Natural horsemanship is something you’ve probably heard many times and may well have mixed feelings about. As with anything, there will be those that swear by it as an effective means of training, and those that are cynical of its powers.

For those that are less familiar with it as a training approach, here we’ve given a basic overview. Of course, the subject is much more complex than we can possibly cover, so you would need to do your own research before going down the natural horsemanship route, as it is important to undertake it correctly from the off.

What is it?

Known as ‘horse whispering’, natural horsemanship is described as a way of reading and understanding horse behaviour. By using body language and gentle pressure and release techniques to communicate with your horse, it is believed to create a partnership based on mutual respect and confidence, and is thought to develop a strong bond between horse and human. Learning to ‘think like a horse’ is the basis for this method.

Traditional vs natural training

The merits of both traditional and more natural training approaches are fiercely debated and, as with any training, it is important to do what works best for the horse, as every horse will be different.

Many take the view that traditional methods have worked for years and, while they continue to be undertaken correctly and consistently, the results speak for themselves. For those, natural horsemanship is simply not suitable or effective.

But for some, it is. While traditional training can lean towards negative reinforcement, many describe the reinforcement used in natural horsemanship to be a more passive and pressure-based approach.

The Parelli program is often referenced when discussing natural horsemanship, as it teaches ‘Horsenality’, which is the name given to understanding the individual nature of a horse e.g. whether they are introverted or extroverted and which side of their brain they use.

Knowing where your horse sits on the chart is believed to help you better understand their innate nature and the type of training they are likely to favour, as well as giving small insights into things like which direction your horse may prefer to be ridden in.

Parelli teaches ‘7 Games’ which are designed to improve confidence in your horse and help motivate them to move in the way you desire. This method of training, along with other natural approaches, has become increasingly popular in recent years, despite coming up against fierce criticism.

Is it right for your horse?

Whichever approach you use is the right approach, providing it’s working and your horse seems happy and responsive. If something you’re trying isn’t working, it might be time to reconsider your methods and change things up.

Ultimately, labelling yourself as either a ‘traditional’ trainer or a ‘natural horseman’ is neither helpful or accurate, as often both schools of thought are applied but at different times. Also, one person’s idea of natural horsemanship in practice might be different from another’s, so the line is easily blurred.

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Please feel free to comment here.

Written by: Hannah