• Create an account
    Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required.

“Natural Horsemanship” What is its Message?

In the world of “Natural Horsemanship”, there is a widely used phrase “be as soft as possible and as firm as necessary.” It you ask 20 people what Natural Horsemanship means, you will get 20 different answers. There is also a growing concern about how firm is too firm and how gentle is too gentle.

If you have ever watched a herd of horses competing for leadership, you will see just exactly how much pressure it will take to get the point across. Why is this an important issue to get resolved? The word “natural” associates and aligns itself easily with increasingly popular environmental idealism. It grabs the attention of a growing group of people who are already recycling, driving hybrids and buying earth-friendly dish soap. It also reminds me of the term “organic.” Some years ago, this term was coined to mean the food they produced was free from pesticides, chemical fertilizers and other potentially hazardous ingredients. Today, largely due to the fact that organics became such a desirable marketing tool, it is used to develop consumer confidence.

Rick Lamb, a well-respected advocate of “Natural Horsemanship”, articulates this subject by describing it this way:

“Natural Horsemanship begins with clearing one's mind of preconceptions and making a serious study of the nature of the horse as a unique animal species. It then requires a commitment to working with the horse's nature rather than against it. The specifics of the training methods don't matter as much as the underlying principles. A carpenter must understand wood. A mechanic must understand cars. A doctor must understand biology. Viewed this way, a natural horseman is simply an effective horseman, for any person who attempts to work with horses without understanding and respecting their nature is doomed to failure.”

  Rick Lamb

So how could you be doomed to failure? To answer the questions of “firmness vs. gentleness” and “why is this an important issue to get resolved?” you need to understand what has taken place in the last decade. There has been an alarming groundswell by animal rights advocates and other well-meaning animal lovers to treat horses with an “unnatural kindness.” Having a balance between firmness and gentleness is a very difficult message to get across to the riding public because it is an emotional and subjective topic that requires timing, feel, and accurate knowledge. Some clinicians take a head-on approach to the issue of firmness. Others dance around the issue to ensure they don’t offend anyone, and hope the real message woven between the lines comes through to those who are savvy enough to recognize it. I believe it is important to educate the public as to the true nature of a horse and to help them to fully understand the term we call “Natural Horsemanship.” Many clinicians avoid this term by saying, “There is nothing natural about putting a bridle and a saddle on a horse.” This only sidesteps the education process and excuses them from explaining the true nature of a horse.

How do we train a horse to do what we want, and how do horses learn new behaviors? “Natural Horsemanship” uses operant conditioning (operant conditioning deals with the modification of "voluntary behavior"). The word discipline means teaching - a type of “mental regulation” - but, it also uses something else; “negative reinforcement.” When a behavior (response) is followed by the removal of an aversive stimulus (commonly seen as unpleasant) and repeated over and over, it becomes a conditioned response. Many “Natural Horsemanship” trainers refer to their relationship with the horse not as a partnership, but as a “benevolent dictatorship.” The fact that this is a type of dictatorship and it is a removal of a negative reinforcement implies a more or less unpleasant training process. When we look at the behavior of a horse in a herd dynamic, we also see leadership - persuasiveness through force in the form of kicking, biting, bolting, striking, pushing and refusing to move. So, if we are honest with ourselves and look closely at what real horsemanship requires, we will see it is not all fluff and that we cannot treat “Precious” with the attitude of “don’t scold my horse because you will hurt his feelings.” “Natural Horsemanship” requires us to stand our ground and be a leader.

So, to answer the question of “why is this an important issue to get resolved?”many people get hurt every year because they lack the understanding that their sweet little pet can act in a way that is natural in the horse world but not in the human world. Trainers who understand the way a horse thinks and try to correct problems that may have been created by someone less educated, run the risk of being criticized by the animal rights advocates for being cruel. Many times these unwanted behaviors were created in the first place by the owner or handler’s fear of getting hurt. When a horse displays a behavior that may threaten the well-being of the owner or handler, it often paralyzes them so as to not react in time to fix the unwanted behavior; hence the horse learns how to display an unwanted and perhaps dangerous behavior.

