Question: I have recently brought a new 5yr old thoroughbred called Roger. We brought him off a kind lady who said he was in extremely poor condition (very skinny) when she got him, so she was fattening him up. We are now feeding him specially and he’ll look beautiful soon but I want to retrain him natural horsemanship way. I’m 15 and have just been starting with the basics like good manners and a bit of bonding time with grooming. He’s good under saddle and stops dead but I want to go further. Being a racehorse he was surly mistreated as he’s flinchy when I touch him anywhere and this happens on and off. One day he’s fine and the next he doesn’t like me. He also has a catching problem and he’s clingy to my other two horses which is really annoying. I want to have a good bond so he can be happy with me and not be so anxious. I have read everything possible but not enough. Where can I start? Who can i get lessons from in Australia?
Answer from April Reeves: Since I do not live in Australia I am not connected with too many trainers there, but I have searched the web and found numerous Natural Horsemen who give clinics and I would suggest you audit one of their clinics first, and if you like them, take your horse in one later.
There are some great NH videos and DVD’s from North American trainers such as Adiva Murphy and Jay O’Jay.
There is much you can learn from video. Horseman’s U.com has a series of video with two of North America’s best Natural Horsemen, Adiva Murphy and Jay O’Jay. The link is: http://horsemansu.com/videos/great_trainers_and_clinicians
When it comes to him liking you one day and not the other, remember that horses do not think like us. Horses neither like or dislike us; instead they see us in the pecking order and treat us accordingly. They can respect us and become attached to us when we establish a higher place in the order. Horses can accept humans in the herd order, and do not see us as predators; they see our predatory behavior. When learning NH techniques, it is valuable for you to learn how to move and work with your horse. Make sure anyone you learn from knows this concept.
Another thing about Natural Horsemanship – the techniques used are not new. They are as old as the hills; passed down for a very long time in the western/cowboy ranks. What changed was that someone got smart and marketed it. Many of us have been practicing NH in some form for our entire lives, only to watch a few people get very wealthy from marketing and branding the name NH. While there are some great techniques, the majority of it is common sense, and does not take a series of courses to learn it, but instead, a great deal of time put in to learn and understand the horse. Time and experiences are great teachers.
Let’s go through one thing that’s very important when handling any horse. I call it ‘approach and retreat’, and it is one of the body language techniques for gaining a higher connection with your horse. It teaches you when to move in and when you can leave, for best results.
When you work with your horse, move about with intention. Don’t back away if he pins his ears. Get into his space and use intention to say “I’m higher than you on the pecking order, just deal with it”. We tend to micro-manage our horses too much. They like things simple, and they also like NOT being dominant. Begin with brushing and if the ears go back, move up to the neck and brush there. Work around your horse in a rhythmical movement: horses move in rhythm with the world. Humans tend to move sporadically, which does not mesh with your horse. Pay attention to how you move and work at changing it to match your horse.
When your horse pulls away from you when you are working around them or brushing them, move in with intention (not aggression or speed – predatory) and continue the action. I call it “getting the job done” and it is a clear communication to the horse that they may as well stand since I’m not leaving. Also, once the horse does stand and behave the way you would like them to, you can leave, but leaving must be on your terms, not the horses. When a horse moves or flinches from my touch, I continue to touch until the sensation is accepted by the horse, regardless of how long that takes, and my hands never leave them until that horse gives.
Take the spray bottle for example, as it is a good analogy of how horses think and respond. Many people spray it once and the horse moves away. They stop spraying. Horse is rewarded for moving away, so you have now set up the training (everything communicates) for the horse to move away when the bottle approaches. When I introduce the spray bottle, I find the least sensitive spot on the horse, usually the front legs, and start to spray. As the horse moves away, I follow relentlessly and eventually the horse quits. The minute the horse stops moving, I stop spraying. I have now set up the pattern of ‘not’ moving instead. Instead of trying to force the horse to stand, you must ’cause’ them to stand.
Most people train their horses (unknowingly) into bad and poor behavior. Everything communicates. Horses do not know what is good or bad; they only understand habit and survival. They will do what is necessary to survive.
While this is a small example of horse/human interaction, it is part of the foundation of working with horses the natural way. I am going to give you more links to my Q&A blog that will help you with training and handling:
You will also find many valuable articles under the Category: Natural Horsemanship. Take some time and read these Q&A’s, and watch the video on Horseman’s U. I have taken much time to put this together so that people can learn these valuable techniques, so make us of them.
Try some of the techniques and if you need further help do not hesitate to email again with specific questions.