Sunday, June 04, 2006

Unnatural Horsemanship 2

Natural Horsemanship is often defined by what it is not. Many sites state Natural Horsemanship does not use cruel or violent training methods. A recent article in the West Magazine (Perth, WA) stated
Basically, the natural approach is that horsemanship can be obtained through communication, understanding and psychology rather than mechanics, fear and intimidation. [...] It tries to teach everybody to have the same knack - to learn about feel and timing and balance.

That's very clever marketing (and marketing is what Natural Horsemanship is really about). Notice that they don't say other methods are cruel or violent. This is because they're not (certainly, some trainers may use such methods, but they are the exception). All training, to be successful, has to work with the horse, not against it. Terms such as "Intelligent Horsemanship" imply, without ever stating or justifying the implication, that other forms of horsemanship are "unintelligent". "Natural horsemanship" implies that other forms of horsemanship are "unnatural". Stating they don't use "cruel or harsh methods" implies that other forms of horsemanship are "cruel and harsh". Note that it's all implication, and all rubbish.

There's also that magic word "natural". This is a code word that marketing executives love. It makes people suddenly come over all touchy-feely and lose their cognitive faculties. It's like holistic, organic, fat-free and alternative. None of those really mean anything, and they all define themselves against what they are not rather than what they are (and therefore sell products and therapies by attacking the opposition rather than selling themselves directly). They also engender FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) which is so beloved of the politician and the marketing executive. "I never realised that the way I was riding my horses was cruel", "How could I have ridden all these years without really communicating with my horse?", "I'm such a poor rider who knows nothing. Oh, please save me mighty guru of horseness!".

"Natural" in an equine context means not riding the horse, not putting saddles and gear on it, allowing it to roam freely, not treating it for illnesses, not feeding it but forcing it to seek out its own forage, and allowing the local predators to prey on it and bring it to an early death. These are all "natural" behaviours. Of course, no one is claiming that this is desirable, but EoR's point is that what these "natural" trainers do is not "natural". The word has become meaningless in a brilliant example of Newspeak. For example, putting a tarpaulin over the horse is not, in any sense of the word, "natural". Nor is attaching ropes, putting on saddles, or riding a horse (though EoR notes that the majority of people who profess a love of NH seem to spend almost all their time on the ground "playing" with the horse and are too scared to get on it).

Natural Horsemanship devotees claim they are working with (or "respect" - another debased code word) the horse's natural behaviours and psychology. So what? asks EoR. All good trainers and riders, no matter what school they claim adherence to, do the same.

Sylvia Loch, renowned classical trainer, remarks
One of the latest fads which comes under the guise of natural horsemanship shows us just how unnatural some of this work can be. We see horses being encouraged to trail wearily about on the forehand with disconnected backs and hind legs left behind whilst everyone applauds the kindness being done to it. Riding without a bridle can indeed be a joy to behold when done by an expert but when amateurs are let loose in this way, it can cause enormous discomfort and back pain to the horse.

One clear sign of natural horsemanship, at least, seems to be the ability to wear a cowboy hat, and riding bareback is also a desirable skill. Both of these are "natural" to the horse, apparently. An attention to safety is definitely not required (indeed, trailing lunge ropes and having horses wandering along directly behind you are mandatory). Wearing a helmet is a sure sign you are an incompetent rider. Natural horsepeople never wear helmets. Do not go near any trainer who wears a helmet. Naturally trained horses never shy under any circumstances whatsover, nor do natural horsepersons ever fall off. Even if you do, natural horsepesons cannot hurt their heads by falling from a height at speed.

Unnatural Horsemanship 1


  1. Natural horsepersons are producing a category of equitation which is akin to dogwalking. This would be fine if reserved for miniatures. Real horses are expensive, need exercise and can be dangerous, and shouldn't be wasted on the rope gurus and their emotional dependants.

  2. I'd like to say that I am a Natural Horsemanship instructor and I wear a helmet every single time I ride be it a naturally trained horse or not. I've never once had a "natural horseperson" say one negative thing about it.

  3. I would also like to inform you that I can ride bareback with nothing on my horses head to control her I do it all with effective communication. Can you do that? I practice NH. If you have noticed but I guess you haven’t by your comments that all English riders ware helmets. 


  4. Uh, Nicole, I was riding bareback and with nothing on my horse's head either--not a bridle, hackamore or halter--years ago, like when I was 11 and now I'm in my 50's...Way before this NH stuff. I learned to ride from an old cowboy and had a good horse. Nothing to spend a ton of money on and nothing too difficult to do. I never owned a saddle. I jumped bareback, barrel raced, etc. etc. all bareback, and often with no bridle, rope, etc. NH seems inane to me. I also "broke" (do NH followers hate that word?)more than a few colts the same way. And we were all well-adjusted and happy and in sync. Maybe the NH folks should take all that money they are happily wasting and donate it to something worthwhile. NH is a....forget it. I can't think of a word that won't offend even more than this post. Please take a good look at this NH stuff. Spend a lot of time with your horse and use common sense. I feel really, truly sorry for the NH followers. And their horses. I still ride and only bareback. Got it? I'm trying to use "effective communication."

  5. What money all I have spent is $11.00 on a rope halter and lead rope. I did TH and it didn’t work all my horse wanted to do is run away. Now it the people before me didn’t do TH and beat her with clippers and whips she might have responded a little better. But now my ten month old colt responds better than you so called TH two year old gelding. So explain to me why I can out ride anyone I meet on my mare that is NH why is it so bad to have different methods? I haven’t spent anything on Parelli my friend is a trainer.


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