WHAT IS NATURAL HORSEMANSHIP?
Natural Horsemanship (NH), sometimes referred to as "Horse Whispering," really has nothing to do with literal whispering, though it's probably still a good representation of what NH is all about, because "whispering" connotes a "softness" approach, and that indeed is what NH is all about. But, it's also more than that.
• Communicating with the horse using body language sometimes referred to as "Equus," a language all horses are born already knowing and that they use with each other. A mother horse reinforces this language with the foal from the moment it is born, and so does the rest of the herd. This language involves (for humans):
1. How to use your eyes.
2. How to place your body and parts of your body.
3. Your tone of voice or lack of voice.
4. How to use pressure and release of pressure to reap a desired response.
5. What to use as tools to enhance effective communication.
6. How to listen to what the horse is saying in body language.
• The art of working, training and riding with horses in a manner which works with the horse's behavior, instincts and personality, not against it, and in an easy and kind manner.
• Using gentle guidance rather than force or mechanical devices.
• Using pressure and release to guide the horse to learn, and to understand that the horse learns from the release of that pressure, not the pressure itself.
• A refined sense of timing of the release of pressure along with a sense of "feel."
• Understanding that this training approach requires of the human:
1. Time – a "taking off your watch" mindset. Horses have no real concept of "time" as we humans do. It's important to resist our human tendency to "get things done now, all at once" and instead, follow a horse's natural, individual learning curve.
2. Patience – each horse is an individual, therefore, each learns at a different rate of speed, and each has unique issues to get past, so patience always, in order to flow with a horse's natural learning curve rhythm!
3. Compassion – to help nurture the horse through any fears they may have or that get flushed out as you go along.
4. A sense of playfulness – working or training a horse is more about "playing with" a horse positively, but in a productive manner.
5. A sense of humor – which helps maintain ones composure to the above requirements.
• A deep understanding of Prey Animal Psychology.
• Cultivating the inner of the horse first and understand that the outer will later follow.
• Helping the horse to trust us and to do what we want out of friendliness, not fear, and having them trust us without reservation as our ultimate goal.
• Being dependable to the horse, not dominating.
• Giving the horse time to think about what you are asking them to do, allowing them time to try to figure it out, helping them, instead of forcing, to get there, which helps them to learn to think rationally as opposed to react irrationally.
• Being quiet and consistent with the horse.
• Doing what is right for the horse at all times, in all situations, sticking up for them when needed (including veterinarians, trainers, farriers, riders and horse owners.
WHAT IS PREY ANIMAL PSYCHOLOGY?
To start with, man is a predator (we "hunt," we eat meat). We even smell like meat. And we behave psychologically like predators. Also, our eyes are placed together, in the front of our heads, so that we have greater binocular vision, allowing us greater depth perception and to better gauge distances (set up that way for our survival, so man can hunt and gauge how far a prey or enemy is from us). Horses sense all this and treat us accordingly as predators, unless we gently convince them otherwise.
The horse, on the other hand is a prey animal. This means: other animals eat horses. Horses don't hunt down other animals. They are designed to be herbivores, eating primarily grass and other vegetation, depending upon their local environment. Their eyes are set on the sides for their heads so that they can better see around them, watching for a potential attack from a predator. Furthermore, this allows them greater monocular vision, which means they can focus on and fully process two different scenes at one time.
ADDITIONAL PREY ANIMAL PSYCHOLOGY TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT
• All horses are driven with an instinct to procreate, especially the stallion, but mares, too. All mutual grooming, play, even fighting amongst themselves is all a part of their drive to procreate.
• A horse's system is designed for constant movement, even as they also conserve energy. Movement in the horse is something the horse requires in order to be most healthy. Movement affects the entire physiological system from circulation, to hoof health, to mental stability. For example (just one of many): each hoof has a circulatory pump that if not given adequate movement, it fails to keep the blood pumping thoroughly through the body from the hooves up. In the wild, a horse will travel up to 20 miles a day! This not only helps to keep the horse healthy, but it also ensures food and water, as well as a wider variety of forage for optimum health. Therefore, it is much healthier to pasture a horse than it is to stall the horse. Horses were not designed for stalling, but for freedom of movement in pastures to keep them mentally and physically most sound. They are extremely hardy creatures and survive well in the open, under all weather conditions.
• Just as with humans, each horse is a unique individual, each with a unique personality. Some are shy, some are extroverts. Some are natural followers, some prefer to lead. It's important when training the horse to ascertain what that individual horse's personality is and where he fits on that hierarchy.
• Horses have survived for thousands of years with all these above traits, so their prey animal instincts have served them well!
BASIC TENETS OF NATURAL HORSEMANSHIP
• The long way is the short way. This axiom is about taking the time to fix the inside of the horse, addressing emotional issues, before expecting the outside of the horse to act accordingly. From the surface, it might look like this method takes a little longer, but, in the end, it does not, because what is learned remains learned, as you build a more trusting horse from the foundation up, and what needs fixing remains fixed. Forever. Going slow is the quickest way to get there. Don't hurry; allow the horse the time to find the right routes.
• Know where you are going before you go. If you don't know, then the horse will feel the pressure to decide for himself something different.
• Visualize approaching the horse with an attitude of total acceptance, no matter what that action or response from the horse is, and meet those actions with understanding.
• Listen to the horse and learn to perceive when the horse needs support.
