Communication, understanding and mutual respect are the foundations of natural horsemanship, and far more powerful than mechanical force or intimidation. By following some basic principles, and getting involved in a natural training program, you’ll be able to develop the relationship you’ve always dreamed of with your equine partner.

Fundamental principles for working with your horse

• Every interaction with your horse is important. Natural horsemanship isn’t just about using certain techniques when you’re training, but is a mindset to hold every time you’re around your equine partner.

• Groundwork is essential and should come before riding. The communication and respect you gain on the ground translates directly to saddle work.

• Never try to be sneaky when dealing with horses. They always know when you’re not being up front, and will then lose trust in you. Don’t hide halters behind your back or bribe them with food. A good leader can be trusted.

• Lack of cooperation may be a sign of physical pain. If a horse is reluctant to pick up a certain lead, flex laterally, or even pick up his feet, rule out and correct any physical problems before blaming the horse for disobedience.

• Emotional fitness is your responsibility. Learn to control your emotions, especially anger. When humans “lose it,” they lower themselves in the eyes of the horse. You can be assertive without being aggressive.

• Don’t use mechanical force for control or punishment. Tools should be minimal and should not cause pain. Fear will overcome pain when a horse is scared. Remember that a horse’s brakes are in his head, not his mouth.

• It’s release that teaches, not pressure. Accept and reward small successes, then build on them. Immediate release helps the horse understand how to be light.

• Use less pressure than you think you’ll need. Give your horse the benefit of the doubt and you’ll be amazed how light he can be.

• Make the right things easy and the wrong things difficult, but do allow the horse to make mistakes. Set up the situation so that the horse figures out the answer on his own. Micro-managing only results in a frustrated horse and a tired handler.

• Don’t make the horse stand still. Remember that horses are prey animals that survive by running from threats. It’s not productive to “make him stand still” when he’s bothered. Allow him to move, but make it on your terms by asking him to circle, go backwards and/or sideways. Eventually, he’ll figure out that it’s easier to stand still, and it becomes his idea.

• Do what horses do. Take the time to just watch them interact. What can you learn by watching a herd leader?

• Make it fun. Use your imagination to incorporate obstacles, turn on some music and dance with him. Your horse will be less inclined to become bored and tune you out.

• Spend quality time with your horse to help enhance your relationship, sitting with him while he’s eating, or stroking him while he’s napping.

• Once your horse has learned something, find a task or job that will put the principle to use. Horses get bored very easily if they see no point to the lessons.

Natural horsemanship is an integral part of the whole horse concept. Not only does it result in a happier and more willing horse, it promotes a much safer and fulfilling relationship for you and your equine friend. You don’t need to be a “horse whisperer” or have decades of experience. All it takes is an open heart and mind, along with the desire and dedication to learn and grow along with your horse.