No Rope Halters, No Round Pens
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?