Performance and Natural Horsemanship

The Reason Performance Riders Hate Natural Horsemanship

July 17, 2017 11 Comments

The Reason Performance Riders Hate Natural Horsemanship - by Don Jessop

Hate is a strong word!  I should say "The things performance riders don't like about natural horsemanship."

And by the way, there are a few things to not like about natural horsemanship. And even though I promote natural techniques, I understand that the bias performance trainers have isn't completely maligned.  What I mean is this:  The natural horsemanship movement that started nearly 50 years ago has been devoted to helping people see "inside" of a horse rather than the "outside".  A good, and much needed premise for change in a mostly abusive horse industry, but it has a few big holes in it.

Traditional performance riders learned early on about the outside of the horse. Things like balance and energy management, foot placement and engagement. Unfortunately, performance horses often suffer from a problematic behaviors, due to riders having minimal understanding of the mental processing of horses.

However, natural riders don't learn anything about physical balance or energy management, because very few "Natural Horseman" (even famous natural horsemen) actually know much about it.  They don't have the experience in performance, such as dressage or jumping. That's not to say that some of them aren't brilliant.  They are. Every person on the planet has something good to offer the world. And a handful of trainers or "horseman" are what I call "Master Horseman". These men and women cross over. They see the whole picture.  That's why our program is called Mastery Horsemanship.  We don't want to live in one world.  We want the best of both worlds. Traditional and Natural.

The thing performance riders don't like about natural riders is that typically, even though a natural rider learns early a lot about emotions and psychology, they learn little about the physical requirements of performance. That's why we see "natural riders" with horses that have horrible self carriage issues and balance.  We often see "natural riders" with horses that have horrible posture too. Not because the natural rider doesn't care, but because they don't know.  The more they learn, the better they get and if they are willing to cross over into more traditional education, they can learn about balance and energy development too.

The other thing performance riders don't like about natural horsemanship is how too many "natural" people are wimps.  That's right.  Wimps.  They don't dare be firm with their horse for fear of losing the relationship. Ironically, they often only have a relationship that's based on "walking on eggshells" in order to avoid offending their horse. In other words. We see too much "soft love" with natural horsemanship and not enough "tough love". 

Of course the pendulum swings both ways.  I see people in the performance industries showing too much "tough love" and very little "soft love".  There has to be a balance if you want to be a master.

In my book "Leadership and Horses" I talk about this balance.  I called the training/bonding ratio.  It's important that trainers stay as close to 50%training and 50%bonding as possible.  

The reason we need to stay close to that number is because, anything outside those numbers either verges on wimpy, ineffective techniques that create a dull and disrespectful horse, or they slide toward abuse techniques that create a reactive and fearful horse. 

The point is, when performance riders see a wimpy leader they immediately blame the "natural" industry.  And on the other side of the coin the "natural" people are doing the same thing. Their calling out abuse when they see a rider be firm and direct, but in my opinion being assertive can be important if it's done for certain safety situations.

The truth is, "abuse"... is riding a horse that you know doesn't want you up there. That's why the bond you create with a horse is critical. But riding a horse that likes you doesn't guarantee you'll be safe and it certainly doesn't guarantee the horse could ever perform well. Because without proper alignment, energy management, and postural control, it's hard to achieve anything outside a controlled canter. Once again.  We find ourselves looking for balance. We find ourselves looking for strategies that accomplish all aspects of horsemanship. We find ourselves looking for what it takes to be a better leader!

Here is what I think.  I think good leaders look for balance. They learn about alignment and energy and power.  They learn about psychology and how the horse thinks.  They learn about how people think too, so they can pass on a more balanced message and have it get through. Good leaders in essence, don't stop learning. And if you've ever heard someone say, "my way is the only way" then you know they're closed to learning and you also know they are losing ground as a leader.  

Here is what I hope for.  I want performance riders to see the value of natural horsemanship and I want natural riders to see the value of performance training.  I also want natural trainers to see how, many performance riders are in fact "natural". Because "natural" shouldn't mean wimpy.  "Natural" should mean you are reward oriented instead of consequence oriented in your training style. Many performance riders are natural.  

Also, performance or "traditional" riding shouldn't be considered as thoughtless or mindless. It's takes enormous amounts of concentration to balance and align a horses body parts.  That level of concentration usually exists, only in the "elite." The best of the best, or what I call "masters", can teach a horse to align and even stay aligned by themselves, plus feel rewarded for it. The road to mastery can be enriching and powerful for both riders and horses. It's a road I have been on for decades and one I hope you'll join me on. 

