Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What is NH?


                                                 by Laura Crum

            Kerrin made some interesting comments on my last post (How to “Train” a Solid Trail Horse) on the subject of NH or “natural horsemanship.” Like many traditional horseman, I have never had much use for this form of training, pioneered by Pat Parelli. I watched Pat Parelli show a bridleless mule at the Snaffle Bit Futurity maybe thirty years ago, and I thought he looked like a real hand. But I have not been impressed with the money making machine he created in NH and its games and tools and clinics, nor by what I have seen of NH horses and NH practices in general.
            But…the truth is I really know very little about NH. By the time it was fashionable, I had already paid my dues in the traditional horse training world, and the only horse training I did any more was for myself and friends. I wasn’t interested in interacting with trainers of any sort—I’d just had enough of that world. I knew enough to train and get along with my own horses successfully, and that worked for me. So my actual experience with NH was/is limited to the times I’ve run into practitioners (in real life and on the internet) and what my friends (almost all traditional horsemen) have told me.
            The consensus has always been that NH horses are pushy and not respectful, that the NH people get to call themselves trainers without ever learning to ride, that the answer for every problem is working the horse from the ground, and that no NH horse was ever effectively trained such that it could compete at a high level at anything. I’ve seen a little to support this view, but I honestly just haven’t seen enough to know. And my most recent interaction with a NH practitioner has been entirely positive.
            Several years ago my friend Wally and I were looking for a home for a flunked out rope horse that we had trained. Wally and I bought Lester as a two-year-old because he was by a three quarter brother to my horse, Gunner, and we both thought Gunner was a great horse. The breeder gave us a really good price on the colt and seemed quite anxious to be rid of him, despite the fact that he was obviously the most athletic horse in the group and appeared kind and cooperative. I asked where his mother was, so I could see her, and was told, “We got rid of that crazy bitch last year.” I ignored this. And that was our first mistake.
            Lester turned out to be kind, smart and easy to train as a riding horse. He was very athletic and could really run. Wally and I trained him together and we thought he would make a great rope horse. We were wrong.
            Lester had a crazy streak. I now think it was inherited. He simply could not take any sort of intensity or pressure or stress. Over and over again he would show his ability to execute and then blow up. He would make five great roping runs and then rear straight up in the box. He would travel down the trail nicely behind another horse and then be a basket case if asked to go out by himself or put in the lead in a “scary” place. Lester was willing to get truly violent when his buttons got “pushed,” though he never meant to hurt anyone. I always felt that he was just as likely to hurt himself as his rider. He wasn’t defiant; his circuits just plain shorted out under stress.
            Of course, we tried to work with him. But nothing we knew how to do really improved him. He’d go well for awhile and then blow up again. We had several other people who were competent riders/ropers work with him, but they all got the same result. I tried all the training tricks I knew, but nothing helped. In reference to my previous post about tying, I tried this technique with Lester fairly early in the piece. But Lester did not respond the way the other colts I’d worked with responded. If tied by himself Lester just got worse and worse; his violent behavior continued to escalate. I feared he would hurt or kill himself and gave up the tying. And yet Lester remained a kind, cooperative horse most of the time. If not stressed, he was great. Anyone could ride him at a walk, trot, lope around the arena, or follow another horse on a trail ride. He would take either lead, spin a little, stop and back readily…for anyone, including a beginner. He was reliably pleasant and calm for this sort of work. We certainly succeeded in his training to this degree, anyway.
            After several years of persisting, we gave up the idea that Lester could be a rope horse. He was immensely talented—we’d been offered ten thousand dollars by someone who saw him make three great runs one day. We turned it down—we knew well enough how that would end up. An unhappy roper and a horse that was sent down the road. Lester might not be rope horse material, but we were fond of him. We didn’t want him to come to a bad end.
 My friend wanted a riding horse for her teenage daughter and Lester had proven that he would pack beginners reliably in an arena and on a trail ride in a group. So we loaned Lester to Sue to be a kid’s horse.
            This worked surprisingly well (except when Sue’s daughter wanted to try barrel racing, which Lester—predictably--showed a lot of talent at, but—equally predictably-- he always blew up when under pressure) and Lester stayed there until Sue’s daughter outgrew her horse phase. He then went to Sue’s niece. But eventually she lost interest, too. And Lester needed a home. Lester was a teenage horse by now and I really wanted to find him a forever home, as I just had too many horses.
            Wally and I resolved to find him a place where he could babysit beginners—which is what he was good at. And my friend Kerrin decided to give him a try. She and her partner have a ranch where they teach kids to ride and educate people on horsemanship. Kerrin is a NH practitioner, and I also knew her to be a kind, competent horseman who took great care of her animals. Whatever prejudices I had and have about NH, I didn’t let them get in my way. It’s my belief that there are good horsemen and poor horsemen in every discipline and method.
            Lester has thrived with Kerrin and her crew. He fits their uses and they love him. I’m not sure if NH practices improved Lester’s quirks or not—perhaps Kerrin could tell us. Its possible, too, that age has mellowed him—he’s in his 20’s now. But I do know that Lester has had a good life at Kerrin’s ranch, as do all the horses that live there. So I have to say that I am really grateful to this particular NH practitioner.
            In the comments on my last post Kerrin asked why all the bashing of NH, and it got me thinking. I don’t really know why non-NH folks have such a low opinion of this training method. I stated earlier in the post what my perceptions have been, and the perceptions of others that I know. But are these perceptions correct? I thought I’d open the door to letting people tell me what NH is and whether or not it is a training method that can make a good horse. Maybe I just need a little education on the subject?
            I would particularly like to raise the point Kate made at the very end of the comments on my last post. It seems that most of the poor horse behavior attributed to NH could just as easily be attributed to middle-aged women who have never owned/trained/ridden horses before and acquire a horse thinking the main goal is to be “nice” to the horse and that being nice will result in the horse loving them and behaving well. This is just not true, as any experienced horseman can tell you. The goal is to have a good partnership with a horse and this can only come about if you are willing to be firm/a leader/set boundaries/reprimand appropriately….or however you would like to phrase this key aspect of horsemanship which involves teaching the horse to respect you. Kerrin also referenced this aspect of the situation in one of her comments. For whatever reason, this sort of novice horse owner really seems to gravitate to NH.
            I would also add that a person new to horses who wants to ride must spend a lot of hours riding a steady eddie horse in order to learn to ride effectively. It is not possible to work with a horse other than a steady eddie if you can’t ride competently, or rather, its possible, but nothing good will come of it. It’s my perception that many NH people have not learned to ride well enough to deal with a horse who is anything other than a schoolmaster. But they buy an unsuitable mount…and then can’t deal with it. It appears to me that the NH program encourages them to work with this horse, using games from the ground, and believe they are training it to be a riding horse. I do not think this is a workable concept, and would venture that this sort of pattern is one reason the NH horses have a poor reputation in the world outside NH. But maybe I am wrong in my perception?
            So, please, chime in and give me your explanations. It is quite true that I don’t really know much about this subject.

