Thursday, March 3, 2011

What is natural horsemanship?

I consider my horsemanship journey to be about discovering what is ethical not what is natural.
Keeping horses in general and riding them especially is the farthest thing from natural no matter what trainer you follow.

Ethical treatment is what has steered me towards positive reinforcement, bitless riding, and why Bodhi does not wear shoes and why he is on pasture board. Not because it is more natural for him but because I am concerned about his welfare and well being.

It seems like every time I look around one of the natural horsemanship trainers is caught doing something unethical-- I am sure I don't need to show anyone these examples, they seem to be talked about to death on other blogs and forums.

My request: Read this take on Natural Horsemanship. They said it more concisely then I ever could. What do you think of what this author has to say?


  1. "Natural" horsemanship is just a marketing term. Some "natural" horsemanship people are good and some use methods that border on abuse, just as in the "non-natural" world. I judge each trainer, and each horseman and woman, based on what they do and don't do and the degree of their respect for the horse.

  2. What I think is interesting is that most of the modern "Natural Horseman" can trace their methods back to Bill or Tom Dorrance in some way. Both of those guys really did put the horse first and emphasized softness and feel. Problem is, their methods have become so bastardized that they are hardly recognizable anymore. I agree with Kate, it's become a marketing term and that's it.

    As for the article you linked to, I agree. I'm doing my darndest to keep my horses happy- they live in a herd out on pasture, they don't wear shoes, and I ride 90% bitless. It's still not "natural," but I do my best.

  3. I'm not a big fan of the natural horsemanship gurus who are in my opinion a bunch of predators. By preying on the beginners and people who aren't sure what they are doing on their own they are bilking them out of money and in my opinion could be causing dangerous situations. Just by watching their methods I feel they have taken the basics and added their own twist to things and of course then sell you the product you can't do without in order to achieve your goals of horsemanship. There is no substitute for good training and experience and I feel you get neither by watching videos of their methods.Sorry for the rant.

  4. My knee-jerk reactions to Natural Horsemanship were "I do not like this", "why are you swinging the rope like a madman?" and "good trainers already do this stuff". I also found the use of the word "natural" annoying.

    I made the decision to observe and try some techniques, even though I was very skeptical. My opinions changed to "I like the parts of this that help the horse and rider/trainer", "I know how, when, and why to swing the rope", and "good trainers already do this stuff, just with a different name". And, I rarely use the word "natural" in reference to horsemanship for lots of reasons.

    Anyway, the reason I am commenting is because you listed bitless as ethical, which implies that riding with a bit is unethical. Clearly, ill-fitting bits, pain-inducing bits, and crass riding would be unethical, but why is the use of a well-fitted bit by an experienced, kind hand unethical? Even if one argued that anything that a horse can do with a bit, he can do bitless, I would still say that this does not condemn the bit.

  5. Val I know what you mean, and agree. I would not say I am condemning the bit I still use my snaffle from time to time. Sorry if it sounded that absolute. When I started to think about how I could be as unobtrusive as possible when riding Bodhi that brought me to trying bitless riding. I don't think there is one right answer though. I think the important thing is for people to be thoughtful. I think everyone should have their horse's comfort and happiness in mind first.

  6. No need to apologize and no offense taken. I was just curious about your thoughts and I was not sure if you also rode bitless. Haflingers rock, by the way!