My real hope is that people find common ground and look for ways to make progress. And that doesn't just relate to horses.  Hint, hint:)  Life, politics, marriage, religion, raising children. Whatever the endeavor, we need to look for balance and keep the doors to learning... open.

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Don Jessop

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11 Responses

Oda Barhuf
Oda Barhuf

July 26, 2017

I come from an English background and am also familiar with natural Horsemanship. Over the years I have found that English trained horses often dearly lack ground manners . Is it oversight or lack of assertiveness? Or maybe it is plain ignorance, because one can get easily hurt with a horse who is disrespectful on the ground!

Secondly, focusing on how to move a horse around while ignoring the rider position is also a common problem with English riding. Many English riders lack true balance in the saddle, so it is not only a natural Horsemanship issue!

Natural Horsemanship riders can be as assertive as needed and as soft as possible, if they are following the right training approach, like Ray Hunt or Tom Dorrance. That will also develop a balanced horse and rider, IF the rider follows the training correctly!

So in short, neither side is perfect and there is room for improvement in many areas.

Gloria Leverett
Gloria Leverett

July 25, 2017

I think the most harm that was done to ‘natural horsemanship’ was the arrival of Monty Roberts and Parrelli both of which give me hives! Recently though a very good horseman from Australia has introduced his method of ground work to the dressage world and as he is a competitor as well his method is being taken very seriously. Tristan Tucker puts in the time and effort of teaching his young horses all the ground work before backing them but he also advises those who have problems with behaviour in and out of the arena. The method is less aggressive than those that I have seen in the past so hopefully the two worlds are now coming together. Your article is very good but I would point out that true horsemen and women are few and far between and that there are others who have been on a ‘course’ that should never be allowed near a horse let alone call themselves horsemen and that is what causes the anti natural horsemanship view.

Kathy Turnbull
Kathy Turnbull

July 24, 2017

The beginning of this article is BS. Maybe I should have read the whole thing but it annoyed me. There is so much to learn about the horses that no one should assume that one discipline is ignorant of the other. The horses tells us if we listen and observe. That are much more sensitive and observant that humans. They are much more intelligent that we know. We should observe and listen to them. They will tell and teach us about their world. Not the other way round. Just saying.

Tracey
Tracey

July 23, 2017

Halle-flipping-lujah. Why didn’t I write this? People love to pigeon-hole others. For years I have tolerated people making assumptions about me, and my riding/training, because I do not fall into one camp. As you say Don, hate is a strong word, but there´s an awful lot of loathing going on!! I´ve had people deride me (no pun intended), and even out-right slander me all out of confusion or fear, because I don´t fit in. Because I believe there is, and should be, a balance between the two, and I hope I am achieving that with each and every day being a new dawn with something new to learn.

Deborah Anderson
Deborah Anderson

July 20, 2017

www.besthorsepractices.com and on FB Besthorsepractices you might want to check out this event. October 8-10th 2017
http://besthorsepractices.com/summit/

Marian
Marian

July 19, 2017

Been riding for 50 years. Best thing that ever happened was George Morris telling me to go learn my basics. Thanks to Meredith Manor and several ex-calvary men, I did. They understood balance and bonding quite well.

Jennifer Nicholson
Jennifer Nicholson

July 19, 2017

Excellent article that points out the false sense of security and understanding about horses that is being promoted. There is only one proven method: years of training and wet saddle blankets. I have had both sides of performance and natural in my 40 plus years and you have to know when to apply the the proper techniques. Love this article.

MJ Devlin
MJ Devlin

July 19, 2017

You’ve brought out a lot of good points. I completely agree that balance is everything. My question is: Why did you say that performance riders hate natural horsemanship?? That’s a very broad statement that categorizes exhibitors as being only concerned about the outside. We’re certainly not all that way. To say so certainly does not represent “Balance”

Michelle K
Michelle K

July 18, 2017

Well said Don! I think (as someone who has taken a deep dive on both sides here), I would add one thing. I’ve been blessed to have studied with true masters from both “worlds”. In my experience, people on both “sides” become so entrenched and defensive about their personal choices, that they can’t put the horse first. Humility, continual development and a supportive community of Masters is the goal! Thanks for speaking so honestly!

Don Jessop
Don Jessop

July 18, 2017

Thanks for the comments

Nina Black Reid
Nina Black Reid

July 18, 2017

You are absolutely correct . Balance is everything !

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