Make A Change

You’ll never get your horse right until you get yourself right, writes Monty Roberts as he recounts a turning point in his life. Before: These pictures are accurate depictions of my body weight before and after my decision to change my diet. The before pictures were taken one month before being diagnosed with near lethal Type 2 Diabetes. I was in trouble!


















These pictures are accurate depictions of my body weight before and after my decision to change my diet. The before pictures were taken one month before being diagnosed with near lethal Type 2 Diabetes. I was in trouble!

As a younger man I was a competition rider, worked hard, stayed fit and ate a lot. Past injuries started causing pain in my adult life so I significantly reduced my physical activity but my appetite remained in place.

One would not believe the list of excuses I utilised to justify my appetite with reduced physical activity. ‘Oh I’m very heavy boned. I really don’t eat that much, but my metabolism has changed. I carry my weight well, and it doesn’t bother me. I am drinking diet beverages now.’ I used all these and more. The facts will show that I was obese and my horses told me so.

In the racing industry there is a category called the handicap division. Races within this segment provide for the horses to run with various weight assignments that they are to carry on their backs. I have heard world class trainers scream to high heaven when an official assigns two or three more pounds to their horse than they believe appropriate given the competition for the day.

It is the goal of the official handicapper to apply weight to the runners in an attempt to cause each horse to reach the finish line at the same time. This method significantly increases the gambling potential on the race. Typically, the race official works with approximately 10 to 12 pounds (5.44kg) in this effort. One might ask, ‘Is a horse really that sensitive?’ They are.

Over centuries racing people have come to know that as little as two or three pounds can make a huge difference. It is my intention to bring several factors to mind that will cause readers to reconsider any preconceived notions as to weight and the effects of it on horses and humans. I have not always been a good role model when it comes to body weight but good sense and certain individuals in my life have encouraged me to make a change.

Would you believe that my life insurance was more expensive at age 63 than what it is today at age 76? Why do you think that is? It’s because the computers at the various medical offices in charge of examining me concluded that I have a better chance to live through the span of my policy then I did 13 years ago. The medical community is overwhelmingly impressed with this outcome.

The significant change I made was in diet. I can drink anything I want and as much as I want so long as it’s water. No alcohol, fruit juice or sweet drinks, only water. My diet consists of steamed, boiled or raw green vegetables (as well as tomatoes and onions), brown rice, and white chicken or white fish (spices and seasonings are OK). That’s it, three times a day, seven days a week, with the only snacks being cashews or almonds.

The doctors told me to eat this food with a significant amount of water. To me, this constituted a soup, or some might call it a stew. Each meal consists of approximately one litre of these ingredients. That’s a lot of food, which means I’m eating like a horse!

Love is a wonderful thing, and I firmly believe that each of us must begin with loving ourselves. Many horsemen like the Dorrance brothers and Ray Hunt expressed the theme, ‘You’ll never get your horse right until you get yourself right.’ I whole heartedly agree with this statement. I also believe that we will never get ourselves right until we succeed in liking ourselves.

Once we love ourselves we open the door to loving not only the people closest to us but our horses as well. We owe it to ourselves, our loved ones and our horses to maintain health to the fullest extent possible so that we assist our bodies to remain vital for the maximum amount of time. It is not only length of life that should concern us but the quality of life as well.

The horses that I ride now (and I certainly ride more than I did when I was overweight) like me better and perform far more generously than when they carried that extra 75 or 80 pounds. I feel sure that I did my body significant damage with years of obesity. I am just as sure that I am adding time to my existence since coming to my senses and choosing a better quality life.

The joy that I feel for having made this decision should encourage every reader to think hard on their goals for life and certainly the best interest of their horses if they are a rider. I am working harder than I’ve ever worked in my 76 years, but I don’t consider it work. I am having more fun than I have ever had as well. I love what I do and this means that I never have to ‘work’ another day in my life.

Horseman's Calling

Horseman’s Calling is a natural horsemanship competition taking place on 5-6 April. It is loosely based on the US competition Road to the Horse and brings together different horsemanship techniques. Here we chat to event organiser Stephanie Oliver about what spectators can expect. What is the thinking behind the event? Having been involved with natural horse practitioners in the States, we were very familiar with the US events Road to the Horse and Way of the Horse and decided it was time to bring this kind of competition to the UK. The element of competition is fun but the event is really about educating a large audience about natural horsemanship techniques and their benefits.

