How do all the enthusiasts think that horses were trained and ridden on prior to the birth of NH?
Better on a general level, I think. Not because NH ruined people and their skills, but because historical developments. When farming society started to truly fell and more and more people were born city dwellers, some (most?) of the traditional horsemanship and horse sense was lost. Today most of horse people are not born into it, rather than that, they pick it up as a hobby. Very few people grow up in a situation where they are exposed to horses and horsemanship from and early age or daily. So the overall level of horsemanship in the population is less than it used to be.
On a concrete level, I think there always was "NH" people around. They didn't call it NH or think it was something special. They just did things that way. F.ex. My father (!! Not a horse person!) seems to be way more NH than I am and he's been with horses only as a boy with no instruction. If say "NH" to him, he doesn't have a clue. He doesn't play games. Yet he operates pretty NH with my mare, instinctively. (On a side note: Instinctive Horsemanship would be the best! Can haz program? :B)
Sure there were good and bad examples of horse breaking and riding, just like there are now. A few years ago I watched a video from 1920's or 30's where an army officer trained a 3 yo. Never-been-touched horse to first rides. Attention to the horse and the quality of that training was way better than what's generally done around here nowadays by non-NH English riders.
The feel I have though is that people pre-NH had more specific goals and better direction with their horses. They needed their horses to do X otherwise the horse wouldn't earn his upkeep. People hadn't the money to let horses become disrespectful or just stand in a box. Training was quick and to the point. Sure they had the ability to give horses time and take things slow where needed but they didn't go on all of these tangents. I think NH programs try to teach everything to everyone and people get stuck. Not every horse (in my opinion) needs to master every game, movement, exercise perfectly to do its job well. I think many horse owners have lost their sight of what's needed and important or where they are going, what they want from their horse.
So why do NH?
- good programs that show you what to do with your horse (a big problem for many people!)
- appealing sensibility
- easy to come across
- for fun (applies to people who keep horses for a hobby)
- tried everything else and it just works
... and probably a few reasons more.
The life we lead have changed drastically for many. Horse owners don't spend 16 hours out working with their horses. Families who used to depend on horses maybe haven't seen one up close in generations. People interested in horses don't have that easy access to generations' horsemanship experience. NH fills a need in many a modern lifestyle. Thank god for marketing? ;)