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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

TTOTD's Take on Natural Horsemanship

There is a huge discussion (again) going on over on Fugly's blog about NH. We all know that she doesn't think much of it, to say the least. I thought I would take a chance to state my views on it.

- I am not anti-NH, I am anti-stupid. I believe in what I call CSH or Common Sense Horsemanship. That thing weighs many times more than you do, don't be stupid. You can't be "nice" all the time to your horse if it is being a brat. You can't "love" them into submission. You have to have some common sense.

- I do use some so-called NH techniques. I tend to try to communicate with my horses in their own language, as much as a person can at any rate. They know I am boss mare, they respect my space. If they get too close, a growl and the "ugly mare face" will usually back them off. If they persist, they get smacked.

- I don't beat my horses, I WILL smack the ever-livin' crap out of them if they do something naughty. Bad behavior must be punished quickly and fairly. Usually I try to make it seem to them that THEY caused the punishment. "Oh, I am sorry! Did you just run your nose into my elbow REALLY HARD when you tried to bite me?"

- One example of my method in comparison to a well-known NH guru's teachings - My horse has no idea what the hell to do when asked to back up using Parelli techniques. Waving your finger at her and wiggling the lead illicits the head in the air and confused look from her. If you want her to back, point at her chest and give a gentle backwards tug on the rope and say "back up". Nice and quiet, no dramatic hand waving needed.

- I do use positive reinforcement, if she is good, she gets a pat and a cookie if I have one.

- I ride her when I want, not when she wants.

- Spooking and refusing to move for no reason is not tolerated, I do not dismount and do "approach and retreat" what does she learn then? "Oh, if I pretend to be scared and refuse to go forward, Mom gets off of me and we mess around on the ground and I don't get ridden as much." No, if she spooks and refuses to move forward, she has to stand facing the scary monster until she decides to go on. We can stand there ALL day, I don't care. And while we do, I am going to fidget, bump her sides and wiggle around and make it as uncomfortable as possible. As soon as she moves toward the monster, I relax. Simple, spooking and refusing to go forward makes things uncomfortable, going past the monster is much more pleasant.

- I try to remain calm and centered when working with horses, especially mine. She is sensitive and very much able to pick up on my mood. If I am tense, she is more spooky and high-strung.

So, no, I don't "follow" any one specific training method. I think everyone needs to figure out what works best for them and their own horse. I try to be fair with mine and use common sense when handling them. I have a horse that is sensitive, somewhat fearful of new things, and very, very silly at times. She is also very smart. It does not take long for her to figure out how things are going to be and what the consequences are for her actions. You just have to be consistent and fair. Using too much force with her nets the opposite result, you have to be firm, but not harsh. That's just how she is, her mother is the same way.

So what works for you and your horse? Do you have issues with a behavior and want some help correcting it? I know there are lots of experienced, successful trainers that read this blog. Let's discuss it.


19 comments:

  1. I think NH has gotten a very bad name because newbies don't understand the basics of horse psychology and handling expectations.

    A bunch of snake oil charlatans pounced on the rise of adult first-time horse owners about 15 years ago, and it's gotten steadily worse ever sense. People who grow up without animals get bad ideas from movies & novels, or they project their own relationship challenges, or they expect instant LUV from their pets.

    I'm tooootally against stuff like Parelli games, fake "miracle sessions" where a horse who's been lunged for an hour back behind the barn MAGICKALLY submits to the dude in the ring, and dumb gadgets.

    Notice how many of the rich'n'famous NH gurus are rugged, hunky, photogenic MEN????? They all wear dorky costumes and use folksy language, and then the music rises, and the horse is transformed, and we all brush away a tear.

    Where's the colt starting demo featuring humane methods and appropriate human expectations clearly communicated to the horse???

    Oh.

    It's back at home, with that nice pudgy girl who just graduated 4H. Or the skinny old cowboy type who spits tobacco juice everywhere. Or the woman up the road who's rehabbed Thoroughbreds for years. Etc Etc Etc.

    These are the unsung heroes who get the job done, and rarely make any money from it.

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  2. and WTF is up with waving a rope in the horse's face to make it back up???? Didn't anyone get the memo that waving things in horses' faces annoys and/or upsets them?

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  3. I agree with the points here. Some of the NH things I see, even from the experts, seem down right abusive. The common sense approach in the post makes sense and works.
    We have very sweet horses, but they didn't get that way from being 'loved' into submission :)
    They got that way from kind consistent interactions that rewarded their good behavior and calmly corrected not do good behavior.

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  4. Pretty much all the same rules at our place, with our horses and clients horses, with the exception of standing to face the 'spooky monster'.

    Instead of standing there and letting them think about the 'spooky monster' they are asked to keep working instead. Bend a little to the inside or the outside, but pay attention to ME (the rider), not the 'spooky monster'. If the horse is focused on me, the rider and what I want- you would be surprised (and the horse would too!) just how many times we went past the 'spooky monster' while we were making all of those circles.