Explain the event’s format The event is run over a weekend with three teams of two competing against each other to load two non loading horses and start two young horses under saddle. The teams will be judged by a panel of equestrian experts on their methods and not necessarily on how far their horses have progressed. At the end of the two days there will be a set test to ride.

The action will be commentated on by well known horseman Richard Maxwell and judged by a panel of industry experts from different fields of equestrianism. The judging will be on the competitors’ methods and how their horses respond, not on the end result. Trainers will be marked down if their horses look stressed or over faced at any point.

Who are the main players at this year's event? The three teams will be headed up by Grant Bazin, Guy Robertson and Jason Webb, all established horsemen working in the UK with a range of methods influenced by Monty Roberts, Pat Parelli, Craig Cameron, Clinton Anderson and more.

What can spectators expect? It will be a really exciting event. Three teams, 12 horses and two days of non stop action. As well as the main competition arena, there is a shopping village and demo area, which will feature some outstanding displays of horsemanship including liberty work, free riding and educational seminars on horse health.

What future plans do you have for Horseman's Calling? The event is actually part of a European circuit and it will be held in Germany at the end of next year. We have plans to make this an annual fixture in the UK, introducing new trainers and horsemanship methods, and are already planning the 2015 event.

What two things would you like to see change about horsemanship in the UK? First the way many horses are trained. I would like to see more mainstream trainers looking to incorporate natural methods into their programmes. Secondly I would like to change the remaining stigma that surrounds natural horsemanship techniques. I would like to see them embraced by mainstream equestrianism as practical, effective and ethical alternatives to traditional methods.


Grant BazinGrant Bazin and Dan Wilson Our first competitive team to be announced is Grant Bazin and Dan Wilson from Practical Horsemanship. This duo worked and travelled the world with Monty Roberts for 10 years learning his methods and riding his demo horses. They now both have very successful yards based in Cornwall and Northamptonshire where they take in problem horses and young starters.

Guy-RobertsonGuy Robertson and TBA Guy has travelled extensively and has trained and started horses all over the world, including Australia, USA and New Zealand. His methods have been strongly influenced by studying some of the world’s great trainers including Martin Black, Pat Parelli, Craig Cameron, Clinton Anderson, Buck Brannaman, Bill and Tom Dorrance, and Ray Hunt. He has a very successful, established yard in Rawcliffe Bridge, East Yorkshire, where he takes in horses. He also runs clinics and demonstrations all over Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Derbyshire.

Jason-WebbJason Webb and Tom Mitchell After a very successful Polocrosse career, Jason found himself sought after for starting young horses using the methods passed down through his family in Australia. He is in demand for demonstrations and has performed at prestigious national and regional events including Your Horse Live in 2011, 2012 and 2013. He also contributes to national magazines Your Horse and Horse & Rider, is an ‘Ask the Expert’ for Horse & Country TV and a blogger for Horse and Hound.

Tom works alongside Jason with most of the horses that come through the centre. Growing up with the Pony Club and competing in all disciplines, he went on to work for the Suffolk Hunt and top eventing yards, where he bought on young horses and competed in affiliated events. He also retains very close links with the racing industry with his family involved in Newmarket life.

The One for You

Linda ParelliEveryone who owns a horse starts off with a dream of riding off into the sunset with their best friend. A lot of times we pick our perfect partner and that dream becomes a reality. Other times however we end up picking our perfect poison. The purpose of this article is to help people pick their perfect partner. As we get into horses we begin to understand that there’s more than just a horse and a person. There are ‘Horsenalities’ and ‘Humanalities’ as well as experience, confidence and goals. It is these last three factors that I’d like to address first.

