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NATURAL HORSEMANSHIP EXPLAINED

BY
John O'Leary
Horseman
© 2001

www.horseproblems.com.au

 

 

 

updated 28th January, 2012

Natural Horsemanship has always been around, probably since the time man first interacted with the horse.  Years ago however, it was packaged by a run of American Trainers with marketing hype, buzz words, 'touchy feely' speak and in some cases, an almost Pentecostal delivery. Good on them as so called 'Natural Horsemanship' (NH) is a fantastic principal and has enlightened multitudes of closed minded people.

However, lost in the euphoria has been the reality that 'Natural Horsemanship' as People have come to know it in these times, is only a system of Ground Manners Training. IT IS NOT a system of the Starting or Breaking in of Horses.!
 

THE OLD SCHOOL

Prior to those who brought 'Natural Horsemanship' to the World, the old methods can best be described by these two Photos.

 

  

 

A lot of money has been made and a number of Trainers have become household names as a result but in essence, they are no better or worse than other good Trainers, the world over. Many are not as good as conventional Trainers'. Luckily, I have been around as long or longer than most of the NH preachers' and have been able to take a long hard objective look at what they say, via their clinics, video's and books and have watched a lot of their disciples. Even more fortunate, I have been able to ride and handle the product of every one of these systems, both before NH and since it's inception which was about 20 years ago. I was there the day that Parelli first showed his wares in this Country. You will notice a heavy dose of NH type talk throughout my writings but I was doing that long before NH was ever invented and so was Lyons, Dorrence, Hunt and other top class Trainers'.

Good Trainers' the World over, have always operated as "Natural Horse Persons"

Of the many observations about all of the various spins that each Trainer has put on their particular brand of NH, I feel that two stand out:

  • That horses are capable of learning the various teachings way faster than humans and that this is one of the weaknesses in the system, and,

  • That as a result, there are a lot of confused horses out there. A lot of horses suffer at the hands of NH newbie's. who literally do get "paralysis of the analysis"

So who invented it?

 

AMERICA

MR RAREYS SYSTEM (1800's)

He was from America and electrified the British Public who noted that he had "an extraordinary Power over Horses" but he would have for the British were used to caressing domesticated Horses for around 3 Weeks and then leading with a dummy Man on top.

PROFESSOR SAMPLE (1800's)

'Professor' Sample and his ''Marvelous Horse Taming Machine". Sample arrived in London in 1885 but was discredited. However when he ventured to Australia where in Melbourne, he lead a Horse into the enclosure and proclaimed it had never been handled before. Some things don't change through the Ages
 

TOM DORRENCE  (1900's)

May 11, 1910 - June 11, 2003

http://www.tomdorrance.com/ Tom was widely credited with advancing the cause for the Horse in training and was the Mentor of Ray Hunt.
 

RAY HUNT (1900's)

Ray Hunt was born August 31, 1929 and passed away in 2009. He too was a conventional Horseman who was a Natural Horseman. http://www.rayhunt.com/
 

PAT PARELLI (1900's)

Pat, to his credit, identified that the Horse World at large just couldn't get this "natural Horsemanship' thing and he should always be remembered for  popularizing a form of it and all those who followed, copied or altered Pat's 7 Games. He invented a way to bring the thinking to the Masses, although, in a Modern way. Don't think for a moment though, that all of the others mentioned here "floated the Rope". They did however, work sympathetically and empathetically with Horses, because Horses were their teachers and they listened.

http://www.parellinaturalhorsetraining.com/
 

AUSTRALIA

KEL JEFFREY (Mid 1900's)

Let's set the record straight from the outset though. An Australian first invented and taught the principal of 'Advance and Retreat" and his name was Kel Jeffrey's. He died in 1954. I would therefore submit that he was a 'Natural Horseman". Pat Parelli credits Kel as the inventor of "Advance and Retreat"

Jeffrey's was heavily influenced by the greatest Trainer of Trick Horses in the World, J.D. Wilton, who was my mentor, Steve Brady and many of the best Australian Horse Trainers of this day.

 

 

J.D.WILTON  (Early to Mid 1900's)

It is said that Jim Wilton was the greatest Horse Trainer of them all and I know he was held in awe by American Horse People. Many of his achievements will never be matched. He showed a group of Horses, across Australia, at Agricultural Shows, AT LIBERTY. Horses in quadrille, jumping Cars whilst holding flaming poles in their Teeth.

 

However, few have heard of this Gentleman......

PROFESSOR MCGILLIVRAY (1800's)

1855-1921

However, way prior to that, a distant relative of myself, Professor McGillivray, toured Australia from Town to Town where they would assemble the greatest Man Eater and rogue Horses around and the good Professor would ride the Beast within 10 minutes and often within 30 seconds and using  nothing but a walking stick, no Bridle and Saddle I would submit that he was the first 'Natural Horseman' and undoubtedly, the best.
 


