Monday, September 29, 2008

What is a natural horseman?

Random musings ...

Natural horsemanship begins with clearing one's mind of preconceptions and making a serious study of the nature of the horse as a unique animal species. It then requires a commitment to working with the horse's nature rather than against it. The specifics of the training methods don't matter as much as the underlying principles. A carpenter must understand wood. A mechanic must understand cars. A doctor must understand biology. Viewed this way, a natural horseman is simply an effective horseman, for any person who attempts to work with horses without understanding and respecting their nature is doomed to failure.



Kyalami said...

I agree with your posting in principle, but you also seem to be saying that one should ignore hundreds of years of horsemanship - the preconceptions? I do not agree with that.
Natural horsemanship has unfortunately become a catch all for kooks & wannabes who take gullible peoples money. The sad part is that they build up a lot of fluff on a little knowledge of a minute part of horsemanship. This is then marketed to the poor horseowner, most of whom need genuine help and cling to any straw.
Hopefully this will all die the Dr. Spock death. Remember him? The idiot who spoiled a whole generation?

Rick said...

Hi Kylami,

I've been an advocate of studying horsemen of the past, from Xenophon forward, for a long time. Check out what I wrote in The Revolution in Horsemanship, my magazine articles on Rarey and Beery, and my TV shows. There is much to be learned from the oldtimers as well as modern teachers. My point was that, for the neophyte, there is a vital need to clear the mind of preconceptions about the equine species because it is unlike anything else in the human experience. It is not like a human. It is not like a dog, or a cat, or a hamster. It has its own unique psychology and physiology, which cannot be adequately understood by us without study. Before you truly understand the nature of the horse, your instincts about the species are mostly wrong. With understanding comes new instincts about what a horse is saying to you and what it needs from one moment to the next. There have always been horsemen who had those instincts, and there are plenty of them today. In fact, I believe it is something anyone can learn with effort and time spent in the company of horses.

Even "kooks and wannabes" are not wrong all the time. You can learn something in every situation, even if it's something you DON'T want to do. The cream rises to the top in the horse industry as in any other. Those who don't have the talent, or scruples, or discipline will not succeed in the long run.

Thanks for your comment.


Elly'sMom said...

"What is a natural horseman?"

Interesting question. I would say that a natural horseman is a person who can "read" a horses movements, a person who understands what the horse is
saying and how the horse is behaving. That person would be able to "communicate" what he wants from the horse in a manner that would be easy for the horse to understand. Without fancy gadgets or catch frases.

The "natural horsemen and women" that I've had the pleasure to be around and learn from have all been very quiet around horses, very laid back and have a way of putting everyone at ease. They are a fountain of knowledge, you just have to be listening to understand what they are saying sometimes.

Rick said...

Hi elly'smom,
The quietness is absolutely part of it and the quiet comes from listening, not only with your ears but also with your heart, taking in and processing what's going on around you. Tom Dorrance advised that we "observe, remember, and compare." That's thinking, being mentally engaged in this endeavor. Hard to do that if you're busy running off at the mouth!

John said...

Knowledge builds on itself and it takes time. The natural horsemen of today are changing the perception of horse behavior, but it is a slow process. (How long did it take us to figure out the earth orbits the sun and then how long did it take to become common knowledge?)

What I feel needs to be more clearly disseminated is how much time, study, and responsibility it takes to own a horse. Taking a free ranging animal, penning it up and exercising it once a month, hardly seems fair. Asking it to carry us around and not be afraid of the unknown without being versed in the basics of equine communication also seems unrealistic.

The mystique and majesty of the horse sucks us into the desire to own one, but I don't think many recreational horse owners consider the time, expense, and educational commitment it takes to build that positive horse relationship.

But building that relationship and learning about horses is such a fantastic journey, which is exactly why Rick was able to write a whole book about it.

ingallsra said...

Hi Rick,
I'm new to your blog but have been listening to your podcasts for about two years now. I wanted to say thanks for all that you do to bring information to horse lovers.
As for your latest blog, I think you're right on the money. One of the problems I see with some horse owners is that they don't want to take the time to really learn about horses and horsemanship. We often look for the easy answer and then wonder why we can't solve our equine issues. A little bit of knowledge can be a very dangerous thing, and that holds true in horsemanship. A true horseman knows that there are no quick-fixes, there is only a solid foundation followed by a lifetime of learning as well as revisiting the fundamentals--that holds true in our own education and that of our horses.
The horse is such an incredibly complex creature that we do it a disservice when we fail to educate ourselves about its physical and mental nature. We can't be true horsemen if we aren't striving to understand how best to interact with our "partners".
We also have to be ready to readjust our thinking throughout this continual learning process. Some principles of horsemanship have held true over the centuries, and they will continue to do so. But others have been challenged by new ways of thinking, and a horseman is always taking in the information, digesting it, and using those parts that are most beneficial for the horse.
Yes, there are some trainers I don't necessarily subscribe to, but as you said, there is something to be learned from everyone--whether it's learning what to do or what not to do.
I've noticed that natural horsemen have a tendency to collectively be labeled as "quacks" by some, but I've also noticed that those same people often haven't taken the time to really study what it is the natural horsemen are trying to teach us.
We'd probably be a lot further along in our journey if we spent less time judging and more time watching and listening. Those two qualities are essential to natural horsemanship.


t6834bl said...

Last night I watched your TV show, The Horse Show on RFD-TV and you were at the University of Montana - Western, their natural horsmanship program. You quoted someone, I think it was Ronnie Willis, put the quote up on the screen, and that quote pretty much summed up our relationship in training horses. Can you reprint that quote? It was so to the point!

Rick said...

Hi t,
It was indeed from Ronnie Willis. You can hear my entire 2002 interview with him on my web site. Here's the excerpt:
The way that he learns is number one, from confidence, then acceptance, then understanding, then the achievement, the result. And if you play that backwards, the result can be no better than how well he understood it, and that can be no better than how well he accepted it, and he can't accept anything until he gets confident that he's going to be safe.


Barbara said...

The philosophy is not complicated, it is just an extension of the golden rule, applied with knowledge and experience. I am remindied of a well bred colt that I pulled out of the pasture to start as a two year old. He was from my old mare a granddaugher of King, the foundation of quarterhorses. When he was in the barn working, being saddled, he complied with instructions but was always distracted and a little nervous. I said, " You are not ready to be ridden." I turned him out for another year. The next spring I brought him in, renewed his acquaintence with the bridle and saddle, he was happy and relaxed and on his first ride , I ponied another colt down the road with him. He was naturally ready, mature enough to trust my decisions, something he could not do as a two year old. Because he was my horse, I had this luxury. He died last winter at the age of 34. I was always able to pull him out and ride him at any time, no problem. No one else could that is why he stayed with me. Prospective owners always returned him!

Rick said...

Hi Barbara,
You are so right. The Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) is empathy in action, and that, of course, is an important part of natural horsemanship. It takes the focus off of ourselves and our own goals and tries to imagine what it would be like in the horse's skin, seeing the world through his eyes. When we do that, we see solutions that will motivate the horse to do what we want. We find ways to make our idea become his idea. Great point!

grace said...

'Natural Horsemanship' is just easier to say than 'Empathatic Horsemanship'.
I tend to agree with Dr Deb, there is nothing natural about riding a horse, for either species.

Rick said...

Hi Grace,
Empathetic horsemanship is actually a good choice! But natural horsemanship is already established as name of this approach. The name doesn't matter. What matters is the underlying commitment to working with the horse instead of against him. Thanks for your comment.