Defining Relationship-Based Horsemanship

Photo © IHA

By Farrah Green and Isabelle Farmer

What is Relationship-Based Horsemanship?

The International Horsemanship Association (IHA), is a 501 C3 non-profit education organization formed in 2018 by a group of horse lovers and horsemanship instructors from all over North America. These founders believe that promoting excellent horsemanship will cause horses to have a more secure and happy future for generations to come, and will allow the humans who love and support them to become more empowered caretakers, partners, and advocators for the horse. Today, we wanted to explain the theory behind Relationship-Based Horsemanship, which sets the stage for advancing horsemanship to the highest levels of excellence.  

Relationship-Based Horsemanship is a philosophy of being with horses that understands the nature of horses and seeks to partner with, instead of struggle against, their instincts.

Photo © IHA

When approaching horses with Relationship-Based Horsemanship (R-BH), we seek to look at circumstances from the horse’s point of view. By understanding that horses live in the moment, we acknowledge that most of their behavior stems from three major factors: fear, dominance, and/or physical comfort/discomfort. Using this conscious presence, we are able to discern which of these elements are at play and to diagnose what our response should be. As we attain more skills as horsemen, we become more effective, efficient, and elaborative in communicating with our equine partners.

R-BH is centered on acknowledging positive behavior and promoting an emotional and mental bond between the equine and human species. Initially, this is accomplished by convincing horses we have their best interests at heart. 

As we seek to train and teach horses in how we wish them to behave or perform, our focus should be centered on acknowledging and rewarding a positive response versus punishing unwanted behaviors. Of course, in any dangerous situation, educated and thoughtful equestrians take responsibility to minimize such occurrences and are well prepared when they do arise. Therefore, humans must learn skills that will appropriately redirect a horse when needed, while keeping the dignity and the playful nature of the horse intact.

It is critical that we persuade our horses to see us positively by convincing them that we have their best interests at heart. Communicating leadership in a way that horses understand along with the use of positive reinforcement to encourage desired behavior is what allows us to collaborate, achieve our goals, and create and maintain the bond we seek. 

Photo © IHA

R-BH celebrates what can be achieved when a true partnership exists without coercion.  

With Relationship-Based Horsemanship, we are not only focused on our rapport with horses, but also with other like-minded humans. All creatures are seeking connection.  The feeling of connection happens when we empathize with the emotions and concerns of one another. When this goal is realized, and a clear bond exists, we all must celebrate one another’s achievements. We understand and appreciate the time, effort, and commitment it has taken to see the world from another’s point of view. 

We no longer rely on horses for warfare or other similar outdated practices, therefore we are now freed to pursue what is possible with horses from the most basic interactions to the creation of artistry. This community of horsemen recognizes and applauds every accomplishment that highlights what can be done when Relationship-Based Horsemanship is applied.

How the International Horsemanship Association promotes Relationship-Based Horsemanship:

  • Highlights the importance and accessibility of Relationship-Based Horsemanship for anyone who owns or interacts with horses. 
  • Develops a community of like-minded individuals from which members can both be supported and provide support. 
  • Allows anyone seeking more information from horsemanship instructors and trainers to connect with top natural horsemanship professionals.  
  • Provides educational information about the behavior, health, and well-being of horses.
  • Provides pathways (the Grades of Horsemanship, GOH) that both students and professionals can follow to train their horses and improve their horsemanship.
  • Spotlights examples of R-BH for others to follow.
  • Defines the qualities that horses and humans need to interact as partners.

For more information about the International Horsemanship Association, please visit

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