high and short (dogs long and low) so they don't
get a leg over the rope, no matter how rope broke they are.
When riding in a natural
hackamore, its safer to tie the lead rope to a string on your saddle
(or bareback pad as shown) rather than around your horse's neck, in
case it gets caught on something - then it can break free.
on your english/stock saddle (a piece of string or velcro on the
D rings) to attatch the reins to when you are riding with a training
stick/s so you don't lose them if the horse trips or throws his head.
If you have to leave your horse when in the company of others and
there's no where to tie him, get someone to hold him or take him with
you to save a loose horse causing trouble with others around, no matter
how quiet or alseep he is.
It's not a good habit to tie your savvy string to your belt
or around your waist if you ride in a western saddle as it could hook
up on something (ie a saddle horn) as you dismount. Keep it in your
If you're thinking of riding over a tarp, think again if your horse
has shoes on - they can easily hook the edge if the horse spooks and
then you have a real wreck.
Always take your halter off , especially a rope halter, when you're
not connected to your horse.
It's too easy for your horse to catch the halter on a gate latch, a
post, a tap or anything sticking out that he might rub on - and hurt
himself badly trying to pull away.
Only tie your horse in a float AFTER the ramp is closed and
always untie them before lowering the ramp, even if they have a breeching
chain or bar behind them. It doesn't take much to frighten a horse when
it's already in a claustrophobic situation. Even the quietest horse
can pull back when it is thinking 'I want out of here'.
Always stop to check on your horse when travelling if you feel
movement in the trailer - your horse could have caught its head on the
wrong side of a divider, fallen or is being hassled by a travelling
When leading a mare and foal through a gate, lead the foal as well.
Never assume they will follow the mare as invariably they are cautious
about such a 'squeeze' through and will invariably hurt themselves trying
to get over the fence instead.
When introducing something new to young horses, be in an enclosed
area so if the horse gets frightened under pressure and pulls away,
it's less likely to get up a run and scare itself even more with a rope
snapping around it's back legs.
When tying a young horse or re-educating a horse that pulls back,
don't tie them solid - just wrap the rope around a rail or smooth post
so there's just enough 'drag' to allow some drift if they do pull.
Never tie up solid on concrete - especially when teaching a
horse to tie as they can slip too easily and really skin themselves,
particularly if the concrete is wet.
Stay with young horses during their first few tying up sessions
- they may need to be released if they pull back and fall or get a leg
over the rope.
Don't tie horses close together when saddled with western saddles
- if one rubs against the saddle horn, it may get caught up.
When moving horses to a new pasture, keep them on line while
you walk the boundaries to familiarise them with thier new surroundings.
be less likely to race around having seen all the sights.
tips will be added....please
email me if you have tips others would benefit from.
SLED By Paul and Karen Lockwood.
I was talking with Ron Morgan from TMCA one day
and he mentioned having to get a load of roofing iron up onto the
February Plain to re-roof Basil's Hut. He could get the iron to within
1 km of the hut but it was then a fairly steep walk up onto the plain
and across to the hut. He was hoping that the occasional bush walker
would carry it in one sheet at a time, trouble was there was 26 sheets.
I suggested that we use horses to drag the tin, maybe on a sled or
something like that, I volunteered Spike for the job as he had already
pulled a sled with a human on it, had also dragged many other objects
and pulled a cart.
I had to design and build the sled, we needed something that was light
weight, long enough to carry 8' sheets of tin, and strong enough to
endure the rocky terrain. I used 2" poly pipe as runners with
timber inserts for strength, a small hardwood deck, and a roofing
iron bash plate underneath.
Next came the fun part, introducing it to the horses at home. I introduced
it to Spike on line, and then pulled the sled around next to him,
the rest of the herd all "helped". I had made a harness
from an old solid breastplate so I hooked him up to the swingle tree
and sled and led him around until he could handle it, then I had him
on long reins but decided that it was too difficult to control him
from the ground in difficult terrain. I decided that riding was a
better option so I attached the 22' line to the sled and dallied around
the saddle horn which made for a quick release if we got into trouble.
