When people ask me... Do you do natural horsemanship?" I almost always say no.
And here's why:
Natural horsemanship has come to mean two things in the horse industry. For one, it means reward oriented training. That's what it means to me and that's why I love natural horsemanship. But for most people in the horse industry, it means the horse gets away with everything. They say there is no discipline, and that all those people want to do is groundwork and liberty and bridleless riding, which all seem to have no value to a traditional or performance-oriented rider.
What I tell people when they ask me if I do natural horsemanship, is say I do mastery horsemanship. That means I focus on multiple disciplines including performing arts, groundwork, and even competition when it suits. I work toward understanding all aspects of the game, including connection, collection, liberty and more. I also focus on improving my horse's discipline, consistent responses, and confidence.
Inevitably people ask me if I use "natural techniques." Again, I say no. I use reward oriented techniques, but I don't prescribe to only using rope halters or fiberglass sticks. I can use any tool and get results because my focus is on connection and communication, not tradition.
And finally, there are those people who say, "It all sounds great. It's like you are doing natural horsemanship but with performance arts being the end goal." To which I will respond... yes.
The point is, I try to avoid the stigma that natural horsemanship has received in the traditional world. People think it's about fixing problems and using funny tools, but many of those same people can actually be quite natural because they themselves carry a positive and reward oriented demeanor with their horse. I try not to let people I associate with think natural horsemanship is different from traditional or performance horsemanship, it's just focused on positive training.
That means that a performance rider, wearing short spurs and riding in a double bridle, performing a canter pirouette, is quite possibly... natural. It also means that a stick toting liberty trainer is quite possibly... abusive (the opposite of natural). It's not what you do but how you do what you do that makes you natural. Not the tools you use or the games you play. Some tools are harsh, they should be avoided. Some games are stressful to the horse's mind and body, they should be limited as well. But master horsemen and horsewomen are capable of great and wondrous things that far exceed the scope of pragmatic natural horsemanship or pragmatic normal horsemanship. That's why I say I do mastery horsemanship. I hope that you might feel inclined to say the same.
Unless you have people around you who truly understand what natural horsemanship means, I recommend taking a more middle road to help people understand what you do to avoid being labeled as the wrong kind of natural trainer. Use the word "mastery," in the beginning, to help people see past the stigma. Help people realize that you are on a journey to improving your horse's connection and communication with consistent and positive reinforcement. Help people see that results do speak for themselves and you don't fall into that "natural" trap of letting your horse get away with murder and slapping your stick on the ground when you're not getting results. Rise above the stigma. Your tools don't matter, it's your focus that matters most.
Let's show the world what natural horsemanship really is by constantly seeking improvement in a positive way. Years ago I worked with a famous natural trainer named Pat Parelli. I'll never forget how he said you could identify a "natural trainer." He said this, and I quote: "A natural trainer is positive and progressive."
To me, that sounds like mastery. And that is an exciting journey!
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