34 comments:

Cindy D. said...

I feel like there is much to be learned from the theories of NH, but not necessarily from each and every "game". I do like some good ground work before mounting up, especially in my horse that is so much like Lester, it isn't even funny. But then I also think there is much to be learned in the theories of the "old school" methods too. I sort of feel like there is knowledge to be gained everywhere, whether it be what to do, or what not to do. As each horse is an individual, so must be the training methods used on each horse.

With all that being said, I am so new to this, and a few years ago, I probably was one of those middle aged women who thought that I needed to be friends with my horse in order for him to love me. Oddly enough it was a student of Dennis Reis's who taught me about boundaries, about "I can touch you but you can't touch me unless I invite you too", and that if "I can't ride him from the ground, I will not be able to ride him from his back." This has proven to be quite true with this particular horse. He was a run away freight train with so much baggage it was hard to even get through to him.

He is coming around now, sometimes we have little relapses, but the seem to be fewer and further between. He accepts me as the leader, he looks to me to keep him safe, and he knows that when I say "move this way or that way" he darn sure better do it. The funny thing is that the stronger leader I become, the closer he wants to be to me. It is pretty cool.

Like I said, I don't know much, but I know what seems to be working for me and my crazy paint.

Laura Crum said...

Cindy D--I certainly can agree to the fact that each horse is an individual, and what works for one won't always work with another. And I also agree that the stronger a leader we are with our horses, the more they like us. This has sure been true with my Sunny. Thanks for the comment.

