Friday, March 9, 2012

Poking Fun

In a recent fluff piece I told you guys I wouldn't be dissing on the Natural Horsemen any more.

My concern is I may have misled you. I meant individually. 

During a short, entertaining, yet brutal foray into the world of knee jerk reactionistas FHOTD I learned picking on an individual in order to criticize a philosophy or opinion doesn't do anything but divert the real meaning behind the criticism.  

For example, if I start a post with the statement, "I have serious disagreements with the Natural Horsemanship Movement," and I am inundated with comments like, "Pat Parelli shone his glowing beacon of light on me and my horse, and not only enlightened me but all the little children in three third world countries," it creates an argument I not only don't want, but never, ever, have any intention of having.

Personally, I wrote a post on FHOTD, "I hate nose bands,"  and the crazy insults just started rolling in. It seems I am an ignorant, stupid, uneducated fool who can't ride, can't think, never actually trained a horse, has never seen a dressage horse, a hunter jumper, an English saddle, a reining saddle, wait, there's more, can't spell, can't write, beat my children and dogs and am a long time hoarder of Mongolian Cremello Paintalusians.

Was I surprised? Well, no. I was feeling a bit combative and decided to go trolling, so I very thoroughly deserved what I got. Trolls.

The thing is, a few people read what I wrote, thought about it and went ahead and tried their horses without a nose band. Many of them actually got my point, they focus control to the head of the horse, not the feet, a training approach I disagree with. They didn't see what I wrote as a personal attack, but as an opinion, maybe worth thinking about. How those few managed to put all that together in the middle of all the yammering I'll never know.

So it got me wanting to clarify. I want to poke fun at theories, groups, ideologies, anything that strikes my fancy in the horse world, with the understanding I'm not after any one person, unless of course I really do know this person, then God help them.

There is a point to this post BTW. It is to point out some of my problems with NH movement. Because, boy howdy, I do have them.

The first and foremost would be cookie cutter colt starting methods.

Any time you get a large group of people together, with varying levels of experience, temperament and resources, all trying to get a handle on horses in the exact same spot, you have to begin teaching in specific steps.

Teach A, to get to B, to get to C and so on.

There's really no way around it.

Then you need specific types of equipment to get everybody with the same program. So why not color your horse whacker orange and create some kinder gentler lingo to go with it so your gentler souls will buy it? Why not tout the panels you use to create a round pen (known in the olden days as a breaking corral) as a much needed accessory, conveniently sold by you, as the only way to start a horse? This is, after all, only good business, added on top of getting your group into a like minded place, which will help you get your training method across.

But here's the root of the problem.

Horses don't follow cookie cutter rules.

While one young colt may very well accept being broke (excuse me, gently introduced into joining heart and soul with their human companion) in three days with a bunch of other hapless youngsters, others might not.

If you're selling a method, it ripples the waters of your horse man ship to have them not conform. So there has to be answers.

Go back, reintroduce the basics - the exact same way - and keep at it until the miscreant catches up.

If this doesn't work, it must be the owners fault. The trusting, check writing owner who believes every word coming out of your mouth, and knows if they truly understood the mind of their little horse, they would have gotten it by now. Because it sure works on the videos and the books and the RFD channel...

But how can a horse person, inexperienced enough to be at one of these clinics in the first place, know any different? Nobody taught them they need to read how much their horse can absorb at one time. Or how much repetition said horse will put up with before turning the whole process back on them and developing a vice.

Nobody taught them the way to safely start a colt is by having ridden and learned about horses on at the very least, one, older, safe mount that can give you the time to learn to read them. So it must be their fault right?

Repetition is taught as the way to work through this. Ground work in the round pen is the key.

Except again, nobody tells you that repetitive motion, say continuous round pen work or  teaching them to yield, left, right, left, right on the end of a ten foot lead will totally trash their legs.  As in cripple them. Faster than a speeding reining trainer on a two-year-old, quicker than any rollkur dominatrix with a double bridle and definitely sooner than some old ranch hand that slaps a saddle on em, bucks em out and heads out to ride the herd.

Cathy Atkinson republished a great FHOTD post on conditioning polo ponies on FB yesterday. I seriously recommend reading it.

