The first way is to become a student of the horse. Learn to observe, learn to read horse body language and then listen to what your horse is trying to tell you.
Always ask yourself are you doing this FOR the horse or TO the horse.
Read a lot (especially the books listed here), watch as many DVD’s as you can afford (or borrow them from friends or the library) and check out lots of websites.
Go to as many clinics, courses and workshops as an observer/fence sitter/auditor to find an instructor or clinician that you are happy to learn from. Then when your horse is ready and comfortable with travelling, take your horse to their clinics as often as possible. This post on HowTo Choose Your Teacher by Karen Rohlf is a great guide.
Follow a program of study until you are accomplished and have something to offer a horse, but don’t get stuck on one method – look at many – they all have something to offer (see list of study programs below).
Get private lessons when you get stuck, or to keep you on track.
Join like-minded friends or a group who can support your learning and provide a different environment to play/study in.
Don’t be goal-oriented – listen to your horse first – don’t seek awards/levels at your horse’s expense. Make sure your horse is physically and emotionally ready for any progress in their training.
GETTING STARTED ON YOUR HORSEMANSHIP JOURNEY
So, you’ve made the decision to look into this ‘natural horsemanship’ way of training horses… but where do you start?
There is a huge amount of information available now and accessing it online is so easy.
Do a search on Horsemanship and you will find over a million pages and references to a vast array of information and horsemen, all offering similar types of methods based on horse psychology.
While there is a new awareness that to get along better with horses we must know how they think, about their social structure in nature and what language they use, there are still many different and varying ways to ‘communicate’ with horses.
Some horsemen (that includes women too) put more emphasis on control and domination than on forming a partnership, so the style of learning you will be attracted to will depend on your attitude to the horse.
Do you see your horse as a willing partner, taking into account his/her moods and emotions, or do you see your horse as recreation for you, or even as a means to obtaining status by winning competitions?
Whatever is most important to you will influence the method of learning/teaching you will be attracted to along with the way information is available and presented. Whoever you choose as a mentor and/or instructor, will most likely have some sort of system to follow.
We have multiple ways of absorbing information so choose what works best for you.
Learning Styles: We all learn a little from either reading, seeing, hearing or participating in learning activities, but each individual will take in more information from one or two of those sources. If you know how you learn best then spend more time studying that way. For example, some people learn a lot from reading so… read lots of books, articles and as much information you can get your hands on.
Others may learn more from watching, so videos, DVD’s and observing clinics are a good choice, and then there are those who learn best by doing – getting hands-on help, so participating in clinics and lesson is ideal for them.
When you’ve identified your preferred learning source, do some research to find out where you can access the information you want. The internet is an obvious starting place to search for clinicians/instructors in your area, home study programs, support groups (including discussion groups) videos & DVDs or books written on horsemanship.
Then immerse yourself in learning by buying those books, ordering a DVD or that home study program and better still, attending a clinic.
Doing all three is better still as even if you do learn best by participating, you will still need some reference material to fall back on when you’re at home, alone with your horse again.
Physical immersion: Try to get involved if there’s a local study group, then join and go to as many events as possible. Buy or borrow as many DVDs as you can lay your hands on, subscribe to newsletters and find clinic organizers who can help you get into a starting out clinic.
Even if there isn’t one being held at a suitable level for you right away, attend higher level clinics to get an idea of where you are aiming.
If the clinician or instructor has a home study program or DVDs then get those so you can continue to learn after they have gone.
Have lessons & goals: Find out if there is a local instructor who follows their methods so you can get help if needed. By being involved in a program that has achievement levels, you can be motivated to stay on track and keep moving towards the goals you set.
If there is no achievement program or you don’t want to participate in one, then write a list of all the things you’d like to improve with your horse and yourself and find out what you need to do.
Re-write that list as positive things you’d like to achieve and review it every now and then to remind yourself.
It helps to have friends or family who are supportive so share your dreams and find someone to join you on the journey. Even if it’s just a discussion group member who shares your passion, having someone to talk things over with and share the highs and lows of your journey will be essential.
Share with like-minded people: Stick to sharing your journey only with those who support you and are positive about what you are trying to learn. If you fall into the trap of defending yourself or trying to justify what you are doing to non-believers, the negative energy will drag you down.
Some people will feel threatened by your new skills or interest in something different and will try to undermine your beliefs, so spend more time with positive people and just be polite without trying to push your new-found skills or information onto them.
Often, our enthusiasm for wanting to ‘show others a better way’ is not understood or seen as a threat.
Rather than trying to tell people what you think is best, just become a great example and they will see, then ask when they get curious.
As a result they may be more open-minded about what you tell them, and could actually become interested too.
Choose your partner: the (horse) you wish to share your learning journey with carefully.
Many people look for better ways to train their horse because they have problems that either they have caused or that the horse came with.
If those issues or problems are too dangerous for someone of your skill level to solve, then enlist help to determine if your horse should spend time with someone more experienced first.
Or, find out from a reputable instructor, what small steps you could do to work through the issues safely.
You may need to take more time and also learn some more skills with another easier horse before you are ready to tackle a true ‘problem horse’.
In fact, if you can learn some skills with a horse who has been naturally educated, your progress will accelerate by many times.
You can also learn skills by simulation – something many clinicians use to help a student to first learn a particular feel or technique.
Find another person who is happy to have you use them as a horse – that way your horses won’t have to suffer your mistakes and the person can give you accurate feedback.
Then you will be more prepared to work with a horse that knows nothing at all or has issues.
Try not to put yourself into a situation where it’s ‘the blind leading the blind’ or ‘green horse – green rider’.
One of my favourite sayings is ‘(Experienced) Riders teach horses and (Experienced) Horses teach riders’.
Above all, enjoy the journey and be prepared to ‘take the time it takes’.
Home study programs and online courses available worldwide:
- Clicker Training – Alexandra Kurland
- Dressage Naturally – Karen Rohlf
- Equine Behaviour course – ACS Distance Education
- Foal Training – Ribbleton’s Paulette Evans
- A Path to Excellence with Horses – Jenny Pearce
- Fun Horse Training – Ben & Linda Skerrit
- Friendship Training – Chuck Mintzlaff
- Horsemanship with Heart – Wrangler Jayne
- LightHands Horsemanship – with Steve Halpenny
- Parelli Natural Horsemanship- with Pat & Linda Parelli
- Quantum Savvy – with Shane & Meredith Ransley
- Waterhole Rituals – with Carolyn Resnick