By Steve Stevens
Most people hear the term, “Natural Horsemanship,” and they think it is some magical spell put on the horse by a person who whispers what he wants from the horse. A lot of this came from the fame of the book and the movie, “The Horse Whisperer.” Then clinicians and horse trainers ran with it. The truth is that Natural Horsemanship is just the study of how horses interact with each other in their natural herd environment. It is the study of the nature of the horse and how we as humans can communicate with the horse in a way that is easier for them to understand, building a relationship to form a partnership as opposed to forming a dominant/submissive relationship.
There isn’t any whispering involved. Sure, the better horsemen and horsewomen are quiet with their voice because they have learned that horses respond better to body language. And sure, they may seem calm and patient because they have learned by studying the horse that will get the best response. I think the biggest misconception is that a true natural horseman sneaks around, babying a horse, never asking them to do anything. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The difference is just that with Natural Horsemanship, we want to put the horse in a situation where he is set up for success. Put enough pressure on him where he has to use his mind to figure out how to work through what he is imposed with. But don’t put so much on him that he will fail and fight. The best horsemen can make horses do things without you ever seeing what they are doing, because they dedicate themselves to practicing the techniques to connect and become one with the horse. Coming from a cowboy background, I have seen a lot of cowboys look down on the use of natural horsemanship or what it represents. But the funny thing is that some of the best cowboys I know are using natural horsemanship techniques every day, even better than the self- professed teachers of this style, without even knowing it.
Natural Horsemanship should just be called really good horsemanship. I do think there are a lot of teachers and trainers who say they teach these concepts who haven’t put the work in and that don’t have a full understanding of the science of Natural Horsemanship. I think that is where it gets some of its bad rap. I really believe that the secret to Natural Horsemanship is the idea that we never stop learning, that the horse is our teacher and every new horse we meet has something new to teach us. If you ever meet a horseman who says he knows everything about horses, I would run the other way as fast as I can.
Two wild mustang stallions Steve and wife, Amanda observed in Wyoming. (Photos by Amanda Stevens)