There's not a circle or round pen in it.

The only way to avoid the potential disappointments and hazards of blind NH training is to have alternative experiences to draw from.

Smart marketing encourages consumers to stick with a name brand. It's how we roll I'm afraid. The marketing behind the NH movement takes basic, sound training practices and turns them into tricks, magic, deep secrets which can only be learned through the guidance of the clinician.

This in turn, encourages many of us to miss out being horsaii, to miss the delight and joy that comes from learning from your horse, because we're tangled up in the mess of cookie cutters thrown at our feet.

So there's problem number one.


  1. Mongolian Cremello Paintalusians... thank god I wasn't drinking coffee!! Sign me up for one of those sooper speshul krazy kolored hairy beasts :)

    You actually got 2 of my favorite NH points here. The constant working on a tiny circle. And the fact that they make people feel like they know what they are doing. Training horses is HARD, and it should be left to people who have the experience to do it correctly without creating a lot of problems in the process.

  2. RHF - I have problems with lots of longing for the same reasons...

  3. "Horses don't follow cookie cutter rules."

    Amen sister....
    It is like putting a square peg in a round hole.

  4. Sheesh, I'm going to have to post about 6 times on this one, you really covered a lot of ground here.
    First, I thought you said that nosebands were a cheat, not that you hated them, and not that anyone who uses them is a horse abusing monster. There was a brief discussion about that on FHOTD just recently.
    Second, I try to be open minded and last fall I went to a clinic where they practice some NH and colt starting. One of the things that irritated the swamp gas out of me was the cookie cutter attitude toward the participants. They kept talking to me as though I were an inexperienced horse owner. No one listened to me, no one got the facts right about my horse or me. Any questions I had were met with yelling, sarcasm and derision. I don't know, maybe that works with young newbies, and maybe that's how he turns them into uncritical disciples. It doesn't work for an old woman like me.

  5. redhorse - the post was titled - "Things I Hate....

  6. redhorse - oops, it was called "Stuff I Hate."

  7. An international clinician I know and respect, who has been all over the world, once told me that she's never seen a level 3 or above Parelli horse that is sound. They've all had their hocks blown out. Sad.

  8. deedee sonnyduo@yahoo.comMarch 9, 2012 at 12:12 PM

    smazourek, This is silly. Lauren Barick is riding Parelli trained horses in the Paralympics and winning gold and silver
    Parelli tecahes play with the horse, not drill them (lounging and roundpenning can do this).
    Ray Hunt didn't wreck horses.

    Lots of traditional trainers start quarter horses too young and blow out there hocks and ruin them for life.
    So do Thoroughbred trainers, etc.
    Lots of traditional trainers have a cookie cutter approach and can be wildly successful with horses that 'agree' with their methods.And trash horses that can't work in their approach.

    Every equine discipline has true Horsaiis and limited practitioners, at every level of success.
    Parelli was hoping to teach people enough so they could begin to see and grok horse behavior. You have to start somewhere.

    With Horsenality he has been able to explain horse uniquenesses and begin people more quickly to understand what is happening in that moment and some possibl e responses.

    It isn't NH or traditional horsemanship (Mugs is actually an NH trainer and doesn't seem to recognize it). It's who is doing it and who is really studing and learning.

    Okay, my knee jerk is over.

  9. One of the best things about being Horsaii is seeing a problem with a horse and being able to find the correct solution to fix it.

    And each horse needs a different approach. The trick is to figure out what works for them. That is part of the fun (IMO) :)

  10. Oh dee dee - don't button hole or label me, I work very hard not to do it to you guys.

  11. Although I believe Lauren Barwick is riding with the Parelli's, I dont think any of her horses were started by them or by using the methods, I think most of them were started by traditional means...

  12. I hope to be quietly Horsesaii, but since I ride alone & my horse isn't saying, i'll never know, will i? Still, thank you so much for reposting the conditioning article. One thing about trainers/training that drives me bats the most is the assumption that "one size fits all" in theory. I almost forgot--- that cavesson post was excellent. (You can't control how seriously people take themselves). My horse's head sure does look prettier without the noseband (always worn on the loosest hole anyway) that it had never occurred to me to take off!

