Archive for February, 2011

PostHeaderIcon Just What the Heck Is Natural Horsmanship?


For more than 6000 years, man tried to bridge the chasm between his own species, the ultimate predator, and the horse, the ultimate prey animal.  Man needed the horse to be a servant. The horse was programmed to be anything but a servant.  The man adopted his most efficient tool, brute force.  It was the basis of horsemanship practiced by the common man for millennia.

We had early natural horsemen:
Simon of Athens (400B.C.), Xenophon (430-355) and Alexander the Great are the names most well-known  by natural horsemanship students of today

The revolution in horsemanship occurred without a war, without shots fired etc.  A new theme was developed- “horses can be controlled more effectively without the use of force”. At the end of the 20th century, we no longer needed horses as servants. We invented tractor, trucks  and cars etc. Horse population plummeted.

Most of you might have heard of amazing stories of the early whisperer’s, trainers and professors. 

  • Professor Joseph Beery (1861-mid 1900′s)who started a correspondence school titled Beery School of Horsemanship.  He invented the running W to control the horse while desensitizing it. 
  • Keffery Kell (1878-1958) invented the rope with the ring on the end.  The rope with the ring is still one of the main tools of natural horsemanship methods today.
  • Monty Foreman (1915-1987) saw himself as a “research scientist for horsemanship”.  He excelled in performance rather than gentling wild horses.  He also invented the Monte Foreman Balanced Ride Saddle which is still being made today.  Not causing pain to the horse while riding certainly enhances the performance possibility of the horse.

The horse’s comeback in America started in the mid-70s.  Vietnam ended and the economy improved.  People had time for leisure activities.  Most of these people lived thru years of television (Roy Rodgers, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, etc) and western movies. 

There are thousands of people (mostly girl people) born with the invisible “horse gene”.  We all wanted a horse. Horses became pets and our hobby.

By the late 1970′s a new breed of horsemanship clinic sprung up in the west to meet the increased demand for horse education.  Old nonviolent training philosophies were presented side-by-side with modern, creative horse-handling techniques. Students liked this.  It struck a chord to their hearts and minds.

Word spread.  Followers became evangelists, students became teachers and it a matter of a few years this approach spread across America and to the rest of the world.  By the mid-90′s this became an international phenomenon.

One place where tractors and 4 wheelers did not replace horses was the Western cattle ranch.  Nothing could match a good horse to round up or cut cattle.  In California (the land of perpetual sunshine and no seasons and thus, no hurry) there was an especially rich heritage of horsemanship that traced back through the vaquero and “Californio” to Mexico and mother Spain.  They considered the horse a partner, a thinking and feeling creature that was as psychologically delicate as it was physically strong.  They built a relationship with their horse and took it to the highest levels of finesse. The vaquero was the link back to the great horsemen of the past.  They loved their horses, and for the sake of the horse, were willing to share what they had learned.

It was when their philosophies and methods fell into the hands of gifted teachers and entrepreneurs in the late 1980s that the revolution in natural horsemanship began in earnest.  It was then that clinics began introducing these techniques to the public and the systems of teaching that blended these techniques. Pat Parelli invented the word, “Natural Horsemanship in the mid-1980s.

We have a new language now. We no longer “break” a horse. We “start” a horse. We don’t work with our horses, we “play” with them and unlock their “play drive”.  “Game”s are preferred over exercises. “Discomfort” has replaced pain. “Joining up” or “hooking on” demonstrates the special relationship that develops between our two species. Words once used exclusively by scientists and behaviorists are used in the natural horsemanship world:  sensitization, habituation, dominance hierarchy, conditioned response and alpha behavior are a few.

Groundwork, the handling of horses from the ground is a study in itself.  Most behavior problems, even those experienced while riding, are solved by groundwork.

The most important term is “rewarding the try”.  You’ll find a lot of nice horse people in the world, but they never reward the try (release is what teaches) with an instant reward. They do not practice natural horsemanship. With patience, persistence and consistency in the asking, the horseman helps the horse find the correct answer.

Horses have become agents of change in the world that we live in.

  • Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books have turned into The Black Stallion Literacy Project and becomes the first book a child ever owns and flames the desire to read.
  • The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association has channel the healing power of the horse to empower emotionally and physically challenged disabled people of all ages.
  • America’s justice system is using horses to rehabilitate prisoners, gang members at at-risk youth. The rate of recidivism among participates is at an all-time low.
  • Corporate boardrooms are using the principles of natural horsemanship to teach the arts of gentle persuasion, benevolent leadership and nonverbal communications to produce better managers and happier employees…and a bigger profit margin.

The horse has become a reason and a vehicle of self-improvement.  A relationship with nature’s most magnificent beast, the horse, is the carrot on the stick that keeps us moving forward, striving to be better people.

Natural Horsemanship makes better horses and it makes us better people.  Find a teacher of natural horsemanship and learn the techniques.  That’s what happened to me! It has changed my life. The study of natural horsemanship is still in the process of changing my life. I want to be a vaquerro!

If you are intrigued by this concept or want to know more about the Revolution in Horsemanship buy the book of that name.  The book was written by Robert. M. Miller D.V.M. and Rick Lamb. My article is copied exclusively from 347 pages of this book. You can buy this book used on  I highly recommend this book to everyone that has an interest in horses.

The book is dedicated to Tom Dorrance, the father of this revolution in horsemanship.

PostHeaderIcon Nova is a Blessing

Snow in Missouri.  Stacks and stacks of it.  My truck and trailer have been buried.  I forgot how to ride a horse in six weeks.

This was a big day.  I got the truck and trailer out of the snow drifts.  Now to get the horse out of the barn.  There’s still a foot of snow out there and it’s hard to walk thru.

I tried to open the barn door. Drat, the cord that hangs on the door was buried in 3″ of ice.  I hacked and hacked with a shovel to get that cord loose.  I raised up the barn door only to find another door piece stuck under the ice.

I gave that up.

I led Nova into the tack room and out the human door.  Dripping water was making noises, but she was OK in tack room.  We found a bag of horse treats and had a good time with those.

Next out the door where my tractor is stuck. Well a hose broke and that hose is very important to forwards and backwards on the tractor.  Nova just took the tractor in stride.

I have a narrow path where I walk and we have to pass by the tractor with the round bale spike on the back.  Nova walked in the snow and I walked in the path.  Usually she gets somewhat excited to leave the other horses, but she was calm today.  That was good because my footing was tricky slick.   She was very interested in staying with me.  It might have been because we stopped every now and then and she got a treat!

We made it to a wider gravel path where I could walk freely.  We made it to the trailer.  It had some frozen spots of ice on the floor by the door, but that didn’t bother Nova at all.

She loaded and we left home.  I got to ride today in a lesson with Tony Vaught!  We learned a lot.  Nova and I have lots of homework. We have seven days of forecast without snow.  I’m going to be riding now!

The big arena at Pine Dell Farm has mirrors in the back now. When Nova and I were leaving, I decided she should “see herself” for the first time!

She was mighty interested too.  She fogged up the mirror trying to smell herself! Her conclusion was, “I am a beautiful horse!”

It was a wonderful day!


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