Natural horsemanship seems to be a popular term in the horse world these days, intriguing to some and intimidating to others. Really, it’s quite a simple concept—the ability to enter a horse’s world and think and move in ways that communicate positively to them in “language” they understand.
This idea can be applied to many species with which we share our lives and this world. For instance:
Natural dogmanship: Watch Animal Planet and National Geographic for tips on how to think like a dog. You will learn what a dog’s priorities are—what certain body language and sounds mean and, most importantly, how to become the “alpha” in your dog’s life.
Natural catmanship: Understanding the domestic cat’s attitudes and habits has long been a source of humor, but much can be learned from the subtle ways in which felines create willing servants out of their otherwise assertive owners.
Natural livestockmanship: Read the books of Temple Grandin ( Thinking in Pictures, Animals Make Us Human, Animals in Translation) to understand the importance of caring for pets and livestock humanely and with an eye to reducing the agony that meat animals in particular endure during their short and purpose-driven lives.
To learn natural horsemanship, we start by understanding the psychology of prey animals and what is important to them. “Eyes in front, born to hunt. Eyes on the side, born to hide.” Or, in the horse’s case, born to startle, jump, and flee the area.
To help a horse overcome their natural instinct to flee is to make a horse safer to ride. How do we do this? By accepting the limitations of a horse’s world (they cannot understand the limitations of our world) and offering them what they need and seek:
“A horse doesn’t care how much you know until he knows how much you care.” –Tom Dorrance via Pat Parelli
If you take some time with your new, old, or borrowed horse, you will notice the things that are important to him or her. As you learn more about natural horsemanship, you will learn a language with which you can draw the horse to you as a leader draws followers.
Some horses may have great skepticism about what it is you offer and will require even greater patience on your part. They may balk, walk away, or become dominating. When faced with this skepticism, resolve to:
- Relax..Breath…Observe any emotions you feel.
- Put a smile on your lips
- Keep offering the relationship
- Think of the “Bigger Picture,” i.e., what is your ultimate goal with the horse?
Being able to relax and see this “bigger picture” is what will distinguish you as a true and sensitive leader and partner, rather than just another predator coming out of the bushes. Establishing a relationship on the ground, through simple games and activities, forms a bond that will help you stay safer and find more joy in the saddle.