  13. I'm just going to stick my virtual fist in the air and pump it enthusiastically while shouting "Hell yes!" to this post.

  14. deedee sonnyduo@yahoo.comMarch 9, 2012 at 4:27 PM

    Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance would so approve of what you do.
    And no more labeling.

  15. Well, your noseband post got my attention, in a good way. I was one of those western riders who slapped a nose band (usually a figure 8, and usually loosely)on every horse I trained. My theory was to not let them ever learn to gap their mouth. Now, lead by your posts, I'm looking for more lightness in my WP horses. I've taken the noseband off of my green 3 year old, and the only time I think she opens her mouth is when we are indeed doing something wrong, and that is pretty rare with this little gal. Just to let you know that some of us are listening to your ideas. You are not just crying into the wilderness.

    I think it was the arguers that really got my attention. I always knew a tied shut nose was a bad thing, and to see that some of these self-proclaimed "I treat my horse nicer than you do" folks LIVE with their horse's mouth clamped shut as a general principle, really got my dander up.

  16. A pet peeve of mine is people forcing a young horse to tear around a 40 foot round pen. A young gangly horse doesn't yet have the collection to lope that small of a circle. I've watched as horses ram around while being chased and I know a lot of them have been hurt. Then the owner can't figure out why their horse goes sour.

  17. so true re the cookie cutters. and nosebands - Im so with on this. I wish people would just TRY to ride without them, so much ignorance with people thinking they are necessary simply because everyone else uses them, and horse has always used them... hmph. Great post as usual :)
    and to think people once rode into war without stirrups. Weve turned into such pansies with our horses!

  18. I wanted to tell you about my horse. I ride dressage so I have the noseband tight-not overly tight but snug. He would always toss his head. I tried less contact, more contact, tried to distract him with leg yields, transitions, etc. Nothing worked...until I read your post. I loosened the noseband. IT. WORKED. Thank you!

  19. When I got my mare, she was five and "had been backed", but still klutzy. She also had a horrific nasty attitude. My vet and farrier both urged me to treat her as I would a two-year-old, because mentally, that's what she was. I started her slowly, barefoot, on trails, for a year. At the end of a year, she acted like a three-year-old, so I trained her accordingly. We didn't get into a round pen until she was almost seven (acted like four)...and had finally stopped growing and learned where her feet were. Her attitude is greatly improved; her nickname is now "the Dragon"--formerly it was "the Hellbitch".

    IOW: cookie cutter training would have been disasterous for her.

    The Dragon is now ten, and acts mostly like an adult horse. We are still teaching each other stuff every day.

  20. I learned much going from a dressage background as a youth to a more cow horse/rope horse part of the state where I was introduced to the art of reading the horse and starting untouched youngsters. I never pigeonholed it as NH, I didn't even know the term. After moving back closer to where I grew up I saw that a well known clinician was comming and was asking for demo horses. I applied for the difficult loading part of the clinic and one of the clinicians staff had me fill out a form on my horse. They had a very strict series of behaviors that the horse had to do to be a demo horse. I thought about that for some time and realized that they wanted cookie cutter problem horses. I withdrew my horse as a demo horse. I later heard that one of the loading issue horses ran the clinician through the ringer and he never got him into the trailer. This is one of the NH/RFD big wigs so I was rather amused.
    I did take my gelding to a clinic with a NH style trainer at a friend's recommendation. There was a huge variation in riding styles and experience and because the clinic was small, we were all treated as individuals and I learned quite a bit. I mentioned at the end that my gelding was a pain to load; he just walked up to the trailer and basically vapor locked. The clinician took my gelding to the trailer and as soon as he vapor locked he gave him a couple good whacks with the end of his lariat rope. Naughty gelding got right in the trailer. He let him stand and then brought him back out and as soon as he got up to the trailer he hopped right in. I never ever had a loading issue again. That clinician knew exactly what my horse needed, not endless circles at the back of the trailer, not sweet talk; he knew that the horse needed a black and white moment.
    Mugs - I read your blog, love your blog and when my kids grow up and I can afford to ride again I hope and can have even an ounce of your horsaii-ness. You really make me realize that while I rode and trained for quite a few years, I am missing a lot of foudation and I hope I can build it at some point.

