I've never really delved into and studied what "Natural Horsemanship" is, and I doubt I ever will, except to read smatterings here and there as it comes to my attention in one way or another. I long ago decided I wanted hands-on experience and somewhat abandoned books--even though I do have many books around my house for reference. I guess what I'm saying is, I'm not a cover-to-cover horse how-to person. The idea of ascribing to just one philosophy doesn't fit with my personality, but I love to have many different kinds of books around for specific purposes.
The reason I'm thinking about it at all, Natural Horsemanship, that is, is because of the upcoming movie, Buck. Buck Brannaman, from what I understand, falls under that school of thought, as do many of today's trainers. My farrier, who I have great respect for, worked with Ray Hunt, one of the father's of Natural Horsemanship, many years ago. He told me that once, but I didn't really understand what it meant.
Ray Hunt is quoted as saying, "If you get bucked off or kicked or bitten, you obviously did something wrong, and that's just too bad. The horse, on the other hand, is never, ever wrong".
I agree with that statement. But I'd also say that some issues horses have, (because of early mishandling) or even some horse's personalities, don't fit with certain people. So, in some cases it's, Yeah, it's your fault you got bucked off, but it's because you probably shouldn't have been on that horse to begin with.
For example, I had a friend whose horse, whenever it separated from any riding group (its herd or not) would throw huge bucking fits, and it threw her several times. My other friend, Sarah, who trains horses, took this horse, Scooby, for a week to assess the issue. (She'd been hired to assess--not "train" him---though, the two overlap).
One day, in the process, we went on a trail ride together, and she rode off from us. Sure enough, Scooby went into a huge bucking fit. She worked with him and then rode back. We talked about it on the way home and what she said to me has always stuck, and I believe it to be true. She said that, Yes, he has a problem with herd-boundness and yes, it is "fixable", but probably not with the owner he has.
The owner's equestrian skills were limited, and she didn't want to get hurt or killed--so this issue wasn't a good one for her to be working through with him. Interestingly, this horse was amazing on the ground. He was quite a character and had the best ground manners I'd ever seen. The owner did sell him to a more experienced home.
I've been thinking Natural Horsemanship, as I know it, the little bits I've heard or read here and there--the people I've seen who use it--and I'm thinking I do fall into a camp of this school of thought. (I'm not sure which camp that actually is.) I'm trying to come up with a list of things I believe that I think are simpatico with Natural Horsemanship--again--as I know it. Here is my first:
1. I believe we can learn to communicate with our horses by studying their language. Human beings are equipped with excellent reasoning skills, and we can put them to good use in learning to communicate with those who are not like us. We can imitate, mimick, and learn new ways of speaking. We can babble with babies, share forms of sign language with animals and humans and, with horses, we can move and signal in ways where they can learn to understand our meaning based upon what they've learned growing up in a herd.
How far do I take this? Do I think you should kick, bite or thrash a horse, like they do in a herd? Do I think you should keep them away from water and stand over their trough like you're a horse and not a human? Do I think you should cower and act like a young foal making weird gestures with your mouth in order to appear non-threatening? Do I think you should run them around a roundpen like crazy until they give you their undivided attention? Uh, no. Definitely "no" on all the first ones, though the last one--roundpenning--is "no" for me--but not necessarily others who know what they're doing and know when to release the pressure. (I'll tell you my experience about roundpenning in another post--key word--Cia (my young Paint filly) and why my feelings have changed about it.
I have an issue with prescriptive ways of teaching, since every human and every horse are different. Even in a herd, each leader has a different method of leading. We have two leaders in our herd, Red and Shadow.
Shadow leads by force. They really don't want to follow him and often rebel, but, in the end, he is the herd leader.
Red, on the other hand, used to be the herd leader and he's the one they would love to follow--he's the one they naturally follow. However, he's 30 now and not up to a fight--so he's assumed the second role. Every horse we introduce into the herd gravitates toward and respects Red. He doesn't chase them around needlessly until they submit. He doesn't bite or kick at them--unless they try to move into a stall or dinner before their turn. He doesn't keep them off water--unless they are flagrantly rebellious and unwilling to take their place in the herd. In other words, he does the LEAST amount to get the desired result.
I want to be like Red, and I want to talk about this more in an upcoming post. I'm also interested in your thoughts on what "Natural Horsemanship" means in your mind--and if you use elements of it--all of it--disagree with it completely. You will not offend me by disagreeing with elements of N.H. because, as I've said, I don't go to one horse "church". I'm non-denominational, when it comes to equine schools of thought.
And, if you have time, here's a video of BG being reintroduced into the herd. This is Day #1 and only the two herd leaders were out with her. She's rather used to them. However, day #2 will be included in the next post--the release of our Alpha Mare, Cowgirl, with BG. A much different experience, I must say--the musical theme of which will be--The Good, The Bad, and the UGLY!!. (Talk about a mean leader--sheesh--but more on that later, too. Cowgirl is an excellent trail horse, so I don't want to knock her too much.)
BTW, my kids think I'm crazy because I watch (and tape) my horses for hours. I really do LOVE observing them with each other. I can't get enough of it.
**You'll see she isn't leading perfectly at the beginning, and this is because she had a lot on her mind. She wanted to pay attention to me only, but she also wanted to know where the other horses were (especially Cowgirl) and all these different concerns would make her, temporarily, forget her leading manners. She was not being wilfully disobedient or challenging me--she was rightfully nervous. My response toward her was measured, gentle and reassuring, as I gave her time to become comfortable. This is the choice I made--someone else may have made a different one, but that's okay.