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Misconceptions About Natural Horsemanship

Al Dunning Clinic

Al Dunning Clinic

Natural horsemanship has been around for quite a while now. The first time I saw Ray Hunt was in about 1983. Ray was the man who started it all, at least as far as teaching it to the world. He paved the way for all the clinicians that are out there now days, traveling the country teaching what are known as “natural horsemanship clinics.”

A lot of good has come out of the natural horsemanship movement. In general the horse is getting a better deal. Training methods aren’t as harsh as they used to be. People are getting a lot more done with their horses.

There are a lot more people getting into the horse industry, which makes it better for everyone in the industry. I see a lot of people getting their first horse. Many of these people are middle age and have never been around horses before.

It’s wise for these people to seek out help either through clinics or lessons. Natural horsemanship clinics are a great place for these people to start.

However their are a few things it seems like a lot of people are missing. The biggest one I see is RESPECT. Although most clinicians speak about respect, many people aren’t getting it. I see horses pushing people around, and the human just trying to pet and love their horse to get him over it. There’s more to it than just loving your horse.

Tom Dorrance used to tell people they needed to watch the way horses interact with each other. In a herd of horses their is an order based on respect. Sometimes the alpha horse has to get quite firm to get that respect. This is the place where most people are falling short.

More than anything else a horse needs to know where his place is in the pecking order. A horse gets a sense of security in knowing where his place is. Otherwise the horse will be constantly challenging the human to see where he fits in.

Ray used to compare the horse to a child. A child isn’t happy or secure if they’re allowed to run wild and never learn any sense of responsibility. The happiest, most well adjusted child, or horse, is the one who knows what’s expected of him.

This respect I’m talking about needs to start when you first start interacting with a horse. If you try to get it later it’s going to be a lot more difficult.  This seems to be a hard concept for some people to understand. They think it’s abusive to discipline a horse. This is one place I think natural horsemanship clinicians need to explain things better.


Another place I see a misconception is many people think if they learn a little about natural horsemanship, they’re qualified to handle about any horse.

No matter how many clinics you’ve been to, how many books you’ve read, or how many videos you’ve watched, there’s no substitute for hours in the saddle. You can’t teach experience.

Watching a couple colt starting clinics doesn’t make you qualified to start a colt. You need to get a horse that matches your experience level. As a general rule, the less experience a rider has, the more experienced the horse needs to be. If you’re a green rider, I would recommend an old, experienced, gentle horse. As you progress you can get a horse that may not be as experienced. By then you should know enough to help the horse.

If you start out with a horse that is more than you can handle, you’ll probably end up having a bad experience and deciding horses just aren’t for you.

On the other hand if your first experience is good, it could be the start of a very exciting, fulfilling journey.