Laura Crum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TBDancer said...

My OTTB has, at age 19, been diagnosed with ulcers. When I got him (he was four and a half) he was a "Lester"--fine for awhile and then OMG. He pulled this OMG stuff (backing up, semi-rearing, and falling over backward) several weeks ago at a riding clinic. I just took him home to tend to his scrapes and wounds. Next day, vet appointment, and today after two weeks-plus on Omeprazole powder (which he won't eat; I have to drench him), he is much better.

It is odd how our horses try to tell us things that we don't "hear'--my fear with the NH business is that people are so busy "making friends" with their horses they aren't looking at the BIG picture which is, basically, that the horse looks to us as alpha and pressure of ANY kind can create the OMG reaction that can result in disaster.

You did the right thing by Lester and he has thrived because of it. I am trying to do the right thing by MY old man; and he is better for it today, certainly, than he was three weeks ago.

Laura Crum said...

TBDancer--We never looked into physical issues with Lester--because he never showed signs of pain and/or discomfort. Perhaps we should have. But he is a sound, happy riding horse in his 20's, which argues that he was/is OK physically. Good luck with your horse--I hope things improve.

Anonymous said...

One of the tenents of Parelli is training a horse without force or fear. I think a lot of newer horse owners take this idea a little too closely to heart and end up letting their horses get away with murder. I've had several parelli horses given to me that were completely ok with walking all over me, charging past me, stepping on my feet, nipping etc. It was a rude awakening for these horses when I used (mild) force to keep them out of my space. If the horse bites me I will smack their nose. If they try to charge out of their stall I have no problems using a crop to the chest to back them away from the door. My little parelli ponies were surprised at first, but within a day or two they had a pretty good understanding of my boundaries and I usually gained more respect from them for it. Once I get my boundaries and the subsequent respect the training usually flows smoothly. I've had two horses that have been carried saddles for two years but no one ever threw a leg over. They were labeled as "spooky" or "too advanced". All they really needed was boundaries and wet saddle blankets.

To be fair, I've met one advanced Parelli practitioner. Her horses were amazingly trained and could do fun stuff like bow and self load in the trailer. Unlike most parelli disciples she'd been riding for 18 years before she started Parelli.

Laura Crum said...

Anon--Yes, that has been my experience (limited as it is) and perception, too. No ground manners and seldom actually ridden. And I would cope with such stuff exactly as you did. I am a huge fan of the wet saddle blankets approach to horse training. But I'm not sure if the problem in these horses is the NH method or just that the owner/handler is inexperienced with horses. The idea that an experienced NH practitioner CAN do amazing things with horses intrigues me.

Stephanie Hammer said...

I love some aspects of NH - ground games in particular. However, from there, I find it hard to translate the successful ground work into successful under saddle work. So, I personally combine the two. Additionally, I'm not afraid to give my horses the 3-seconds of insanity if they do something really naughty (biting was my 3yos favorite game until I went 3 seconds of crazy on his sorry baby butt after a not-so-nice nibble - as in I got "big" and loud and backed him up until he knew better! He doesn't bite me now, but he has tried it on a few others, naughty boy!)

I expect my horses to keep an ear and an eye on me at all times on the ground, to give to pressure (move away from a touch, etc) and to do what I say, when I say it. But I think that those are just good, solid, horsemanship skills any way you look at it.

I do other, non-NH things as well, such as lunging w/ a surcingle and side reins, long lining, and sometimes just a bunch of wet saddle pads.

I had sent 1 horse out to a NH trainer in the past, once, and that horse ended up trying to kill every human she met after that. Whereas my friend sent a horse to the same trainer, and her horse is still an amazing horse.

So, what I always tell people is that I take the things that work for ME from each training method and use those. As long as they work, don't hurt the horse , and don't leave any gaps in the training, then who cares what the "label" is on the training method.

Gayle Carline said...

I do know of an NH trainer who does very good work with his horses - and perhaps many of them do, but only one that I can personally vouch for. I think, as many people have commented, the problem is that horse owners with no previous knowledge go to a few clinics and then try it out at home. Even if you've been around horses for awhile, you may not always know why the trainer did a particular thing in order to get the reaction they did. You also may not have that instinct that comes with experience. My trainer can see/feel in a nanosecond whether a horse is going to be obedient or not. It takes me a wrong step to ask myself if it was a wrong step, and if it was my fault, and what I should do about it, etc. By that time, the "team" of me and my horse has fallen apart.

