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Natural horsemanship

Our life with horses began one year ago.  It would be an understatement to say it has been a challenge. We didn't have a clue what we were getting in to.  It's been harder than anything we have tackled on our road to country living.  And you know what? The work has been worth it.

But let me start at the beginning so you know where we were coming from...
We had done some riding as a family but we had never owned horses. Our boys had taken years of summer horsemanship. We even tried out some cattle sorting but we still considered ourselves novices.  So we purchased nice, trained horses, one of which was considered a "babysitter".  It didn't take long to find out that we were in over our heads.  The trained horses that we bought soon found out that we weren't trained and quickly started taking advantage of us.  When they didn't want to listen and respond, they just didn't.  They were also scared ~ of everything.  One of us was going to get hurt if we didn't do something.  We started looking for help.

Help came in the form of a natural horsemanship trainer.  He normally trains other people's horses in his barn but what he really wanted to do was teach others how to train their own horses.  What we wanted was someone to come to our arena and round pen and teach us how to work with our horses.  It was a perfect match.  The first time he talked with us he said three things,  "We are going to start with groundwork", "I don't want you to ride until I think you and your horse are ready" and "we will only go as fast as the slowest person".  Those three things were not encouraging but he also said, "I will have you riding bareback and bridleless when I get through with you."  We knew he was the right person so we agreed to meet once a week for 3-4 hours (remember there are 5 of us).   It would be an ongoing investment.  But we had already invested in the horses, arena, pen, saddles and tack.  Besides that, this is what we wanted to do ~ what we had always wanted to do.  That was in October.

We feel like we have come a long way since then.  Diligently working many times per week, sometimes everyday, we have learned a lot about horses. Still we have a long way to go. We continue to work on groundwork and aren't riding our own horses although we are taking riding lessons on our trainer's horse.  Each time we work with our horse, we learn something new or reinforce something learned. While we do that, we build the partnership between horse and horseman. Our natural horsemanship training really has been more about training us to work with our horses rather than training our horses.

We have faced some challenges with each horse and with each of us.  Three of our horses were fed a diet of all alfalfa before coming here and had never been desensitized.  The most important things I have learned have been about myself and how my own actions and reactions directly affect my horse.  I'm still working on my self confidence, my fear, and my determination.  Natural horsemanship is making me a stronger person.  I say that and yet it is a work in progress.  I was teary eyed yesterday in the round pen because things weren't going right.  Each day has sucesses and failures of it's own.  It's just part of life with horses, I guess.

The techniques our trainer uses are primarily Clinton Anderson but he also pulls in some Pat Parelli and John Lyons too.
Here are a few of the things that we are working on now...

Ground tying (not moving from the spot where you left them untied)

Flexing (working toward the one rein stop)

Patting down with the saddle blanket and saddle especially in places that it should not go.

Throwing the lead rope over their back, rear, legs, & neck without them moving.

Rubbing them down and even slapping them with a stick and string or stick and towel

or even a plastic bag.
This is not easy since horse are scared of things that move and make noise. Plastic bags are horse eaters, you know.

Little Cowboy has been working on standing still while being groomed, ground tying, and

just waiting patiently.

We are doing lots of this ~
establishing leadership by making them move their feet where we want them to go.

Stop when we ask them to stop

and give us "two eyes" when they do.
This is the sign of a respectful horse.

We are also disengaging their front and rear ends 360 degrees, circle driving and lunging.

Our motto is, "Do it a thousand times, and then do it a thousand times more."


  1. wow. what a great family challenge. i have no doubt it will bring great rewards. i tried lessons in a barn, then got my own horse. gave up riding. started up again with lessons on my own horse, then another horse after the first one had arthritis. then gave up. DON'T GIVE UP!

  2. I think you're doing a great job! What a good thing to do as a family. My cute cowgirl just went to her first horse show and did really well.
    I grew up riding hunter/jumper, so this Western stuff is new to me. I'm watching mt daughter and seriously thinking about trying my hand at Western riding.Fun! Her instructor is so awesome. My daughter is not only becoming a great rider, but she is learning to train horses and could make a living doing that if she wanted. I love the way home schooling lets kids find their own "bend"- the thing that they're good at that they might want as a career. :)

  3. Horsmanship is a definite investment. I cried many a tear over my little mare when I was a kid. Then one day we just clicked, it had a lot to do with my own confidence and maturing out of the short fuse I carried around on my shoulder. :)

  4. I'm so happy to hear you are doing things right. I started training my first horse at 13 or 14 and nothing was worse than getting a great horse who had learned to take advantage of the rider. You are very smart and it is well worth the investment. Your children will be better adults with what they are learning! You will never regret it.

  5. GREAT JOB!!! Keep it up! It'll all be worth the investment. Keep us updated too!

  6. I know your pain! Don't give up! The best thing that trainer did for you was tell you that you have to start with groundwork! AMEN!

    Some other good books you might like, especially in regards to being in tune with the horse and the horse knowing your emotions are the Linda Tellington Jones TTouch Books, Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling books and The Tao if Equus by Linda Kohanov. I think I have links to them on my blog on the Farm Bookshelf tab :)

  7. This was very interesting to me since I have been riding all my life. My sister is a horse and people trainer and has done this all her life. Good luck with everything, it does take a ton of work and a ton of riding. :D

  8. Wow - this is so impressive to me, who has never even sat on a horse. So encouraging for you that you're seeing real progress.

  9. Big fan of Pat Parelli.
    Amazing how dog and horse training cross over so often.

  10. I had a horse as a Teen. She would only respond to me. She hated my dad and he was her Farrier. That made it kind of difficult to shoe her. It is so important to keep working with them as often as possible.

    Your horses are all doing beautifully. Be sure to train them to not startle at snakes on the ground. We used a garden hose and had someone yank it so that it would move unexpectedly.

  11. Like your post. You share some important points... especially about the two-legged folks getting trained! I learn new things almost every day.

  12. Wow, can't believe someone sold you a "babysitter" horse that had never been desensitized. When we became serious about owning a horse, we boarded ours at our trainers for 4 months. We went daily, sometimes was there from 7am to noon. We learned so much in those 4 months. She also took us to buy our horse which was suited to a beginner/intermediate rider. You may build your confidence back up if you can find a horse to match your riding experience. We have a moto on our farm...control their feet, control the horse. When my daughters horse acts up, she will walk him backwards the entire length of the arena to correct him. Good luck with the training. They are definitely worth it.

  13. There is always so much to learn, isn't there? I am really impressed with your approach and your tenacity.


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