Natural horsemanship is really a horse training method in line with the built-in instincts, herd lifestyle and communication methods horses already use. Rather than use force, dominance, or intimidation, natural horsemanship seeks to coach the handler to communicate with the horse in ways she naturally understands. In this article we’ll review seven keys to understanding this horse training method.
1. Horses are social animals living in herds
Hroses live in large groups in the wild called herds. So, like humans they’re social creatures and just how they interact is a huge element of their identity. And like human societies, horse societies have leaders. The herd has an alpha mare and stallion that the other horses follow. Each horse knows his place in the pecking order, and of course it’s often dynamic, with horses battling to maneuver in the herd.
2. Horses are prey animals
In the wild horses are eaten by other animals. As a survival mechanism, horses come with an escape or flee mentality at the slightest hint of danger. In the world of the domesticated horse this built-in save your valuable skin by running emotion creates a lot of problems, along with a lot of training making horses safe to deal with and ride helps them think differently and become well informed. Addititionally there is the fact that humans are predators. This effects the way you look (eyes while watching head), the way we smell, and just how we approach the horse (we instinctively walk directly as much as them). Horses get these cues and recognize us as predators. Part of the natural horsemanship training program would be to recognize this and adapt to it.
3. Horses communicate through body language
Horses use many gestures to communicate. Included in this are licking the lips, head position, speed and distance of movement, body position, and ear position. In natural horsemanship, the handler learns not only to recognize these cues in the horse, but to use his own body gestures to speak.
4. Using body gestures to determine leadership
Now we can bring together a few of the earlier points. In natural horsemanship the handler learns to use body gestures – rather than force or intimidation – to determine a leadership position using the horse. Instead of using pain and fear the handler uses the same body gestures cues the alpha horse in a wild herd would use. The handler earns the confidence from the horse using cues the horse instinctively understands. The result is that the horse feels calm and safe. This builds trust with the handler.
5. Train using pressure and release
Several years ago, to train a horse to behave he’d be tied up with ropes or smacked with an a whip. Natural horsemanship uses a different approach according to positive reinforcement. In natural horsemanship pressure can be used to ask the horse to behave. This is in line with the fact that horses learn from the discharge of pressure. If you would like the horse to maneuver his forehand over, pressure is applied as a cue for the requested action. When the horse responds, the pressure is released.
6. Groundwork starts all training
Groundwork training is used to setup communication and establish our leadership with the horse. This really is partly for safety-its safer to teach a horse the cues they have to respond to on the ground first, and then carry that over towards the saddle. Some people think natural horsemanship is about groundwork, but they’re mistaken. Groundwork is only about laying down a good training foundation before going on to riding the horse.
7. Maintaining timing and consistency
Success with natural horsemanship lies in consistency and timing. This requires knowing the right moment to release the pressure, soemthing which comes about with practice and experience. Being consistent is essential for helping your horse discover the right cues and to help him quickly learn.
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