Monday, October 27, 2008

A history of horse training 1980 - 2008

In the 80s the leisure horse world was taken over by the big stars - good horse people who had developed systems and methods and then gone ahead to market them. Now almost 30 years later most of these guys are still going strong and it is not unusual when you meet someone new to horses, that they begin by telling you, "I'm into so and so, I practise his methods", or, "I am going through so and so's programme''.

The established horseworld wasn't really touched by these new stars - they were happy with the way they were getting things done, and their lifetimes of history carried them through. I am one of the people new to horses and my historical interest is in the new 'leisure' horse world that has rapidly expanded during this time.

One of the reasons I find this whole thing so fascinating is that during the 25 years or so that I have been working with horses, the absolutely best horses I have ridden have always come from conventional, or old established ways of horsemanship. So what does this say about the new stuff - well, it's pretty confused, or at least most of the people involved in it are.

And here is why. There is a disasterous link between all the new stuff and the socio-political situation in the western world of this period. It's called, 'The New Age', and it doesn't work so well for horses. In fact I would go so far as to say, they don't like it. So why has something happened so strongly even though it's pretty obvious to a lot of people that it isn't working out. Well, mainly because it's a pretty good opportunity for a few people to make a load of money. If you can come up with a 'new' way of training horses that fits in nicely with what some would call a more enlightened view of life, and you have some marketing skills, then you are in business.

In the modern leisure horseworld there is a generic term, 'natural horsemanship'. It is actually meaningless because it is no more natural than all the other horsemanship that by default, it implies is unnatural, but it sounds good doesn't it.

I guess what I'm saying is, don't be sucked in to a load of commercial hype. Good horsemanship has been going on since man and horse met.


  1. Thank you for this information. I can conceive of no possible use for it, but I appreciate the effort.

  2. You shurely know that "natural" means that the natural behaviour of the horse is taken into account in contrast to the conventional methods.

  3. Vicus - no problem. I'm always happy to share useless information.

    Rainer - Yes, I agree with you there, but what I'm saying is people buy into it because, in today's world, the word 'natural' conveys 'good'.

  4. Some lucky guys seem to know everything. And newly arrived always try to change things to prove they're better than their predecessors.

    There are smartypants all over the place, Tom.

    I still think you don't need commercial strategies.

  5. Well, I'm sure you'd agree that it's better to let horses, like other animals kept by humans, live a life that allows them to express their instincts to some extent. Live outdoors, live in social groups, not be confined to small cages in isolation from each other, for instance. Your horses lead a more 'natural' life in that sense, and a good thing too. Nor do you bang nails in their feet.

    I can see why you are fed up with New Age nonsense and I often think some European Tipi dwellers should have been captured by 'Indians' and see how they liked it (though of course I always sided with them against the cowboys).

    Conventional horse'man'ship has produced all that rubbish you see for sale in tack shops to control horses by tying their heads down and so on. And racks of horrible bits.

    What about 'rollkur' being allowed by the FEI? (Sorry, Vicus!) and so on and so on. I guess you are enjoying poking the new ageists in the eye, but basically the turn to more holistic ways of managing horses is a good thing and you are part of it. Aren't you. We don't want to bring back crib-biting and all the rest of it.

  6. The words 'Natural' and 'organic' have come to mean good, pure, nourishing and other such worthy things.
    But they're mostly the usual crude oil products with a bit of aloe vera chucked in.

  7. Erica has a point. There is a whole world of ways to get things wrong with your horse, but I think maybe they mostly add up as divergent responses to a simple problem.

    If my car breaks down ( again ) I can take it to the garage and get it back in a day or two working fine. And I'll probably spend most of that day or two grumbling about how long it has taken. If I need to find some information it will take me seconds at my computer to locate it.

    Then something isn't working how I want with my horse and to address it properly will take months of careful, thoughtful and consistent work. We're not programmed to think about long term projects in that way, we want everything to be now or yesterday. We can get to pretty much anywhere in the world within 24 hours and yet nothing has changed with horses and I think a lot of the problematic interest in natural horsemanship, just like the excessive leather and metalwork on the shelves of the tack shops, is the search for a quick fix.

    In fact, maybe something has changed with horses. Maybe we've got so busy whizzing around the world and finding information within 30 seconds that we can't put in the time to get a quick fix with them. I bet someone who spent their whole working day in the saddle is probably going to find their horse is going pretty nicely for the job that needs doing in a relatively short time.

    As a top Natural Horseman famously said: "It takes as long as it takes."

    No matter what your background, if you can't accept that, you're going to find horsemanship doesn't work out the way you might hope.

  8. The New Age stuff isn't doing us much good either!

    Humans have done very well for themsleves after domesticating wolves and horses. The wolves made great guards and hunting buddies but it was the horse that really put us on this collision course with our neighbours.

    Once we stopped eating them and found out that they could actually transport us over the hill to jab long sticks in those other people, we were on our way.

    We're always looking for fast-feelgood recipes so I am not surprised that this has permeated the horsey-world.

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