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The REAL nature of the natural horse

It ain't pretty

It’s been a while since I wrote about my take on the natural horsemanship movement but it’s wildly frustrating me so I’m compelled to address it once again, perhaps with a little more ‘vehemence’ this go round.

First – I will say again, I am VERY happy that the movement is towards working with the horses rather than beating them into submission by sheer force and brutality – that IS a very good thing.  However….horses BY THEIR NATURE (let alone their physical attributes) are NOT ‘nice!’  C’mon folks, have you not watched those pbs shows of the real au natural horse?  Left to their own devices they’re pretty rough and downright brutal when they feel it necessary to be.  I’ve seen tape of stallions picking up sick foals with those powerful jaws shaking them to bits like a piece of an old rag.  I’ve watched angry mares and stallions charge like a freight train and honestly I’m not sure which is more frightening – the open snarling jaws of a wolf or the open jaws of a charging horse!  They are equally imposing, the horse perhaps more so due to it’s sheer size and momentum.  Ok sure, we’ve all seen the idyllic quiet time nose to tail congenially grooming each other with a satisfying teeth scratching of the withers.  You bet, they’re being nice, to each other.  However, do you really want that expression of nice to be offered up to you?  In case you’re actually pondering the thought, rest assured, your skin would be shreds in a heartbeat.  And when horses are playing with other – why do you think the expression horseplay IS an expression?  It’s a descriptive for some serious roughhousing, the kind where folks can and do get hurt engaging in.  Watch those horses play – they aren’t trying to hurt each other but they are still nipping, kicking, boxing – do you in all your 100-200 pound glory really think you could hold own? 
My point here is not to scare – it’s to make what I refer to as the fru fru element realize that natural horsemanship does not mean play kissy face and be nicey nice to your horsey poo because your horsey poo is looking for the boundaries and limits all creatures that live in a hierarchical society need, and if you do not provide the answers to their queries (can I do this? can I get away with that?) with GUSTO then you are the very exact people that ring me up on the phone after landing in the emergency room for one reason or another telling me that ‘the horse has a problem, but he’s really good otherwise….’
If you’re calling me then just drop the good horse part.  Generally speaking, they’re all good, and they’ve learned all their ‘this doesn’t work too good if you’re a person stuff’ from you!  Because you were so busy being a natural horseman thinking that meant you have to be nice.  Nice in human language is not even remotely the same as nice in horsespeak. Ok? That is your absolute # 1, I repeat, numero UNO thing to UNDERSTAND.  I am not typing here advocating beating your horse, or any other form of cruel and unusual ‘punishment’ I am trying to explain that the likelihood of you hurting your horse is slim if you’re simply truly correcting him, particularly on and in terms a horse understands.  The reality is you’ll likely hurt yourself way sooner than the horse, you’ll be stinging but the horse will be looking at you saying – oh – you really do want my attention don’t you?  well, ok then…..

Let me give you a brief example.  I have just got in for training a good sized built like a brick #$*! house mare – she’s easy 1100-1200 pounds.  All dressed with mah boots on I may top out at 130.  Without going any further who do you think wins in any physical match of bodies between us?  Can you say, no contest?  This mare has learned over time that no human is good enough to make decisions, and if one does suggest that perhaps their idea is better than hers, she simply overpowers them.  She’s quite adept at it. Immediately upon suggesting to her that she did something I didn’t want her to do she suggested otherwise:  her head went up and over mine so she had the use of her entire HUGE, powerful neck and broad battering chest ram, which she made forceful use of in attempting to knock me down and out of the way.  THAT folks is natural horse!  They push each other around; if that doesn’t work they get more forceful with each other – teeth, hooves etc. 
Now the natural horsey folks will all jump up and titter something about knotted rope halters and something or other sticks and lessons and whatallever.  I’m not going to go into my feelings about knotted rope halters – for that look at my you tube channel, there are videos discussing that.  The reality is that none of that is particularly workable or useable when there’s a Mac truck mowing you down. Popping the halter does little in terms of stopping let alone getting or holding her attention; elbows in necks?  Um – she’s swung herself around so that I’m in front of her.  Step out of the way is about all I can do, then I come across her shins with the lash end of a plain old bought at the tack shop short lunge whip. Hard. THAT gets her attention.
Here’s some trivia.
Do you know why the sash end of a whip, the popper, snaps so loudly? 
Ok, I’m not a whip maker, the popper is really called a cracker and it’s attached to what’s called the fall.  The cracker is what makes the crack sound, and it does that because that part of the whip actually breaks the sound barrier – yup, that’s why if you’ve ever got stung by the end of whip – it stings because it’s going so fast and that pop is the cracker gone supersonic! 
Back to the whip across shins.  The idea is to get across the shins because that’s where fighting horses go with their teeth – it’ll make a horse drop to their knees protecting themselves making that horse  vulnerable. It has to re engage itself before it can get after the aggressor – so, in horse parlance, by snapping the whip across her shins I just BIT her (without endangering myself) and the beauty of using a whip – that snap – startles the horse and really seems to doubly reinforce what just happened, so she thinks ‘Dam – that 2 legged horse ain’t like all the others, she got some reach on her and her bite is scary!’  So, in a scuffle that couldn’t have lasted 30 seconds total and from an observers point of view probably resembled a cartoon dustup of a rolling fur ball with occasional arm, leg, hand and hoof protuberances,  out came a quiet and (NOT ‘remarkably’) compliant, even happy horse!  As soon as she stopped, she dropped her head, I gave her a pat – and we walked off together with a perfect harmony.  All the fru fru people would be screaming bloody murder at me.  I’ve heard it before  – some certified by some big name trainer saying I was too rough on a horse.  I also know that that certified by some big name clinician type has had to turn away horses like I just described because that individual was not able to alter the undesired behavior…  because playing kissy face with tanks is a sure bet – on who the winner and loser will be!

So, remember that natural is a cool buzzword that a very good trainer with excellent intentions coined and it’s taken the industry by storm, but that’s pretty typical.  It doesn’t mean that y’all have the whole picture let alone the big picture.  Horses are naturally able to push each other around and to do so they are very capable and very strong. Which means they are naturally able to squash a human like a bug.  Fru fru is for tea cup poodles (which can and will bite you on the nose if they haven’t had limits and boundaries explained to them either!) Speak to a horse like another horse, believe me not only do they get it, they will actually be appreciative and will be HAPPY PARTNERS – because they understand. 

If you would like to host a seminar to learn what your horses are saying and how to make yourself understood, contact cyd

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Cyd Birns   USAF veteran           La Vernia, Texas USA