I have two horses, mom and son, and they are night and day. Mom is a cuddly horse, very easy for ground work, but gets spooked fairly easily and if you get stiff on her back, she gets fast and jiggy and even more easily spooked. Her son is a mouthy, boundary-ignoring PITA on the ground, but very smooth and easy going under saddle. Not much bugs him. I can't treat them the same way.

I use a trainer. She is not into the NH methods, but she is not a harsh whipping/beating/breaking machine either. She simply makes it more pleasant for the horse to do it right. And for me, she makes certain I understand why she is directing me to do things, so that I am (hopefully) not one of those people tugging and kicking at a horse who is already soft, cooperative, and collected.

horsegenes said...

My experiences with Parelli and NH trainers have been less than productive. But none of the trainers have been in the UPPER levels of Parelli/NH either. They were (IMO) wanna-be's and from what I can see they missed the entire point.

I boarded at a facility that had a NH trainer boarding there as well. By the time she left all I could think of to say about Parelli was... Those of us who can ride, do ride, those that can't ride, do Parelli.

Watching her give lessons was silly. In an hour long lesson half the group didn't get mounted until the last 15 minutes of the lesson and the rest were told the horses weren't ready to be ridden...after 45 minutes playing games??? Silly.

I do think (like many other methods) there is good and bad with the NH. You just have to pick out what works and leave the rest. With the NH movement around, people are afraid to say that they smacked, whacked or ??? a horse that was being pushy or has bad ground manners. They have this mind set that the horse needs to be treated like a human and kindness, patience and reasoning will fix the issues. That if they can't get things done that way, they are less of a horsemen. That isn't very NATURAL to a horse. And I would be willing to be it you watched some of the back side of all this NH training - you would see that it isn't all hearts and flowers.

Laura Crum said...

Stephanie--Good points. And I, too, picked things that worked for me that I learned from different trainers and systems and avoided what didn't work, so I hear you on that one. It isn't as though we MUST adhere to one training system or another.

Gayle--Great description of what sounds like a fine trainer. And its so true about horses being different and that what works for one does not work for another.

kel--Those have been my perceptions, too. But I am interested to hear if others who have been around truly accomplished NH trainers have had a vastly different experience.

Jan said...

I have been involved in many equine disciplines and seen a wide range of training methods. I have taken what seems to work and makes sense to me and morphed it into my system. I have seen good and bad in all disciplines and probably learned as much from the bad as the good. As in no way in hell would I ever do that.

In all these disciplines I have seen people using NH training or techniques, but not very successfully. As others have said, the horses all were pushy at best and obnoxious or dangerous at worst.

I'm sure there are good NH trainers that understand the system and get good results, but all I have ever personally seen are train wrecks. Not all of these horses were trained using the Parelli method, some John Lyons, some Buck, some Monty Roberts, it seems Parelli just has the worst reputation.

From what I have seen, you have to be an excellent horseman to start with to make progress with the NH training. People that couldn't get good results with more traditional training don't get good results with NH either. The NH gurus and their top protégés get the amazing results with most horses and the rest are a crap shoot at best. Some good minded horses turn out okay and then there are a whole lot of confused, messed up horses. Those are the horses that most of us see or hear horror stories about, so it's no wonder NH has such a bad reputation outside of their devotees.

Laura Crum said...

Jan--Well, I guess I could say that about traditional training methods, too, wouldn't you say? You have to be a good horseman to get good results. I have sure seen a lot of abuse using traditional methods. But the NH stuff has definitely got the (deserved or not) reputation for the pushy, disrespectful horses that aren't actually used for riding to speak of.

So here's a question. Take a horse like Lester, trained with whatever my mix of traditional horsemanship and just what works for me could be called, who became, by most folks standards, a reasonably broke riding horse (as long as he wasn't asked to do stressful, high speed events or be by himself--on the trail or anywhere else). But he could be ridden by anybody, within these parameters. Do you think NH techniques could improve such a horse?

