Natural horsemanship has come to be the most widely used approach for training horses today. The application of this approach varies from one horseman or trainer to another, but they all share the same principles:
1. Horses have a highly evolved system for communicating with each other. This system is mostly based on body language.
2. Horses can be trained to be very responsive to human body language since this is the primary way in which they communicate. The important thing is for the trainer to learn to use their entire body — hands, eyes voice, and hip and knee movements as cues to their horses. When a trainer or a horseman learns to successfully use his body language to communicate to horses, the need for physical threats to get a horse to obey would become unnecessary.
3. Horses have a highly logical and intelligent social system in the form of herds. Herd leaders are chosen not through brute force, but through gaining respect and trust. A trainer can take advantage of this by offering himself as a substitute herd leader who the horse trusts enough to obey. When this is done well, a good partnership develops and becomes the foundation for horse training that is not only productive for the trainer but also respectful to the horses.
4. Horsemen and horse trainers must have a deep understanding of how horses communicate with other horses and how the herd system works. Natural horsemanship training strategies are based on observations on these two areas.
5. Natural horsemanship is a behaviorist approach to training horses. This means that a stimulus-response-reinforcement system is used to train horses. This system consists of giving positive reinforcement or rewards for correct behavior and negative reinforcement for unwanted behavior.
Rewards are designed to reinforce good behavior by associating it with a positive experience. For instance, apples are a typical reward for doing something well such as walking into a trailer willingly. Negative reinforcement does not refer to cruel punishment, but to the strategy of strengthening desired behavior through the removal of an aversive or unwanted stimulus. For example, in getting horses to move, unwanted pressure can be applied to their shoulders and will be only be removed as soon as they complete the desired action, which is moving in response to the trainer’s cue.
Natural horsemanship has become increasingly popular for the past 20 years and there has been a good number of famous natural horsemanship practitioners in the 20th century. Some of the famous personalities include Ray Hunt, Bill and Tom Dorrance, and Monty Roberts. In addition, there are now a lot of resources such as websites, videos, tapes and books that provide excellent references for both seasoned and new trainers.