No Rope Halters, No Round Pens


Farah DeJohnette Horsemanship

It is interesting to me how Rope Halters and Round Pens have become symbols of Natural Horsemanship. As a student of horses, it became apparent to me that there is nothing natural about putting a halter and rope on a horse or putting them in a small round pen to build rapport or communicate with them.

I took a look at how horses are with each other socially and culturally. They have only their body language to communicate with each other and they even manage to train us too! Often without our knowledge! Horses do not have the option of putting each other on 12ft lines or in little round pens to communicate with each other. I call this way of training Pressure/Release Training. It is purely putting pressure on and releasing when the horse does the right thing. Most “Natural Horsemanship” I put in the category of Pressure/Release training and some I classify as Dominant/Confrontational and Pressure/Release. With all that said, Pressure and Release has a place in training applied thoughtfully, intelligently, and articulately. If you must work in a Round Pen, It is important to be extremely tactful, thoughtful and articulate. The horse must never feel trapped in the Pen and feel like he has no way to escape pressure.

When we ride, we touch the horses sides to communicate. We use our seats and posture in a variety of ways to mirror to the horse how to use his body under us. This is a certain type of communication and release on the positive response. If you are an articulate communicator, you not only know how to use your body but also where on the body to touch to illicit what I call a Natural Response. A Natural Response is a cue that the horse has told me the meaning of. Not the other way around. So that means I touch the horses somewhere and I “ask” the horse what it makes him feel like doing. Then we agree that this is the cue we are going to use for this particular movement. There is no training involved. Just communication and Listening to what the horse is saying.

When I start a young horse, all their Natural “Buttons” are already built in. It is only through other types of training, that they lose these Natural Responses. This is often what I am doing for horses that are sent to me to re-train. They have gotten their buttons rewired and have lost their Natural Responses. Now you can literally train a horse any way any how. I’ve seen it done and I’ve sat on horses trained to the 9’s that I had to ask what “Button” did what because they had so many on them. They were man made buttons though.

The interesting thing is, good riding and training is not complicated at all. Yes the conversations can get quite complex, but the foundation is very simple. As we all know, When there is cracks in the foundation, that’s where problems arise in communication. My Touch Training is based on the Horses’ Natural responses and what horses and I have agreed upon.

Getting back to what I think is Natural. I wanted to really connect to my horses and I knew Tack, Tools, and Pens ideally, should not be used before good Connection, Rapport and Communication are established. Tack and Tools often give us an unfair advantage and deteriorate Connection. It also allows us to substitute these tools for real body language and communication. Authentic communication. I seek this with my horses. This is what I think True Natural Horsemanship is. Just me and the horse in an open space communicating with each other, No Rope Halters and No Round Pens. Please enjoy the above video clip from my upcoming Liberty Improv project The Sounds of Liberty inspired by My Father, Jack DeJohnette, My Horses, Nature and my inner Artist . I love how many people responded on the last blog to the exercise!  How do you feel about this one?
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  • Kirsten Smit

    That’s one of the subjects I’m just wanting to start to figure out now I have my own horse, who is not touched by humans much yet.
    Keeps running in my mind ‘what’s her natural response and what is a learned cue’ and most of all I learned that even wearing a halter, without me handling the rope at the end was ‘restrictive’ for her, because she’s not used to it.

    Very inspiring blog! Gives answers to some ‘undefined’ questions I had in my mind. Thank you!

  • Robin McGee

    This is exactly why I don’t use or put any value on the term “natural horsemanship”. The guy who coined it is one of the most harsh, fear-based clinicians I’ve seen or heard of, and most of the other self-described practitioners of NH are as bad or worse.

    Thank you for bringing some balance to horsemanship!

    Your newest fan,

  • Soney Delport

    Thank you for this great blog and for sharing your horse taught experiences and knowledge. I believe in the animal kingdom and the knowledge they have to share with us. We just need to listen. My dream is to show the world what they can really achieve, and even though most people are not believers, there is always the faith and hope of making the life of at least one horse better.

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