Liz Stout said...

I think that the bottom line is that no ONE method is going to fit ALL horses. It isn't a one size fits all. It can't be. NH gets construed into chaos because certain big wig folks within the discipline are master marketers. Being a master marketer of something to make money by no means dictates the ability of that skill to be translated in the proper way. Just because Parelli or Monty or any of them can put out a book and sell DVDs and put on impressive demonstrations does not mean that the way they describe what they've done, the way they've chosen to "break it down" into simplicity is going to WORK. Especially for a beginner that may know nothing of horses. All it does in those cases is directly translate into an animal that could get away with murder if it wanted to because its "trainer" doesn't understand it. There is a fine line between NH and marketing schemes.

I've trained both of my horses with natural horsemanship methods, where natural horsemanship means working with the horses natural behavior. I have never once called something I did a "game". My horses are both VERY respectable of my space.

While the methods of training I've used are all natural horsemanship of some sort, if you spoke to different big wigs within the NH movement, they'll give different terminology for certain aspects of what I do. But it all boils down to the same thing in my mind: working within the parameters of the horses' natural line of thought and instincts. Herds have a leader. Body language is key to the communication of that leader to the others. NH is just gives a horseperson the skillset (hopefully from a variety of methods within NH) to achieve leadership and respect from that 1,000+ lb. flight animal.

So much of it comes back to pressure. Pressure in body language/gestures or physical touch, but pressure all the same. Am I going to dismount my mare when she's having a spazz attack on the trail? No. Absolutely not, unless its a situation where I cannot pass safely through an area that I HAVE to get through. But instead of FORCING her with some sort of violence or attempting to overpower and out-muscle her, I will play toward her knowledge to move off [physical] pressure and to trust in my leadership; and I will do it in a calm manner so that her instinct to freak out isn't escalated further by my own escalation into frustration. An inch at a time, sometimes, but the hurdle is surpassed.

Laura Crum said...

Liz Stout--That was well said. The first thing that came up for me was, "but that is what I do...I just don't call it NH." (Remember NH--so called-- came along AFTER I had paid my dues in the horse training world.) But I certainly use or used those principles you mention to train and get along with my horses. For me, being able to "read" a horse is the big thing. Everything else follows from that.

FD said...

I think the problem with any training 'method', particularly NH, Parelli etc is that they are 'sold' to people as a system but training horses is an art. An art largely composed of feelings. It's true most experienced horse people go about training systematically, and it looks from the outside like you're doing the same things in the same order in the same way, but the important work is being done in the horse's head and no matter how many books on body language you read or classes you audit, the only way to learn to read and project is by doing. People look for shortcuts is what I'm saying I suppose. And also, I guess, traditional methods use feel and body language and always have, but they aren't always couched in a manner that makes that clear, which means NH methods can seem less impenetrable if you don't already have horse body language in your head and instinctive responses.

Jan said...

Yes Laura, I agree that you have to be a good horseman to get good results in traditional training also. I guess I left that thought out of my post.

I have a feeling that many traditional and many NH trainers are closer in training philosophy than we think. Different terminology and different ways of approaching it but the result is the same, a solid, respectful horse.

That is one thing that bothers me about the big name NH pushers. They show or talk about traditional training as rough "cowboys' that just get on and buck them out. They don't acknowledge there is a middle ground, and that middle ground is where most of the horse owners and trainers lie. It doesn't have to be either/or. Rough/cruel or NH. Horse training has evolved a lot in recent years and for the most part buck'em out is a thing of the past.

Laura Crum said...

FD and Jan--I agree completely with your comments. Thank you both for putting it so well. I don't think I can improve on what either of you said.

Kate said...

I could go on and on . . . and probably will . . . but will try to restrain myself.

There is no such thing as "natural" horsemanship - all horsemanship is unnatural in that it involves interaction of humans with horses - nothing natural in that. It's an umbrella term that covers a lot of territory, and there are some very good and some very bad trainers who call themselves NH. It's basically a marketing tag, and fairly meaningless to tell you how someone trains. There are NH trainers who are effective - including in being sure that their horses understand that humans have boundaries - and many who are not. There are NH trainers who use abusive training techniques, including abusive round penning. There are NH trainers who have huge marketing machines and make lots of money roping people into "systems" and "levels" of training.

