The Essence of Horsemanship
This thread is NOT about putting anyone down or saying any method is better than the others. I want everyone to try to see horsemanship objectively for once, please. If anyone even begins to say anything negative or put any trainer or method down I will ask to have the thread closed immediately. The forum has people from all around the world, in all different disciplines and from completely different backgrounds; every single one of the members is allowed to have their own opinion and method.
I've been around in the horse world quite a bit, mainly in the english disciplines. I started at a breeding farm where I colt-broke young horses and trained green horses. Then I moved and I boarded my horse at an NH barn but continued to do jumping. After that I moved to a dressage barn and I saw the nightmares of sport but also the best parts of sport(two different trainers). Then I moved again to a smaller dressage/jumper barn where I saw the ignorance of sport... I've been to competitions, clinics and had many different trainers. That's a brief summary of my back ground.
I was reading a few threads in the NH section and I really wanted people to be able to be more open minded to horsemanship rather than pick fights about what's right and wrong.
What is horsemanship? Put in the simplest way: Communicating with horses. What is natural horsemanship? Communicating with horses naturally. Key word: communicating. Where do we draw the line? We draw the line the minute we put a halter on a horse. Because what is "natural communication"? It's becoming part of the herd and communicating as a horse. Well how are you going to halter train a horse if you're a horse. Right, you can't. The closest thing you can get to natural horsemanship is the amount you use it in your training. To be dead honest, the phrase "natural horsemanship training" has been overused as a marketing scam. That's an oxymoron. You can't train a horse 100% naturally but you can communicate with a horse 100% naturally because training a horse is unnatural for a horse. Yes, things like collection may come naturally, but when you train a horse to do that to a certain signal(not a natural horse signal), that is no longer 100% natural. That does not make it bad. So then what is natural horsemanship? Think of it in a whole different way, in two parts: natural communication and good horsemanship (understanding of horss). Both combined into "natural horsemanship". But really, I can only see good horsemanship and bad horsemanship. The degree of how natural the communication is can differ. However, the horse should always be treated well. People can develope their own methods and opinions but it is EXTREMELY important for them to stay open minded and willing to learn.
Communication is the key. A lack of communication is worse, and usually ends with a worse situation, than harsh communication.
Communication...can it be explained? Can I really explain this in a thread? No.
The essence of horsemanship is understanding horses.
I have read countless books. I've read books by dressage trainers and many NH trainers. They led me off track because I tried to understand horses the way they did and it didn't work. I can't become another horse trainer and I can't use another horse trainer's methods exactly the way they do it unless I understand a horse exactly how they do. And that I can't do. Maybe it works for you but I doubt that the best horse trainers in the world learned everything from books. Maybe they lead you in the right direction and help you understand, but they do the opposite for me. Do it your way but learn how to extract knowledge and don't get sucked into unwavering opinions.
Dominance is the step after communication, which comes after understanding. It is important that they come in that order. When they don't, that is when there is abuse; if you have read some of Hempfling's books, he calls it 'chaos'. How do you expect to communicate with a horse if you don't understand the horse. How do you expect to establish leadership if you can't communicate?
Once you have dominance you can train. This is a very simple way to put it.
Once you have the foundation, you can train. There is no one way to train. And a good horseman has the foundation. Going back to natural horsemanship, the foundation could be as much as 100% natural communication, and then the large the amount that is natural for the training, the more it is "natural horsemanship".
Let's look at a well-known horseman: Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling. He understands horses, he communicates with horses and he established dominance with every horse he meets. The way he trains each horse is completely different. He is an excellent example as to what a horseman should be. Training can't be a set method, because if you understand horses and understand the differences in horses, then you can understand that the training must also be different.
The red line separates that because that is where different trainers have different methods( or even the same trainer like Hempfling). The principals in the foundation are the same but they set up for the opportunity for different training(individual to each horse). The differences could be very subtle or very obvious.
The foundation is possible to be 100% natural and as I've seen it, that is the best way it can be done. When things like bits, whips, 2 by 4's, ropes, and other training tools are used for the foundation it usually works but the results in the training don't bring out the best in the horse. Usually there is a break in the foundation too, usually understanding and so the trainer leans on training tools. The foundation can be built in seconds or minutes, it is not the training thereafter.
