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Three "Natural Horsemanship" techniques that are damaging your horse's trust and what to do instead.

Before reading this article, please understand that these are not judgments; they are observations. I am not here to criticize or condemn, but rather to educate. I aim to expand the awareness of those seeking a more meaningful connection with their equine partner. All techniques I discuss in this article are techniques I have personally practiced at one point. I believe we want to do right by our horses for the most part. And when we know better, we do better. This information transformed my relationship with horses, and if you can keep an open mind, I believe it will do the same for you.


Looking back on myself as a young trainer, my main focus was training horses to do what I asked them to do when I asked them to do it, with the least amount of resistance possible. You may be thinking, "that's STILL what I want!" - but I ask you to hear me out. Through the use of Natural Horsemanship techniques, I often gained compliance in a manner I felt was fairly quick and easy. At the time, I was a raving fan. The training methods do get results, but this is where you must ask yourself what is more important to you - the results or the relationship? If your answer was the results, this might not be the article for you.


After I sold my first farm, I ended up taking the few horses I had left to one of my mentor's farm to board them. While I had taken lessons with him at my farm on my horses, I had not spent much time watching him interact with his personal horses. He did things differently and in a way that made more sense than techniques I had been using. The time I spent there forever changed the way I think about training horses. As I learned and implemented some of his ways, I watched the relationship with my horses transform and reach new heights. Their confidence began to skyrocket, and the connection and communication we developed were more potent than I had ever experienced. EVERYTHING felt different.

It wasn't until several years later that my awareness came full circle when another mentor of mine came to stay with me on my new farm. Through a couple of conversations and working with a challenged mustang that I had recently adopted, I realized the damage I had unknowingly caused to the relationships with my equine partners. When I saw the big picture it all made perfect sense!


The following are three Natural Horsemanship techniques commonly practiced that cause damage to the relationship between you and your horse. The good news is that I will also give you connection building exercises that can be done instead to build confidence, trust, and true connection with your equine partner.



1. Running your horse in the round pen



THE PROBLEM

The moment you take your horse in the round pen (or put him on a lunge line) and ask him to run, you've engaged his flight instinct. Initially, it was explained to me that this is what the alpha mare does in the wild to gain submission from a new herd member. However, we must keep in mind that WE are not a horse; therefore, we are seen by the horse as a predator - until we can prove to the horse we are safe and trustworthy. Engaging a horse's flight instinct causes the release of adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol in the horse's brain, creating a "trigger" for the horse. Because horses quickly pick up on patterns, after just a few sessions they will associate these interactions with being prey and begin to internalize stress. While they horse may look "fine", this stress can manifest in indirect ways such as behavioral issues like running away in the pasture, or physical problems like digestive issues.


Now, if you're like I was, you may be thinking, "but after a few sessions, I achieve join up, and my horse follows me around like a puppy dog." This is where a deep level of situational awareness is required. Period. Full Stop. What is ACTUALLY happening is that you've taken away one of the horse's highest values, which is energy conservation. So essentially, the horse is following you because he knows the alternative is expelling all energy, putting his life in even more danger. Your horse also sees YOU as the antecedent, and consequently, the threat. I want you to reflect back on a time you've done this exercise and really FEEL into the energy of the horse. The exchange is transactional, forceful, and not one of connection.


WHAT YOU CAN DO INSTEAD

As my great mentor said to me, "It takes far more self-control and emotional regulation for a horse to walk in a circle around you than it does to run away from you."


STEP 1: Take your horse into the arena on a lunge line and ask him to walk in a circle. (This is a great litmus test to the level of connection you and your equine partner currently have.) If he is looking away, distracted, or trying to move faster than a walk, then you do not have much connection. If his ear and eye are on you, and his body is curving around you, then you have connection.


STEP 2: Focus your attention on the inside hind leg. You can use your awareness and your shoulder closest to the leg to energetically encourage the horse to step under his belly. This will do two things - first, it will cause the horse to round his back and expose his sacrum - which requires him to be vulnerable, and second, it causes him to arch his rib cage around you - which builds trust and connection. If the horse is distracted or puts tension on the lunge line, you can soften the horse's body by holding the line at your fingertips and opening and closing your hand as if you are squeezing a sponge. Once the horse softens, give a release. Once he is traveling with his body curved around you, he feels connected. Keep in mind that depending on how disconnected your horse is, this may take several sessions. Be patient and never do this for more that 15 minutes at a time.


STEP 3: Create a rhythm between your breath and the horse's cadence. I like to breathe in through the nose for four steps and out through the mouth for eight steps. I will do this until I see the horse's eye soften and his neck come horizontal with the withers. After mastering this technique, you will both feel as if you are in a meditative state and your horse will be drawn to you without pressure or ultimatums, and your relationship will transform.



2. ASKING FOR "TWO EYES"


THE PROBLEM

If you've watched any Clinton Anderson videos, you know the saying ask for "two eyes". This is where you disengage your horse's hindquarters and pull his head in towards you, making him face you head on. This is WORST exercise you could EVER do with your horse. EVER! (ask me how I really feel). Let me explain why, when horses are in self-preservation mode, they put their body behind their head. The rib cage holds the vital organs, and when in a threatening situation will do all they can to protect that part of their body. So every time you put your horse in this position, you are telling him that you are not a safe person to be around. Imagine what this does to his ability to have trust and confidence in you. Think about how that could play out if you are ever in a dangerous situation. Instead of looking to you for guidance, his anxiety levels will sky rocket and he will instantly go into flight mode.