    Common sense is not so common.

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  5. Depends on the "spooky monster" for me. If it's a "hey whoops" little spook, FORWARD.

    If it's a genuine "OMG WTF IS THAT??!!??!?!??!?!" followed by a big long stare as we go by, I let the horse take a brief look, like, a GLANCE, then FORWARD. Especially if it's a new weird large thing that needs to be incorporated into his world. My old mare was always FREAKED by horses pulling carts, but if I let her take a good look while she figured it out, she was merely snorty at it - but obedient to me - the rest of the day.

    Tractors or Bobcats in the corner of the arena: horse gets one long look to figure it out, then we just go by it the rest of the time. leglegleglegleg.... :P

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  6. I guess I should have been more clear on the spooking thing. If we are in the arena, then yes by all means, we go on past it. However, I usually trail ride in rugged country. Her idea of spooking is to slam on the brakes and snort and refuse to move forward. Half the time I don't even know what she is looking at "OMG THE GRASS IS MOVING!!!" Hence the facing the scary spot until she decides to move on. The longer she stands, the more insistent I get with my actions, as soon as she moves the direction we were going, all is well and I stop.

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  7. To completely throw out Natural Horsemanship goes with the saying "throwing out the baby with the bathwater".

    All horse training videos I've watched (and I've watched LOTS of them by many different trainers) use differrent "versions" of the same techniques to gain respect, cooperation and, as Monty Roberts calls it "Join Up".

    Where NH goes bad is the touchy feely stuff and getting inside the horse's head, letting the horse dictate the terms of the relationship, versus the trainer/handler as the leader. I think some of that is interpretation on the part of the participants, but I think a lot of it is manufactured to get people addicted to a training method, in this case NH, and spending boatloads (of which many middle aged women have lots of disposable income) on gimmics, seminars, videos, etc., etc.

    I have a simple saying with my ALL my animals and that is "they live with me, I do not live with them". That means that I will work with them up to a point, but if we don't get along, they are down the road. Usually, I can work through whatever it is, but a couple times, I've had to send a horse elsewhere.

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  8. NH seems to be a response to bad, 'old style' training: abusive, not bothering to listen to what a horse is trying to communicate, ignoring pain, etc. At the base of it, it's a philosophy I can get behind.

    Unfortunately, NH is not about that, mostly it's about making a few gurus sh*ttons of money from ignorant and well-meaning animal lovers. Add to that all the mystical mumbo-jumbo and yeah, I really tend to agree with Fugly on this.

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  9. I think that NH is great, but most people think of NH NOT as its true definition (Thinking like a horse to understand our horses, which betters our communication. Basically, becoming a natural leader for the horse. Not being too violent, but not being too soft.) but as what they see it as.....fat middle aged ladies with naughty ponies who they teach the Seven Games (very badly) and don't do anything above that, except maybe a 20 minute ride at a walk.

    I was in the Parelli Program for a while and I can say without a doubt, I do not regret it. I learned a LOT....but do I use every method that Parelli teaches? Do I have Parelli logo equipment? Do I think Pat Parelli is amazing? No, no, and no. But I did learn a lot, especially about how to understand horses better, and my horsemanship would NOT be where it is if it weren't for the program. And yes, I bet I could have learned everything I learned from the Program from a local riding instructor, but it would have taken far longer, seeing as most instructors won't stop and tell you why things are happening, just what to do. IME anyway.

    As far as where I am now: I can walk, trot, canter, halt, back, and jump my horse, bareback and bridleless (with a helmet, of course) and I also can get her to use her body correctly and collect herself with just a Myler comfort snaffle. No training gadgets, yank and crank, etc. She's easy to catch and we love to 'play'...she'll follow me around and I can get her to circle around me, at Liberty, in a big pasture.

    I like to think that I can be respected by both NHers and non-NHers alike. I do 'NH tricks' (Liberty training, riding bridleless, etc.) but I also actually get some damn stuff done!

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  10. 'Spooky Monsters' can crop up anywhere, in the arena or out on the trail. If the horse looks like they are about to get stupid, I do something to bring their focus back to me.

    Hey, remember me? The one on your back? The tug of a rein, bump of a leg, ask for some bend or ??? just get their focus back on Me, the rider. Sometimes that's all it takes and usually settles it wherever we are, in the ring or out in the middle of nowhere.

    Part of this is knowing your horse and being able to read their body language. You may not be able to see it, but you can learn to feel it.

    Sometimes the spooks come from us. We see something, focus on it and expect the horse to be rattled by it. They rise up and meet our expectations by spooking at it. Our instinctive reaction of grabbing the reins and clinging with our legs to hold on, can send the horse mixed signals that "Holy Shit, We're being attacked!" so the horse may take off.