Often, if dominance hasn't been properly established, the is an on going fight, silent or not, and training tools can be used to hide it or repress it.
The training thereafter can be so so different. That is when training tools actually become tools(as simple as a halter or as complex as a bit). That is when there is negative or positive reinforcement training. All with a great need for the correct foundation in the trainer and the relationship between that horse and trainer. The trainer decides what they want to achieve and how they want to do it but yet again I emphasize the need for a proper foundation.
The best thing I have found to help me with horses is going with my gut.
If you understand horses, in any situation it is best to almost stop thinking and just communicate with the horse. And an important last note: you must also be confident and happy. When you are sad and frustrated you act with emotion, and the foundation is lost.
If this made you really angry for some reason, please PM me rather than start a fight in the thread. If you are willing to be nice and open minded then please respond with your own opinions.
Horsemanship comes down to one thing for me.
That is the ability to see the strengths and weaknesses in each animal and be able to work with the horse to attain the best that horse can give within those boundaries.
SP just wanted to say this looks like a great post. I haven't had chance to digest it properly, so will look forward to reading it and considering it later when I can give it the time it deserves.
I think of my relationship with my horses is that of mutual understanding, mutual respect, and a whole lot of common adventures. I don't think of myself as being dominant out there. I suppose that sometimes what I ask can turn into a demand and yes I am a convincing force to say the least if need be. But I prefer to make friends and cooperate. If that means we're not going to do something today then I change the plan so that we can both be winners.
I think that the word 'dominance' is taken in the wrong way too often. Dominance is associated with force and feelings like anger, am I wrong? In my post I also used the phrase "establishing leadership" because the word 'dominance' seems somewhat harsh. Think of dominance the way horses feel it, not the way humans do. Horses need a leader, they need you to be a leader in order for them to trust you. In being the leader, you are the "alpha", the lead mare. To put it more simply, imagine that you walked into your horse's field/pasture/pen and they charged at you with their ears back. Then they are the leader. They are only being a horse though. You can't put human feelings into the hierarchy of horses. Dominance does not mean that the dominant one is the only winner. In a herd of horses, is the lead mare the only winner? The herd relies on her but she is not the only winner. If you aren't ready to be the dominant one, the leader, then the horse will naturally become that. In which case they are the one fending for the "herd". Why would they trust you then? Dominance also does not have to be achieved harshly. For example, the horseman Hempfling often does it ten feet away from the horse. Dominance isn't whipping a horse until it gives in. I saw a reputable trainer encounter a horse that would not give in to force, ever, and it was obvious that their foundation was flawed. It was my horse.
TheLovedOne: I so agree!
SPhorsemanship: you're right about that word "dominance" -- leadership IS much better, something TheLovedOne and I can probably both accept.
One thing about this thread's topic: it seems to assume that most people in the sport of horses are generally involved with horsemanship. But around here, it's not uncommon for someone (usually a man) to say he "can't ride, I rope." I see this in the polo sport too.
I don't mean to be critical, but people do things for so many reasons, and sometimes, they hardly notice there's a horse involved, let alone a sentisive, intelligent animal in its own right.
Forgot to say: excellent analysis, thank you! "Well how are you going to halter train a horse if you're a horse" -- that's funny, but true!
SPH, Beling I totally agree. It sounds funny but I'm the horse mama. That is how I feel around them. Oh God can't imagine having someone charge at me with their ears pinned... it just doesn't happen to me. It sounds like SPH you've got a very sensitive horse. I have one too and he was never abused but he is the top boy most of the time - this position is split between him and my belgian draft. I think too that we do have to be careful with our words and sadly the dominance thing has been taken too far with some folks.
Totally agree, I am currently apprenticing at a natural horsemanship training farm that also focuses on natural feeding/healing/living and holistic care. It's interesting seeing the horses come in for training and 90% have been ruined. They don't trust their owners, and the pattern has been for so long that it's quite difficult to reverse there ideas about it. I mean we can build a leadership/relationship and get their focus/respect/trust etc, but they still go back to their owners and the original heirarchy remains, unless the owner is quite willing (fairly rare) to commit to the training. It's frustrating.
YoungCowgirl that must be frustrating.
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