If you ask this question to 10 people, you will probably get 10 different answers. I would like to share my point of view regarding this subject, but I am aware that it could be different from what others would say.
Natural Horsemanship for me means a combination of horse training and horse keeping that is as close to their nature as possible. The basic needs of every horse are freedom, forage and friends. For me it is essential that my horses basic needs are met, before I start any training. Their basic needs form a foundation of how they feel, think and act and therefore also a foundation of the training. In every day life this means that my horses live outside 24/7 with plenty of space, with at least one friend (even if it is a stallion), a shelter and enough grass/hay on different spots so it encourages them to move around.
When it comes to training, I shy away from any kind of escalating pressure, fear, force, pain and tools that are created to cause those things. This goes for every horse: from young stallion to old mare. Horses are incredibly sensitive. This shows in simple things like being very annoyed by 1 little fly. ‘The average horse weighs 50 million times more than the average fly, but immediately feels the pest settle on his body. A hypothetical human with that degree of sensitivity would feel the weight of five unseen dandelion seeds—something real humans can't do. (Horse Brain, Human Brain)’. With this in mind, it makes very little sense to me to use tools like whips, harsh bits, spurs and side reins. What these tools offer is a band aid, not a solution to whatever problem needs to be solved.
When working with horses I always look at the individual. Like humans, all horses are different. They have a different past, different bloodlines, different character etc. The core of my training with horses is a lot of patience, understanding, communication and love. Figuring out how they think and act, why they do what they do and what motivates/triggers them. I want them to know that I understand them and that no matter what happens, they can always rely on me. This means that I never punish a horse, or push them way beyond their boundaries
From the ground to the saddle
I start every training from the ground. This creates a great opportunity to build mutual trust, communication and connection. The communication on the ground, translates to the riding communication which gives you a great jump start when you want to start riding, What kind of exercises I do depends on the horse and the goal with that horse.
In between training sessions, there is also a lot of undemanding time; time spend with my horses with just being there, not doing anything. It is a simple way of showing your horse(s) that you have good intentions and that you don’t just show up for work. Doing nothing together is a great way of building a strong(er) bond. Plus watching your horse just being a horse teaches you a lot about how he communicates with others, which is something you can use in your training as well :)
Love, patience and understanding
I believe that giving your horses a natural life and training based on love, patience and understanding will offer you a strong foundation for whatever it is you would like to do with your horse. From cantering bridle-less on the beach, to high level. competitions: everything is possible when you and your horse become a team!
A little about our guest author Nicky Van Der Sluis:
My name is Nicky, born in Holland but I chased the sun and moved to Spain in 2016. I have been into horses as long as I can remember. Throughout the years I have tried many disciplines, but since about 8 years I am focussing on the more natural way of horse training and horse keeping. Living in Spain isn't complete without a Spanish horse, so in May 2019 I bought my very first PRE horse: Makaio (gelding). In April 2020 PRE stallion Eluney joined us and they are happily living their lives together on our Spanish farm! My main goal is to keep them as fit, healthy and strong as possible through academical dressage and to do endless hacks through nature together!