Natural vs. Traditional Horsemanship: Is There a Right or Wrong Way to Do It?

By MAUVE O’DONOVAN

When it comes to training a young horse, is there truly a right or wrong way to do it?

Natural versus traditional horsemanship training methods have been argued about for decades now, but will we ever know which one is truly the best? How can society genuinely come to terms with a decision that impacts both horses and riders all around the world?

Those who favor natural horsemanship often turn to well-known methods such as Parelli and Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling (KFH), but one common factor of all natural horsemanship techniques is their basis on positive reinforcement.

Most people might jump to conclusions and assume all “natural” horsemanship involves rope halters and backyard methods considered foolish in the horse world today. However, natural horsemanship involves rewarding the horse rather than alluding to fear and punishment and attempting to understand a horse’s natural tendencies —at least as well as a human can.

In contrast, traditional horsemanship methods revolve around negative reinforcement, and training horses based on coercion and consequence. Some say traditional horsemanship techniques use punishment to break a horse’s spirit and force them to surrender to human authority, but others have used these techniques their whole lives and proven them successful.

The correct training method for a specific horse is going to first start with what discipline that horse is being trained for—whether it’s hunters, jumpers, dressage, and the list goes on.

Then, it most likely depends on what that specific trainer’s background in horsemanship is and what they have found rewarding, as well as the riding level of the client the horse is being trained for. If one trainer uses a specific training method on a horse and had positive results, that doesn’t mean it’s going to work for another horse or trainer.

Just like most issues in life, it is unattainable to have one training method all equestrians will agree with. Everyone has their own beliefs and their own success and failure stories, yet one shared component in these training methods is the involvement of humans with horses.

Each little touch of a human influence and their emotions at a certain time can affect a horse whether you want it to or not.

People might not realize it, but everything they do may be training, or un-training, as some people might say, their horse. Natural versus traditional horsemanship training methods may barely matter when you take into consideration just how much humans impact the training of a horse in all different directions.

A horse is only going to listen to people and respond to the training techniques if they respect their human relationships and are wanting to succeed for them.

Some horses are going to not understand as clearly, be scared, or perhaps not as fit as other horses and take a bit more time and patience. However, if the training methods are implemented upon a strong foundation of trust and cooperation between horse and human, anything from natural to traditional horsemanship methods should prove promising in time.