Natural Horsemanship

At the beginning of this chapter I would like to emphasize that averything written here are just my own insights. Thy are insights from the viewpoint of an amateur, ane every horseman--whether a true "natural horseman" or a representative of a classical dressage--could surely correct and imrpove me in many aspects (as usually happens every time I start talking with anybody from the horse trade. It is similar to talking about raising children. Everyone has his or her own opinion and a set of reasons for it. I present here my opinions and the reasons that have lead me to it, and I hope that they may enrich even a "non-horseman" in the similar manner as they were and are the source of enrichment for our whole family.

Natural Horsemanship (NHS) is a term suggesting a way of "training" a horse. The word "training" is in quotation marks because in the real sense it is not about training but about developing a relationship between human and horse. The relationship in which the human, using horse language, offers a horse friendship, relationship and leadership, and, at the same time, authority. Authority which gives a horse safety, protection, leadership, and therefore should be acceptable for a horse, literally wanted and desirable because a horse as a herd creature with the mentality af a prey (horse is not a predator) longs for protection and leadership. In a relationship like this it is a joy for a horse to obey human's commands. These then can be very soft and there is no need to use tools like whip, bit, etc. However, such relationship also has its laws which humans have to respect. It also demands knowing the "horse language," that is the way of communication. The best-known protagonists of NHS are Monty Roberts, Parelli, in the Czech environment Honza Bláha, Milan Kovář and others.

How We Got to the NHS

I grew up on my grandpa's farm, he bed ponnies (besides other animals). They were pretty much jerks. The mare was from the Zoo nad was very fearful, not trusting. The stud from the circus was beautiful but spoiled and evil by program. He would bite and kick as he could, often he jumped on someone's back. Everybody feared him. The grandpa had them for foals, occasionally he took us for a ride but beides that nothing was happening with them.

Then I attended a classical riding school. I do not recall anybody teaching us more than practical stuff like care for a horse, for the equipment, and a riding style. I noticed that the horses are a priori distrusted, all the time they were tied up somewhere, lead on a short leash , and over all they were held at bay by human power and tools. I thought that horses could be owned only by people very courageous and also, if possible, strong, or at least fast enough to hit a horse with a whip or a shovel handle at any sign of the horse's "rebellion." Such rebellions, clashes with people, kicks, bites, and other horse spites (and they do know how to make them up!) we taken as a normal part of life near horses and nobody ever even tried to search for the cause, let alone hope that it might be the other way around.

Many years later when we purchased two hutsul mares for recreation riding with children we discovered that this breed is on one hand extremely immune against diseases, cold, etc., but on the other hand also against human efforts. They are notorious for being siffnecked, lazy and gluttonous. The classical approach, as I knew it untill then did not work on them. One of them, Jarmanka, was pretty good although she behaved as a road roller. The other one, Gábinka, turned out to be a spoiled horse (she would bite children to face over the fence, kick without warning etc.), and this way we got to know the person involved in correcting the spoiled horses Veronika Berková from Brno who started slowly teach us the basics of the NHS. The following ideas arosed from her isights and teaching endeavour, filtered by mu experiences. Not all of them are recorded also, it is not a set of instructions to train a horse. It is just something more about our family and about the way we found the work with horses beneficial.

