Natural horsemanship is the philosophy of working with horses by appealing to their instincts and herd instincts. It involves communication techniques derived from wild horse observation in order to build a partnership that closely resembles the relationships that exist between horses.
There are countless "schools" or theories of natural horsemanship but the following ideas are common to Cornerstone Horse Farm:
Natural horsemanship has become very popular in the past two decades and there are many books, videos, tapes, and websites available to interested equestrians. This philosophy has capitalized on the use of behavioral negative reinforcement to replace inhumane practices used in some methods of training, the ultimate goal of which is a calmer, happier and more willing partner in the horse.
Natural horsemanship avoids punishment based training methods. While natural and gentle methods of training have been around for millennia, dating to the advocacy of gentle methods by Xenophon in Ancient Greece, there have also been any number of techniques over the years that attempted to train a horse by breaking the horse's spirit, often forcing it to fight back and then be dominated or defeated. Natural horsemanship advocates point out that by removing fear an individual gains trust from the horse. By not scaring and hurting the horse, the horse learns to work with people in a partnership versus as an adversary.
Many of the techniques used by natural horsemanship practitioners have ancient roots. The idea of working sympathetically with the horse's nature goes back at least to Xenophon and his treatise On Horsemanship, which has influenced humane practitioners of horse training in many disciplines, including both natural horsemanship and dressage.
However, gentle training methods have always had to compete with harsher methods, which often appear to obtain faster, but less predictable results. In particular, the cowboy tradition of the American west, where the economics of needing to break large numbers of semi-feral horses to saddle in a short period of time led to the development of a number of harsh training methods that the natural horsemanship movement specifically has set out to replace. However, most of the original natural horsemanship practitioners acknowledge their own roots are in the gentler methods of some cowboy traditions, particularly those most closely associated with the "California" or vaquero horseman.
The modern natural horsemanship movement developed primarily in the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountain states, where the "buckaroo" or vaquero-style cowboy tradition was the strongest. Brothers Tom and Bill Dorrance were early modern practitioners, who had background in the Great Basin buckaroo tradition. They had a particularly strong influence on Ray Hunt. Many later practitioners claim influence from the Dorrance brothers and Hunt, some having trained directly with these individuals.
Other trainers who developed from slightly different influences claim influence from John Solomon Rarey, as well as any number of other teachers and mentors who were well-versed in methods of gentle-breaking young horses. Several other practitioners derive inspiration from concepts used by Native American horse trainers.
In Europe a number of variations are practiced that developed independently of the American model, influenced by Spanish or Hungarian horsemanship traditions as well as the teachings of Classical dressage. Some include work rooted in the use of human body language to communicate effectively to the horse.
The term "natural horsemanship" came into popular use around 1985, and has only been widely used since the 1990s, when it obtained a significant boost from the popularity of Nicholas Evans' book (and later film) The Horse Whisperer, which promoted popular awareness of natural horsemanship.