  21. Thanks for this post. I've always liked the principals of NH, but never the marketing/cult/whathaveyou aspect, but I never bothered to work out why. The cookie cutter aspect is a big turn-off, as well as giving folks the idea the can have a perfect horse in no time (or effort) at all.

  22. Didn't you know that you could go out into a round pen with a wild horse and sing to it and in 4 days you can hop on bareback and go running across the field care free???? (the movie Flicka which I hated that movie!!)

  23. Yes, agree.

    I think the benefit of any given NH guru is learning his or her particular steps and remembering those steps for later. Then move on to the next guru / trainer / cowboy down the street and learn what that person has to say! Effective riders have a lot of ways to teach a given task. It's only when you really drink the kool-aid and start believing that Your Clinician knows all the magic tricks that you get in trouble.

    (This is, in fact, exactly how I view clicker training! It's yet another totally different way to teach a given task - it only works for some tasks, and it's got its drawbacks, but it's just another tool in my bucket.)

    I hate blogger cause I can't subscribe to your comments anymore. :(

  24. There is a great piece by Tom Moates called The Myth Of Natural Horsemanship in which he observes that the people and practices that get referred to ( or call themselves ) Natural Horsemanship are so diverse that they really have hardly anything in common. At which point the term is basically meaningless.

    When I explain to most horsey people what I do when I work with horses, they are interested but don't have much idea of what I'm on about. Then a light goes on: "Oh, you do Natural Horsemanship!"

    I guess it's mostly a matter of where you stand.

  25. Glenatron - great article, thanks for the reference.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again, Natural Horsemanship is a slick marketing name for basic, sound horse training, most of which takes place in the first thirty days of any good training program.

  26. I have a question that has mulling around in my head, I just have to ask...
    What makes a person a true horsaii?

  27. Nosebands. :) Lets's see, I do Big D Dressage, train horses from babbies up through PSG ( I'm not clean enough to school 1 tempi's by myself) and know that cranking a horses mouth shut is COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE. A nose band should be loose enough that you can slide all 4 fingers under. The horse must be able to chew the bit, move it around in his mouth. If you crank it shut so the horse's jaw is immobile I question you're understanding of equine physiology, kinestecics and the principals of Classical Dressage.
    I don't know enough about NH to say anything but any frequent repeatative motion will break down a living organic structure. Basic biology, cellular growth cycles and cellular pathology. This is common to all Carbon based living creatures, horses, dogs, cats, mice, humans, 3 toed Sloths. Look at Tennis Elbow or Shin Splints. It is from the exact same motion being repeated over and over and over and over without variation. The mechanical stress is loaded on the exact same spot Every Single time because the motion is reproduced so precisely every time. Variation in the way in which way the mechanical stress is loaded, and where the stress is loaded will delay or prevent the damage. If there is a long enough rest between stesses, any dammage will have time to heal and the body will strengthen the area to prepare for the next time stresses are encountered. It is only when there is insufficient time to fully heal and strengthen that dammage occurs. High school Bio people! Apply some Common Sense to the Moonbeams and Candyfloss the hucksters are blowing up your skirts! Kee-rist!

  28. "I've said it before and I'll say it again, Natural Horsemanship is a slick marketing name for basic, sound horse training, most of which takes place in the first thirty days of any good training program"

    You know the sad thing? I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of "trained" horses I have met who actually have that basic training in place on them. The NH stuff I have seen doesn't look miraculous because it's mysterious and wonderful, it looks miraculous because almost everyone claiming to be a horse trainer is absolutely attrocious. It's like everyone has a rucksack, but people have told them to fill it with stones, so everyone is hefting around this rucksack full of rocks and it's heavy and hard work. Then one day someone says "hey, why not just not have rocks in your rucksack" and you think "what the heck" and try it and suddenly walking is so much easier and everything else is so much easier.

    But it's not because you're better than average, just because you've been actively held back the whole time previously and now you're doing something that would be totally normal if everyone didn't have an idea that carrying a rucksack of rocks was the right way to live your life.

    I may have stretched that analogy a little far.

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