The real origin of NH isn't the Parellis, it's Harry Whitney and the Dorrence brothers, none of whom I think used the NH designation. They proceeded from the theory that horses would really like to get along without conflict, and that there was an easier way to get there than traditional training methods, and that this method involved feel, timing and leadership (not dominance) from the rider. Nothing about predator/prey or alpha, etc., etc. - I think most of this stuff about how horses interact with people is bogus. That said, I'm also not in agreement with the ask/tell/make school of training which is more traditional, and I think horses are deserving of our respect as much as we're deserving of theirs.

There are some things about most "branded" NH trainers that I really dislike - excessive ground work and round penning - ground work has its place but darn it get on that horse and ride - and some punitive stuff that is characterized as "make the wrong thing hard" - they leave out the other half of the Dorrences' statement which was make the right thing easy, through feel. I see a lot of people get into this "system" where all they do is endless groundwork and they never ride - they get stuck partly this is because many of them don't really know how to ride and don't have the confidence to do it. There are many middle-aged women with horses who fall in this camp. I understand their caution, but I think they may have been sold a bill of goods. Development of feel, timing and blending with the horse takes time and miles - it doesn't come out of a system.

You have to judge the quality of a trainer and the philosophy they use, not from terminology or marketing hype, but from the quality of the horses and riders they produce - judge them by their works. Just like many "traditional" trainers, many "NH" trainers fail the test. The devil's in the details.

I've gone on long enough.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--The funny thing is that I knew Tom Dorrance and actually practiced and showed cutting horses with/against his wife Margaret. I know Tom Dorrance is sort of an ultimate guru to many people, but here is what I saw: He did have an almost magical way of communicating with horses, but...his wife's horse, trained by his methods, was a sweet and willing mare, but unable to be competitive past the intermediate level. Coming from the point of view I come from now, I would be sympathetic and supportive of this, but in those days I only saw the obvious flaw. That sort of training won't make a truly competitive horse. And I believe that insight is still quite correct. I could explain why, but don't want to make such a long comment. If there is enough interest, I will do a post on the subject. At this time in my life, no, longer interested in competition, I have a lot more respect for what Margaret Dorrance's mare truly was.

The bottom line, as you point out and many have said, is that you do have to spend those hours riding the horse. There is no getting out of it.

Jan said...

Interesting point about competition. As far as I know Clinton Anderson is the only big name NH guy that competes. He is, or at least was, reining.

David and Karen O'Connor, big in eventing, were using at least some Parelli, but it seemed to be just one of many training tools. I audited one of David's clinics and he used it to get a horse to jump off a small bank into water. He called it a Parelli technique bit I would say it was just common sense horsemanship.

Does anyone know of NH trainers that compete?

Joyce Reynolds-Ward said...

Laura--I completely agree with you about NH methods and higher level competition. Some of that has to do with the equine temperament capable of performing at that higher level--those horses most often have a lot of sting, and I don't think the NH methodology copes well with that temperament in a competitive setting. I also think that someone who is into NH and riding at a higher level is less willing to put their horses through the hard grind it takes to be competitive at those levels.

NH methods tend to mellow out that competitive sting. In a non-competitive setting, that's a good thing.

While I don't call myself a NH person, I do share some attitudes (mainly about not using a horse up and listening/observing what the horse tells you). But I think that aspect is good horsemanship, period. The rest of it...heck, I learned a lot of it in 4-H showmanship. Not all of it, but the bronc mare I had as a teenager was MUCH more respectful after a couple of years of showmanship experience. And showmanship is pretty much about controlling the feet, controlling the attention, and moving the horse with the least amount of pressure while horse respects your space. Pretty much NH-type stuff to me.

(my preference? The one NH guy who really reasonates with me is Mark Rashid. The others...pfui.)

Val said...

The word natural has been misconstrued by marketing to mean "good" or better than things that are not labeled as natural. Some NH trainers are capitalizing on this trend and it seems to make their students very dismissive of traditional horse training. I get really annoyed when natural devotees turn their noses up at things like bits and saddles with trees. That being said, I am all for listening to my horse and training him based on the application and release of pressure. Good timing is the magic that attracts people to the methods of NH. As many commenters here have stated, timing cannot be learned through a method and I would venture to say that to some degree it cannot be taught. Bad timing can reward the horse for the exact opposite behavior that is desired, especially because horses are always faster than us and better at reading body language.