• Learn to do less to get more. Baby steps. Allow the horse the opportunity to find what you want with the smallest amount of pressure. Don't try to get it all the first time. Trust that the horse will find what you want with less pressure, not more.
• Bond with the horse before asking anything of him. Developing a nurturing relationship, bonding on the horse physically and emotionally before each training or riding session places the horse in a more willing-to-please, trusting spot.
• The horse learns from the release of pressure, not the pressure itself. The horse will naturally steer into doing what is easiest for them, since they are energy-conserving creatures. The release of pressure feels more comfortable to them than the pressure, so they naturally steer in the direction of yielding to pressure if they know that will reap the instant release of pressure.
• Timing of the release of pressure is everything! Since horses only learn the behavior wanted via the release of pressure, it's crucial to get that release timing so split-second refined yourself when the horse does a proper "give," and it's also important to take the try, releasing that pressure there, as well, so that the horse better discovers that "window" you are opening up for him to find with the release.
• Do not release pressure when the horse is "hard," but only when he is "soft." If you release the pressure when the horse is fighting against it ("hard"), he will only learn to remain hard. If you release when he's soft, then that's what he learns: to be soft.
• However, resistance will be met with resistance. This does not mean punishment, but it does mean that when a horse resists, he will be met with resistance so that he can find the "easier window" to steer into. You do not increase the pressure at such times necessarily; the horse simply is pressuring himself when not yielding. Then, when he yields, it becomes his idea, not yours.
BASIC TENETS OF
• "Take the Try" and you'll get there faster. Allow the horse to find the route to learning a new behavior in broken-down baby steps, rewarding each try as the horse discovers the right way with your guidance. Rewarding even the baby-step efforts the horse makes along the way is what "taking the try" (releasing the pressure with even the smallest try) is all about.
• Reward for the Smallest Try, the Slightest Change and the horse will achieve what you want far faster, far softer, and build confidence far quicker.
• You must lay down a foundation in training on the ground first before a horse will understand what is being asked of him later in the saddle. Nearly all training of horses is best done on the ground first so that later cues will make sense in the saddle. Most horse problems an owner is struggling with in the saddle can be traced back to a weak on-the-ground-first foundation. Just as with building a house, the foundation of a horse's training needs to be strong, thorough and secure before expecting further training to stand up well upon it.
• A high head is a tense, on-alert horse; a low head is a relaxed horse, so teach the horse to relax and lower his head; the mind follows his body.
• Don't push horses over fear thresholds, but instead read the horse well and compassionately, and perceive the tolerance threshold ahead of time, backing up and returning to where the horse was comfortable. Then and only then, slowly work your way back up to the threshold area, retreating before the horse reacts, and you'll get past the fear threshold more quickly and easily. Our jobs are not to frighten horses, but to empathetically guide them in the directions of building confidence to overcome their fears.
• Return to bonding whenever the horse is afraid to nurture him through his fears, and he will glide through fears, regaining confidence, far more quickly.
• Horses as a rule will try to do things right, so don't constantly be reprimanding them for things done wrong. Reward successes, don't punish failures and you'll get there faster.
• Let the horse use his own mind. Present the task at hand, and then let him figure out how to get there, and he will learn far faster; he will also develop into a more rational, less fearful horse because he's learning to use his mind.
• Make the right thing easy, the wrong thing hard. Since horses naturally, instinctively, steer into the direction of what is easiest, then set it up so that what you want him to do is easiest, and what he wants to do that is wrong, harder.
• When teaching a horse a new behavior, stop while it is working! What this means is, stop while the horse is cooperating, "getting it," and the next time you come back to it, even days later, the horse will be farther along on that learning curve.
• Rub, don't pat. To reward a horse, stroke it; don't pat it. Unlike a dog, horse's don't understand patting, nor appreciate it much, though they do learn to tolerate it. Stroking simulates a mother horse licking the foal and is rewarding behavior they not only understand, but also greatly appreciate and enjoy. Plus, they have very sensitive skin and rubbing simply feels better to them than patting!
• There are generally no truly bad horses, only confused horses. Try to remember that one when working with them to learn a new behavior. They are not intentionally being "bad," they usually simply don't understand what is being requested of them. Progress (and reward!) in baby steps, smaller digestible lessons, and they will get there quicker and happier.
• The horse is the best teacher there is. Pay attention and learn from every horse you work with, and you'll be surprised what each one teaches you!
• Always end a horse session leaving the horse in a good spot! Horses have a tendency to remember most what happened at the very last in a previous session, so always leave on a positive, even if this means manufacturing a positive at the end of a particularly difficult session or ride, in order to make sure the horse is left on a positive, and he will be more willing to try again later.
• The greatest gift you can give your horse is the gift of your time. Spend time with your horse, lots of it, and he'll make it worth your while. The more time you spend with your horse, the deeper and more bonded your partnership will grow.
• Finally ... There really are no horse problems, only people problems. This one is sometimes the hardest for people to hear or to understand and maybe accept. The truth is, without man, horses do just fine! Most horse problems are man-made problems. Horses have survived for thousands of years splendidly on their own. When man steps into the picture, not fully understanding prey animal psychology and how to work with it, not against it, and instead, institutes predator psychology, problems arise. Learn and institute prey animal psychology and speak the language the horse already understands (as opposed to expecting the horse to learn the language of man) and you'll create a quiet, willing partner.
Natural Horsemanship is a lifelong learning skill. The day you think you've learned it all is the day you simply stopped learning.