WHAT YOU CAN DO INSTEAD

At the foundation of a relationship with a horse is TRUST. Therefore, you must help the horse become comfortable with you being in vulnerable areas of his body by creating moments of relaxation. If you look at two horses sharing a meaningful moment together, their bodies are arched around each other. We can quickly gain the trust of our horse by simulating this social engagement.

STEP 1: Stand at your horse's shoulder, facing the same direction as they are, and rest your hand on their withers. If they move, stay with them until they stop moving, then take a deep breath and scratch their withers as if your hand was a horse's mouth grooming them. Practice this until you can stand next to your horse on both sides without them moving. If you start on line and in an arena, progress to doing it off line and in the pasture.

STEP 2: Once the horse is comfortable with you at his side, encourage him to look back and wrap his neck around you. Again, the connection to a horse always happens through the bend. You can achieve this result by taking up the lead line and gently holding pressure until the horse gives, or you can encourage the movement through food rewards. The method is not as important as the outcome. Again, after you achieve this on line in an arena, try it off line and in the pasture. If you have a horse that runs from you in the pasture, this exercise will create a tremendous shift and allow you to easily catch and halter your horse.


3. targeting pressure on THEIR FACE



THE PROBLEM

A commonly practiced exercise is to take a lead rope and shake it at the horse's face to get him to back up, then slowly decrease the amount of pressure over time, with the goal of just wiggling your finger at the horse to have him back up.


I have seen this done many times by many different people. How it usually goes is the horse throws its head up as high as he can to avoid the flailing rope and stares at the human going wacko on the ground out of the corner of his eye. Then, when the person doesn't get the result they were expecting, they just flail harder, now including arms and maybe some yelling "back! back!" as they get closer and closer to the horse's face. The horse then begins to look like a pressure cooker ready to explode and finally either back up out of fear and confusion or tries to run the person over to get away. I really can't think of many things that are more damaging to a horse's trust and engaging of their flight instinct. Think about it, a predator coming straight at your face, arms a waiving. Yikes!


WHAT YOU CAN DO INSTEAD

When horses influence each other's movement, they shift their hindquarters towards one another. If you watch two stallions in the wild, they aim to move the other by directing energy below the knee. So I encourage you to consider what makes sense to them. The goal of this exercise is to get your footfalls in sync with your horse so that you can begin to influence their movement through rhythm and not force.

STEP 1: Start out facing your horse. When you ask the horse to back, point your toes at his leg below the knee. The moment he takes a step back, give a big sigh and relax your body. What is important here is that your legs move in sync with each other. Eventually, you will only have to turn your gaze to where you want him to go, and he will back up. If he does not back, you can slowly increase energy.

STEP 2: Once your horse backs effortlessly while facing him, you can turn and face the same direction as him, and repeat the same process. Again, the goal is to move in sync with one another with your legs.

STEP 3: When your horse will easily back with you just moving towards him, you can create a walk, stop, and back movement sequence around the arena. Once again, the goal is to sync all movement between you and your horse.

When mastered, the outcome of this exercise is your horse is entirely focused on and connected to you. This is where trust, confidence, and TRUE connection exist.

Choosing to replace these damaging natural horsemanship techniques with Reflection-Based Horsemanship™ exercises creates a safe space for your horse's nervous system to be in the parasympathetic, or rest and digest state, allowing them to process and absorb your training and communication while building trust and respect and ultimately take your horse from insecure and disengaged, to confident, connected in just a few session. After performing these exercises, it is common for your horse to look highly relaxed and even fall asleep.

Have questions on this article or want more information on Reflection-Based Horsemanship™ or would simply like to share your experience with these exercises? Email us at equinewisdominstitute@gmail.com

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17 comentarios


This is wonderful information. I can't wait to try this. I tried lunging my horse and I didn't like it . She looked so scared. I don't know what people did with her before me. I really want her to connect and trust me.

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Contestando a

I’m so glad you found it valuable. Please reach out with any questions!

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Martin Burs
Martin Burs
08 feb 2022

Seem every 5 years a new "right way" comes out. The Parelli people must feel pretty silly right now.

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Contestando a

That’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is that just like everything in life, we are evolving. New research is being done, and as humans, we are expanding our awareness of animal kingdom and finding new best practices that prevent illness and injury, enhance abilities, and overall make life better for both horses and humans. I’m sure glad that the medical and technology industries have evolved, and this industry is no different.

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Some stuff yes but most of it is this new woke agenda let's make love to our horse on a rainbow typ connection. Clinton Anderson preaches to the rich that have a/c and heated arenas that have nothing to do but play with horses all day. The average person has kids house jobs. I like old school training, get that respect and trust and get the job done, and have fun.

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Contestando a

Hi Josh. Funny you should mention time. I’m actually working on a practical course for horse owners under time constraints who still want to have a meaningful connection with their horse. Because I agree, the average horse owner does not have the amount of time many of these trainers do. I’m not sure about the “woke” horsemanship you are referring to in my article, as what I teach is simply what makes sense to the horse biologically and results in the horse trusting you vs. shutting down and giving in - which is just the reality of what happens when you cause a large amount of cortisol to release in a horses body. But as I also mentioned, if you…

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Wow, having gone through 2 levels of Parelli and having problems with a new horse, this article is perfect! Thank you!!

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Contestando a

I’m so glad you found this to be of value! Best, Amanda

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Thank you!

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