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  • Erin Long

Why We Can't Base "Natural" Horsemanship On Our Horses


I got several really good comments on my post yesterday discussing the issues with roundpenning/join-up. One stood out to me, though, because it’s a response I get SO often, and it highlights exactly what’s wrong with so-called “natural” horsemanship. To be abundantly clear: this person is not stupid or mean to their horses - they’ve just been given the wrong sources and information. The question went something like this, “When I watch my horses in the field, there is a clear alpha. One horse is always kicking and pushing their way to the hay and water first. How is it that the hierarchy theory has been debunked when I can see it happening in my own field??”

The answer to this is quite simple: your herd is not as natural as you think it is. Domestic horse herds, in a vast majority of cases, are made up of human-selected members. Often we make mono-sex herds, and it’s incredibly rare that we allow stallions our with mares. Even the presence of geldings in a herd is wholly unnatural. Once we’ve selected a herd, we place them in a confined environment with each other for usually only a portion of their day. They cannot branch off or put miles between themselves and a disagreeable part of the herd. Within this confined space, we introduce competition. We provide one or two access points for food, limited shelter, and one or two access points to water. Given all of these stressors, is it any surprise that our horses resort to squabbling a few blades of hay?

The truth is that in a TRULY natural herd, there are none of these things. Their only food source is massive and far-reaching. Their water is spread over large distances. They spend all of their time together. They are free to change herds or split herds. The only real competition is BETWEEN herds for mates. Competition WITHIN a herd is effectively null. This is why the hierarchy theory doesn’t work to support any method calling itself “natural”, because in a natural environment, there is no hierarchy. Those horses who are the most violent are the LEAST likely to be followed by the herd. 

So please do not base your training methods off of what you see in your extremely unnatural herd environment. It is not how the horse learns best, would naturally determine leadership, and does not even apply to our interactions with horses as we have nothing to compete with them for. Did it ever occur to you how wholly unnatural “natural” horsemanship is? Comment below!

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