To be utterly cynical about it, I would suggest that the behaviour of all organisms, including us, is dictated to a large extent by the Skinnerian paradigm of operant conditioning. That means a behaviour increases or decreases depending on the nature of the reinforcement. Behaviour increases in frequency when it is positively reinforced and it also increases when a negative reinforcer is removed. Behaviour decreases in frequency when the outcome is punishment. You can have either a positive punishment, which can be either the removal of something the organism wants, or the direct application of an unpleasant stimulus.
Pretty much all horse training systems I have encountered are fundamentally based on these principles, whether the systems are classified as natural horsemanship or not. How do you think pressure and release works? The release rewards the behaviour you want, which will then hopefully increase. That's why timing is so fundamentally important -- the horse needs have an idea of what he did that stopped you from applying pressure. Most good horsemen and women apply all types of operant conditioning, as needed in the situation at hand.
I could pick every NH training system apart and find these ideas underpinning all of it, same as any good non-NH trainer. But -- as as been said here before -- it's handy as an explanatory tool for people. Talking about pressure, release, timing, feel, etc. sounds far more friendly than explaining more or less the same thing in the technical academic terms I used above. :)
On top of that, I'd emphasise the importance of an understanding of equine behaviour, body language, and cognition. Such knowledge gives you the means to set up situations in which desirable behaviour can be rewarded and also the ability to communicate a reward or the application and release of pressure effectively. Improving understanding of this doesn't erode the operant conditoning at the heart of all training but it does give us tools for employing it more clearly and effectively.
While I think I have a good relationship with my horse, we trust each other, etc (I guess you never know for sure, but all the evidence I have supports that hypothesis), I've read Skinner and she hasn't, which puts me in a position of power in terms of my ability to get her to do things.
Last edited by thesilverspear; 08-09-2011 at 10:05 PM.