City Limits Ranch


What is Natural Horsemanship and a few thoughts on the use of spurs

Posted on March 30, 2012 at 1:40 PM

   Natural horsemanship is many different things.  There are trainers, writers, teachers, learners and doers. The common basis is the understanding of the ethology (science of the study of animal behavior) and intrinsic nature of the horse and using that understanding to communicate with the horse and keep the training and husbandry compatible with what evolution has designed him to need for well-being. Natural horsemanship teaches us to keep horses in herds and allow them to roam and graze in the company of other horses instead of locking them in a stall 23 hours a day.

   One of the things we do in natural horsemanship is imprint training of the newborn foal. Dr. Robert Miller (a veterinarian who is now in his 80's ) found out that if he took a baby foal at birth even before the foal stood up, and desensitized the foal to every type of handling and experience, that foal would always remember and accept humans and their activities as part of his natural world.  The foal must also be sensitized to respond to handling appropriately submissively and to yield to pressure.

   In 2009 I attended the  University of Montana - Western in Dillon, Montana for a month to take a course in equine behavior and the development of natural horsemanship in their Department of Natural Horsemanship. We learned about the evolution of the horse from Hyracotherium ( a small forest creature previously called Eohippus "the Dawn Horse") 50 million years ago to the present. We also learned about Xenophon who was a Greek general. In 360 BC he wrote a book on horsemanship and in it he mentioned many of the principles we use today in natural horsemanship. We studied the history of natural horsemanship and the lives and ideas of many of the great teachers such as Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, Pat Parelli etc.

   I have been studying natural horsemanship since about 1990. It can be used in many riding disciplines and does not exclude any specific piece of equipment. We usually ride our horses in a rope halter (no bit) or in a simple snaffle bit. One of the principles of natural horsemanship is to "do as little as possible, but as much as necessary."  For. a specific sport or discipline, appropriate and traditional equipment may be used.

    Natural horsemanship is a special thing, because anyone can learn it and be safer and more successful with horses. One of the most amazing people I have seen is a German woman in a wheelchair, who trains her Fresian horse at liberty. At City Limits Ranch we use natural horsemanship principles  to help children make a connection with animals and with other people, learn responsibility and tolerance, and have a fun and very empowering experience. Some of the children come from difficult home situations and training the horses can help them to feel strong and smart.  Horses are also used by many organizations for the disabled and for EAGALA (equine assisted growth and learning association.)

    What about someone riding with spurs? Many natural horsemanship trainers do use spurs, never to punish or hurt the horse, but to apply a very specific and exact touch of communication. The pressure is immediately removed when the horse responds. If someone is hurting the horse or drawing blood or using force and pain, that is not natural horsemanship.

   I do not use spurs, nor do the kids.  This is not because I think spurs are bad, it is because they (and I)  do not have the skill to  apply the spur only correctly and never accidently touch the spur to the horse in error. I think it is better to just avoid any possibility of wrong use.



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