Ultimately, realistically, and biblically, a human life is more valuable than that of an equine. As stewards of this life force, we need to protect both our life and that of the equine. To do so, we need to behave in a way that will bring honor to both species. Being as gentle as possible and as firm as necessary is a requirement for true leadership, but did you notice that failure to get the response is not an option? Once you place your request on the table, you must be prepared to go the distance - for as long as it takes - and turn up the heat to get compliance. In the equine world, leadership is manifested through controlling the feet in six directions and at three major speeds through the release of negative stimulus. This answer is still subjective as to how much is too much pressure; however, that distinction lies in the education of realistic methods of training laid out in the observation of herd behavior know as

“Natural Horsemanship.” “A natural horseman is simply an effective horseman, for any person who attempts to work with horses without understanding and respecting their nature is doomed to failure.”

Add comment

Security code


Written on 11/01/2016, 12:26 by admin
modern-vs-classical-dressage-is-there-a-differenceModern vs Classical Dressage, is there a difference? You Have you ever heard of an instructor say "I only teach classical principles" or "classical dressage"? After all, isn't Western Dressege built on classical principles? I can't recall anyone bragging about teaching competitive or modern...
Written on 23/04/2015, 11:23 by admin
genghis-khan-in-the-art-of-riding-correctlySomehow I don’t think Genghis Khan of the Mongol Empire (1162-1227 AD) rode "two handed” in a curb bit while cutting off the the heads of his enemies on horse back.  For years I have felt that my rants have fallen on death ears. I am glad that I am not the only person that feels...
Written on 23/02/2015, 13:06 by admin
light-handsWhat does the term "Light Hands” or "Soft Feel" mean to you in regards to Western Dressage? What can we learn from great leaderships like Ronald Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower? The USA won the cold war in part because President Reagan was willing to back up his words with unyielding...
Written on 11/02/2015, 09:08 by admin
new-article Where has common sense gone these days? Have you ever seen something that made you shake your head in disbelief? This reminds me of a phrase I have heard: “If you tell a lie long enough, it becomes the truth.”  “Wisdom is not just the use of knowledge, to properly use wisdom you...
Written on 11/05/2014, 09:01 by admin
seeking-truth-one-hand-at-a-time “The greatest enemy of knowledge is "NOT" ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”  ― Daniel J. Boorstin, The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself What does the above statement mean to you? What is the best way to gain power and infuence over folks? The...
Written on 20/03/2013, 18:25 by admin
what-does-true-collection-look-like Randy, "How do I know that I am doing Western Dressage correctly?" That is a great question, I am glad you asked. I get this question quite often. It would be helpful if the water was not so muddy, right? To help answer this question I have a few questions for you as well. "Are you a truth seeker...
Written on 10/03/2013, 13:49 by admin
proper-use-of-holding-a-bridle-horseRiding out on the trail or schooling, riders often hold their reins in whatever way is most comfortable or useful. Riding casually, we might use two hands, or cross the reins, or switch frequently from hand to hand, but in the horse show ring, rules are very specific about how the reins are held, and...
Written on 01/01/2013, 21:31 by admin
the-what-is-the-difference-the-five-ws-of-western-dressageThe “What is the Difference?” "The Five W's of Western Dressage": “What? Why? Who? Where? When?” Do you need an excuse to be with your horse? If you are like me, probably not. Even mucking Carbon's stall is enjoyable; I love every minute I spend with my boy. Have you ever gotten on your horse and...
Written on 28/12/2012, 23:58 by admin
demystifying-the-pyramid-what-is-the-training-scaleDemystifying The Pyramid "Training Scale?" Do you remember sitting in high school and not understanding the question that everyone else seemed to know the answer to?  Do you remember being so afraid to raise your hand that you pretended you already knew the answer and regretted it when the...
Written on 15/12/2012, 21:31 by admin
the-five-ws-of-western-dressageThe “Why?” "The Five W's of Western Dressage": “What? Why? Who? Where? When?” In the last year, there have been lots of people asking, “What is Western Dressage?” You may have seen an article or two labeled, “What is Western Dressage?” Simply put, Western Dressage is a method of training that brings...
Written on 15/10/2012, 18:00 by admin
snaffle-vs-curbI have a question, Randy: If a horse goes nicely in a snaffle, why do you need to change to a curb or (bridle)? Good question, here is the answer: "Very few folks can ride bridlelss, but even fewer can ride with a bridle!" ~ Eitan Beth-Halachmy The simple truth is that you do not need a...
