As a real student of Horsemanship, I am always learning everyday from and with horses and their people. I have spent most of my life studying horses and great horseman alike to accumulate the knowledge I have to date. As I have gained more experience and found a path that really resonates to me, I found that I was drawn to working with a horse in what was my definition on Natural Horsemanship. There are so many approaches that fall under this category these days. But I have always looked at things from the horses’ point of view. I decided a while back a few personal guide lines for myself when watching others work with horses (professionals and amateurs alike). I tell people in my clinics in a sea of experts how do you/I know who to listen too or follow? Well the first questions I ask myself is a really simple one. “If I was a horse, would I like to be handled or treated that way?”. If the answer is no, then I don’t use it. I can find nuggets of wisdom from anyone, even if it’s what not to do.
I started breaking down what Horsemanship was to me. I found a stronger desire to build Connection with my horses and my clients horses. I didn’t just want horses “fix” horse all day, I was drawn to Liberty work in various forms and Carolyn Resnick’s Waterhole Rituals. To me Liberty is generally not done in a round pen unless there is no other option but in a large area if not even in an un-fenced area (once you have gotten to that level). I thought about how it didn’t seem natural to me to put a halter and rope on a horse or pressure them in a small round pen. I do put horses on a training line or lunge after I have Connection not to build the relationship but to continue building it. When a horse is on line or confined, he is being “trained” to Pressure and Release which is how most Technical Communication is achieved with a horse. This has it’s place in training but goes much easier once Connection is in place. I have softness with my horse that remains after the tack is added because it becomes just an extension of our Connection. This is of course built over time and I never see it as a means to an end but more of a daily interaction with my horses that continues to grow our Connection.
So back to Liberty and what Natural Horsemanship is to me. I started thinking about how horses could not put halters and lines on each other. They could not put each other in small pens and chase around another horse. They did not have tools except for there own body language. They built leadership, bonds, Connection, friendships, communication, pecking order and understanding in their territory in open areas.
We, of course have given ourselves many advantages to gain control of horses. I started taking away my advantages. I took away everything as long as I felt safe in my person right down to any sticks/whips/etc. I wanted to learn to communicate how horses communicate, bond how they bond, lead how they lead and learning to integrate into herd dynamic. I always tell people to watch herds (wild if your lucky and domestic if you have them available). I have the good fortune to have several herds to watch everyday and learn from. I also get to see new horses integrate and sometimes my horses have to integrate with new herds. They are the best teacher and where the real learning is done. Observe and experiment, keep yourself safe, and have fun!