Friday, October 31, 2008

This is true - honest!

I'm just recovering from the worst flu I ever had - do you know I wouldn't have cared if I died back there a day or two ago. Anyway, I'm almost back.
Thank you for your comments on my last post - I utterly respect your views, and with particular reference to Breakfast and Erica, I know you both have some investment in the word natural - all I am saying is sometimes things need to be said and some kind of balance needs to be kept. I know I shoot my mouth off but some things wind me up.


Overheard at a recent clinic in the UK, and this is true!

Spectator - 'When you were working with that horse, I saw a buffalo and and an Indian in the arena with you'

Trainer - 'I'm not surprised by that - I get a lot of help from the Native Americans with my horsemanship'


Now come on - call me old fashioned, but shouldn't the correct answer have been, 'Jeez, you need to get psychiatric help, you are barking mad!'

But seriously, this is the kind of stuff people take to their horses - I don't like it, and I imagine the horses think it's pretty wild too.


  1. I don't have that much investment in the word, not really. Much happier now Steve has dropped it - none of my teachers use the term these days and they are correct in that. Never made sense to me really and the more I saw of people who really throw themselves into that idea the more pernicious it's influence appears.

    I have enough problem with trainers who talk about "energy" because you start wondering if they mean something mysterious or whether it's really just a way of moving and a mental attitude. Which currently is how I understand it, both as a horseman and a martial artist. I'm always open to change but for this kind of thing I can only learn about it empirically really.

    It's difficult though - horses are a fringe case in that they are so subtle and pick up so much from us that it's easy to slip into the trap of mystical thinking if you're not rigorous with your own ideas and surely they attract people from the extreme fluffy-bunny side of things, who I think are the people that annoy me most. If someone starts namechecking Kohanov little red lights start flashing in my brain.

    Also, reading Hempfling's ridiculous equine phrenology. That made me furious. I don't think he's a bad horseman necessarily, but he's horrifyingly pretentious and in at least one picture in What Horses Reveal he seems entirely content to put his students at considerable risk. I have no time for that kind of attitude at all.

  2. Why is it that people associate the word "natural" with good? Taxol, a chemotherapy agent, comes from the Yew tree so is "natural" but pretty toxic. Aspirin comes from the willow tree, and while not toxic, at least in moderation, is a pretty potent drug. There's nothing much natural about riding horses.

    One trainer who I have a lot of respect for, rather lost me when I was reading his latest book. He was talking about hard objects becoming softer if you looked at them with softness. The first time I read the book I got taken in by it and found myself thinking that the photos did look somehow softer. The second time I read it I did a reality check. Yes, I could imagine things looked softer if I wanted to, but really, they didn't! A metal gate was a metal gate was a metal gate. It was hard, not soft.

    I guess it depends on what we want to see and believe. If natural makes us deal with our horses in the best way then fine, but good horsemanship is good horsemanship, with or without the natural word.

  3. Welcome to the blog June, and thanks for your comment too, Breakfast.
    So that's it then, we're finally all agreed. All there is is good and bad horsemanship. I was going to say there is good and bad natural horsemanship, and good and bad conventional horsemanship, but I just can't say it - I still don't accept that horsemanship divides in that way.
    And just one other thing I wanted to say, in response to Erica's comment about nailing on shoes - some horses' feet aren't good enough for barefoot, and I see nothing wrong with putting shoes on them. As one trainer says, we've spent generations breeding the foot out of the horse, then we expect them to have good feet. Barefoot is just another trap to get caught up in.
    Do you think this whole thing is much more about people needing labels, causes, crusades, groups to belong to, leaders to worship. Yuk, it's all very murky isn't it.

  4. Groups to belong to maybe, as it creates a support system.

    The whole Health and Safety stuff has meant newer owners often don't have that much experience with horses when they first take one on and, if they do step outside the box a little e.g. barefoot it helps to have support. Even if they don't step outside the box a little, support is always a good thing when it comes to horses.

