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No Single Right Answer – Natural Horsemanship

Suzanne Sheppard and TiggerWhat is natural horsemanship? Well, you’d probably get as many different answers to this question as the number of people you asked. We believe, as in all horse training, there is no single right answer, only individual opinions. That said, we will now give you our opinions and attempt to explain our rationale.
When we are riding or handling a horse, there are many things that would cause the horse to act in a way that is natural to the horse, but very unpleasant, or even dangerous to us. These types of incident include bucking when they feel good, spooking at frightening or strange object, bolting at perceived dangers, etc”¦
To us, natural horsemanship means knowing and using some of the horse’s natural characteristics to teach him, such as the pecking order, fear and laziness. We need to condition him to respond to our requests, rather than having him do what comes naturally.
You can teach the horse in a round pen or on a lunge line to move forward on command, turn right or left, stop, etc”¦ This will establish us as higher in the pecking order because the horse knows we are controlling his movements. When we teach the basics of “spook training”, we teach the horse that when he becomes afraid, he should stop his feet and look at what is scaring him.
We can’t really make a horse stop, we can only request that he does stop. If the horse continues to move after we’ve asked for a stop, we must work on something else that requires movement for 20 minutes or so, then offer him another chance to stop. Pretty soon he’ll catch on, and his laziness will motivate him to stop. We’ll have avoided a fight, and gained 20 minutes of training time on something else.
We must teach our horses to respond to our reins or lead rope every time we ask. If the horse will do this as a conditioned response to our request, we can alter their “natural” behavior and have them respond instead in a manner acceptable to us.
Hopefully, a properly trained horse will stop his feet and stare at the deer that just jumped out of the brush instead of spinning and bolting away. He will “go” when we ask him to, and stop on request. We become the proactive partner in the relationship because we, the leader in the pecking order we have established, have made a request and the horse has been conditioned to respond.
The way we teach our horse must make sense to the horse. We must be clear in our requests and consistent with our rewards. An example might be the simple act of asking the horse to turn his head to the right. We slowly start to take the slack out of the right rein and as soon as the horse moves his head in that direction, we release the rein.
Anger and the use of force only serve to frustrate both the rider and the horse. Students who are frightened cannot learn. So be patient, trustworthy and consistent in dealing with your horse and he will regard you as a “natural partner”.

©Two as One, LLC 8/07
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