Everyone has heard this term by now, but what does Natural Horsemanship mean? To most it means a break away from the traditional way of doing things with horses, being gentler and more considerate of the horse. It most definitely is this, plus it can be much more. In my work I describe myself as doing Natural Horsemanship so that people have an idea of where I’m coming from, but it’s not the whole story. Horsemanship and riding is not completely natural, only a horse running free in the wild in a herd is natural. When we enclose a horse in a paddock and start handling them we are changing to a degree the nature of the horse. I have been fortunate to have a number of brumbies enter my life. One of these was a five-year-old stallion when he was captured. He is pure horse. The handling he has received has given him a layer of domestication on the outside, but inside he is pure wild horse. I love this in him and would never try to remove it. He has shown me clearly just how much we affect horses when we domesticate them. I have nothing but respect for him and I now realise that on the inside of every domestic horse, sometimes buried deeply but always there, is that same essence of pure natural horse. When we interact with horses the biggest positive thing we can do for them is listen. There are some things we do with horses that are so outside their realm of understanding that we have to go to enormous lengths to teach them. And there are other things that just make sense to the horse, even if it’s the first time they’re presented with it. I feel these things are more natural for a horse, they’re more horse and less human. I try in my handling and training with horses to discover and do those things that horses naturally understand. By listening to the horse, that is, being totally aware of their responses physically, mentally and emotionally, it’s possible to tune in to when something makes sense to them and when it’s totally alien. If something is totally alien to a horse, I then ask myself how invested am I in this thing? Perhaps it’s unnecessary anyway? Some horse training is done to get horses to do things that make us look clever, to win ribbons or to satisfy our egos. If we want to be considerate of the horse, perhaps we could look more to interacting with them in a way that’s natural to them. And perhaps that means letting go of some things. I find that by treading a more natural path with horses, the journey we’re meant to have with that particular horse may be different to our original pre-conceived idea, but can ultimately be much more rewarding and enriching. I recently had a student make the comment, ‘I didn’t expect to be progressing so well with what we do together, I thought it would be hard work.’ This explains it all to me. If we’re working with the horse instead of trying to force a round peg into a square hole, they may progress just as far with much less work and stress on everyone’s part. If it’s natural to the horse, the horse has already got it, they don’t need a lot of training. Once the human gets it, they’ve both got it. In this situation the saying ‘Less is More’ explains the principle perfectly. What you do with a horse that arises from an intuitive space, rather than a head space, is always going to be lighter and more considerate. And then it can flow, naturally. Then it can be called ‘Natural Horsemanship.’
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
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