Wednesday, June 4, 2008


There are a lot of techniques out there for everything, these days, especially horse training.

Everyone thinks they have the ultimate training regime, to make the best possible horse. A few people are open enough to accept new ideas, and incorporate them into their own ways of doing things.

I'm going to talk about a couple of different philosophies and how I feel about them, here. Feel free to put in your own opinions in the comments, of course.

We'll start with the most recognizable: Natural Horsemanship. Pat Parelli and Clinton Anderson are two of the more famous advocates of this philosophy.

I like Natural Horsemanship, the basis of the technique is working with your horse in a way that speaks to his natural inclinations, that he can understand. There are a lot of things that can be accomplished this way, and while they may take a little longer, I think they turn out a better understanding between horse and rider.

I use several of Parelli and Anderson's specific techniques myself, from teaching a horse to lower it's head to avoid needing a stepladder to bridle or halter them, to using the round pen to establish or re-establish my dominant position in the herd. I use other techniques that are Natural-esque that I've figured out on my own, and a couple of those are what brought Monkey to the point of showing properly at halter from not wanting to lead at all, and also brought him to the point where you can pick up his feet without him going bug nuts on you.

One thing that I feel Natural Horsemanship is lacking, for all of it's value in communicating with the horse on a level that his mind can understand easily, is the consequences side of the coin.

Yes, Anderson uses harder work as a consequence, especially for gate or barn sour horses, but a herd doesn't trot or lope a horse in circles if they do something the more dominant members don't like. That's a consequence that the horse comes to understand, but not one that speaks to his natural bent.

Horses in a herd environment punish bad behavior with nips, and kicks. So why is it wrong to slap a hip with a cupped hand to simulate a light kick, or use fingers on a neck to intimate a nip? This is how your horse's mother taught him the social niceties of living in a herd in the first place. I'm not talking about beating a horse, or even making it hurt, I'm talking about just enough to get their attention.

Again, take Monkey for example. When I was working with him on his feet, it started as a matter of trust. I had to desensitize him and let him know that I wasn't going to hurt his fragile legs when I handled them. We spent a long time after workouts just touching and rubbing and asking him to stand still when I did it.

After a while, he started letting me pick his feet up. So I started working with him when he wasn't worked. And he went right back to his old habits. He knew what I wanted from him. He simply didn't want to comply. A little patient work, with very little result, and I found myself in a conundrum. That is, until I tried a back foot and he kicked at me, and I reacted instead of thinking. I hauled off and smacked him on the hip, it made an impact and a sound, and he started a bit. Then I went to pick up the foot again, and lo and behold he didn't try kicking me again.

I had already established my dominance in his herd, and he was responding to the natural heirarchy. I didn't hurt him, but I did give a consequence that made him understand that that wasn't acceptable, in a way that he's learned and lived with all his life.

That's what I mean about consequences the horse understands.

Now, a little further down the line from Natural Horsemanship falls Alexander Nevzorov. If you haven't heard of him, and I would be surprised if very many of you have, you can search his last name and find his website.

His precept, that a horse should be trained without use of a bit, spurs, or any form of restraint, is a bit extreme for me. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the kind of communication and camaraderie that allows you to work with your horse without those things. I just don't agree with doing away with them altogether.

Frankly, I don't see how it could possibly be safe. Of course, if you're going to learn his methods, or even participate in the online school forums, he requires that you first stop riding for at least a year, and reject completely all horse "sports." Which takes out the possibility of an exited horse running off in a crowd setting, to be sure.

The thing that really rubs me the wrong way about Nevzorov is the ego, honestly. He's demanding of his "students" and that's fine, but he's also placing demands on the general public, vilifying anyone who rides with a bit at all, and maintaining a PETA-throwing-paint-on-furs-esque drive to show the cruelty of bits in general.

Oh, and the hypocrisy of demanding that students or even curious passers by swear to his ideals before even going to his online forums, and at the same time maintaining a photo gallery of the "vicious sports" and encouraging the like-minded to haunt events to get more of these pictures is astounding.

So, while he may have methods that are useful, insightful, and downright genius, I don't know them. I won't go into his forums to see if any of them are posted, and I won't purchase his video.

You can find video of his results on the internet, on Youtube, and I admit that they're rather impressive. It's a beautiful thing to see a horse playing with a person at complete liberty, jumping and kicking and never touching the man standing in front of them. It's enough to give you chills when you see the horse perform a flawless courbette without any prompting at all, just because they enjoy it.

It's too bad that the master of these techniques is more concerned about immediately solving the problem he perceives in horsemanship than in sharing the knowledge that allows him to do these things. He'd probably win more hearts freely showing people his techniques and speaking gently against the things he eschews, than by adopting his extremist moral high ground.

I have to wonder how many people out there are like me, intrigued by the concept and thirsty for knowledge, but completely turned off by the manner in which the precept is presented?

Surely I'm not the only one?