    Horses can be taught to spook in place or pretty much just stop dead in their tracks to take a look. I would rather the horse under me does than run off like an idiot. Older horses may do this and be more forgiving of their riders reaction, but greenies can be a whole 'nother story.

    As with every other method of training though- no one method will work on every horse in every situation. Different strokes for different folks... That goes for horses too!

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  11. I'm traditionally Saddle Seat trained, so to me (even though I do understand the original point of it) most of NH is a bunch of hooey taught by con-artists to backyard yahoos that shouldn't be allowed to keep a dog, let alone a horse.

    If I stood in front of my horse and waved a lead rope in his face, I would get one of two reactions - either he'd throw his head up and snort, or he'd look at me like I'd lost my mind (at this point, the latter is far more likely) - neither of which are backing up. If I want one of my horses to back, I gently tug it's halter back or push on it's chest and say "back".

    Spooking is dealt with pretty much the same way as you, only I sit quietly with just a bit of leg pressure for the first 15 seconds, and if my horse hasn't moved towards the Scary Object of Doom on his own by then - which he usually does - then I start getting more persuasive until he does move forward to the object.

    And sorry for getting on my soap box, but this is my biggest peeve with the NH nutters: Yes, I can ride almost all of my horses bareback (and some with just a halter) if I choose to. But my horses are/were show horses and have been trained their entire lives with a "Go Go Go!!!" mentality, so even though I safely and happily trail ride them and they're willing to tackle any obstacle I ask, I wouldn't dare try riding one without a bridle. There would be no malice meant by my horse as he took off free as a bird at full-speed when that bridle came off, but I really prefer living. And the ability to walk. This has made some fervent followers of NH that I've met up with as trail mates treat me like I'm an animal beater riding a fire-breathing-dragon because my saddle has a tree and my horse has a bit in his mouth (and please don't get me started on their reactions to a double-reined snaffle :iconheaddeskplz:)

    *sigh* Common sense: it's a wonderful thing, and there should be classes for it in school requiring a passing grade for graduation!

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  12. I am by no means a NH guru. I think it stems from legitimate roots but with everyone trying to use it, it has just become this black cloud hanging over.
    I may do some NH stuff I'm not sure. I figured out how my horse learned and broke him through lunge work and body language over the summer. He's done very well. However, he is not ready for me to jump on bareback, mostly because of the liability. If for some reason I fell off, he is in an open field near a busy country road that people think is a highway. Boy do they fly down this road.
    I will however, occasionally jump up bareback on my mare who was already trained when I got her. I don't do it often because it is rather uncomfortable for me to sit on this slightly downhill horse with high withers, as I am a male. If, there was a more secure area, with someone watching, (since I usually ride alone) I might jump up on my young horse bareback. But again, it is slightly more uncomfortable for me.

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  14. and a youtube video of the Foxfield kids:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRliQMf5e6A&feature=related

    Also fine proof that hunters DO NOT just plow about on the forehand and hunter people are just "proped up there" and can't ride.

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  15. I'm a soprano, and I took voice lessons for many years. Traditional stuff, art songs, etc. I learned how to treat my voice for longevity, and I must say, at 40, my voice is really in its prime (when I gently work up to it). That's known as Proper Technique (tm). :P

    It drives me IN FREAKIN SANE when people say "Wow, that [rock star] uses OPERA when he/she is getting ready for a show!!! Listen to that up & down stuff!!" I'm like, NO, that singer has had some training and is using good technique so that they can still sound good at 60 (unlike Roger Daltry or Stephen Tyler).

    Similarly, I HATE it when people say "I use NH/Dressage when I work with my horse" as if those "brands" have the corner on correctness and effectiveness. I'm thinking, No, actually you're just using effective methods. Best Practices. Proper Technique. Classical Principles.

    The Quakers have a saying: "All Truth is God's Truth," meaning that Christians don't have some kind of exclusive access.

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  16. I don't use any one method, either. Actually, most of my (decidedly modest) horse handling skills come from experimenting and figuring things out on my own. Or from textbooks.

    I'd like to know what is considered "Natural Horsemanship" and what is not. Technically, no type of horsemanship is natural, because there's nothing natural about horses interacting with people. In my book, a natural horseman is someone who is exceptionally gifted in horse training and husbandry. They're a natural at it, they just instinctively know how best to handle horses and need very little guidance from a more experienced trainer. They're the Obi Wans of the horse world, so to speak.

    I tried that Parelli thing with my horse a few years ago, and he looked at me like I'd lost my marbles. I think I'll stick to the traditional methods. I've found them far more effective.

    The most common sense of NH, i.e., Pat and Linda Parelli, are nothing but circus tricks. It has a lot of wow factor, but very little function. I don't know when I would ever need to bounce a giant ball from horseback while simultaneously jumping over barrels. And stunts like that are certainly not going to endear me to my horse.

