Friday, October 2, 2009

Do we still need to call it "natural" horsemanship?

Reporting from lovely (and now snowy) Dillon, Montana where I'm halfway through teaching my first college course on natural horsemanship. This is UM Western's final course in a four-year degree program on NH so my class is very savvy. They think we should drop the “natural” and just call it horsemanship. What do you think? Do we still need to make the distinction?
Professor Lamb aka Rick


Rhonda said...

Dear Rick,
I have been a great admirer of your books and the Horse Show on RFDTV. I always learn something useful and interesting from your show.
I live near Billings, MT and knew you were coming this way. I was hoping to be able to see you and meet you, but I didn't realize that you were going to teach a college course! Will there be any opportunities for public interaction such as at a clinic or seminar that you might be at? I have been looking forward to seeing you.
As far as keeping the term "natural" horsemanship, I believe that the term should remain in use. When I am looking for someone to help me when I am having issues with my horses, I make sure I look for someone that is skilled in "natural" horsemanship techniques. There are many kinds of horsemen and horsewomen teaching horsemanship with varying methods and techniques, both good and bad. The results are equally both good and bad. But when I am looking for someone that is teaching "natural" horsemanship, that tells me that this person is savvy in putting the needs of the horse first, knows the language that needs to be established between horse and handler and understands the psychology of predator/prey between humans and horses. Not all horseman have this basic concept of "natural" horsemanship. When I still hear people scoff and criticize at the use of "natural" techniques, I know that the majority of the horse industry is not "there" yet in terms of getting more people on the same page in handling horses. I hope at some point in the future, every horse person will have at least the basic set of skills in understanding the nature of the horses and what "natural" horsemanship truly means and the wonderful results that can be obtained because of it. Until then the term should remain in use as an identifier to those that I would want to ride with, learn from and help me train my horses to be bonded companions.
Thank you for your contributions to the horse industry.
Rhonda Yost
Park, City, MT

4BeatLuvr said...


I watch your show often and enjoy it on RFD-tv.

I think it would be good to drop "natural" to give it a new meaning away from one person who started the savvy program. Give "horsemanship" back it's own name and meaning without the 40 long word description which seems in use today so often. Many see it as gimmic-y.

Adding "natural" to it gave too much focus on the one method and anything outside of that box was un-natural. Do it this way or you are doing it wrong.

I've started and ridden our stallions and mares with many of the ways they call "Natural" now-a-days. But having learned it long ago without that added word. Back in my day "horsemanship" was taught in a natural way way back in late 80's, early 90's. We were lucky to have Dr. Robert Miller as a vet and teacher along with some other superb instructors at Pierce College in Southern California.

Did any of the old-timers call it "Natural"? They called it what it should be. What people should strive for.



Joe said...

I pretty much agree with your class. Did a post on our blog ( about this a couple of months ago because there's really not much "natural" about it. Kind, yes. Compassionate, yes. Proper, most definitely. The only way to do it. But humans are not really natural in a horse's life. That doesn't make it bad, or good. Just not natural. Like Dr. Miller's imprinting. Not really very natural, but boy is it terrific, for the horse and the human. At it was for me. So what do you call it? I don't know. The name is not as important as what you do :)

Joe Camp

eliduc said...