  1. Body Language The very way a human enters the pen raises trust or distrust in a horse. I step in as if carelessly, looking at the ground, not to the horse's eyes, the hands near my body. Why? Because in nature, only a predator moves straight-forward, with the eyes-to-eyes look. And a horse, as a potential prey, fears such approach. The way I call a horse, the way I put on a halter, this all involves the body language which a horse reads and knows wheter to feel as a friend or as a slave.
  2. Personal space is a zone around me where a horse can enter only with my permission. I set the boundaries. A horse that I know and trust can be closer then a stranger. But either one has to stop at the zone boundary and wait for my step toward him. Also I when I come to a horse, I stop and wait for his permisson. If I come as a rolling bulldozer, perceiving only what I want to do with a horse, not the horse himself, then I show him disrespect, I betray him. Later I can wonder why he does not want to cooperate and fall into line. It also works the other way around. If I allow a horse to step into my personal space, I let him know that he does not need to respect me. Then I may get surprised what he can afford towards me. It is interesting to see how many problems begin (quite unnoticed) at this point. If a human does not "read it" correctly and skip this phase of training, no wonder that he has such a disobedient horse.
  3. This also relates to the way of leading a horse, when I trust him and let the leash long and hanging, and the only thing I want is that he respects my personal space, that he does not collide with me and overtake me. A horse knows very well what I want of him, he knows the same rules from the herd where the leading horse goes this way and a submissive one follows. It means the only thing: That he respects me and perceives me. Disobedience cannot be excused by a temperament, young age, flies, etc. A horse knows too well what it mans if we allow him to overtake, even just a little: He is the leader and he would not obey us. If not right now then some time later it would burst out in the full power, for example on a ride. Training a horse is like a pyramid where the base is made of this very respect and leadership with a trust being built (that is why the loose leash) and the care for the basic needs. If there is a small error in the base, the top of the pyramid would not stand firmly although right now it does not seem significant.
    This starting point in training a horse caught my interest. Although I do not like "humanizing" of animals, here I see the rules valid somehow accross the universe. Thear are applicable on any relationship with animals (always there is a need to ballance respect with trust), even among people, and, of course, in raising children.
    Everybody know how it looks like when a dog, a horse, or a child receives too much love (especially the doting one) and no boundaries, no leading. The spoiled nippers, dangerous both to themselves and to others. The oposite extreme is also dangerous because with a hard pressure and no love you raise either broken individuals in despair or rebels seeking a chance to fight back.
    A wise training looks for good for both sides and knows how to achieve it. Has vision, strength, love.
  4. To the pyramid base also belong the consistency and predictability. If I allow a horse to thrust in me friendly just because I am in a good mood and I want to caress him so I do not care about some personal space, I should not be surprised if he would thrust in me in the same way and not perceive me when I want to train him, when I am tired and mad, in a time pressure. If I set up a rule, it has to apply always. No exception.
    The predictability means that if I tech a horse something, I begin with a small pressure, four seconds later make it stronger, another four second even stronger, and still another four seconds the strongest. (The first pressure the horse feels on his hair, the second on the skin, the third on the flesh, and the fourth in the bone--this will make him move). It has its logic. Perhaps for the first time the horse (especiallythe horses used to react to strong stimuli) is going to respond only to the strongest pressure. But he DOES KNOW what preceded it. So after a few repetitions he obeys a light touch, after some more repetitions just a mere trace of a movement, at the final phase just a glance. Horses are incredibly soft and senzitive.
    It reminds me of a children. I ofter hear parents complain: "He would not obey me until I yell at him!" No wonder--if you trace the development of the situation you discover that the parents themselves have the child set up this way. Everything could be changed by phasing the pressure, the same way as with a horse.
    It is similar with the consistency. How many of us allow the children wild romping and little cheeks when we are in a good cheer, rested, and we want to have a nice day with the children and not worry about trivialities. But then comes a situation when we are irritated from work, tired, in the midst of that we have visitors and the children show off the very wild romping and little cheeks. We get mad, the nerves threat to break, and as soon as the door closes behind the visitors we spank the kids. But for them it is a great withdrawal from the trust account, we have just betrayed them and they are angry at us. The same as with the horse.
    As I watched the children in our neighborhood who have some behavior problems (I do not mean educational extremes like doting love or heavy domestic terror), I noticed that the root of the problems touches the very mistakes in the pyramid base. Various little inconsitencies, disrespect to authorities, in combination with betraying the children's trust bring about the bitter fruit of disobedience, not perceiving others (related to hurting, putting down, and other expressions of egoism), irresponsibility, talking back, lying, etc. Then of no help is the best Sunday School with children's worship, the system of rewards and punishments for good grades and behavior, let alone groups like Scouts or religion class. Everything begins on the base by building up the relationship. Because positive character features, and following good behavior, can only grow from the relationship where the love and the authority are in ballance. No stranger (with no relationship) can re-train a spoiled child or horse.
  5. The way of teaching stems from the conviction that the horse wants to obey us, he only solves how to do it. The command has to be understandable and must build upon what the horse already knows. The horse must not feel the pressure of our expectations and impatience. IN EVERY SITUATION we have to behave as if we had HOURS OF TIME AND SQUARE MILES OF PASTURES IN FRONT OF US! The horse does not care that we only have half an hour and some expectations what we have to make. He feels our pressure, a pressure and an expectation. And a horse is set up from inside in the way that the pressure causes counter-pressure. And we do not want to break him by force, this would only set up a big problem.
    A horse learns in relax, not in pressure. What I mean is physical pressure, when we teach him something. He knows that he did something well when we loose the pressure and ourselves, too. (After few seconds we pat the horse, praise him verbally.) He has f to feel the relax. We reward him but not for the things that are clear and he knows them already. On the other hand, a big thing deserves a reward even in a form of total stopping of training for that day and just taking a horse for a walk. Tibits are not to be used as a reward because a horse must work out of the love for the relationship, out of the desire to obey the authority. Willingness cannot be forced nor obtain by beating!
    While woprking, a horse should not graze. Otherwise he ignores you and shows you disrespect.
    The commands are given in a form of "Could you please...?" (Not: "Come on, move you old jade, or you'll get it!")
    If the horse already got enough and begins to show nervosity,I do at least one little bit of work and then I quit. In order that it is I who decides about the end, not the horse. At the same time, I do it with respect to his abilitiy, capacity. Next time we can push the same work a little step further, and so we will slowly move the critical line without breaking the horse by power.
    If we succeed doing some great thing with a horse we reward him with peace, and by no means try to repeat it. People have one ugly feature that when something happens to be good they want it again and again. This kills a horse and it can waste the entire result. The relationship with a horse has to have greater priority than the golas reached and the preformace before spectators.
    In the same manner the way to leave a horse is to be in good, relaxed (scratch where he likes it, pat, reward).
    For a change, it is good to spend some time with a horse in a pen and not want anything of him. Just sit down and read. To let him see that we keep the relationship with him even when we do not want anything of him. (It is called the "Curiosity Game.") Or take him to a pasture, walk him on a leash and show him a tasty grass (as a good leader).
The very question of the way of teaching a horse touched me greatly. I realized that I myself was raised (perhaps like the rest of us who grew up under communism) in the style that what I did wrong I learned only after the punishment came. The apriori distrust to children, distrust that they might be good and that they might want to have a relationship with the adults, distrust expressed with punishing for bad things more than rewarding the good behavior by relaxing (pleasant experiences) in relationship.