As for the riding part, I do not get the fascination with riding in a rope halter and I do not see how it prepares the rider for riding with a bit. I have also seen the catalogs selling some scary bit and hackamore combinations that I would never in a million years put on my horse and yet they are sold under the guise of being gentle or some how better than"regular" bits.

Kate said...

Mark Rashid, with whom I ride as often as I can - it's been more than 10 years now - actually rejects the label of NH for what he does, and I would agree, at least in how NH is defined by most of those who do it. He doesn't agree with the "alpha", "move the feet" or "respect" aspects of NH, tends to do very little or no groundwork after the initial phases of training and is a lot more about working on the rider - developing their feel and timing - than anything else. He believes in listening to what the horse is telling you and working with that. Some of this overlaps with NH and some doesn't.

Laura Crum said...

Jan, Joyce, Val and Kate--All really interesting comments. I've earned a lot from this discussion. I think perhaps we all use elements of Nh without knowing it, and in fact, perhaps all good horsemen do a lot of the same things. For me, its about being able to "read" a horse accurately, being a skilled enough rider/handler to give consistent cues that the horse can understand both from his back and the ground, and always having the clarity that I'm in charge, with the tools to enforce that (doesn't mean I don't listen to the horse's wishes and respect who the horse is--just means that that I remain the boss--this helps the horse feel safe as well as helps keep me safe). Maybe NH and all good training is a lot about this?

Laura Crum said...

Perhaps what I really meant to say is whatever we call it, any sort of effective horse training is composed of certain key elements, and that good horse trainers of all disciplines are skilled in these things. I would venture to add that good horse trainers of all disciplines can really ride...and have spent many, many hours on a wide variety of horses. Don't think its possible to be a good horse trainer without this background.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

It's not 'natural' for a horse to carry a predator species on its back. So we're starting off from the premise that we're asking our horses to do something odd.

Nor is it especially natural for most horses to compete (stallions seeking to mate excepted), and forming a herd reflects this. So a form of training that reflects the nature of the equine species can't be expected to generate examples that compete and win at artificial man-made challenges. Equally training aimed at creating winners must of necessity focus on developing equine traits that would be perverse in a 'natural' horse.

One could argue that competition, broadly speaking, isn't necessarily enriching for the human condition.

For my trail horse I'm looking for a respectful animal that behaves fairly predictably and keeps out of trouble. That means establishing a relationship that fits into the patterns of equine behaviour - which isn't the same thing as a human imagining that a horse 'likes' him or her. I try to behave consistently in ways that my horse can process and respond to. I suppose that is 'natural' insofar as I try to communicate in an equine idiom.

Laura Crum said...

WHP--I don't compete any more--I saw too many things that I considered to be abuse in the name of competition and the desire to win.

And I agree very much with your last paragraph. Well said.

Kerrin said...

I helped Lester be a better and more confident horse with these principles: make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult, approach and retreat (desensitization), deal with it (flooding) only if it was safe for him and me and only if I anticipated that he would leave the situation calmer than before, play these on-the-ground games to teach a language of communication, yield to pressure, reward and pressure reinforcement{positive and negative reinforcement), rare and judicious punishment, etc. These are all the theories of operant conditioning, classical conditioning and behavioral theory. I know the behavior theory because of my background in veterinary medicine and my knowledge of the NH comes from Parelli and other instructors.

The big benefit of NH in my programs is to teach kids and adults that know nothing about horses how horses think and learn, when they are the same as dogs and humans (we are predators) and where they differ ( they are prey animals.)

Predators take risks to obtain resources (food, shelter, access to a mate.) Predators play like they live- grabbing, pouncing, striving to obtain resources. Unmotivated predators don't survive and reproduce successfully. Predators learn best from a reward based system.

Prey animals avoid risk to stay alive. Flight in fear, defer to leadership, hide in the herd. Yes, they need food, water and reproduction, but at any given moment, these are secondary to survival. A prey animal that ignores danger while looking for the best blade of grass does not live long. Prey animals learn nicely in a pressure avoidance (negative reinforcement) training system.

