Natural horsemanship was something that we made fun of in the hunter/jumper barns that I had grown up in. It was really just emerging and it seemed like something crazy cowboys were doing and some western riders were getting behind. I had no actual knowledge or experience with it, but horse whispering seemed a little iffy to me.
My experience with Shadow led me to begin volunteering for the Equine Rescue League. They were using natural horsemanship methods and taught me all about it. I will never forget the first time I stepped into a round pen all cocky that it couldn’t be that hard. Heck, I could jump courses and lunge horses – how tough could it be to move a horse around a round pen?
Needless to say, I was humbled. I clearly knew very little about communicating with my body. I most certainly did not have a clue what it took to be the authority in the center of that pen. I watched the director of the League step in and accomplish in 90 seconds what I had been attempting to do for 45 minutes.
That is how I fell for natural horsemanship – hook, line, and sinker.
It all made so much sense to me. I could learn how to communicate with the horse and give up the techniques that I had always felt not-so-good about using. I was all in.
Really what I was most excited about was that I could maintain control while being kinder. I now know that I was just learning more subtle ways to have dominance over another being, but at that point, it was such a drastic step forward that I was all in.
At least I was all in when I had a chance to be. The truth is most of the barns where I rode and worked still wanted nothing to do with natural horsemanship. I had a chance to practice while volunteering. I would later have many equine massage therapy clients who used various natural horsemanship methods and learned a lot through them.
It is amazing that in college – majoring in equine management – I was taught about natural horsemanship in only one class. I don’t mean one class as in a class that I took for a semester. I mean I was taken off campus to a professor’s barn for a 90-minute introduction to working in a round pen and using natural horsemanship as part of an introduction to horse training. We had to go off campus because there was no round pen on campus. We learned entirely traditional methods through my four-year education.
I felt strongly that this more natural, gentler way of working with horses was definitely better than all of the rougher techniques I grew up with, but it would take me nearly a decade to get a good handle on it because it still wasn’t prevalent in the circles where I worked.
In some ways, I think it is a blessing that I didn’t get caught up in any one horse guru’s techniques. I ended up not going quite so far down the rabbit hole. The wool never fully made it over my eyes. I was exposed to the ideas, but could easily examine it for what it was without grieving the loss of my beliefs.
So many people grabbed hold of one horse whisper’s techniques or another. It almost had a cult-like feeling. We were all so thirsty for something new and the ideas were so logical that we all fell for it hook, line, and sinker. We all accepted what we were being taught and didn’t see the flaws in the thinking. I include myself in that category.