How do YOU define the difference between 'natural' and 'Traditional' training - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 58 Old 10-04-2012, 11:55 PM Thread Starter
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How do YOU define the difference between 'natural' and 'Traditional' training

I keep seeing statements that make it look as though those who are 'Natural Horsemanship' disciples think all 'traditional' trainers are barbaric savages that yank, spur and club a horse into submission.

Many of them also seem to think that a 'Natural Horsemanship' label insures that a person never disciplines a horse and can pet and talk it into doing anything they want. Actually, I think 'Natural' is a horrible way to describe training methods. NOTHING about riding and training is natural to the horse. It is not natural to sit up on top of a horse. It is not natural to fasten something tightly around a horse's belly. There is nothing natural about teaching a horse to accept unnatural things. There are just easy 'common-sense' or crude ways to teach it.

Personally, I have found that many (not all) people who profess to be really into 'Natural Horsemanship' just want to play games, do ground work ad nauseam and seldom get to a very proficient level of riding or training under saddle. For me, it is kind of like "Those who ride well -- DO. Those who can't ride well, go back and play more games and do more ground work." Is this fair and accurate? Probably not, but I have not seen much getting done by most NH disciples that I have met and this assessment has sure fit most of them.

I really equate my training with both. I use what I would call completely 'natural' (mostly 'pressure and release') methods to train green un-spoiled horses. I do not use what I would call 'force' on any un-trained horse. I can go through horse after horse after horse and never have a confrontation of any kind, never have to 'get after' them and never have to put very much pressure on one. But, I call this 'Traditional Training' as I have always trained a horse that anyone can ride and handle, is completely respectful, requires no force to get him to continue doing what I have taught him to do but does not argue or need to be 'talked' into anything. He is obedient without being afraid of his rider / handler. He respects and obeys everything he is asked to do.

To make this a reality, we use the following order in training:

1) Never ask a horse to do anything that he is not ready and able to do.

2) Ask in a simple and concise way that does not confuse the horse. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing more difficult.

3) Do not accept anything less than full compliance.

If a horse is ready to do what you ask him to do, it does not take fear and intimidation to get it done. I call this Traditional training using natural methods.

To me, if a horse comes with a whole laundry list of things you have to do, cannot do or need to do a certain way -- well, that horse has trained his rider and not the other way around.

Now, when you have to stop spoiled, bad or even dangerous behaviors, I have never found any way as effective as interrupting the bad behavior in a way that is uncomfortable to the horse. In other words 'negative reinforcement' or punishment for the bad behavior. To me, this is totally different than 'teaching' an un-spoiled horse.

So, this is my quick view on what is traditional and natural training. What is YOUR view on the difference?

Gee! I am tired and just rambling now.


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post #2 of 58 Old 10-05-2012, 12:06 AM
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I think of the situation as the horse world's democrats (NHers) and republicans (TDers). Hahah. They all have similar basic principles, but people really like to harp on their differences and the two never seem to get along.

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post #3 of 58 Old 10-05-2012, 12:11 AM
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I do groundwork but I certainly wouldn't consider my methods "NH". Some of it involves liberty training, some involves free-schooling (tacked up), some of it involves groundwork over cavaletti or poles, some of it teaching (still pretty basic) dressage movements on the ground. I do it for all different reasons and I would probably do less of it with some horses than I would with others. Most of the stuff I do can be found in schools for classical dressage, and also in some of the better modern dressage approaches (e.g. the work of Reiner Klimke). I find it a good way to introduce concepts and see the horse move without a rider, but once something's done on the ground it's time to move it into the saddle IMHO.

Not that I have anywhere near your training experience, Cherie, (like a pebble to your mountain!) I've tried to build some principles into everything I do and every training decision I make - and they're the same as your three. I'd also throw in "slow and steady", and recognising the physical development of the horse takes time. I've always found negative reinforcement to be successful in stopping bad behaviour, however I do let a horse know when he's done a good job (vocal praise, maybe a scratch if appropriate) when learning something new or improving a skill.

So, traditional vs. natural? Are they even at opposite ends of the scale, really? You can teach something using the natural instincts of the horse (I guess what the whole NH thing is supposed to be about) in a very traditional approach - isn't working with the instincts how horses are properly trained? What does traditional training equal? I think you can train cruelly or kindly, effectively or ineffectively, properly or improperly. But not naturally or traditionally.
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post #4 of 58 Old 10-05-2012, 12:52 AM
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I reckon that the idea of 'natural horsemanship' is a mix of Pat Parelli, Bob Miller, and the average person's idea of what a horse is which for the less experienced, is probably based more on a fantasy than on actual experience. I think that it probably becomes clear to anyone who's around horses long enough that it's not the method that counts but what you yourself can do with a horse. On the other hand, these packaged methods do have their place in that they're a good hook for the newbie to get into horses. The idea itself, of getting along with a horse is what attracted me at first and without the marketing I and a lot of people might never even consider that such a possibility exists.

