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August 02, 2022 16 Comments
Natural horsemanship gets a bad rap and if you want to know why, I've already written an article about it "The Reason Performance Riders Hate Natural Horsemanship." But I'm compelled to write again.
I've met many colleagues and students who fell for the same trap I did when I started in the natural horsemanship industry more than twenty years ago. The trap... believing that you can crouch in a field and smell like a carrot and your horse will connect his spirit with yours and you'll communicate via the magic of telepathy for the rest of your happily ever after. Said differently, it's the belief that if you just get good enough, your horse won't question you anymore, he or she will just be and do whatever you need, cause he trusts you and you have a special bond.
This trap is real. I fell for it when I bought my first course. I saw how elegant and sophisticated the professionals presenting were. I dreamed of doing that myself. The overarching theme was "love, language, and leadership." And I believed, whether or not it was truly presented that way, that the bond and trust were the keys to success. When in reality, they were just bonuses for the horse.
What do I mean? Thousands of horse professionals, for thousands of years now, have been forcing their horses to successful status without the bond or any kind of trust, just shear compliance training. Which means, put bluntly, you don't need the bond or trust to be successful. Unless... you view achievement without trust, not actually being successful. I see it that way. I hate seeing a horse comply but still hate their life.
But let me be clear. Perhaps clearer than I've ever been. The bond and trust DO NOT lead to higher levels of achievement. Only dedicated practice and firm, clear boundaries set persistently lead to high achievement. With practice those corrections that seem obvious in the beginning become very elegant, almost hidden, but don't fool yourself like I did. The corrections are still there. There is no telepathy going on between horse and rider. It's all training. There is obviously communication happening through body cues and voice cues and such, but those subtle signals are also made through repetitive training. The trainers that add in bonding... have happier horses, there is no doubt about that. It's a great bonus for sure, one worth pursuing, but don't get confused.
The truth is this, master horse trainers are masters because they've seen it all, they've tried it all. They know what the horse is apt to do and preemptively guide a different result in their favor. That's not magic, that's practice. It takes years to be that good. Sometimes people get sold on the magic of being that good and think it's a technique, or a feel born of this natural bond between horse and human. It's not! It's practice. That doesn't diminish the value of bond and trust exercises with your horse. In my opinion they are a must. Without them, you are just another abusive horse owner. In my book "Leadership and Horses" I share the 50/50 rule I live by. 50% bonding/50%training. Not enough bonding, you may still taste success, but your horse hates it. Not enough training, and you'll never get outside the trot and outside the arena walls. It takes both dedicated training and bonding to truly become great.
The whole point here is this. Setting boundaries, establishing a clear training path, being a real coach to a great athlete, or parent to a great kid, requires discipline and focus. "Being nice" isn't always an option. It would be super if it was, but reality creates situations where being firm and clear is more important than being nice. A great trainer knows this and will risk the relationship with the horse to get the result, knowing they will be able to go back and get the relationship back in the bonding and trust exercises. Every great coach knows this. Every great parent knows this.
What we must do is look to the greats, not for how elegant and refined they can be, although that is pretty, but for how dedicated and willing they are to explore the full spectrum of leadership.
I'll end with this. It's nice to be nice... just don't expect anything grand to ever happen. If you want more, you'll have to discover a leader in you that's willing to create plans, set boundaries, be disciplined. Since you're already probably very nice, you can allow that part to flow more naturally and put your energy into the rest.
Thanks for reading! I look forward to your comments.
PS. Natural horse training masters aren't always nice, they just get really, really good at sugar coating the firmness. So good, you might not even notice it when it happens. Keep a keen eye. Just because a person is kind and rewarding, it doesn't mean they aren't firm. I can literally demonstrate that for you. I can show you how I get results while being kind, not by being kind, but while being kind.
Don't fall for the magic tricks. Instead, make a new kind of magic. For me, when I finally realized the truth that is wasn't some "nirvana state of awareness" that leads to success, I began making the journey to better my techniques, feel, timing, style, and emotional control, my new magic. The journey became the magic. The journey to help a horse trust the process became the magic. The smile on a students face as the horse began to understand a cue, became the magic. The magic is still there. It's just the kind of magic we can all experience and learn. You don't have to be gifted or special, or part horse. You just have to be willing to open your eyes to what it really takes and decide if you're up for the challenge!
Be sure to comment. I truly love hearing from you!