If you’re inexperienced and lacking in confidence, you’re going to want a certain type of horse. If you’re inexperienced but very confident, you’re probably going to want a different type of horse, both in terms of nature and spirit level. Couple this with whether your goals are low, moderate or high, and you’ve got a lot to consider when it comes to picking your perfect partner. Try answering the following questions:

  • How much experience do I have (1 to 10)? Let me give you an example: If you’ve won three or more world championships and you’ve been riding for more than 40 years, you could probably put yourself up there at around a 9.
  • How much confidence do I have (1 to 10)? If you’ve won a couple of world championships in saddle bronc riding, you can probably put yourself right around a 9.9.
  • What is the level of my goals (1 to 10)? If you want to have a world class performance horse, English or western, then your goal is probably around a 9.5. If you want to go to the Olympics, put it up there as a 10.

So, those are the three big factors when it comes to deciding which type of horse to partner yourself with. Even with that in mind however we find a lot of mismatches. Oftentimes this happens when you buy the right horse for you when you get started, but over time you outgrow that horse.

Let’s say you buy the perfect horse. You’ve got little experience, medium confidence and low goals. As you continue to improve, one day you could look at that horse and think, ‘Wow, my experience and confidence and goals have increased. I think I’m ready for a horse with a higher capacity to grow with me.’

Buying and Selling Buying and selling is a two part story. First, the buyer needs to have a realistic view of themselves; they need to get themselves a horse lover’s mirror. The seller also needs to adhere to this message as well. Making sure both sides are educated really is the solution.

So, let’s say we get into a situation: either the dream horse turned into a nightmare, or we’ve simply outgrown the horse and we’ve decided to sell. Now the buyers have turned into the sellers. As the seller, you need to employ the same strategies you used when you were the buyer. Make sure you have a realistic view of who you’re selling to.

Pat Parelli CuttingI’d like to offer a quick point on Humanality and Horsenality, the system I have developed to categorise horse and human personalities (read more at It’s important that we use that information to create strategies, not excuses. If you’re a Right-Brain Introvert (low energy and perhaps nervous) and your horse is a Left-Brain Extrovert (high energy and confident), that doesn’t mean you should just throw up your hands and say, ‘This’ll never work!’ You’re actually in a great situation, because you can begin to understand what your horse needs and how to make adjustments for that.

I believe we should all look at our commitment to our animals as stewards for life; we can compare it to children. There will come a time when children will cleave and leave. They’ll move out and get married and create futures of their own. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this situation occurring with horse owners, as long we do our best by our horses. We need to be realistic about what kind of horse we have, because that will increase the chances of finding a good partner for them moving forward.

The Perfect Fit In my lifetime, I’ve personally sold over 300 horses and mules. I would say I have around an 80-90% success rate when it comes to matching horses to humans. The best matchmaker I’ve ever been around was the man I learned so much from, Troy Henry. He had a knack for knowing which horse fit with which person, and here’s a quick story that illustrates this.

There were two women at the stables. Each one had a horse that was their nightmare. One woman’s goal was to do reining, and her horse was kind of a plodder. The other woman wanted to trail ride, but her horse was perfectly suited for reining. Now, one woman had paid quite a bit more for her horse than the other. Mr Henry suggested they trade horses.

The One for YouThe woman who had paid a lot more sort of scoffed at this idea, so Mr Henry said, ‘Try this. Just trade horses for two weeks.’ They did, and after two weeks you couldn’t have pried those horses away from their new partners with a crowbar! They found that Mr Henry had in fact matched them up with their perfect partners.

Again, there are plenty of exit strategies that maintain the horse’s dignity and respect. Here on the Parelli campus we’ve had horses that simply got too old to be of service for what we do in the Parelli University, but they made ideal pasture horses for people who were just looking for that.

An essential part of this decision is knowing who you’re selling to. The first thing I look for in passing on this stewardship is someone who shares that same attitude. They also need to have the means to be a good partner. Some people have big hearts and no clue. Some people have big hearts, all the clues and no financial means. And some people, well, they just don’t have big hearts. I make sure they have enough knowledge, skills and natural habits.

My basic philosophy when it comes to buying and selling horses is this: In general, horses themselves are worth between $1,000 and $2,500. Beyond that, you’re paying for the training and the breeding. And, in the not too distant future, you’ll be paying for the feeding as well. In the USA, feed has tripled in price over the last couple of years. So let’s say I buy a horse for $2,500 and we put a lot of training into it here on the campus, and we keep it for a year. Now that horse could be worth around $20,000. But it also cost us another $5,000 in feed, shoeing etc. So when I decide to sell that horse, I’m going to sell it for around $25,000. That’s how I see it - you’re paying for the training and everything else that has gone into that particular horse.