Written on 14/10/2012, 16:37 by admin
what-did-your-horse-teach-you-today  Question: I have a beautiful 9 year old Paint/Qtr gelding. He hadn't been handled in over a year before we brought him home, but we've been handling him everyday. However, most of the handling has been allowing him to graze on the lead. Last weekend, I attempted to give him some wormer...
Written on 29/09/2012, 15:08 by admin
the-use-of-the-curb-bit-a-lower-levels Bethe Mounce Question---"why the curb chain and not a plain snaffle? This is lower level dressage, right?"This question is in reference to riding Western Dressage tests in a curb bit or snaffle bit. I am not sure if I fully understand the question, but  you mention a curb chain… I think...
Written on 29/09/2012, 15:03 by admin
why-use-a-cavasenRandy I have a question, "why do you use a Cavesson?"thanks Brock HolbrookThat is a great question and here is my answer: Analogy:Think of using a cavesson like you would if you went to the orthodontist to get braces put on your teeth. It is a temporary tool to fix a problem. Once the problem is...
Written on 22/06/2012, 22:40 by admin
randy-byers-truth-revealed"Rearing and flipping over backwards is the single most dangerous thing a horse can do!"Why does a horse rear?Rearing is a refusal to go forward or an evasion to your "go forward" aids or cues!""How do you fix a rearing problem? Simply put, "keep the horse's feet moving in any direction except...
Written on 11/04/2012, 12:29 by admin
what-is-a-bridle-horseDeveloping a good "Western Dressage Bridle Horse" is all about your expectations of what you want in a "finished horse". There are many training methods claiming that they are the only correct way to train a horse. Even though there are many ways to "start", "develop", or "finish" a horse, the...
Written on 04/04/2012, 16:44 by admin
q-a-flying-lead-change"Transitioning from a Simple Change to a Flying Change"   "I am going to be showing this summer, but I have been working for a few months on lead changes and my horse can get where he does like half a trot stride then goes to the next lead, but I can't get him to do an actual flying...
Written on 26/03/2012, 01:13 by admin
ground-manners  "My name is Briana. I’m training a 2-year old mare and she does not know her ground manners. What do I do and how do I teach her good ground manners?"   Thank you for asking these questions. This is a very widely researched topic. There are many books, videos, DVDs and other educational...
Written on 26/03/2012, 01:12 by admin
how-do-i-get-her-to-slow-down  "How do I get her to slow down, collect, and accept the bit and stop being so neurotic about whenever the reins are gathered and the bit makes contact with her mouth?"   This is a great question and you have given me lots of detail to help in forming a response. I like to define a...
Written on 26/03/2012, 01:11 by admin
speed-control  I like to define a ‘broke horse’ by saying that you have full control of direction and impulsion, regardless of how good your ground work is and how soft he is. Using this definition, If you cannot control the speed of the canter, he is not broke or not broke enough. The quick and simple...
Written on 26/03/2012, 01:10 by admin
anthropomorphism “My horse sleeps better at night in a barn because he feels safe, my horse comes to me in the field because he loves me, my horse won't take its medicine just to spite me.” We can’t help but love our equine friends because of their social nature, but can we be accused of the dangerous behavior of...
Written on 26/03/2012, 01:05 by admin
i-can-t-control-my-horse-on-the-ground  Question: I have a beautiful 9 year old Paint/Qtr gelding. He hadn't been handled in over a year before we brought him home, but we've been handling him everyday. However, most of the handling has been allowing him to graze on the lead. Last weekend, I attempted to give him some wormer...
Written on 26/03/2012, 01:01 by admin
active-vs-passive-leadership "In a world full of horse trainers, clinicians and equine professionals competing to make a mark for themselves, many find new ways to reinvent the wheel; however, several try to put their knowledge into some package where we may identify with it all. In the equine world, leadership is the key to...
Written on 26/03/2012, 01:00 by admin
natural-horsemanship-what-is-its-message In the world of “Natural Horsemanship”, there is a widely used phrase “be as soft as possible and as firm as necessary.” It you ask 20 people what Natural Horsemanship means, you will get 20 different answers. There is also a growing concern about how firm is too firm and how gentle is too gentle. If...
Written on 26/03/2012, 00:58 by admin
confidence-is-leadership-in-action-and-fear "I have been raising a family for the last 20 years and I need help with my confidence. I was a fearless rider when I was younger, but now I am nervous. Last year I got hurt and I am not sure if I want to just hop on, now. My horse is very pushy on the ground when I lead him." “Confidence” is...
You are here: Home Home Articles Articles “Natural Horsemanship” What is its Message?