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Just What is Natural Horsemanship Anyway? Part I

3/4/2014 Bob Burrelli, Trainer/Clinician
                    

It goes back thousands of years to the celebrated Greek Officer, Xenophon. Natural Horsemanship all but died off during the World War II era. More than 143,000 horses were sent across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe for military purposes. Most never came back. What did survive was a brutal form of horsemanship that involved beating and submission because horses needed to be broken quickly and therefore many horseman in the United States adopted that technique as standard. All that brutal beating plus the equipment that was used was never the right way.

Quick results are never best results. The two men that we owe everything to who shed light back to the way it was in the beginning, are two brothers named Tom and Bill Dorrance. Back as early as 1910, these two brothers started what we call Natural Horsemanship which helps us understand true unity and a willing communication between horse and human.

First, Natural Horsemanship embodies certain philosophical and spiritual beliefs. We must understand that the horse is the best teacher. We learn from the horse. The horse is a sentient animal with real needs. Decision making abilities and emotions that we should understand and cultivate in our training with him. Our training with the horse should be based on mutual respect rather than dominance. We should always have the horse’s best interest in mind. Our goal should be a willing partner with the horse, a kinship in which the horse reaches toward a mutual desired choice, in response to an absolute minimum of signaling or pressure. Ideally, by following our focus and visualization.

I believe horses naturally have a tremendous faith in humans. It is their natural instinct of self preservation that the person needs to understand in order to gain the confidence of the horse. Horses are by nature willing creatures who want to get along with us. What we perceive as misbehavior is actually the horse making a logical decision for self preservation or to obey what humans have previously unwittingly taught him. In Natural Horsemanship, rather than restrain the horse to the correct action only, training methods enable the horse to choose between multiple options in which the right choice is easy, the wrong choice difficult.

To make the wrong choice difficult Natural Horsemanship uses negative reinforcement rather than punishment. Punishment is after the fact retribution, often applied with anger. Negative reinforcement is an influence that guides the horse toward the desired response, is released the moment shows a try in the right direction, and is never delivered in anger.

That negative reinforcement we use in Natural Horsemanship isn’t necessarily negative, in the sense of being scary or painful, and it doesn’t necessarily involve physical contact at all. The rider should feel for the horse, use the lightest possibly signals, and immediately release when the horse delivers the correct response, rather than after the request is fully obliged.

The timing of the release is crucial.

You should always offer the horse the best deal first. Seek to influence the horse’s mind first and then his body. I can’t stress enough as a natural horseman, I must change the inside of the horse first before I change the outside. It’s like raising children, the attitude of the heart must change first. Once that happens, the outside will follow.

In the next issue we will continue Part II with the discussion of Natural Horsemanship.

Bob Burrelli

Trainer/Clinician is dedicated to excellence in Natural Horsemanship.

Check out his website at www.bobburrelli.com .

                
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