Natural Horsemanship Training involves schooling a horse using horse psychology rather than brute strength, and is often referred to as Horse Whispering due to the passive methods of communication used to accomplish this. The fundamental idea is that horses are herd animals that follow and obey the herd leader, who they look to for protection and commands. It is your job to gain the confidence and respect of your horse so that he looks up to you as the natural leader, who he will willingly follow.
In order to achieve this, you need to think like a horse — you need to be able to empathize with your horse and learn to read his body language for signs of emotional stress or content. When you can interpret the signals your horse is sending out, you will gain a better understanding of your horse’s psyche and be able to communicate with him on a much deeper level. As you horse develops a greater level of trust with you, you should be able to solve some of the vices he may have through passive leadership.
Natural Horsemanship Training Ideas at a Glance
The key to winning your horse’s respect is getting him to respect your space, and to understand your body language and posture so he knows when you wish him to approach or move away. In order for him to understand this he needs to learn the basics: yielding and ground manners. This is achieved through negative reinforcement using pressure and release, where he is subjected to some form of adverse pressure, and is rewarded by having the pressure released as soon as he responds positively to the cues.
The techniques used to develop this bond between man and equine are somewhat unconventional. However, they are rapidly gaining in popularity due to the phenomenal change it produces in a horse’s attitude. Often difficult horses are transformed in just a few lessons or workshops, and common problems are easily resolved once both horse and master understand each other better.
Natural Horsemanship Training Focuses on Groundwork
This method of schooling places a lot of emphasis on ground work. The horse learns to trust and respect, through a number of exercises or games, which are fun for both you and your horse. Yet at the same time you are both learning, and getting to know each other better, forming a lasting bond built on trust.
Basic Equipment Used in Natural Horsemanship Training
Some special equipment is needed to school a horse in the natural way. The basic training tools include:
- Rope halter, which has knots that apply pressure on sensitive pressure points
- 12-14ft lead rope to attach to the halter
- A specially designed stick, sometimes referred to as a carrot stick or handy stick, for prodding and stroking to reinforce commands
- String that attaches to the stick to increase its length and efficiency as a soft whip.
Parelli Natural Horsemanship Techniques: Training through Horseplay
Natural horsemanship techniques involve training a horse using horse psychology to the handlers advantage. One of the foundation methods used in the Parelli Natural Horsemanship program is teaching through a series of games that should be worked through systematically.
Game One: The Friendly Game
This game imitates the interactions a mare has with her foal. You will stroke your horse all over his body using your hands, a rope, and a carrot stick. This helps you form a bond with the horse, and helps the horse become accustomed to human touch. Touch is also used for reassurance whilst working through all the games.
Game Two: The Porcupine Game
This game teaches the horse to react to pressure and prepares him to respond to the riders leg aids. If there is no response, the pressure is increased, but as soon as the horse yields to the pressure the pressure is released.
Game Three: The Driving Game
This game moves on from the porcupine game, and teaches the horse to move away in response to the handler’s body language rather than from direct pressure.
Game Four: The Yo-Yo Game
The game teaches the horse to move backwards, and then to come forwards again, whilst remaining in balance. The aim is to get the horse to move towards the handler without the use of a training rope, but rather that he responds to just a click of the fingers.
Game Five: The Circling Game
The horse is taught to circle the handler at a certain pace in a certain direction. He is only to change pace or direction on the handlers command. The handler uses body language to move the horse away and invite the horse back to him. This teaches the horse to look to the handler for direction.
Game Six: The Sideways Game
This game teaches the horse to move sideways to both the left and the right sides, by crossing over the front feet.
Game Seven: The Squeeze Game
This game teaches the horse to cope with confinement. The handler forces the horse to move between him and an obstacle in his path, building self-confidence in the horse as he learns to deal with natural phobias that he cannot take flight from.
These games help build trust between horse and handler, and enable the handler to use the natural instincts of a horse in his training. The horse looks up to the handler for protection and direction, thus developing better communication between horse and master.
Other Natural Horsemanship Training Programs
There are a number of accomplished horse trainers that use natural horsemanship training as the core of their training programs. Check out the following natural horse training resources produced by some of the masters:
- Buck Brannaman – 7 Clinics with Buck Brannaman complete DVD set
- Monty Roberts – Join-up and Fix-up DVDs (can also be purchased as a DVD set)
- Sean Patrick – The Modern Horseman’s Countdown to Broke – Real Do It Yourself Horse Training in 33 Comprehensive Steps, available in DVD and paperback format
- Steve Halfpenny Silversand Natural Horsemanship – Silversand Horsemanship Foundation Skills 1, 2 & 3 (available in Kindle format and as a DVD set)
- Clinton Anderson Downunder Horsemanship – Establishing Respect and Control for English and Western Riders
- Pat Parelli – Parelli Natural Horsemanship (outlined above) – Natural Horse-Man-Ship: Six Keys to a Natural Horse-Human Relationship (paperback); Parelli Success Series (10 Dvd Box Set)
While their training methods may vary to some extent, they all encompass the above principles and exercises in their training routines to some degree or other. For those that are keen to delve deeper into this discipline, I recommend studying the training methods used by various horse trainers that practice and teach natural horsemanship to find the approach that works best for you.
Natural Horsemanship Training for Problem Horses
If you own a difficult horse whose issues can’t be resolved using conventional schooling techniques then natural horsemanship training may be just what you need. The results and change in your horse’s attitude may astound you. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so I encourage you to give it a try.
Featured Image by Colton Houston via Ceara Rahne/Flickr