By Nancy Slater, formerly 2* Licensed Parelli Professional
Words get in the way. At a demo at a horse rescue, I struggled to find words to express myself to the crowd to be truly understood. I didn’t want any misunderstandings of what I was doing and why. Horses help me focus, so I relaxed into the rhythm of the horse in front of me, and spoke freely to the spectators. The terrified horse ran frantically back and forth in the round pen, crashing into the panels, trying to escape the predator who was in there with him, me. I spoke of how I listened to what the horse was saying: about me, about his past, about the horse he was born to be. I read him, breathed with him, looked into his soul. He calmed down and finally stood with his head down, licking his lips beside me. There were no words between us. I worked with him for an hour while he freely told me his story. And I listened.
Some words in our language can stir up emotions in us. Like the words, ‘Natural Horsemanship’ Is it a gimmick, a marketing idea, a load of horse manure? Some do it. Some used to do it. Some don’t understand if it’s right or wrong, good or bad. When you think about it, what IS natural about riding a horse, to a horse, anyhow? Naturally, they would prefer not to be ridden. Prey and predators working together is not a natural occurrence. Their DNA says ‘no way!’ to predators. So why would we do ‘Natural’ Horsemanship? Here’s the rub, you might be doing it without realizing it…
About 20 million of us predators ride prey animals. Natural Horsemanship is Horse Sense and Morals.
A retired gentleman brought home a kill pen rescue, a pretty grey horse. He bought everything he would need: a saddle and a bridle. It was his first horse and first experience ever riding a horse. He didn’t know what he didn’t know and his dream quickly turned into a nightmare.
Another man, owned his horse for a long time. One day, he saw someone riding bareback and bridleless on their horse. It looked so easy! He hurried home to try it and hopped up on his horse. The horse bucked him to the moon!
Attending a dressage schooling show one day, the judge looked in my horse’s mouth beforehand. Wondering why she was checking my bit, she said she was checking to see if my horse’s teeth were wired shut…
One of my rescue horses stumbled a lot. After a few years, he became unsafe to ride because he would actually fall down. Finally, he could no longer get up at all. I was told that it is a practice to ‘nerve’ the legs of young Standardbreds, which causes them to pace or trot faster. No nerve, no feeling, no pain.
If you listen to a horse, you’re doing Natural Horsemanship. If you use psychology instead of force, you’re doing Natural Horsemanship. If you are willing to train your horse on his timeline, not yours, you’re doing NH. If you train your horse as his confidence level dictates, you’re doing NH. If you don’t care about what others think of you, only what your horse thinks, you’re doing NH. If you consistently test the quality of the horses’ response to you… If you put your horse’s mental, emotional, and physical state before your own ambitions… If your horse runs to you when it sees a halter in your hand and follows you… If your horse is relaxed, connected and willing to please you in it’s work… If you’re looking for the green lights of acknowledgement and acceptance… If you buy a good horse and you keep him a good horse, you’re doing Natural Horsemanship.
Natural Horsemanship School
There are more and more clinicians out there advertising Natural Horsemanship methods. Each clinician calls it a fancy name or puts their name in front of it. Everyone seems to be marketing this thing, this concept, this ideology. They are selling a product: Partnership. The good news is people are seeing value in the product. People are wanting a happy horse with a POSITIVE expression on his face. They don’t want fearful or angry robots. More clinics, workshops, schooling shows and events are popping up everywhere that promote safety and fun where riders can achieve harmony with their horse, naturally. I’ve seen both recreational and competitive riding spotlighting the calm connection between horse and rider.
People who invest in their own education on being ‘natural’ with a horse have extraordinary results. As a student you…
1. Have a positive, can-do, will-do attitude.
2. Learn to teach horses using psychology, not force.
3. Use safe and effective equipment.
4. Apply techniques that preserve the dignity of the horse.
5. Take time to get it all right, building a RELATIONSHIP with the horse.
6. Use imagination to problem solve.
7. Find a support group of like minded professionals, friends, and family.
Communicating with a prey animal means being able to speak it’s language, get into it’s world of understanding. It means befriending it, giving choices, so the animal doesn’t feel trapped and afraid, protecting it from harm. It means making a promise to that animal to keep the lines of communication open; a two way channel. Listening first, then responding, gently guiding. This takes time to learn, a lifetime to develop and perfect. I followed the Parelli path and have had great success with horses. The Program taught me to speak fluently in another language: Horse.
Predators naturally do predatory stuff. Prey animals naturally duck and dodge. Things we expect from horses is mostly unnatural to them and it matters how we present ourselves. A lot of horses have communication avoidance. They don’t talk to us because they assume we don’t listen or speak Horse. Are you continuing your education, increasing your communication skills to speak Horse fluently? Anyone dedicated to listen to their horse, support, protect, guide, love, discipline, encourage, challenge him, learn his nature and needs as a prey animal, is keeping it, in a word, ‘Natural’.