    I just don't get the whole natural thing though. I hate seeing my horses cold and shivering in the field when it's wet and miserable. I don't want them to drop weight and be miserable as they have a job to do. There are perfectly good rugs available so I use them. (Showing my age here but I remember when we used to put real blankets under canvas New Zealand rugs and keep them all together with a circingle. That isn't something I'd want to go back to!). The Sec D who doesn't have a job to do - yet - and is fat anyway and doesn't seem to feel the cold doesn't get a rug. Seems pretty simple to me.

    There was a discussion on one of the naturally horses email groups I belong to about bits and bitless.

    I can't get a horse as soft in a bitless as I can with a bit. Maybe that's me but if the horse understands a bit I don't see what the problem is in using one.

    One person came on and said every horse was asking for a bitless bridle. Don't see that myself. She also said that we were shortening our horses lives by 20 years by having shoes on them. She reckoned horses should live till they are 40 without shoes. Good grief, if our youngsters live till they are 40 I'll be mucking out on my zimmer frame. It's tempting to put shoes on them!

  5. I think it is partly about groups, us and them, and so on. It's something that certain teachers ( or perhaps schools might be the term now ) of "natural" horsemanship seem to really use, perhaps to retain students or give them a support network or whatever. Sometimes that can look a bit culty, especially when it comes down to personalities as well. Doubly so when the schools in question appear to be deliberately appropriating methods that religious organisations use. I'm a little divided on this, because pragmatically these methods do work and things like getting student "buddy groups" working together can be a really good way to build up a like minded support network in an area where actually it seems to me that you do need to be learning from real people. At the same time, the religious overtones of that really sends a shiver down my spine.

    Just been glancing over my (other) favourite book on horsemanship and spotted this in the glossary:
    When people think of natural horsemanship that could mean a lot of things. It isn't natural for a horse to be around people and it's not natural for a person to be sitting on him either.

    A slight aside on the barefoot thing- our trimmer ( I'd say she's probably the best in the world right now so she ends up having to work with a lot of horses whose feet nobody else can fix and is often a last hope for laminitis sufferers ) frequently gets annoyed about the fact that if you want your horse to go barefoot successfully you have to be prepared to look at a whole lot of things about how you keep them, particularly in terms of diet. A lot of people don't seem able or prepared to change that and if you can't look at the horse as a whole it's hard to get their feet right. I guess the "no foot, no horse" adage can also be reversed quite usefully. I think it's still the same pernicious "quick fix" idea going on a lot of the time.

  6. I find the cult/religious stuff uncomfortable too.

    The support group thing though is quite important. It's why we can usually fill clinics at our place pretty easily. We have a group of people who are very supportive of each other and are genuinely pleased when others in the group make progress. That's something that is quite unusual in my experience with horses. People are usually quick to criticise rather than support!

  7. We have the same with our little group down in Kent- a hard core of really good, committed people who take our horsemanship really seriously but have a lot of fun at the same time. Over the years we've got pretty close and following people and horses over that time and seeing the progress they make is absolutely brilliant.

  8. Sorry to hear you've had a bit of a cold, Tom. Hope you've been getting appropriate sympathy ;-)
    I am finding it hard to know what to say, not least because every wise & pithy post I have attempted has landed up being lost in the ether.
    It may be amusing to pass comment on other peoples methods or beliefs, especially if one doesn't happen to share them. But I try very very hard not to join in.
    We all need something to believe in, especially as we know there isn't a god, right?
    It is more often the (mistaken) perceptions of words, definitions and methods that can lead to conflicting opinions.
    I would far rather celebrate all of the GOOD horsemen and trainers we now have access to, regardless of what methods they promote, than snipe at the words they use.
    The only judge is the horse really, but the teacher who 'translates' for the handler/rider, has to be able to communicate in the best way for each student to fully understand and get the most from what they are trying to learn. And there are many differing triggers to learning.
    Tom, you're not really turning into a grumpy old man, are you?!
    I thought you were more about live & let live, peace & love, and all that hippy stuff.
    Hmmm, you see the person who wrote such a great critique for your book on your website, happens to be a shaman healer & teacher. It doesn't make her a bad person, and perhaps she may not be offended if she read your blog, but it made me uncomfortable.
    It's your blog and you say what you want - which is admirable & brave (or is it? perhaps it's arrogant and dumb). Perceptions....
    Oh well about to press the button for this lot to disappear again!
    Before I do so, have read this back. It's not meant to sound sniffy, honestly. I'm just trying to keep it simple as I have to keep retryping!