I have been a skeptic of "natural" horsemanship for years for a couple of reasons and mostly attributed to being set in my ways that have worked well for me over the years. I will first tell you the reasons. I was called to shoe a barn full of warmbloods that didn't have their hind feet shod which is definitely a bad sign. They weren't vicious but inconsistent and very difficult to shoe. One time they would be alright and the next time they would screw me into the ground. I did shoe the horses for a year and put hind shoes on them. The last time I was there the last horse of the day began jerking the last hind foot away. As I remember, it was just a trim. Every time the horse did this I would stand up and the owner, a woman was wiggling the lead rope in it's face. I finally took the lead and banged the horse back about five steps. The woman went into a tirade liberally laced with the "f" word screaming that I had just ruined 2 years of training. When I observed the horse had two years of training it would know how to stand for shoeing. At that point she told me to get the "f" off her place. I told her I would be happy to as soon as she paid me. While she made out the check I told her that I should have quit her a year ago and that every other time I did her horses I had to go home and recuperate. This brought on another profane tirade. I saw her at a horse show about three years later and her horses were unshod in the back. One of my clients had a four month old colt they wanted me to work with. They glowingly went on about how they had imprinted him. When I got there he was wilder than a March hare and I had to rope him in his paddock every day for a week. He turned out to have a very personable and pleasing personality but with Larry if a little of something was good a whole lot was better. I suspected that he had poked his fingers in the colts eyes and given him an amateur rectal exam. Later I was telling another client that some of the worst horses I worked on had been imprinted. Her reply was, "Funny. My vet said the same thing." Now, this may have been a case of the owner being the problem and not the method but ordinarily these kind of idiots don't know enough to do that much damage. As I see it, the problem with "natural horsemanship is that the owners come away thinking they do not have to discipline their horses ever. Also, the kind of people who never discipline their horses for anything are drawn to these types of clinics. I went to one of Clinton Anderson's clinics last year and used his system on a two year old that I was training. The method achieved many (and much more) of the results I have gotten over the years but with so much less wear and tear on both the trainer and horse. Nor is Clinton afraid to discipline a horse when it needs it. I hate the term "Breaking a horse almost as much as the term "natural." We don't break a horse any more. We train and mold them. I don't know what the alternative terminology to natural horsemanship would be though. In a future blog I will describe the natural method I developed over the years for teaching horses to stand for the farrier.

Ltl Twister said...

Yes, I agree with the others... drop the word "Natural".
I begin using Clinton Anderson's methods of training a couple of years after he came to the states. His methods have never failed me or the horses I've worked with.
I also enjoy learning from Stacy Westfall!
Too many people are so afraid of what others will say or that they may 'ruin' their horse if they discipline it because they think isn't "Natural" for the horse to experience discomfort when it does something wrong. (Someone should have told my parents about that method in parenting - maybe my butt wouldn't have been sore when I didn't something wrong growing up. ha ha) It drives me nuts watching these people let their horse run all over them and push them around. What took the cake is when I saw this happening everywhere at our local 4-H fair. I just wanted to scream "Come on people; that horse could kill your child - get after it!!"
I also agree with the comment about imprinting. We use Dr. Robert Miller's imprinting methods and the results are phenominal; however, done incorrectly, imprinting will reap detrimental results.

Thanks for blessing us with your gift, Rick! I loved it when you MCed for Clinton's Wahl Walkabout tours!

eliduc said...

This method has been spectacular for difficult to trim/shoe horses although if your horse is a kicker I wouldn't use it as it places you in a vulnerable position. Most horses when they resist having a foot off the ground go into flee mode and move away from you. This is a very simple 2 part method that takes me 40 minutes to teach. First you teach your horse to ground tie in order to counteract the flee instinct. It's the same as teaching your dog to sit and stay only you don't have to teach your horse to sit first. Use a 20 foot rope. Stand him in one spot and tell him to stand. Move about 10 feet away and wait for him to move. When He does reprimand him with the lead by bumping it three or four times. Back him up four or five steps and then return him to the same spot and tell him to stand. Don't allow him to be evasive. Bump the lead once and tell him to stand every time he looks off to the side or tries to eat grass. Make him focus on you. In no time he will focus, relax and stand. Move to the end of the line and repeat. Move off to his side. If he moves repeat the above action. Hide behind his tail where he can't see you. If he pivots to keep you in view that's fine but do not allow him to take any steps. This is also great for teaching a horse to stand for tacking or while you mount. One little tap on a lead or rein as a reminder is all that you will usually need and if you get off to open a gate your horse should stand. The second part is not to try to pick up the hoof right off. Instead, facing forward beside the leg point the foot so the tip of the toe is resting on the ground the same as when he rests a foot. This may take some persistence and you may have to hold the hoof in place for a few moments. If the horse moves away from you back him a few steps by bumping the lead. Bring him back to the same spot and tell him firmly to stand. As soon as he relaxes and leaves the foot pointed begin stroking the flexor tendon on the back of his leg. If he stands on the foot point it and stroke again until he leaves it pointed. Only when he will leave the foot in a pointed position do you pick it up and then immediately return it to the pointed position. If he takes it away point it again and stroke until he relaxes. If he moves away reprimand and bring him back. When He stops resisting which shouldn't take long move the foot from side to side and slap the ground surface with your hand before pointing it again. Then put it between your knees and repeat the process. Every time you put the hoof down point it. Every time you ask for it cluck. Repeat the process on the other feet. Soon you horse will voluntarily lift his foot for you before you touch it. The first action modifies the fleeing instinct, the second is a relaxation exercise. You are only asking the horse to do what is natural when he rests a foot. THis also works well with a horse that lays on you. I have used this method on horses that have been impossible to work on for years and in forty minutes have been able to walk around and trim them ground tied with no one holding them. It's also a great thing to teach horses that won't tie.