This worked very well and after seven sessions with the sled we were
ready for the job.
on the morning of the 12th December Karen and I loaded up the horses
and drove to meet Ron Morgan and Philip Griffin on the road to the
February Plain. They had all the tin and the sled and went ahead to
unload and clear a little of the path. We rode to the meeting place
and on with the job. Loaded up seven sheets of 8' tin, secured it,
checked it for the weight as both Ron and Philip were needed to manoeuvre
it in some of the more difficult terrain. I took up the lead rope
and off we went with Karen on Bluey bringing up the rear and taking
video of the day. All went well apart from some minor snags on saplings
and big rocks, we made another two runs with eight sheets of 8' on
one load and then one 8' sheet and ten 5' sheets for the last load
to the drop off point just near the hut.
Spike did the most amazing job, he was really with me and by the third
load he was even anticipating the places where we had to manoeuvre
around obstacles. He is a true partner. Bluey also did well with following
the sled while Karen handled the video and also having Phil ride him
part of the day, only the third person to have been on him.
Both Karen and I are very proud of what our horses achieved on this
Putting Practice to Purpose
Horse love nothing more than being given a job
to do and so we should challenge our horses to test all that practice.
Paul and Karen Lockwood have been challengeing their horses to cope
with a variety of events including parades, group trail rides and
Paul says of their latest adventure....
"We had a great time moving the cows 30 km in 2 days, from Emu plain to
Mole Creek. Horses did 30 km on day 1 & 15 km day 2, gave them
a break on day 2 & only rode the one way then got a lift to the
floats so we could pick them up.
Bluey did great only having to do day 2, after 4 hours following cows
he was starting to push them along & was so busy watching the
cows he didn't notice the Llama as we passed it at Mole Creek. Spike
did great rounding up strays & breakouts, only got scared once
by a Miniature black Pony, that was charging at him & squealing
as we rode passed, lucky there was a fence.
Ron & Dean were a pleasure to muster cattle with, really know
their job, and we learned heaps from them."
you have a 'purpose' story, please write to me and send a photo if
Horsemanship Condones Cruelty
How many people have you
seen take out their anger and frustration on their horse/dog/partner?
We’ve probably all been guilty of it at some time or other,
I know I have in the past but like to think I have learned more patience
and self control through the study of natural horsemanship which enables
me to think more like the horse and not blame them for instinctive
responses or reactions.
In doing so, I have become much more aware of the abusive nature of
humans and how they take out their frustrations on their animals,
perhaps thinking that these dumb creatures have no means of reprisal.
Of course some do – the dog bites or cowers and refuses to obey,
cats scratch or become timid, the sheep and cattle simply run away
(if they can) and so would horses if we allowed them.
But humans are smart, or so we say, and they simply come up with more
ways than you can imagine to control a horse then subject them to
whatever treatment we choose to dish out.
These controls include many things we see as normal thanks to traditions
that have been passed down through many generations and which we give
no thought to their relevance for today’s world.
Did you know that the reason it is traditionally correct to mount
from the left side of the horse is because warriors carried their
swords on their right hip enabling them to draw their weapon with
their left hand so throwing the right leg over the horse was much
a bit in the mouth to ride a horse is a strong traditional belief
which has been disproved by the advent of the bitless bridle and now
thousands of natural horsemanship students who ride in natural halters
and hackamores perfectly safely once they have understood basic one
In the eyes of the traditional rider, this is madness of course but
how many riders with bits on their horses can be seen out of control
because they are hauling on two reins, causing the horse such pain
that its instincts take over and say flee or fight?
Putting a piece of metal
in the most delicate part of the horse, his mouth, which is integral
to his survival, and then giving the reins of control over to a volatile
human is like asking your best friend or partner to wear a lip ring
or tongue stud with a chain attached to your short fuse!
How long do you think the relationship would last?
