A shocking Facebook headline: Three ways natural horsemanship can ruin the partnership with your horse.
#1. Round penning your horse
#2. Making your horse look at you
#3. Shaking the rope to make your horse back up
After reading this post, I can conclude that based on my years of experience, playing with different horses and having tried all of these things myself, I somewhat agree with two of these three reasons. My approach is different now, using calm connection exercises, fewer tools, and fewer restrictions.
Chasing a horse around a round pen or making them move their feet is one thing that can ruin the partnership with your horse for many reasons. One is, if you’re pushing your horse up against the round pen boards, you are essentially teaching your horse to run away from you and that the outside rail is its safe place. But what you want is for you to be their safe place. Doing this will hinder your chances of teaching your horse liberty in open spaces. Another reason you shouldn’t chase is that you end up driving your horse instead of creating the draw you want. In Harmony Horsemanship, we have our version of lunging. We ask our horses to go out on a circle, but then with our body language, invite them to come in and seek us out when we are finished, so it ends on a positive note where we are drawing our horse in and not driving it away.
Making your horse look at you was the second reason. The writer stated that when a horse is scared, he will often look at whatever is upsetting them because they want to keep their vital organs behind the head safe. Looking at you could be a sign of your horse being scared. I’m afraid I disagree with this point because horses are naturally curious and will look at things they are interested in. For example, in Harmony Horsemanship, we do a lot of getting our horses to look at us and check in with us because you want them to be focusing on you. And if you have an interest in working your horse at liberty, especially liberty in open spaces, your horse looking at you and checking in will be very helpful in your liberty training.
The last part relates to shaking the rope to get your horse back up. Shaking a stick or a rope at your horse to get them to back up, in most cases, can cause them to lift their head and hollow out their back. When in reality, when we ask a horse to back up, we want them to lower its head and round its back. If you gently move the rope or stick back and forth while using other cues like motioning toward them, pressing on their chest or nose can encourage them to go back and lower their head and pop their hunches underneath them.
One point they did not mention is adding more pressure. Much natural horsemanship systematically adds more pressure to get what you want—adding pressure in some situations, for example, a horse that is scared to go across a bridge. The horse already knows the cue to go forward, so that horse is probably generally afraid. If you start to add more and more pressure, you will most likely be adding more stress to the horse, increasing the horse’s already frantic state of mind and ultimately making this experience a negative one. Adding pressure may also be damaging if a horse is confused about what you ask it to do. If you add pressure to a horse that does not understand what you would like it to do, you again put this horse in a fight or flight state of mind and could condition this horse to become more anxious and more nervous and confused. Please keep in mind pressure is not all bad. We use pressure when pulling on the reins or asking the horse to move forward. When used correctly, pressure can be a precious tool when you know how much pressure is enough.
I don’t believe these parts will ruin your partnership with your horse, but I think they could cause your horse to learn a new posture or become more anxious or nervous when put in a stressful situation. Many people believe Harmony Horsemanship is natural horsemanship when in reality, it is not. It does encompass the idea of natural horsemanship in the sense that we use training methods that are as natural to the horse as humanly possible. Natural horsemanship can be an excellent method when used correctly; unfortunately, it is often associated with chasing in the round pen or adding pressure to get what you want, which essentially takes away from the calm connection Harmony Horsemanship promotes. At the end of the day it is important to do what is best for the horse and research what method will work best for you and your horse.