Death of Natural Horsemanship

Natural horsemanship is dead. Long live natural horsemanship.

Natural horsemanship is a trending phrase that got attached to a style of work and a way of connecting with horses that Bill and Tom Dorrance offered up a few generations ago. It involved working with the horse on its behavioral level. Natural horsemanship is defined by the instinctual patterns and social understandings we see in a herd, or even between two horses.

Randy Rieman

Randy Rieman

Most specifically, it embraces the concept of pressure and release.

Pressure and release is defined by the micro-movements and movements between two horses. For example, the head turn or ear pinning of one horse will dictate the movement of a second horse. If the second horse doesn’t understand, the pressure or energy will increase. e.g., the first horse may charge or kick. When the second horse acquiesces, the first horse lets off the pressure or releases.

Furthermore, the work of natural horsemanship can extend to myriad physiological, neurological and anatomical details like:

  • bend (lateral flexion)
  • the hind quarters as engine
  • the flight or fight response of the autonomic nervous system
  • the positive reward cycle involving the neurochemical, dopamine

Natural horsemanship is dead; the term has lost its meaning. But the work is alive and well.

“People now realize that good practitioners don’t label it. It just is,” said Randy Rieman, a Best Horse Practices Summit presenter who sees the phrase more as a clever marketing device than an apt description. “It’s like ‘natural’ potato chips,” said the Dorrance protege.

Just as the public is becoming savvier to food ingredients (Eaters long ago dismissed ‘natural’ as a word with no real meaning.), riders are becoming more knowledgeable about the wider knowledge base of effective, humane horse handling. More and more of us recognize that force and dominance are ineffective training methods. We know punishing equipment and management techniques do not yield gains and can, in fact, foster some seriously negative consequences.

Check out additional articles on:

The Wobble Board of Positive Training

Testing Horse Smarts

Brain & Agility Training 

But more specifically, we are realizing that natural horsemanship is not something to “follow.” As Rieman said, it just is. We are learning to get great results by simply thinking more like a horse.

Natural horsemanship may be dead as marketing jargon, but it’s alive as a foundation for whatever style of horsemanship we practice, be it dressage, Vaquero horsemanship, trail riding, or cow work.

Consider the phrase: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” It’s not only biblical; it’s a universal maxim found in multiple moral-based texts. So, too, with the overarching message of natural horsemanship.

jim thomasThere’s still plenty of progress to make. Getting owners to swap their age-old presumptions of horse handling for a totally contrary, ‘whisper-y’ alternative is a challenge.

Horseman Jim Thomas, another Best Horse Practices Summit presenter, has a clever technique for introducing the concept to riders:

“At a clinic, I find someone who speaks a foreign language. I ask that person to tell everyone to back up (in French, Spanish, whatever). If they don’t understand, I ask them to say it louder and maybe use their hands. Eventually, people just give up. ‘This is how your horse feels!’ I say. It’s amazing, how few people have a concept of thinking like a horse.”

Rieman would agree. “It’s simple, “ he said. “But it’s not easy.”

Check out additional articles on:

The Wobble Board of Positive Training

Testing Horse Smarts

Brain & Agility Training 

Check out this feature on Animal Intelligence.

Call it the ‘Silver Lining’ Summit

A note from Best Horse Practices Summit Director, Maddy Butcher:

Some two years ago, I returned home from a big horse expo in the Northeast. It had been fun to visit with thousands of horse owners and great to share what I do as a journalist. But something didn’t sit right.

I asked myself: What was in it for the horses?

I started confiding in a small group of individuals who shared my frustration as well as a passion and dedication to serving our equine partners.

I asked them: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to offer something better?’

From my research and every day experiences, I knew academia and horsemanship could be paired to optimize the educational experience.

Recognizing the cliques and divisions within the horse community, I felt any potential gathering would need to be collaborative and welcome all disciplines.

With tremendous support from a newly developed steering committee and a healthy dose of naïve gusto, the Best Horse Practices Summit was born. Call it the Silver Lining Summit, the positive result of a less than positive experience.

This conference is a non-profit organization, built from scratch and run entirely by volunteers. It brings together the best of research and horsemanship to improve the horse-human connection by providing eye-opening and inspiring academic and arena presentations.

It’s also a work in progress.

We’re relying on our October attendees for feedback on how to make it better. We hope they also spread the word. Thanks to the efforts of video production company, SoulFolle Creative, we’ll be excited to offer all the presentations online in early 2018.

Clearly, horses can’t be helped without first empowering their owners. To all those registered for Best Horse Practices Summit, consider yourself empowered!

BHPS director, Maddy Butcher

Best Horse Practices Summit, No Meals Registration

The Best Horse Practices Summit board today voted to offer single day, no meal options. This offers yet more options for local horse owners and riders to enjoy the incredible offerings of this inaugural equine conference.

Now, you can enjoy our amazing roster of presenters for without the added cost of the Strater Hotel’s meal service.

Space is limited.

For $125, you can now register for Monday or Tuesday, no meals.

For $200, you can register for both days with no meals.

Register for Monday or Tuesday, no meals, $125.

Register for Monday and Tuesday, no meals, $200.

You will receive:

  • All access to early morning electives
  • All access to academic presentations at the Strater Theater
  • All access to arena presentations at the LaPlata Fairgrounds.
  • Complimentary pair of Darn Tough socks


Register here for the entire, 2.5 day Summit

Go to Summit Home page

Go to Summit Index page

THE Conference with Substance and Principles

Dr. Gerd Heuschmann

As you read about the presenters at the Best Horse Practices Summit, especially the ones delivering academic presentations, you’ll notice a common thread: they’re all going against the industry grain.

  • They will not tell you that spending more money will help your horse.
  • They will not tell you that if you just add this regimen or that supplement or this piece of equipment, then your problems will be solved.

More likely, they will advocate less stuff and more knowledge. Why? Because horses need their owners and riders to be empowered with more knowledge and less stuff. Owners and riders need more mental and physical tools in their tool boxes.

We’ve selected these presenters because they have consistently put their principles and research over monetary gain. That’s often meant that they have tolerated discord from industry insiders. They have ruffled more than a few feathers.


We say, welcome to the Summit!

It’s for that same discord that you might feel uneasy when coming away from a conventional horse expo. Can you hear your horse asking you, ‘what was in it for me?’

We felt the same way when we brought together a steering committee and formed this non-profit, the Best Horse Practices Summit. We have worked hard to offer you a conference of substance, with meat on its bones, with offerings that have direct, positive impact on your horse-human partnerships.

To all those who’ve registered, thanks for joining us on this ride!

For those who have yet to sign on, we’re pretty sure your horse is asking you, ‘what’s the hold up?’

Register here for the Summit

Stanley and Adventure Medical join Summit Sponsors

We’re thrilled to have two new sponsors join our excellent roster of Charter Sponsors of the Best Horse Practices Summit. The conference, which is drawing attendees from 22 states (including Hawaii) and three Canadian provinces (including Nova Scotia), welcomes Stanley and Adventure Medical Kits.

Stanley makes a great, new travel mug called the Mountain Vacuum Switchback.  It’s the ONLY travel mug we’ve used that is virtually leakproof and yet easy to drink from. Hooray! You will have the chance to purchase it at the Best Horse Practices Summit trade booth.

Adventure Medical knows that horse owners are also dog owners. We love their Me and My Dog series of first aid kits which have cold packs, irrigation syringes, and tweezers. You will see them available at the Summit trade booth.

Thanks Stanley and Adventure Medical!

Read more about our Charter Sponsors. 

Register for the Summit

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