Catching and Mounting an untouched Horse in 30 Seconds
 

MR. D'ARCY HYLAND (1800's)

an Australian, having seen Rarey and Sample, then toured the Country and also wowed the Crowds but he was not a "Natural Horseman". Other notable Horsemen of the Day were Curr, Edward Micklethwaite (1820–1889) and Fetherstonhaugh, Cuthbert (1837–1925)


Gordon, Adam Lindsay (1833–1870)

Gordon in fact Married my Grand Mother's Sister on my Mum's side.

He too was a renouned Horseman of the time. In July 1865 Gordon, performed the daring riding feat known as Gordon’s Leap on the edge of the Blue Lake. A commemorative obelisk erected there has an inscription which reads: “This obelisk was erected as a memorial to the famous Australian poet. From near this spot in July, 1865 Gordon made his famed leap on horseback over an old post and rail guard fence onto a narrow ledge overlooking the Blue Lake and jumped back again onto the roadway. The foundation stone of the Gordon Memorial Obelisk was laid on 8th July 1887”
 

NATURAL HORSEMANSHIP NOW

Now, I am all for NH and have promoted Pat Parelli's system far and wide over the years. For years before his first accredited trainer appeared in the State that I live in, I was promoting his system and equipment and actually had Manufactured and sold the first rope halters into Saddlery  Shops in Australiaas they had never heard of them. I use a lot of NH techniques but people should never rule out what came before. The promotion of the various systems of NH and the creed itself has become almost evangelical and Religious in it's following and this is starting to affect the mainstream Trainers and the Horse Industry in general. Two instances of this is:

  • The break up of certain Pony Clubs because the Parelli teaching makes people think that they cannot wear bridles on their horses which has led to the a lot of Pony Club members leaving,  and,
     

  • The effect upon Professional Trainers who may not wear the NH badge of honor, with these people now starting to lose work or be questioned about "what type of NH" system do you break a horse in with?" (my answer to that is, that non of the systems teach breaking in. They are all small parts of what is needed for a completed horse but not the full deal)

You show me an NH system that includes the full system of breaking in a horse. Yet, NH has taken the centre stage, almost to the exclusion of. let's call it, Good Horsemanship. (GH)

NH has never taught a system of 'starting or breaking in' Horses. It is simply a 'ground manners' system that extends to basic ridden work for fun. It does not teach 'Starting Horses'

To his credit, Pat Parelli has never actively sought to denigrate everything that is not 'natural' and I have personally heard him accredit Jeffreys but there is a new Breed of Natural Horse People arriving on the scene right now and not only do they not credit Pat Parelli with their very existence but they are going out of their way to discredit any Trainer that doesn't follow their newly cloned brand which is 'Parelli dressed in drag' It normally has the word 'Savvy' associated with it's name and is even slicker in marketing than when Pat started out :) This is the main reason for the update of this article.

I have ridden hundreds of NH started horses. None of them compare with horses that come from the original Australian Horse Breaker. They also have certain short comings.

  • They are often a problem to shoe. (ask any farrier)

  • They do not have the mouths that other systems produce.

  • They often do not tie up properly.
     

GOOD HORSEMANSHIP
 

Let's for the want of a better word, call that which came before NH, GH. I include people like Ray Hunt, John Lyons, Tom Dorrence, Kel Jeffreys, Tom Roberts, Professor McGilveray and many others. Hunt and Lyons have jumped on the NH band wagon a little but their roots are in GH. I can tell by watching them, but even they are a little intimidated with the NH revolution and have been busy re-packaging themselves to keep up. One thing is for sure though, NH should never over shadow GH and that these good trainers' should stand their ground.

In the interests of open debate, I will now have a close look at a couple of the more publicized systems.

PAT PARELLI

  • The ground work, or the '7 Games' as it was called, is fantastic and every person in the world should know and use it. If they did, I wouldn't meet the 90% of horses that are 'pig ignorant' on the ground that I do today.

  • The ridden side of it has use for the converts but not the general Horse Community

  • I have never met a horse broken in with this system that I would rank as good.

  • The Parelli system of floating is fantastic and most suited to the one person Horse Team but once again, comes unstuck due to the fact that the human takes a long time to learn how to carry it out proficiently. I meet a lot of problem floaters' caused by the failure of Parelli aspirants' and I know systems of floating that run rings around the practical use upon problem floaters and especially for the Novice person.

  • The riding 'At Liberty' system looks like great fun and can only improve horses overall behavior, however, it is for a very limited audience and is not relevant to mainstream riders'.
     

