Natural Horsemanship & Positive Reinforcement
Photo by Susan Fino
an all encompassing frame of mind places a greater emphasis on watching and really paying attention to when the horse is concerned as well as what the horse may be communicating or feeling.
The philosophy is to pay attention to stress indicators, making an effort to stay under threshold...thereby creating mutual cooperation where the horse feels comfortable and safe noticing and paying attention to the human. Additionally, this mindset prioritizes the use of energy, intention, imagery, and body language to communicate with horses while also placing a precedence on how horses feel about requests and how they interpret them so as to
bring more clarity and compassion to our communications…..
this all to better complement horses’ nature.
Under the Relationship-based Horsemanship umbrella, We move as One HORSEMANSHIP employs both the philosophies of Natural Horsemanship and
Positive Reinforcement to best address each horse and each human's individual situation to improve horse/human communication and trust.
Both horse training techniques look at working with horses from a different point of view than traditional horsemanship and the applications of each are limitless and each gets us closer to discovering our own individual vision of a:
"We move as One" magical connection.
Understanding Natural Horsemanship and
Positive Reinforcement Training philosophies
How desired behavior is communicated:
Overall training goal:
-Slow escalating pressure and very quick release when the horse makes the slightest try or improvement
-the LIGHTEST of pressure....either physical or energy & the FASTEST release
-Adding pressure and then subtracting (-) something to create a reinforcement
-Correctly practiced, closely replicates how horses communicate with each other
-Can easily correlate on-the-ground training with in-the-saddle work
-Difficult to have timing perfection for very split-second behavior goals
-Not as motivating with behaviors which aren't common to horses' in their natural environment
Positive Reinforcement (R+)
-Teaching a cue or "bridge" followed by something good
(doesn't have to be a treat)
-Perfect timing with delivering the bridge cue
-Waiting for desired behavior and then adding (+) something to create a reinforcement
-Easier to get perfect timing to zero-in on a specific behavior
-More positively motivating for the horse
-More easily adaptable for protective contact training
-Usually foundational positive reinforcement strategies need to be taught prior to developing/changing behaviors
FYI: It's important to realize that it's said natural horsemanship utilizes negative reinforcement strategies ... that the word "negative" does not mean "bad". All it means is that something is taken away (minus). By the same token, the word "positive" in positive reinforcement just means that something is added (plus) to reinforce a behavior. The cornerstone of natural horsemanship is based on "pressure & release" whereby the goal is the lightest pressure (energy and/or physical) with the quickest release from pressure or taking the pressure away. The release is the reinforcement of the desired behavior.
Both Natural Horsemanship and Positive Reinforcement mindsets help you re-think what you've previously learned and begin establishing a language with the horse that will
easily make sense to....the horse!
Natural Horsemanship is based on understanding and utilizing the basic psychologies and instincts that motivate the horse's innate behavior. At its best, natural horsemanship uses clear imagery, body language, along with proper pressure, corrections, and releases ... with the the goal of ultimately getting across your requests via the lightest, quietest, and softest aids.
Positive Reinforcement has basically the same goals but with its methodology, it enables us to better clarify our communication and usually improves the horse's motivation. Also, sometimes we are able to communicate and have the horse comprehend the behaviors we are seeking a bit quicker. Additionally it allows us to develop strategies with the horse using protected contact. (Protected contact means training certain behaviors through a paddock, corral, round pen, etc....to keep the horse and human safe until some boundaries have been developed.) Later those strategies can be built upon with direct horse/human contact.
In Relationship-Based Horsemanship whether using Natural Horsemanship or Positive Reinforcement Training or a combination of both, it's key that you're watching and learning to read what your horse is conveying with his or her communication back to you; that you 1) honor your horse's concerns or confusion 2) slow-down or WAIT to be sure that your horse is emotionally ok and your horse understands what you're asking of him or her. Ultimately, you become your horse's benevolent leader, whereby your horse wants to perform, is a willing partner and feels safe and relaxed with you.