I often shudder when I see riders not only using the bit severely,
but just using it constantly to hold the horse’s head in vertical
flexion for long periods of time. The longest we should be asking
for a collected appearance is 3 or 4 minutes maximum which is the
time it takes to do a showjumping round, show horse workout or half
a dressage test (there’s usually a loose rein walk about half
Why is it that people think the horse has to be collected to be controlled
when collection was only ever designed to give the horse the power
it needed to perform high level manoeuvres such as the haute ecole
school movements which originated for warfare?
The constant pressure on the sensitive bars and lips of the mouth
eventually damages the tissue in these areas giving the rider a heavy
or dead feeling on the reins, and the horse a crutch to lean on instead
of truly collecting in self carriage.
In addition to these amazingly varied torture devices (there are hundreds
of different bit designs – almost all with the essential aim
of control) we see the horse’s mouth strapped shut with a noseband
or head tied down with a martingale so it can’t ‘evade
the bit’. Poor things – imagine if we had to work with
our mouths taped shut so we concentrated better while doing our job
– how would you feel? Frustrated I’d say and that’s
exactly what causes our horses to develop habits like teeth grinding,
jaw crossing, sticking the tongue out, tossing the head or simply
look dull and bored with ears back, suffering their torture.
When we stop them from expressing their feelings, the more sensitive
and probably the more talented (these traits seem to go together)
horses find other ways of expressing their frustration by rearing,
bucking or bolting and are either subjected to more pressure until
their spirit is broken or sold for meat. Other horses just don’t
look forward to their time with people and become hard to catch, saddle
And then there’s
the whip – designed as an extension of our arm to reinforce
our leg or seat cues/aids if we are a caring or conscientious rider/driver
but it’s often used to reprimand the horse when it fails to
understand our requests and ‘acts up’.
In the racing world, the whip is used to ‘encourage’ a
horse who is probably already trying as hard as he can as he nears
the finish post. It just doesn’t make sense.
Some showjumpers and eventers can be seen flogging their horse after
a refusal – a sure fire way to reinforce that being near the
jump is not a nice place.
And I’ve seen stallion owners advised to whip the front legs
to control their stallion and even witnessed public performers use
this method as a way of getting the horse to lie down (along with
severe yanking on the bit) – maybe he was a cart horse driver
in a past life when flogging horses and seeing them fall in their
attempts to pull overloaded carts was commonplace?
What about spurs? Much
the same as bits and whips, they are rarely used as intended (to refine
the leg aids and ask for more elevation from the horse) and more often
used in a effort to get the horse to listen to the leg for more forward
movement. You don’t see jockey’s using spurs because they
need a longer stride so why try to use them for speed when they were
intended to instigate more elevation?
And a nagging set of legs is as bad or worse than a nagging set of
hands – one saying go, the other saying slow. What is a horse
supposed to do – put up with the equivalent of torture or try
to rid themselves of a rider who really shouldn’t be there in
the first place with the lack of knowledge you so often see these
Tradition would also have
us believe that horses are safe and simple – in the old days
everyone had some contact with horses and got to observe their ways,
maybe be involved with them on a daily basis and be aware of the dangers
just like we are with cars.
But now, television and the printed media show us pictures of the
happy riders galloping off into the sunset so that most people have
an unrealistic expectation of horses.
Couple that with a ‘motorbike’ mentality and you have
a recipe for disaster, often for the rider but most likely for the
Many children now wanting a horse have the disadvantage of parents
who are not the least bit interested or experienced with them.
And so the poor child has to learn the hard way and many do with a
horrible amount of injuries, or the parents seek out help and trust
the first person they find – maybe a neighbour or friend who
may only know a little more or at worst be a bad example.
So many children are packed off to pony club which is better than
no instruction at all, however traditions are strongly followed in
this institution which seems to promote competition over sound horsemanship
and general horse knowledge.
While there’s nothing wrong with competition goals to inspire
riders to achieve and progress, its unfortunate that many pony club
instructors gloss over the things that make horses tick and are often
biased in their views of alternatives such as natural horsemanship.
