Last weekend, Lauren took her 4 year old German Warmblood, “Capone” to a local trainer who practices “Natural Horsemanship” in hopes of finding a gentle but effective way of training and backing him. Her previous trainer,while extremely knowledgeable, had a traditional “punishment and reward” approach to training and “breaking” horses and those methods seemed ineffective on Capone.
I’ve always heard of Natural Horsemanship but I never had any first hand experience with it. To me it was this horse-whispery magical and mystical sorcery that allowed those who wielded it’s power to communicate with horses as if they were a horse themsevles. I didn’t understand it, but it was a cool concept.
The definition of Natural Horsemanship is:
Colloquially known as horse whispering is a collective term for a variety of horse training techniques which have seen rapid growth in popularity since the 1980s. The techniques vary in their precise tenets but generally share principles of developing a rapport with horses, using communication techniques derived from observation of free-roaming horses and rejecting abusive training methods.
Natural horsemanship practitioners have created a exclusionary social meme marking the approach as being a radical departure from “traditional” techniques, which are often portrayed as being based in the use of unnecessary force. Users and practitioners tend to relate benefits in relation to the quasi-scientific narrative of the eitology of horse behaviour, and to the idea of anthropomorphic partnership. High profile practitioners of natural horsemanship such as Monty Roberts and Pat Parelli market their methods and equipment extensively through books, television appearances, live shows and other media. The combination of social demarcation and high-profile marketing makes the natural horsemanship movement somewhat controversial among the equestrian community, with criticism leveled at practitioners on a number of levels, notably that the techniques are not “new” and are classical concepts that are simply renamed or repackaged in order to be able to sell products and merchandise (Wikipedia)
…So in short, Natural Horsemanship utilizes a horses natural behaviors, and body language to create a strong bond between horse and owner. It takes advantage of a horses natural desire to follow and has been proved an extremely effective training method. Got it?
When Lauren told me she found a Natural Horsemanship trainer and that she had scheduled a training session for Capone I looked forward to joining her so I could see how it worked first hand. Let me tell you I was impressed! It was an extremely long session and it would take me FOREVER to review in detail. What I took home from the session was that you have to take your time and let the horse figure things out, vs the traditional method of force and domination.
Capone is extremely sensitive on the back end and his first impulse is to stomp or kick. He’s never kicked at a person, but when he is threatened by an object he is unfamiliar with (a plastic bag, a rope touching his legs, etc…) his response is to strike out on the back. So to begin the process of fixing this issue, the trainer, Pat Connors, put a loose lasso around Oni’s neck (rather than using a halter and longe line) then began longing him. Eventualy he maneuvered the rope so that it crossed between Oni’s back legs as he trotted. This caused Oni to FREAK OUT. He cantered, bucked, and kicked out in fear over and over again but all the while Pat’s body language stayed calm and steady. “If he gets tangled all I have to do is drop the rope and he will untangle himself.” Pat said to assured Lauren that her horse was perfectly safe. Oni FLEW around the round pen in fear of the “Horse eating rope” that was touching his back legs but after several mintutes he calmed down and transitioned into a trot…then eventually a walk…and eventually he stopped and looked at Pat as if to say “Okay I’m done freaking out now”.
While Oni’s issue wasn’t resolved, it was a step forward. “We just have do do excercises like this over and over again until he realizes that the objects aren’t going to hurt him.” Pat explained.
Let the horse sort it out for himself….I get it now. And I can’t wait to go back to watch the next session.
Check out the rest of the pictures on Facebook, and see video on YouTube!