Both systems can change the behavior of either predator or prey, it's just what will work best.

So for Lester, I fixed his buddy sour/won't go out alone like this: rode him to the edge of his comfort zone (not very far away from the home/herd), let him turn, 'bolt' (Lester is always controllable, just very agitated and upset) toward home, rounded a tree or post, walk away from home again to the next tree or post, let him turn and 'bolt' for home, round the tree again, walk back away, etc. The wrong thing is 'bolt' for home-so we did that fast (trot) and then disengage and go back. The right thing is walk on a loose rein, easy to do going away, hard going home. First few rides, it was an hour or two or three in a figure 8 in a 40 foot distance. I never asked him to stop moving his feet, just controlled the direction he went. Eventually he learned to go out alone and then to walk home on a loose rein.

The mental pressure Lester felt at walking away from his herd decreased when he was allowed to head back home. But that choice was hard work (trot and disengage.) Then he could walk (less effort) but only if he went away from home. The more tired he became, the more he started looking for a third choice- walk calmly home on a loose rein.

Another equally effective method was the one I used on my Arab mare. She was an awful trail horse, jigging going out and jigging worse going home. One day I rode home and rode directly into a round pen where I let her go as fast as she wanted for as long as she wanted until she would stop far away from the gate and stand quietly. Then we went back out on the trail. Went out a ways, jigged home, back in the round pen. Only 15-20 minutes and she was stopping by herself. Back out on the trail a ways and walked home on a loose rein.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks, Kerrin, for that explanation. And it does make sense. But I am curious--can you (or anybody else) now take Lester on a solo trail ride (not just away from the barn, but an hour or two through the hills) by himself and have him stay calm? I remember not too very long ago, when we had the Trabing Road fire, you told me that Lester always needed to be within sight of his buddy, Woodrow, or he got upset. And I thought to myself, that's Lester, all right. If you can actually ride Lester on a solo trail ride of an hour or so with no fretting, then you have really changed him. He would always behave on a trail ride in the company of other horses. And really, when we had him, you could certainly ride from my barn to my riding ring and work him by himself. He was never that barn sour with us, though its possible he got worse in the years when we loaned him to friends. However he always became quite agitated (though still controlable, as you say), when asked to actually leave the property and go for a trail ride by himself. Or when tied out of sight of other horses. If you have fixed this, then I think it is quite impressive.

Kerrin said...

After I worked so hard for a year 'fixing' Lester I took him to Jack Brook Horse Camp and went on a 3 hour ride alone with him to prove that we could do it. He was just a bit stressed going out for a ways, then was 90% calm for 2 1/2 hours and then the last bit coming home he was anxious again. Ideally I would have turned around at the point where he became anxious again, and retraced our steps 2 1/2 hours back but, oh well, I wasn't that invested in it. So yes and no. If I rode by myself every week, I think he would be fixed. I don't ride by myself anymore because we have to trailer out and he probably isn't 'cured.' But I think he would be if I was still a solo trail rider.

Laura Crum said...

Kerrin--That is very impressive. You really have achieved a lot with Lester if you could do that. It was always his "sticky" spot.

Kerrin said...

Lester is close to perfect. My sister (not a rider) rode off alone on him the last time she was visiting us. I was distracted by a child and when I looked around she and Lester were gone. Only a small distance (remaining on our property, but still...) When they returned I said "how did that go?" She said a deer jumped out onto the trail in front of them and Lester was startled but he responded to her rein cue (remember this was her second ride on him and probably her 5th ride EVER) and walked quietly back on the trail.

Yesterday a new older teenage rider was in the arena with him and she wanted to trot and canter and he would not go faster than a walk unless I had him on a lunge line in a circle around me. Why? because her seat was quite insecure and he knew it. Later a small but experienced 9 year old rider got on him and he trotted and cantered all over the place no questions asked.

Laura Crum said...

Kerrin--Lester was always good with beginners--that's how he ended up getting loaned to Sue for her daughter. It was always amazing to me how much of a babysitter he was with kids or novice riders, despite his, uhm, quirks when it came to pressure or speed (or solitude). So we think he has the perfect place with you, where babysitting young and beginner riders is a lot of his job. And its clear he has only gotten better at it, from all that you tell me.