    I think the whole NH thing has turned into nothing but a money making scheme for big name trainers. They all have their own DVD's and equipment that you apparently can't go without if you want to be a good trainer yourself. *eye roll*

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  17. I am a NH trainer. I use a combination of methods, an array of things that work for the individual horse I am working on. The comment I want to make is directed at the backing discussions. When training a horse to do something, anything, he has to fgure out what you are asking. He will choose the wrong or incorrect response sometimes often, before finding the correct answer. When the correct response happens, the trainer rewards by releasing pressure. In this case the jiggling of the rope stops. Some learn it faster than others. I teach this to EVREY horse I ride or train. It is an invaluable tool. Sometimes you are just not close enough to pull the rope toward his chest to ask for a back up. Using this technique I can ask from anywhere. My horses are so light with it it just takes a little wiggle of the rope and back they go. So the only real crazy waving involved is usually the first time teaching them.

    Do I think the big name trainers have gotten out of hand? Yes. I also they they brought to light a lot about horsemnanship that main stream folks were not aware of. Things they should have been aweare of, but weren't.

    My 17.3h sensitive draft cross and I have a great relationship. We preactically read each others minds. One day going to a trail he spooked. I could feel the m oment that he thought, OMG I'm going to die and Loretta is asking me to move forward. Someone has to save my life and if it's not going to be her it's going to be me. Really, I felt him close me out. Know what I did? I got down. And we walked back and forth in front of the scary yellow do not enter tape for the next hour. He was side passing at a trot to try and not get close but keep his eye on it, right next to the road. But if he had freaked and pulled away, I'd be alive even if he got hit by a car. I've had many folks tell me I did the wrong thing. I will never be convicned of that. For that horse under tose circumstances, I did the right thing.

    So I applaud those who realize not every way works with every horse. Just like our children. Each have unique qualities that I beleive should be taken into consideration while training.

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  18. I am a NH trainer. I use a combination of methods, an array of things that work for the individual horse I am working on. The comment I want to make is directed at the backing discussions. When training a horse to do something, anything, he has to fgure out what you are asking. He will choose the wrong or incorrect response sometimes often, before finding the correct answer. When the correct response happens, the trainer rewards by releasing pressure. In this case the jiggling of the rope stops. Some learn it faster than others. I teach this to EVREY horse I ride or train. It is an invaluable tool. Sometimes you are just not close enough to pull the rope toward his chest to ask for a back up. Using this technique I can ask from anywhere. My horses are so light with it it just takes a little wiggle of the rope and back they go. So the only real crazy waving involved is usually the first time teaching them.

    Do I think the big name trainers have gotten out of hand? Yes. I also they they brought to light a lot about horsemnanship that main stream folks were not aware of. Things they should have been aweare of, but weren't.

    My 17.3h sensitive draft cross and I have a great relationship. We preactically read each others minds. One day going to a trail he spooked. I could feel the m oment that he thought, OMG I'm going to die and Loretta is asking me to move forward. Someone has to save my life and if it's not going to be her it's going to be me. Really, I felt him close me out. Know what I did? I got down. And we walked back and forth in front of the scary yellow do not enter tape for the next hour. He was side passing at a trot to try and not get close but keep his eye on it, right next to the road. But if he had freaked and pulled away, I'd be alive even if he got hit by a car. I've had many folks tell me I did the wrong thing. I will never be convicned of that. For that horse under tose circumstances, I did the right thing.

    So I applaud those who realize not every way works with every horse. Just like our children. Each have unique qualities that I beleive should be taken into consideration while training.

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  19. my "new" horse (i've had him since April) is an Arab with SEVERE ptsd caused by abusive halter training techniques. he doesn't trust people in general and men specifically. he's terrified of the halter and lead and will shy away if you try to approach him like you would with a normal horse (even if you don't have the halter or lead with you).

    one day a fellow boarder was watching me while i was working with my horse. i had just gone into his private turn out and did my usual "getting small" thing when approaching him. "getting small" is crouching down about 6-10 feet in front of him. when you're standing up, he feels threatened and will run from you. if you get small, you're not threatening and he'll come over and sniff you, then you can stand up and touch him all over and groom him and whatever. we're slowly getting to the point where i don't *always* have to get small before i can touch him. when he does panic and shy away, i simply turn my back on him and ignore him and eventually his natural curiosity makes him come over and nudge my back, then i can go back to work. the boarder watched me for a while and said "i love that you're doing the natural horsemanship thing with him". i immediately bristled as i generally despise everything connected with NH but then i realized that she was right, i was doing NH in its purest sense.

    i'm not much of a fan of any of the "new" NH trainers, but i do love the older guys, Buck Branaman (sp?) and the Dorance brothers. they didn't have "games", they just learned how to talk to the horses in their own language.

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