eliduc said...

Duh! You face to the rear with the foot beside you not forward.

keiger01 said...

For me we do still need the term natural to delineate the post Dorrance/Hunt era. While there have been many great and successfull horsemen over several thousand years it was them who made the principals of using the horses own body language and natural behavior paterns understandable to the rest of us. While the specific techniques of todays top clinicians may vary the principal of it is all about the release is constant. This was simply missing as the core to training prior. Having reread much literature from prior periods in light of what is now presented this factor was there in a roundabout way, but was more or less inadvertant rather than core. I suspect many horseman, like myself, have discovered that they were already doing a lot of natural just didn't think of it that way. Shifting thinking to really focus on this technique brings faster, better, safer success. Anyone who thinks this means not getting after a horse is ignoring the "gentile as possible, firm as necessary" aspect of this and has not gained the leadership role with their horse. Once gained it is amazing how suttle one can be and the horse does not ignore or challenge.

Brenda said...

Rick, I think Bill Cosby touched on this several years ago when he referred to his & his wife's first child---speaking of "natural" childbirth but seriously, I think some replies to your question got a little off track. There's good & bad in all, including "down Under" and it's not something these guys & gals have "came up with" in the last say so yourself in most of your books I have read. I just finished the book "Beautiful Jim Key" and Dr Key used "natural" methods over a hundred years ago. And imprinted foals aren't all can't just imprint them the first couple of days and think they're done! I have an imprinted Mustang cross (over 16 H tall) and you couldn't ask for a better horse, shoeing and training. But see, everyone gets's what it is ...horsemanship "au' naturelle", and everybody and their brother advertises it in all your horse publications, whether you've heard of them on RFD or not!

Gary said...

Hello Rick

I enjoy your show and have been interested with the concept of "natural horsemanship" over the last few years. I have been shoeing horses since 1971 and I can relate to eliduc's comments on the blog. The biggest harm so many of the modern clinicions do I believe is they leave out the discipline factor in their clinics. I would never advocate being rough on a horse, but unforunately the longer they go (get away) without discipline the harder is it for them to accept it. I believe Ray Hunt said it best when I heard him say "do as little as possible but as much as necessary"

True horsemen and horsewomen don't stop to think if what they are doing is "natural" or not. I have been privileged to know horsemen in the last 45 years that had never heard the term natural but were horsemen in every sense of the word.

Thank you, Gary

That's not my name said...

I am a dabbler in english and western but recently I have joined a new club with predominately english riders. What a surprise to see all the prejudice that is out there in regards to 'natural horsemanship' and yet these same people will talk in glowing terms about Parelli...
What is that about? Parelli coined the phrase 'natural horsemanship' but for some odd reason he has outgrown the stigma. Just a curious observation.
BTW I have been riding my horses in both western and dressage at the club and I love to keep these people guessing...although the cat may be of the bag now because they see my horse working at liberty in a 500ft long arena while he 'sticks' with me. He bows...he comes when whistled to....lopes circle around me and I ride him brideless. Now all conversations seem to start with the the words 'natural horsemanship' within the first few sentences. I am hoping to change some prejudices.