Younger children especially, need good examples and lots of fun to
learn things safely. They need knowledgeable parents who can intervene
when tantrums are thrown and the pony is treated harshly so that children
come to respect these wonderfully forgiving animals and not take them
I guess it all comes down
to attitude and sadly, too many people in this world believe humans
have the right to dominate animals and do whatever they feel like
Thankfully, traditions are being questioned and more people are looking
for a better quality relationship with their recreational choice –
Awareness of natural techniques, horse psychology and natural alternatives
to caring for a horse is becoming more common place.
Many people know horses are special creatures who bring out the best
in us, they give us unconditional love, they are always there for
us providing we care for them appropriately and they are changing
the way we relate to each other, if we allow ourselves to be open
to non-traditional practices.
One day, I’m sure
the true horse lovers will be seen in such numbers that those practicing
traditional techniques will be frowned upon, just as those natural
horsemen are today for daring to be different.
If you are one of them, keep learning and when you know enough to
be calm, confident and have good horse communication, then let the
public see your skills so you become a good example.
Bit or Not To Bit - by
This article details the damage bits
can cause to horses.
Keys to Success for Hoof Trimmers
By Cynthia Cooper
These key points apply
to many situations other than hoof trimmming - for example when you
are grooming. saddling, washing, providing vet treatment or just teaching
them to tie up.
1. Keep the horse as close
to its comfort zone (herd or friend) as possible – usually just
the other side of the fence is about as far as most can cope, especially
if they’re not frequently used to going away from their herd/friend.
Ensure that the herd/friend can't get out of sight too.
2. Sometimes, making a
hay bag available is a good way to relax the horse – avoid bucket
feeds as some horses become ‘dominant’ around grain.
The hay should always be up off the ground so it's easy for the horse
to reach while you hold a leg up.
3. Be careful not to position
the horse up against a fence or building – always give them
somewhere to move to if they get a fright so they don’t run
3a. Unless your horse
is very used to it and trained to tie, don't tie solid. Use a Blocker
Tie Ring or wrap the rope around a smooth rail so if the horse
pulls back, it gets some release without escaping altogether.
Remember being tied and having a leg held up can feel too calustrophobic
for some horses so having them loose in an enclosed yard may be a
4. Place the horse in
an area away from possible hazards such as another horse that may
be more dominant, machinery, wire and junk, un-safe fences etc.
5. Before starting to
trim, check and clean all four hooves to make the horse comfortable
(they may have a stone or abscess) and to assess which hooves might
be best to trim first.
6. If the horse seems
uncomfortable on the surface you’ve chosen to work on, move
to another place that offers softer footing eg. from gravel to grass.
You may even need to pad a sore hoof to trim the other opposite hoof.
safer to trim a mare and foal with handlers for both, in a yard where
they can't be bothered by other horses.
7. Ask your handler (if
you have one) to please stay on the same side of the horse as you
are for safety, to look at how the horse is balanced and make small
adjustments to position the weight off the hoof you want to work on.
They should also warn you of things that may worry the horse (machinery
starting up etc.) so you can put the leg down.
8. If the horse remains
fidgety with a handler or being held too loosely/firmly, then it may
be better to control the horse yourself.
9. If the horse is fidgeting
or un-happy, stop and step back from the situation to try and find
the cause. Has the horse’s friend moved too far away, is there
some other action causing them to move about (other horses being fed/
moved), is the horse in pain? Are you stressed or feeling rushed?
10. Try holding the leg
in different positions to determine where is comfortable – some
horses can’t cope with their leg between yours if you’re
a big person as it pulls their shoulder out away from the body causing
pressure on a nerve. Older horses often have trouble holding their
hind legs up and out behind them. Keeping the hoof low and in line
with the body can help them be more comfortable.
11. Remember if both you
and the horse are comfortable physically and emotionally, your job
will be easier today and in the future.
here to learn The
Five Key Areas of Knowledge
to have happy horses ...... naturally.
articles are authored by Cynthia Cooper (unless otherwise stated)
and may be reprinted with permission, aknowledgement and a link
to my web site please.