Related to that were various way to break a child and disrespect toward his (or her) opinion, lack of understanding of child's immaturity. The children were taken as small adults. Of course I do the same mistakes. When the child gets to the end of his rope I tend to push him further and further just because I want it and I see it as necessary. I fear that if I give a way to that children's whining we would never move frm here and the child would twidt me around his finger. Thi focusing on the merits and results instead of on the relationship destroys the relationship wth a horse as well as with a child. Children have to feel that WE HAVE HOURS OF TIME AND THE ENTIRE CHILDREN'S ROOM FREE JUST FOR THEM! And that we would love them even if he (or she) is slower and unable to perform. And we have to believe that the child wants to obey us. The permanent proving to the children that the are unwilling morons (which forces them to prove the oposite to the parents) has created a lot of evil in Czech homes.

To reward good behavior by tibits and the way commands are being presented ("please") is the same with children as with horses. The willingness has to grow out of the relationship not from the desire to get rewarded. Good behavior is also stimulated by relaxing together, joy over well-done work, nice walk, or time spent together, as the child wishes.

"Curiosity Game" also can be applied to the world of children. How many children get paralyzed when the father enters their room! The child expects drill. The parents do not realize how often they are in touch with children only when they want something from them or for some pragmatic reasons: "Have you brushed your teeth?" "Go shopping!" "What about the school?" What the parents consired to be an expression of interest becomes a source of stress for children, they feel under commands. To spend time with children when we want nothing of them, just feeling good next to one another, is of a great importance, even when it appears as a loss of time.

For a horse it is good but for a child a thousand times more, to leave in good. Nothing is worse than to bite a child's head off and leave with slamming the door. The child has to know that we love him even when he makes mistakes, that nothin has changed on our love to him. Hug him, pat him, and assure him of everything good that we feel toward him in our heart.

The horses are excellent teachers. You can "throw away" something with a child because your educational mistakes are not visible immediately and a thirty-pounds wild kicking child on a sidewalk is easily pacified by a spank (we live in the Czech Republic). However, you cannot simply "throw away" the same mistakes (that lead to the same expressions with the same force) with a thousand-pounds horse. Wild kicking horse is deadly dangerous both to himself and to others. Unfortunately, the parents do not realize the similarly serious consequences of the mistakes they make with their children

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