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Fundamentals of Horsemanship

All horses must be given good leadership to have a positive successful relation with you. The way in which you apply your leadership towards your horse is called training. Horses are probably the most intelligent of the domesticated animals. A horse has a photographic memory that runs non-stop 24 hours a 7 days a week. They form habits based on what you allow. You set the limits both in negative behavior and excelling to their maximum potential.

There is only one way to train a horse properly, despite what anyone says. Natural fundamental horsemanship uses the horse’s natural and fundamental characteristics and horse sense to communicate what you desire. Natural fundamental horsemanship is founded on developing a relationship through firmness, fairness and communication. Coercion training has limited success and usually results in riding a horse that is a ticking time bomb.

Communications with your horse is a two way street. You must be able to see what your horse is saying to you. Horses are eloquent masters of body language. Horses use very little vocal expression. Your horse must be able to understand what to are “saying”. Horses use subtle body language movements to “tell” you what he is trying to “say”. A horse’s body language is the truthful indication of the horse’s desires, feelings or attitudes.

Natural Fundamental Horsemanship: Natural Fundamental Horsemanship is nothing new, it has been around for more than two thousands years. Xenophon, a Greek general and horseman, wrote the first book on the subject in 360 B.C., in his detailed account, The Art of Horsemanship. Fundamental Horsemanship had a very important role during his command.

Horses allowed for the projection of military power. Hundreds of years later, the Spanish brought the skills of natural fundamental horsemanship with them to America, and specifically to California. The fundamental horsemanship skills the Spanish possessed where considered somewhat “secret”. The skills of natural horsemanship were passed down from father to son.

The most “recent” of the masters in natural horsemanship include Tom and Bill Dorrance, Ray Hunt and Ronnie Willis. Most if not all of the current clinicians and practitioners of natural horsemanship were influenced by them.

Today’s natural fundamental horsemanship teaching are widely available. Every type of teaching method is covered in this wide spectrum. I think it all boils down to two things when picking a horsemanship “mentor”. Do you like that person, and do you get his or her teaching style/methods.

One added side note is think long term. What levels is this mentor able to bring you to? Will you out grow his or her teachings?

Learning should be fun and exciting for you. Don’t get frustrated early. Horsemanship is as complicated as learning another language and culture. And in fact you are learning a complex language, culture and an entirely new psychology. You are learning to talk to the horse, listen to the horse and figure out ways to teach your horse thru fundamental partnership. Clear and simple, natural fundamental horsemanship is all about the horse. How to think, act and talk so that your horse respects, trusts and understands you. It can take years before natural horsemanship becomes second nature to you. There is an interesting concept on the learning and mastering the phases of natural horsemanship:

Phase 1 (Mechanical) Unconsciously Incompetent

Phase 2 (Habitual) Consciously Incompetent

Phase 3 (Natural) Consciously Competent

Phase 4 (Horseman) Unconsciously Competent

For me personally, Pat Parelli was my first introduction to natural horsemanship. It looked easy on the video tapes, which is the most obvious sign of a master. I figured I would have my horse whispering in my ear within a few minutes.

Well.hundreds of hours later of practice and rewatching the tapes, I was starting to understand and become competent. Not a master by any means, but competent enough that I could almost do the skills so that my horse was proud to think of me as her leader. I became very patient with my horse because I knew that this stuff worked like magic.

Sometimes I just had to rub the magic lamp longer, but I got the results I desired.

Here is a great lesson in the patience you need as a natural horseman or horsewoman. John Lyons has a technique he uses to teach the audiences about the importance of patience and release of pressure in training a horse. He asks the crowd a generic question like “Everyone that loves America stand up. When everyone stands up he says. “Okay thanks, please be seated.” Then he asks a few more questions, each time asking them to stand, and then he tells them when to sit down. He asks one more asking them to stand, but never tells them to sit.

About ten minutes go by. Then John Lyons says, “Look around yourself. Some people have sat down, some are still standing. There is no common distinction of age, sex, color or any other thing. If I would have let enough time elapse you would have all sat down. That is the same with a horse, eventually all horses will “sit down.” This is a major part of natural horsemanship. You must hang in there until the horse “sits down”. You also have to recognize that moment and “reward” it.

The “reward” a horse is looking for is release of pressure. That’s the simple description of how a horse learns, they learn on release of pressure from you. Timing and feel and the two ingredients to that will make a better natural horseperson. The better your timing and feel, the better you can communicate through your release of pressure to the horse.

Knowledge is the power used to defeat frustration. The more knowledgeable you become, the less frustration and impatience you will have.
Because the nuances of natural fundamental horsemanship can be overwhelming, you may want to watch or observe several different clinicians or trainers. I think that Chris Cox is probably the best at teaching. He is very “no nonsense” and he is a master of breaking down the basics. I think he is a great place to start your journey into natural horsemanship. On the flip side, Parelli Natural

Horsemanship program is huge in its following. Pat and Linda Parelli have saturated the horse world from every angle. They have devoted their name, money and time to establishing an organization that is far and away larger than anything else like it in the horse world. They have a wonderful program that will fit any discipline and level of expertise.
Carrot and Stick: Natural Fundamental

Horsemanship is not hugs, kisses or cowboy wild bronc busting. It is using as little effort as possible, to get the very most out of your horse. It’s the building of a close partnership, not a dictatorship. But leaders need to lead well, in order to have a good horse. The carrot and the stick best represent this yin and yang mentality. If you are perceived as too soft the horse won’t respect you, yet if you are too severe the horse won’t trust you completely.

Mentor: Depending on your skill level, it may be wise to find a mentor. A person has to ask questions and get feed back. That mentor doesn’t need to live in your hip pocket, but rather a person to help in the journey.

Constant Education (Horse & Rider): You or your horse can never be too educated. Fundamental Horsemanship is a lifelong endeavor of education. They say the more you use your mind, the less effect aging has on us. That’s a great reason to spend time and money learning about fundamental horsemanship and horsecaremanship.

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