Since the release of the book and movie, The Horse Whisperer, the “natural horsemanship” phenomenon has been growing by leaps and bounds. Most horse people know the names of many natural horsemanship gurus … Monty Roberts, Pat Parelli, Cleve Wells, Chris Irwin … all promoting their own version of this style of training. So what’s all the fuss about?
Once you learn natural horsemanship, there is no going back. I learned to ride and train horses in a hunter/jumper show barn. We were all loving, control freaks that bullied our horses to comply with our will and then demonstrated our love by feeding them special treats, grooming them with special brushes and clothing them in the best blankets, boots and tack that we could afford. Our horses’ response to these lavish tokens of our love was to roll in the mud as soon as possible after the grooming session, eat each others’ blankets, and bite the hand that fed them the treats. What we didn’t give them was much understanding or empathy. We didn’t get their perspective of the world. We interpreted their spooking and resistance as behaviours that they devised simply to annoy us. We professed our love for them one moment, and called them “stupid” the next. On really bad days, we “shanked & yanked” … a chain over the nose and a couple (or few) very firm, quick downward pulls on the lead to ensure they knew we meant business and would not put up with any of their “nonsense”. We didn’t understand why they could be so well behaved one day and so untrustworthy the next. I’m sure now, that they felt the same way about us.
When I knew better, I did better. Once I started to study natural horsemanship techniques with Chris Irwin, I saw the error of my ways. The curtain was lifted and I saw clearly the world from the horse’s perspective. I understood the very natural fears of a prey animal. I saw how their behaviours are based in a strong instinct for self-preservation. I learned how to use this new empathy to create a better relationship with any horse by making it feel safe, secure and calm with me. My attitude changed. My training techniques changed. The way I move and behave around horses changed. My relationship with horses changed. All changes for the better. I no longer want to “make my horse do my will”. Now, I want my horse to want to be my willing partner. Sometimes progress is slow and sometimes it is frustrating. There are no “quick fixes” in natural horsemanship although some of the marketing by the big name trainers might have you believing differently. There are, however, many rewards. Visitors to my farm always comment on how calm and quiet my horses are. There is no banging and stress at feeding time. No fighting at the gate about which horse in coming in first. No getting stepped on, knocked over, bitten or kicked. My horses respect my personal space as I respect theirs.
Once you learn this method of training, there is no going back. My horses & I are going forward together calmly, respectfully and in trust.