Category Archives: horse

Equestrian 101: What is Natural Horsemanship?

Natural horsemanship is a method of horse training that emphasizes establishing a working relationship based on leadership, trust, and communicating person-to-horse the way horses communicate with each other. The goal is to elicit willing cooperation rather than forced compliance, counter to the traditional image of “cowboying” a horse and breaking its spirit. While various techniques have been popularized by trainers such as Monty Roberts, Buck Brannaman, and others, standard elements include desensitization, pressure to motivate, release to teach,  body language to communicate, and rest as a reward. It is, however, important to note that these philosophies have been around for centuries and are core elements of classical riding and horsemanship done right.

Natural Horsemanship Techniques Under Saddle

Many equestrians inaccurately assume that natural horsemanship is a ground training method only, consisting of “games” or skill-building activities like walking over tarps or into trailers. While those are certainly valuable things, the basic tenants of natural horsemanship training are equally useful under saddle.

Building a trust relationship and leadership on the ground first ensures greater success, and an established language, once a rider mounts up.

Here’s a fantastic video of an European horseman demonstrating the core elements of natural horsemanship in teaching young horses to go forward under saddle. Keep in mind that forward is the first thing a horse needs to learn, and the trainer is focusing on that skill alone (not the horse’s position, straightness, or even direction). I love that he demonstrates with horses of different personalities and responses, and he does a great job of explaining the techniques he is using. Check out this short video for a glimpse at how natural horsemanship applies to riding:

Road to the Horse Natural Horsemanship Competition

Since 2003, the annual Road to the Horse competition has pitted several elite trainers and clinicians against each other in a entertainment-based clinic format to help show people that natural horsemanship is a gentler and more effective way. Less than 5 trainers are invited to participate in the event each year, in which they select an untouched 3-year-old to train over the course of a few days. They are judged not only on a final test of skill but also on the means they used to get there.

Past winners include four-time champion Chris Cox, Craig Cameron, Stacy Westfall, John Lyons, and my personal favorite Aussie Guy McLean.j

Learn Natural Horsemanship Online

Monty Roberts is arguably the most well-known name in natural horsemanship. With a career that spans decades as well as continents, Monty is known even throughout the non-horse world thanks to his mainstream books like The Man Who Listens to Horses and Shy Boy.

I have had the privilege of spending some time with Monty Roberts as well as his daughter Debbie, and a more genuine human being or horseman you will never meet. He knows, loves, and respects horses from the inside out and his deepest desire is to help humans improve their relationship and training with horses.

Monty has hundreds of videos available for free on YouTube. Check them out to see what natural horsemanship is all about and to learn techniques for dealing with specific issues.

Monty also offers an online training program called Monty Roberts Online University. This subscription-based service gets you access to detailed videos on all aspects of horse training from Monty and collaborations with leading horse men and women – Olympic athletes included. Check out Monty Roberts Online University here.

Photo Credit: A Kind Eye by David Lewis used with permission via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0