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Does Natural Horsemanship Apply To Me?

By Jeffrey Rolo - Experienced horse owner, trainer and breeder

Nicholas Evans' popular 1995 novel The Horse Whisperer, as well as the 1998 film adaptation of the book, served to introduce the concepts of natural horsemanship to multitudes of people for their first time. Horse training was no longer deemed to be a battle of wills between cowboys and animals. The public started learning about seemingly mystical trainers like Monty Roberts who could "speak" with horses and gain their cooperation through mutual understanding rather than domination.
Although the notion of "horse whispering" became quite a fad (a fad that still exists to this day among horses, dogs and very likely other animals), I can assure you that true natural horsemanship is not mystical, nor is it a fad or a modern practice. Horse whispering is really just a fancy title for natural horsemanship, and it's a practice that has existed since ancient Greece. The famed Greek horse trainer Xenophon (431-355 BC) is generally recognized as being the father of natural horse training.
A commonly held misbelief among some is that natural horsemanship is a training style. While it's true that many horse trainers adopt natural training methods, natural horsemanship goes far beyond training. It's not just an educational tool; it's a way of life. It's a way for horses and handlers to better communicate with each other through the use of non-verbal cues.

I've had the pleasure of meeting many experienced and first-time horse owners alike over the years, and a question that has been posed to me by some first-time horse owners is: Do I need to learn natural horsemanship, or is it something that doesn't apply to me since I want to ride English, Western, dressage, jumper, hunter etc.? (Feel free to fill in any riding discipline at the end of the question.)

My answer to them was that although horse owners don't necessarily need to learn natural horsemanship, they certainly should. Since it's about human-horse communication, it applies to all riding disciplines, schools and horse breeds, and refusing to learn the principles of natural horsemanship would be akin to a Russian speaker attempting to communicate verbally with an English speaker. The two can ramble on and on all day long, but unless at least one of the speakers attempts to learn the others' language, they'll have a difficult time ever communicating with each other.

So yes: If you plan on working with, riding or owning a horse for a lengthy period of time you should learn the principles of natural horsemanship. Don't let the mysterious notion of "horse whispering" fool you, because natural horsemanship is very easy to learn provided that you have an open mind and are willing to observe and learn the horse's ways.

Once you become experienced with the concepts of natural horsemanship, horse behaviors that ignorant individuals deem as indecipherable will make perfect sense to you. You'll be able to read their body language and their subtle movements to determine their emotional states, concerns and desires, and by mimicking their ways you'll instantly be able to communicate with them just as easily. Eventually as you and a horse "connects," you'll reach a point where verbal cues and exaggerated gestures are unnecessary. To the naked eye, the horse will seem to possess the ability to read your mind and automatically follow your desires.

It would be impossible for me to teach all the concepts of natural horsemanship within a single article, but the core principles behind it are communication, mutual understanding and gentle authority. A horse won't follow your commands because it fears you; it will adhere to your wishes because it respects and trusts you. You'll become a firm but caring parent rather than a predator, which is how horses would otherwise view us. Doesn't this sound like a goal worth pursuing?

Luckily learning the art of natural horsemanship is simple since a wealth of knowledge rests at your fingertips. You can seek out books and videos from famed natural horsemen like John Lyons, Pat Parelli and Monty Roberts (just a few names out of many fantastic trainers), or you can review quality horse sites such as Horses-and-Horse-Information.com and AlphaHorse, an equine resource that I created in order to share my thoughts and knowledge about horses and natural horsemanship with you.



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