Natural horsemanship: a balanced view

Goodwin, Deborah, (2008) Natural horsemanship: a balanced view Suggett, R.H. Graham (ed.) In Proceedings of the 16th National Equine Forum. NEF Organising Committee. 2 pp, pp. 14-15.


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The recent popularity of Natural Horsemanship has created something often difficult to achieve in the equestrian industry - change! Natural Horsemanship trainers have produced a cultural change in thinking and approach to horse:human interactions. These changes extend from individual horse owners through to conventional training organizations, including the BHS, who dubbed 2007 “The Year of Equine Ethology”. Academic equine ethologists were very interested in these developments, but became concerned at the way that some Natural Horsemanship trainers presented “Equine Ethology”. Often personal opinions were claimed to be facts, without any associated objective study of horse behaviour in the natural or domestic environment.
Good Natural Horsemanship trainers are talented observers of horse behaviour and can detect and respond precisely to subtle cues during horse training. They have demonstrated their ability to exploit the marketplace and teach their methods for commercial reward. Unfortunately, not all followers of these methods are as effective as the originating trainers. Inaccurate application can lead to poor results, disappointment and eventually frustration in people, which may result in abuse, confusion and conflict behavior in horses.
It is beguiling to think that we can learn to “speak horse”, impose our will on horses by understanding their behavior; even exert dominance over them, and that as a result horses will respect our leadership. Though attractive, unfortunately these ideas are inherently flawed and potentially problematic. We have no evidence that horses perceive us as “honorary horses”, or that we can insert ourselves into their social organization. Such beliefs can cause problems when things go wrong. When this happens does it mean that we are “poor leaders”, or that our horses don’t “respect” us? Or is there a simpler explanation? Have we simply failed to successfully train correct responses to our cues?
Scientists studying horse behavior and training have been prompted by the success of Natural Horsemanship trainers in achieving cultural change to take a more active approach in communicating their work to horse owners and trainers. The recently formed International Society for Equitation Science aims to encourage this communication between equine science professionals and practitioners. Science has much to offer in advancing techniques in horse training and reducing wastage by objectively assessing what does and does not work, and most importantly, why? Trainers can be helped to be more effective through improving their understanding of how horses learn and the correct application of learning theory in training.
Calibrated rein tension gauges and pressure sensitive spurs can measure the strength of aids used to communicate a rider’s intentions to the horse. Riders and trainers can integrate technology into their training methods to understanding contact and lightness objectively. Performance and welfare assessment is now possible via heart rates, gait analysis, blood, urine and saliva analyses plus other well accepted physiological measures.
Equitation scientists, conventional and Natural Horsemanship trainers aim to help people train horses more effectively. It is vital that we share our knowledge to achieve these goals, as when training fails the horse suffers, and may pay the ultimate price with its life.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Venue - Dates: 16th National Equine Forum, 2008-03-27 - 2008-03-27

ePrint ID: 63513
Date :
Date Event
March 2008Published
Date Deposited: 20 Oct 2008
Last Modified: 16 Apr 2017 17:24
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