Handmade Horsemanship - Cowgirl Chronicles
Updated: Oct 10, 2019
What is Horsemanship?
Some people need it and don’t have it. Some people have it and don’t know what to call it. No matter which group you belong to, together we are going to talk about ‘Horsemanship’. Hopefully getting it out in the open will make the call that we are all fighting for the same cause.
In order to make sure we are on the same page in terms of identifying this phrase with the same philosophy I’m including some obnoxious definitions. Dictionary.com refers to horsemanship as; the art, ability, skill, or manner of a horseman. It defines natural as; based on the state of things in nature; constituted by nature.
Going from the basis of the definitions along with my knowledge of training I would paraphrase natural horsemanship as: acting in a manner of which the horse understands from his frame of mind or psychology. Things that are important to a horse’s means of self preservation (safety, comfort, food and play.) The way of being around horses should reflect and respect such things.
However, the meaning and definition of natural horsemanship can get convoluted. Many horseman have a different explanation of it but the same approach to training. For instance the number one principle that The Parelli Center’s operate from are: that horsemanship is natural. But Buck Brannaman (who was trained alongside Pat Parelli) tells The American Cowboy publication that, “You’re dealing with the spirit of a live animal that thinks and makes decisions. In nature this animal would have nothing to do with you. “Natural horsemanship” is just words. It’s not natural at all. There’s an abundance of trust that must be developed for you. Imagine if humans were that pliable.”
I agree with both portrayals if that is possible…? On the one hand we would not see horses running around boulders in the shape of a barrel racing pattern, but we do see horse’s in their natural state execute flying lead changes. We don’t observe a row of 7 horses doing a Cavalia type dance, but we do observe mirroring and copy cating behavior in the wild. We definitely wouldn’t watch a stallion showing off a fancy reining pattern or jumping over bushes for fun by himself, however we’ve seen slide stops and athletic hind-end engagement when a horse is feeling playful.
The task that some clinicians is HOW to get these kinds of movements and behaviors in the least invasive and offensive way possible.
So yes, natural horsemanship might just be words and the philosophy behind it is that horses don’t want anything to do with us. But we undoubtly love them and want interaction with them so natural horsemanship has to be taken from words to an action that reflects its meaning. My belief and mission is that we have to try our very best to be around and train horse’s in a way that makes sense to them. In the words of a wise horseman, “certain people can drive any horse wild!” and Buck says that, “we don’t want to start a war with the horse.”
Horses are a precocial species, and prey animals. A lot of times we can fool ourselves into thinking that we have a good relationship with our horses because they are simply tolerating our incompetence as a means of survival. That might rub some people the wrong way, but it’s easy to see that horses are very forgiving creatures. Even back in the 1900’s Mark Twain writes, “If the horses knew their strength we should not ride anymore.”
No there is nothing natural about barrel racing, or most competitive disciplines. We do it because we love the thrill. But I truly believe that we can get a horse to do these things with a natural approach. We can do things with lightness, the attitude of justice, pressure and release. We are able to teach horse’s with a learning, open, confident frame of mind if we commit to communication. We may even to be able to experiences motivating the horse’s heart and head to work to our own benefit if we understand his first.
In my profession I’m always challenging people (and myself) to think of things in your horse’s shoes (hooves), through his eyes and with his mind. We can’t read their thoughts, but we can study their actions. If we remain considerate of an equine’s natural needs and tendencies we won’t have to go on a philosophical man hunt and horse war arguing about which way is what. It’s about the horse, and if it’s not it needs to be.
Take the approach of honoring a wild horse and act on what is the most practical balance in a domesticated world.