Natural Horsemanship is the philosophy of working with horses by appealing to their instincts and herd mentality. It involves communication techniques derived from wild horse observation in order to build a partnership that closely resembles the relationships that exist between horses.
There are countless "schools" or theories of natural horsemanship but the following ideas are common to most of them:
Natural horsemanship has become very popular in the past two decades and there are many books, videos, tapes, and websites available to interested equestrians. This philosophy has capitalized on the use of behavioral reinforcement to replace inhumane practices used in some methods of training, the ultimate goal of which is a calmer, happier and more willing partner in the horse.
Natural Horsemanship avoids fear- and pain-based training methods. While natural and gentle methods of training have been around for millennia, dating to the advocacy of gentle methods by Xenophon in Ancient Greece, there have also been any number of techniques over the years that attempted to train a horse by breaking the horse's spirit, often forcing it to fight back and then be dominated or defeated. Natural Horsemanship advocates point out that by removing fear an individual gains trust from the horse. By not scaring and hurting the horse, the horse learns to work with people in a partnership verses as an adversary.
Some well-known trainers considered to be practitioners of natural horsemanship in the late twentieth century include: Tom and Bill Dorrance, Ray Hunt, John Lyons, Clinton Anderson, Buck Brannaman, Monty Roberts, and Pat Parelli.
However, gentle training methods have always had to compete with harsher methods, which often appear to obtain faster, but less predictable results. In particular, the cowboy tradition of the American west, where the economics of needing to break large numbers of semi-feral horses to saddle in a short period of time led to the development of a number of harsh training methods that the Natural Horsemanship movement specifically has set out to replace. However, most of the original Natural Horsemanship practitioners acknowledge their own roots are in the gentler methods of some cowboy traditions, particularly those most closely associated with the "California" or vaquero horseman.
The modern Natural Horsemanship movement developed primarily in the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountain states, where the "Buckaroo" or vaquero cowboy tradition was the strongest. Early modern practitioners were brothers, Tom and Bill Dorrance, who had background in the Great Basin "Buckaroo" tradition. They had a particularly strong influence on Ray Hunt and Hunt's disciple, Buck Brannaman. Many later practitioners claim influence from the Dorrance brothers, including Pat Parelli and others.
Other trainers who developed from slightly different influences include John Lyons, who espouses a simple, easy to understand system for communicating effectively with horses; Monty Roberts, who claims to trace his work back to that of John Solomon Rarey, with additions from his own observations of horses. Mark Rashid, also a product of traditional humane principles of western training, mostly credits his teacher and mentor, a horseman well-versed in methods of gentle-breaking young horses. Several other practitioners derive inspiration from concepts used by Native American horse trainers.
In Europe, a variant is practiced by Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling, who developed a "natural" method independent of the American model, influenced directly by the Spanish horsemanship tradition and by the teachings of Classical dressage.
There is also an alternative natural dressage method called The Art of Natural Dressage, also known as AND. As initiative of the horse is the key in AND, and the horse dictates his own training, this means that the horse shall start to explore his own boundaries and skills. He will find out how he can express himself and soon he will grow in to a very proud and happy individual.
The term "Natural Horsemanship" has only been widely used since the 1990s, and obtained a significant boost from the popularity of Nicholas Evans' book (and later film ) The Horse Whisperer, which promoted popular awareness of a gentle approach to horse training.
"The thing you are trying to help the horse do is to use his own mind. You are trying to present something and then let him figure out how to get there." - Tom Dorrance
"When people think of natural horsemanship that could mean a lot of things. It isn't natural for a horse to be around people, and it's not natural for a person to be sitting on him either. When we use these words we speak about what's natural for the horse to do within his own boundaries" - Bill Dorrance
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