[Guest Blog] Form a New Partnership with Your Horse Using Natural Horsemanship

Today is National Best Friends Day (see more here) - time to thank our best friends for always being there for us, for giving us a hand, for sharing good moments, for comforting us in times of troubles. Am I the only one who considers a four-legged companion her best friend? For sure not!

Even though not all of you would consider their horse their best friend, a good partnership with your horse does not only make you feel more comfortable handling such huge animals, it also helps in your riding and in the end on your way to success. 

John Hawthorne is describing a way to form a new partnership with your horse with Natural Horsemanship. Thanks John for this great guest blog fitting perfectly well on National Best Friends Day!

Have you ever been frustrated by your horse refusing to load in the trailer or balking in front of jumps? Do you sometimes feel like you're operating on completely different planes of communication? All is not lost! You can use natural horsemanship to get back in touch with your horse and conquer skills you never thought possible before.

A lot of people have the wrong idea about natural horsemanship, thinking it's some kind psychic nonsense or letting your horse run free and undisciplined. Actually, natural horsemanship is simply understanding how a horse's mind works and reading its body language to train better in any riding discipline. It also means eliminating punitive aspects of training and replacing them with gentle physical and verbal cues that encourage a horse rather than admonish it.

Natural horsemanship can be used by any horse owner, from Caulfield Cup and Ascot breeders to even children with their little ponies. When you teach a horse a new skill with natural horsemanship, you create a problem for the horse that you already know the answer to. You set up the training to help the horse figure out the solution you desire. It's the learning process that's vital for the horse and for your relationship as a team.

Take, for example, the common problem of a horse that doesn't want to load in a trailer. It's really only natural for horses to be reluctant to do this, as enclosed spaces are dangerous for prey animals like horses that want the ability to run from harm if need be. You're asking the horse to do something against its biology, so it has to trust you to go against thousands of years of intuition.

That means you have to establish yourself as a leader with your horse. How do you accomplish that? You do it by doing ground work that builds confidence with your horse and by making it clear what you want. When a horse doesn't do something you've requested, almost always it's because you haven't asked properly or built the horse's skill to the level you're demanding.

Once you've set yourself up as the head of the herd for your horse to follow, you can then use natural
horsemanship to solve problems like trailer loading. Here's how a typical natural horsemanship trainer might solve the loading dilemma:

● Introduce the trailer in a non-threatening way by leaving it in the horse's environment, so the horse can simply explore it.

● Hang out by the trailer, playing games, giving peppermints, and brushing or petting the horse.

● Let the horse decide to explore the trailer on its own time.

● Encourage the horse to enter the trailer by using a long lead and driving gently from the rear.

● Make going in and out of the trailer a game, with a reward each time (praise, treat, pet, etc)

● Gradually increase the amount of time in the trailer until the horse will remain tied inside with the doors closed.

Notice that at no point does this involve yanking on the horse's halter, punishing the horse or tearing out your own hair in the process. Your relationship with your horse is enhanced during the entire learning period. Can you imagine how different the National or Caulfield Cup results would be if everyone used natural horsemanship to teach jumping steeplechases or breaking from a starting gate?

The next time you watch a horse event, whether that's a race like the Caulfield Cup or a show in your own county, think about how you might solve problems differently with natural horsemanship. You may not be able to change the Caulfield Cup results, but you may get your horse to load quietly in your trailer every time and create a better partnership in the process.

This article was written by John Hawthorne who is a sports and travel writer from Canada. When he is not researching his next destination he write for various websites such as www.caulfieldcupfield.com.au

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