The Reason Performance Riders Hate Natural Horsemanship — by Don Jessop

The Reason Performance Riders Hate Natural Horsemanship — by Don Jessop

Hate is a strong word! I should say “The things performance riders don’t like about natural horsemanship.”

And by the way, there are a few things to not like about natural horsemanship. And even though I promote natural techniques, I understand that the bias performance trainers have isn’t completely maligned. What I mean is this: The natural horsemanship movement that started nearly 50 years ago has been devoted to helping people see “inside” of a horse rather than the “outside”. A good, and much needed premise for change in a mostly abusive horse industry, but it has a few big holes in it.

Traditional performance riders learned early on about the outside of the horse. Things like balance and energy management, foot placement and engagement. Unfortunately, performance horses often suffer from a problematic behaviors, due to riders having minimal understanding of the mental processing of horses.

However, natural riders don’t learn anything about physical balance or energy management, because very few “Natural Horseman” (even famous natural horsemen) actually know much about it. They don’t have the experience in performance, such as dressage or jumping. That’s not to say that some of them aren’t brilliant. They are. Every person on the planet has something good to offer the world. And a handful of trainers or “horseman” are what I call “Master Horseman”. These men and women cross over. They see the whole picture. That’s why our program is called Mastery Horsemanship. We don’t want to live in one world. We want the best of both worlds. Traditional and Natural.

The thing performance riders don’t like about natural riders is that typically, even though a natural rider learns early a lot about emotions and psychology, they learn little about the physical requirements of performance. That’s why we see “natural riders” with horses that have horrible self carriage issues and balance. We often see “natural riders” with horses that have horrible posture too. Not because the natural rider doesn’t care, but because they don’t know. The more they learn, the better they get and if they are willing to cross over into more traditional education, they can learn about balance and energy development too.

The other thing performance riders don’t like about natural horsemanship is how too many “natural” people are wimps. That’s right. Wimps. They don’t dare be firm with their horse for fear of losing the relationship. Ironically, they often only have a relationship that’s based on “walking on eggshells” in order to avoid offending their horse. In other words. We see too much “soft love” with natural horsemanship and not enough “tough love”.

Of course the pendulum swings both ways. I see people in the performance industries showing too much “tough love” and very little “soft love”. There has to be a balance if you want to be a master.

In my book “Leadership and Horses” I talk about this balance. I called the training/bonding ratio. Â It’s important that trainers stay as close to 50%training and 50%bonding as possible.

The reason we need to stay close to that number is because, anything outside those numbers either verges on wimpy, ineffective techniques that create a dull and disrespectful horse, or they slide toward abuse techniques that create a reactive and fearful horse.

The point is, when performance riders see a wimpy leader they immediately blame the “natural” industry. And on the other side of the coin the “natural” people are doing the same thing. Their calling out abuse when they see a rider be firm and direct, but in my opinion being assertive can be important if it’s done for certain safety situations.

The truth is, “abuse”… is riding a horse that you know doesn’t want you up there. That’s why the bond you create with a horse is critical. But riding a horse that likes you doesn’t guarantee you’ll be safe and it certainly doesn’t guarantee the horse could ever perform well. Because without proper alignment, energy management, and postural control, it’s hard to achieve anything outside a controlled canter. Once again. We find ourselves looking for balance. We find ourselves looking for strategies that accomplish all aspects of horsemanship. We find ourselves looking for what it takes to be a better leader!

Here is what I think. I think good leaders look for balance. They learn about alignment and energy and power. They learn about psychology and how the horse thinks. They learn about how people think too, so they can pass on a more balanced message and have it get through. Good leaders in essence, don’t stop learning. And if you’ve ever heard someone say, “my way is the only way” then you know they’re closed to learning and you also know they are losing ground as a leader.

Here is what I hope for. I want performance riders to see the value of natural horsemanship and I want natural riders to see the value of performance training. I also want natural trainers to see how, many performance riders are in fact “natural”. Because “natural” shouldn’t mean wimpy. “Natural” should mean you are reward oriented instead of consequence oriented in your training style. Many performance riders are natural.

Also, performance or “traditional” riding shouldn’t be considered as thoughtless or mindless. It’s takes enormous amounts of concentration to balance and align a horses body parts. The best of the best, or what I call “masters”, can teach a horse to align and stay aligned by themselves and even feel rewarded for it.

My real hope is that people find common ground and look for ways to make progress. And that doesn’t just relate to horses. Hint, hint:) Life, politics, marriage, religion, raising children. Whatever the endeavor, we need to look for balance and keep the doors to learning… open.

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Don Jessop