MONTY ROBERTS

Monty Roberts uses a technique he calls "Join Up" He makes people think that once a horse has joined up, that it is basically broken in and can be ridden. This is not so and is bordering on dangerous in my opinion.

"Join Up" was used by John Lyons (on video) 20 years ago at least and he was calling it "Round Pen Reasoning" or similar. I saw the video and have used this system for at least 25 years. Let me tell you that in performing the act of "Join UP", the horse is no where near broken in, is not mouthed, does not have brakes or a steering wheel . You should not assume that it does. I can imagine the accidents that may have occurred by people thinking that these horses are ready to ride. They are not. THEY ARE DANGEROUS!

The "Join Up" is a very valuable tool for the wild or tough and dangerous horse and I use it fairly regularly. Again however, the amateur person would have a great deal of trouble attempting to gain much success from it as the years of experience in reading horses etc, is needed. The Novice has great difficulty in carrying it out and this often leads to the terrorization of Horses. In fact, a form of 'Join Up' was used by Rarey

Dorrence, Hunt and many others, although the term had not been invented, were also 'Natural Horsemen' imho. They all contributed to the revolution that served to commence the fight against archaic methods such as throwing Horses down, trusting them up, chocking them down and bucking them out.

In fact, 'Natural Horsemanship is not about any one system or invention but it is a way of interacting with Horses that uses the minimum of force to get the job done, does not stress or upset Horses and above all, makes sure they come out the other end of the Breaking in process with their natural personality, no hang ups and with a look of happiness in their eye and on their face. It is an anachronism to know that a fair sample of the New Age Natural Horsemanship converts, in fact turn out unhappy and Pee'd off Horses, do to their over exuberance with the systems.
 

HORSES NEVER LIE

With the advent of Youtube, I have been able to study many systems of starting Horses but I have been encountering many clips of Horses that are trained in the Savvy way where Horses are distinctly unhappy and depressed. Their Body Language tells all. I see a level of stress in lots of Horses that I never see when I have to work outside of my Natural Horsemanship mould with Problem Horses. I never get such faces on Horses, no matter whether I may have to lie them on the ground hobble them, collar rope them or any manner of other remedial reasons. So what gives?

It gets back to the fact that it is not about the system but how it is used. It is about the Handler. Therefore, I will wager anyone that I can operate in a Natural Horsemanship manner when Hobble Training a Horse. None of them will ever end up with bad faces, the likes of what I am currently seeing coming out of some well known Natural Horsemanship Trainers.

This is the face of one started last week by one of my Friends. Spot the difference.


 

TRUE NATURAL HORSEMANSHIP - THE NEXT LEVEL

True "Natural Horsemanship, the likes of Dorrence and Hunt, will rarely be experienced and will not be gained via the modern Day and so called "Natural Horsemanship' (7 Games and Savvy based off shoots)

As 'Curley' in 'City Slickers' the Movie said when continually asked "how did you do that", simply remarked each time, "It's the ONE THING" Luckily, after many Thousands of Horses through my Hands, I can vouch that "the One Thing" does exist. Tom Dorrence was obviously referring to it via the Title of his Book "True Unity". This is in fact true 'Natural Horsemanship'. What is it?.......well as 'Curly' said....."When you get it, you'll know it"
 

SO WHAT IS NATURAL HORSEMANSHIP?

Well it is not the 7 Games alone. It is far more than that. True Natural Horsemanship comes with empathy, kindness, understanding, reading of the Horse, the ability to read the Mind of the Horse, to understand and identify that the Horse can read your mind, to admit that the Horse is highly intelligent and in many ways a faster learner than Humans. How come I can teach a Horse the 7 Games in an Hour and a Human in 6 Months?
 

Dr. Robert M Miller in his latest Book, 'Natural Horsemanship Explained' says the following:

"It is interesting that, while today's recreational rider often has an excessive dependency on and respect for such tools as bits, spurs and whips, they usually regard hobbles as and unnecessary and cruel device. I believe that all domestic horses should be trained to hobbles and that proper hobble training is an integral part of 'Natural Horsemanship'" It is a good read by the way.

Now I only raise the most controversial subject in order to make the point that it is not about the systems but about the way they are carried out and the Handler.

Some of the new entrants are attempting to brain wash their target converts that anyone who ties a horse up or anyone who desensitizes Horses can not be called a Horseman. I completely disagree and so does Dr. Miller.

 " Although it is much slower than 'flooding', a safer technique is to progressively desensitize the horse by using the advance retreat system described earlier or even the pursuit of an unfamiliar and frightening object also described earlier. A horse can follow a tarp being dragged away from it until confidence and curiosity develop and fear dissipates."