Pat Parelli certainly isn't the be-and-end all of horsemanship though, that's for sure. He's just the best salesman. No offense to Pat! (he gets money!)
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post #5 of 58 Old 10-05-2012, 01:37 AM
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Well, before I ever learned anything about NH methods, I spent some years at a barn where horses were allowed behavior on the ground that I would not now tolerate. For example, when leading the hrose, the handler would be choking up on the lead rope, maybe using a chain across the nose to handle an unruly horse, and the horse would be trotting alongside, going ahead of the human, turning sideways and pulling on the lead. The horse would not be mentally "with" that person at all. But this was not something that the handler would even notice. they would assume this is normal behavior and must be tolerated and just accepted. The horse would be moved to the cross ties, and would be tacked up and ridden. So what if it acted silly on the leadline and nearly stepped on you? you still had a spunky horse to ride. So what if it barged through the gate into the arena?? So what if you had to physically take hold of the bit and pull the hrose here or there for it to move? So what if you never used any kind of behavioral analysis and worked to "make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard". Instead, if the hrose was spooking at one corner, you just stayed on better and If the horse wouldnt' stop well, you got a harsher bit, or really leaned back more.

Now, as I have had about 7 years of off and on learning about NH I think quite differently about horses. I look a lot more at how the horse is behaving on the ground, and how much of his thought you really ARE engaging when you are around him or on him. It has made me much more able to feel the horse , even under saddle, and is extremely engaging to ME mentally.

However, , things are now coming back full circle as I am learning more about old methods, such as longlining, that are very usefull , and I dont' so quickly poo-poo the traditional ways anymore. STil, I am eternally grateful for having a teacher that emphasized " you ride the horse's mind. Look to see that it's with you".
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post #6 of 58 Old 10-05-2012, 01:49 AM
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Originally Posted by tinyliny View Post
STil, I am eternally grateful for having a teacher that emphasized " you ride the horse's mind. Look to see that it's with you".
Gosh that quote is so true! Brilliant!

I know what you mean about leading manners - I see that a lot in racing stables and places where people with not necessarily a lot of training experience are handling "hot" horses. Funnily enough, we were taught to hold the lead tight 10 cm below the chin and have the horse walk at the shoulder. I quickly figured out that 30 seconds spent getting respect when I went into the stall (basically just asking them to move away from the door) meant that I was leading so-called "crazy" fed-to-the-eyeballs TBs and warmbloods (not to mention my wannabe stallion) along on a slack lead, with their nose politely at my shoulder... These days I don't let Brock get an inch in front of me - I see it as a mark of disrespect and don't tolerate it. But I also don't put constant pressure on the halter (I don't need to), he gets a quick jerk if he stops paying attention to me then back to being relaxed again.
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post #7 of 58 Old 10-05-2012, 02:15 AM
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Cherie, you seem to have written my thoughts!

Being a Brit, I have followed the same method with young horses all my life. This is not a 'fixed' method as each horse is different but the routine is the same. Taking that the horse knows how to lead then the routine is teach to lunge, long rein, lean over the horses back, get on and ride.

There are rarely any problems if it is all done so the horse understands.

The one thing that always surprises me is that how people do not grasp that it is the little things that count in training. Having the horse step back to give you room when you enter the stable, having the horse stand still in the stable when it is not tied. Not allowing it to walk towards the open door until invited.
It takes very little time to teach these things, but once established the manners move to outside of the stable.

Very well said.
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post #8 of 58 Old 10-05-2012, 02:58 AM
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Excellent post Cherie.
I don't understand the preaching of 'natural horsemanship' at all. And my experienced with such 'preachers' is much the same as your own. People who are too scared, or lack the skill, to work the horse well under saddle. They save themselves the embarassment after talking themselves up, if they stick to so called 'natural horsemanship' and get to play games on the ground and occassionally get on the horse for a walk around the paddock in a halter.

I ride Dressage - if you are of the 'natural' horsemanship school of though, this is about as 'traditional' training as you can get, with its ultilitarian background.
I train my horses using pressure/release, exactly in the steps that Cherie has stated above. Not asking the horse to do more than it is capeable of achieving, and certainly not accepting anything less than full compliance. The "Parelli" trained horses that I have dealt with previously, have all been far below the level of manners I expect from my horses. They are not to come into my space, if they try to exert dominance over me they will know about it.
Now to me, that system is pretty 'natural' - my 2 year old has copped some very hefty kicks from my older gelding when he's gotten too close to the old boys food!
I believe that trying to make 'friends' with the horse by treating it nicely, and not using any negative reinforcement is to the detriment of both horse and handler/rider. You are setting yourself up for disaster. I like to know that if worst comes to worst and something really spooks my horse, it will be respectful and trusting enough of me, to not leap on top of me.

~Horse & Hound Artistry~.

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post #9 of 58 Old 10-05-2012, 03:40 AM
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When I just started learning about horses, I was a hot-headed NH "preacher", because all the most popular "traditional" stables around were infamous with bad training methods and mistreated horses, and not just in my imagination. However, as time passed and my experience grew, I learned that "traditional" does not make somebody a bad horseman, and "NH" does not mean automatically good horse sense. I now train my horse and educate myself both in different NH principles and in classical dressage with a professional "traditional" trainer, whose methods I value and appreciate how this new knowledge helps me and my horse. And, in the end, there is no "NH" or "traditional" left - just common horse sense.

I have come a long way, to surrender my shadow to the shadow of my horse.
/James Wright/
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post #10 of 58 Old 10-05-2012, 07:47 AM
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I think Natural horsemanship is some what doing training methods in a way the horse can understand in his own nature, by using body communication horses use and understand.

The foolish reject what they see, not what they think,
The wise reject what they think, not what they see.
-Huang Po
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