  9. Row - sorry if some of what I say makes you feel uncomfortable. I am more than happy to discuss any aspect of anything that anyone has said on this subject so far (and I do happen to believe there might be a god).
    When I first started working in public as a trainer I went out of my way never to even discuss these ideas, as I held the view that people can believe whatever, and it's none of my business.
    I still hold the view that it's good not to upset people, but as I go on I feel more confident in my views, and feel I have the right to put them forward. I admit my comment on the buffalo is a bit 'gobby', but I truly believe if people think there are buffaloes in the arena, in the UK, and that no-one else can see, then someone is, minimum, letting their mind go places that could be positively dangerous. That's the same freedom of mind that allowed Tony Blair to hear God tell him to invade Iraq. It's barking mad!
    I think it's important to have a rational mind and to try and maintain some degree of reality in life, including where horsemanship is involved - I believe horsemanship needs to be simple, straightforward and logical, both for us and our horses. I don't see room or positive use for 'unexplainables'.
    I have thought long and hard about whether I should say what I think, as I kinda know it is going to lose me more business than it will gain me, and I have come to the decision, it's not about business. This is what I think, and what happens happens - I'll live with it (or not).

  10. Hi again,
    Absolutely no need for 'sorry' a) because it's your blog and if there's one place anyone's entitled to air their views I would think it is in their own space, and b) I don't believe it is your responsibility if I or anyone else feels uncomfortable or has a problem with what you say in your blog (unless it is a personally defamatory comment perhaps, which I know this wasn't)
    I wondered if anyone else felt it was worth discussing, but so far not, so perhaps I'm out of step - just for a change!
    But just think if I was the sort of person who went onto other forums, and said 'there's this creepy horse trainer who says he believes in a mythical being. He needs locking up, doesn't he?!'
    There are some people who believe in (a)god (whoever or whatever it/he/she/they may mean to them). Some believe in buffalos, others in spirits.
    At the moment, I don't think I firmly believe in the existense of any being, but neither am I averse to anyone else doing so. In fact I admire people who can hold an unshakeable belief in something or someone.
    When I believed,in fact I knew, there was a god, it was very comforting.
    When I don't believe there is, or in fact I know there isn't a god, it's quite scary.
    Someone send me a buffalo round here, straight away, please!
    What do horses think of it?
    Now there's the real question....
    My take on it is, they don't give a stuff, as long as we treat them in a clear, calm, consistent, way, give them the best opportunity to understand what we want - all of which I happen to have learnt from 'natural' not 'traditional' trainers.
    Horses communicate with each other in thought patterns much of the time, which makes them pretty sensitive and intuitive. So generally any kind of positive vibe is preferable to negative ones.
    Which is why I am trying so hard to be the sort of person who automatically looks for the positive in any situation. It's not easy, sometimes it's definitely a double negative problem for me!!
    But 'some kind of balance needs to be kept'
    Oh indeed, that is soooo true. Glass of wine in one hand, and chocolate in the other. Now THAT is true balance for me...

  11. But what happens when someone thinks that invoking the imaginary buffalo is more important than the horsemanship? Because that is really the danger- people only see an eighth of what is in front of them and although, as you say, horses don't really care about what we are thinking when we do stuff, they do care about the things we do and ultimately someone who is getting good results with mystical frippery is almost certainly not getting them because of the mystical frippery, but people who want to believe in that ( especially if it saves on them having to actually do some work with their horse, be assertive or otherwise sort out the relationship between them ) will tend to think that they need to find a way to bring the buffalo into the school and their horse will mysteriously stop pushing them around.