Remember, the pragmatic Horseman is the one that realizes that they have to custom make each Horse to suit the 'Dummy' that may ride it. Whilst blind and dizzy pursuits in the name of Horsemanship may give us all a 'warm inner glow' at the end of the day, Novices who make up the vast majority of the Horse Industry, have to be able to ride them and not die. Balance is important.

The principals behind NH are great and those pushing it have done a mighty service to the welfare of horses. I credit Pat Parelli as the leader in the advancement and launching of such thinking and he deserves all the credit he gets. He rarely gets it by half the World of new NH Horsemen and Women as they attempt to dupe us all that it is their idea but they are all copying and varying on Pat. Sorry. Credit where Credit  due. He didn't invent it but he packaged it and popularized it. Full stop/end of story.

I warn against people getting "Paralysis of the Analysis" to use Pat's own quote, to keep an open mind and to build their skills using parts of every system ever invented. I use it all and I figure that I am a complete Horseman. If I stuck to one system, I would not be known as 'Horseproblems' and I would not still be here after 25,000 Horses.

 

NH, GH, and Horsemanship in general

Mr HP,
Finally, I have a problem concerning horses! :) :)
It is not my intent to make you a Lightning Rod, but I think this is a subject that needs thinking about.

I have a problem with what seems to be one of the basic tenets of NH, GH, and Horsemanship in general. The
phrases "be the boss" and "be a leader" just don't sound quite right to me.
If you take a good look at horse interaction in herds, the Boss or Leader takes responsibility for discipline in the
herd. They do the bulk of the "Mother-in-Law" looks, shoulder pushing, nudging, nipping, biting, kicking and,
in extreme cases, going for the flank bite, although other horses do some to maintain or increase their standing in the herd.
It seems to me that any intelligent horse (which is most of them) will, by its' very nature, avoid interaction with the Boss if it has any choice. Unless it is challenging the leadership, it is going to be low profile. With the herd boss, it is "My way or the highway". Conform to my rules or you will be driven from the herd. Do Bosses have respect for the other horses? Only if you define respect as not coming down on them for following the rules.

When people do "join up" and "the 7 games" do they really become the Leader? If not, what IS going on?

If you take another look at the herd you will see two horses grooming each other, scratching each others manes, back and tail, places where they can't reach themselves. Standing end to end keeping flies off of each other. Just about anything that is of mutual benefit, and sometimes just of benefit to one. If you watch them when a more dominant horse tries to play dominance games, the act together to protect each other. The more dominant horse generally doesn't like those odds, so they are generally left pretty much alone. They are pasture "buddies" who RESPECT and TRUST each other. And are prone to" Separation Anxiety". :)
By the trainer acting as a Leader, but being free with praise and grooming for a job well done, has he (or she) become instead a "buddy", a trusted (and respected) companion the horse enjoys being with. Bosses generally only groom when they allow another horse back in the herd, after accepting a sincere and heartfelt apology for violating the rules. And I can't see them going over to a horse and saying "Well done" and giving a little love for behaving.
Is a Leader and Follower the best relationship you can have with a horse? Or is it a Partnership where each listens to the other and the horse happily accepts cues? Where each does his (or her) best for the other? A "mutual admiration society" with mutual trust and respect.
Yes, you need a horse to respect you and your space, and you need to do what is necessary to get it, but do you need to be a Leader? After you have respect do you need to be dominant, or is equal (with veto power) good enough?
A Leader tells, a Buddy asks. (Did you know a horses and women have at least one thing in common: very few like to be told what to do, they like to be asked, and some of them you damned well better ask!) :) :) :)
If a horse has a choice of following the Leader going in one direction and his Buddy going in another which way would he go? If the defecation hits the accelerator the Leader is half way to Alice Springs, but the Buddy is still there trying to help out. Is a horse going to trot over to the Leader to say "Glad do see you"? Not likely.
Think about the best horse/rider combinations you have seen. What kind of relationship did they have?

Is it time to change the nomenclature and basic thinking of horse training?


Regards,
Jack

 

Ah Jack, yes. You know? If you and I were around a Camp Fire, we would agree on most things and all of that but the World isn't flat. I am ever mindful that I deal with and write for those entering and trying to advance in the Horse Industry and as you know, most cannot yet arrive at a place where they could achieve those lofty ideals in their relationship with their Horses. I am sure they all aspire to but we are talking high skill levels to get there. However, your piece sure is an aspiration for all to strive for and for that I thank you.

 

I devote this article to my twenty odd Thousand Coaches. They were always right and none ever lied.

 

"An ordinary Trainer cannot hear a Horse speak, a Good Trainer can, a Great Trainer can hear them whisper and a Top Trainer can HEAR THEM THINK"

"Wear your Heart in your Hands"

John O'Leary

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