    If there is any use to mystical frippery it is at the highest level where the horse is working almost entirely off the rider's intention but it seems that there are some kinds of people who will pick up discussion of that kind of work or see someone working at that level and assume that this is the key to everything, rather than icing on the cake of solid horsemanship and sensitive riding.

  12. I was having a think about this today and came to the conclusion that good horsemanship is mostly, no, totally, about feel. And that's feel on the ground, through the rein, through the seat, feeling energy etc. Anyone who can teach you that, whether "natural" or "traditional" is worth listening to in my book.

    Not sure what buffalos have to do with feel, but I guess if it helps that person and their horse then that's okay. If it doesn't then it isn't.

  13. and how come it always takes me 3 goes to remember my password on this blog?!

  14. Now I've calmed down a bit, I actually really don't mind if people get into imaginary buffaloes or not.
    I think what happens to me, and this is a bit of a lifelong theme, when I understand something, or work something out, I somehow expect everyone else to understand it the same way as me too. I remember when 'All you need is Love' came out in 1967, I went out on the street and was gobsmacked that not everyone had taken it on board.
    Right now my understanding of horses and horsemanship is so 'un-buffalo', I can't imagine ever needing one - consequently I struggle to imagine anyone else needing one either.

  15. Sometimes I start talking about something under the impression that the person I'm talking to will know what I'm on about because I was thinking of it.

  16. I also wondered, Tom, whether you were uncharacteristically hacked off with this trainer about something completely unconnected to the buffalo theme. I mean, you were there, and we weren't, so it's difficult to make a considered judgement (much as I said to someone about that previous thread of the poisonous comments made about pics of one of your clinics. They weren't there, they can't possibly know what happened, but preferred to imagine the worst).
    So perhaps this guy was a complete pratt and the buffalo was just one symptom?

    To glenatron - & amazingly, just sometimes they will. While dogs & horses nearly always will!

    June - 'feel' another word that can be defined and redefined in many ways, but unless it incorporates 'intention' (another word for 'energy'?) that would have to be added to my list.

    I don't have a problem with using 'natural' because I know what I mean, and it's what the majority of the 'natural' movement mean, with some variation.
    It's a sort of shorthand for starting in the horses corner when making decisions about management or handling.
    If you start with the basic horse and determine to change it as little as necessary to achieve your goal,it's likely that there will be less gratuitous treatment applied. But to be sensible and bear in mind the 'necessary'.
    Like June I have to make a few attempts to get logged on and get the comment posted, but at least I have fun making rude words out of the verfication letters - now 'hinglas'.......... now 'cemendol'
    And it isn't the wrong bloody password, thank you very much.....
    And have had to sign up to yet another account. New word 'canes'

  17. "June - 'feel' another word that can be defined and redefined in many ways, but unless it incorporates 'intention' (another word for 'energy'?) that would have to be added to my list."

    I think intention and energy come after feel. You need to feel what is needed before you know where to direct the intention and energy. Feel is the starting point.

    Now, let's see if I can remember my password first time this time!

  18. Second time. Getting better!

  19. Thank you all for your contributions.

    A girl came to look at a horse yesterday, and she asked me to tell her all about it. I was feeling pretty dour at the time, and said, 'Listen, I know I'm supposed to give you all the shpeel (not sure if that's a word), but I'm not going to. The more I talk about horses the more bullshit I speak. Look at the horse and if you like it, buy it'.

    Yes Row, you might be right - I am a miserable grumpy old shit.

    Row - I don't have a problem about the trainer in the buffalo incident, but I do most certainly have a problem with what happened to me when I first started investigating better ways to work with horses. I got sold a line in bullshit, and it took me a few years to work my way out of it - and yes, it did, and does, make me angry, that that kind of stuff goes on. Good horsemanship is hard enough without wrapping it up in other peoples ego trips and money spinning enterprises.
    I mean all that in the nicest possible way, of course.

  20. In the short time I've known you I certainly haven't noticed you turning into a grumpy old git.

  21. :-)
    'In the short time I've known you I certainly haven't noticed you turning into a grumpy old git.'

    That definitely made me lol!!!

    I reckon we can all see through him really, but let's not tell him we can ;-)


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