To conclude, it’s important to look in your heart, apply the strategies we’ve talked about and focus on the stewardship that a horse / human relationship truly is. It’s up to you to make sure that the horse has a bright and natural future, whether or not it’s with you. It all comes down to the philosophy of stewardship.

Forward Thinking

So, you are thinking of breeding you mare?  Great - this can be a rewarding experience but before you go any further, please take a few minutes to read this article and ask a few questions, writes Mike Gulliford. Responsible breeders set themselves a target as to what they want to breed and why. First of all list your aims and objectives in creating a foal. What do you plan to do with it? Answer honestly and define your reasons and goals.

Mare and foalThe next thing you need to do is to take a good long look at your mare. It is very difficult to be objective about your own horse but you need to have an idea of the bad points which you would like to try and improve upon in any off-spring. You also need to know what good points you wish to enhance. Sit down with a piece of paper and write a list of good points and bad points. Ask other people for their opinions but be prepared for criticism and the possibility that expert opinion may advise against you passing your mare’s genes onto the next generation.

Breeding a foal is not cheap and you should decide upon your budget. Ask yourself how much have you got to spend on the stud fee? What are the keep costs likely to be? What other costs are likely to be incurred such as vet’s bills, transportation costs and so on?

Having decided upon your aims and objectives, the quality of your mare and your budget, you can now go stallion shopping. Look in equine publications and online where the adverts will give you an opportunity to see what the stallion looks like.  Make a list of the stallions you like and which you feel will meet your criteria. Armed with this, contact the studs and ask for details of stud fees and keep costs. Once you have the information, make a short list of stallions and, where possible, arrange to see the stallions in the flesh or on video. At the end of the day this is the best way of judging. Only by looking at him can you assess his movement and temperament. Ask to see any progeny as this will give you an idea of whether he stamps his offspring as being of a certain type. Also, ask about his fertility.

The stallion of your choice will be offered for natural covering or artificial insemination (AI). Studs that accept mares in for breeding will normally ask that your mare be swabbed for Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM) but they may also ask that she be tested clear of Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA). You also need to know what terms apply with regards to stud fees and pregnancy and whether a live foal guarantee is offered. As with all things, this advice is open to interpretation. But, if you do nothing else as you embark on producing your first foal, do bare in mind his future. Fast forward four years - you want to make sure that your three year old is a horse that is valued be it by you or someone else.


  • Ask yourself why you want to breed a foal and what his purpose in life is going to be
  • Be aware that you rarely make money out of breeding
  • Be realistic about your mare’s good and bad points and select a stallion that compliments her
  • Make every effort to see stallions in the flesh or on film. It is also wise to check out their progeny
  • Take into account the whole cost of breeding
  • Make sure to have your mare swabbed for CEM
  • Visit the stud before you send your mare away and raise any concerns well in advance

Mike Gulliford established the Artificial Insemination Centre in Bristol

The Buzz

At some stage of horse ownership, you will come across a horse that doesn’t like to be clipped. To us, clipping seems like something very acceptable. We know the clippers aren’t going to hurt but the horse doesn’t. Remember, horses are prey animals; they perceive anything new as potentially life threatening. Until you prove to them otherwise, they are not going to willingly accept anything in the ‘unknown’ category. Clinton Anderson ClippingThe good news is that there is an easy way to teach your horse to accept clipping. Follow these steps and, with practise, you will be able to clip your horse without having to fight him or restrict him in any way. The key is to break the process into steps and teach the horse that the noise and the feel of the vibrating clippers are not going to hurt him. The smaller the steps, the easier it is for him to understand. The name given to this process is ‘desensitising.’ When you’re desensitising your horse, the goal is to maintain the pressure until he stands still, relaxes and pays no attention to what you’re doing, at which point you should retreat. This is the behaviour I’m looking for when I clip my horse – for him to stand relaxed and not worry about the clippers.


Can you rub your hand all over your horse’s face and ears? Can you wave them around his eyes? If your horse has any resistance to your bare hand on his face and head, you can hardly expect him to stand still for clippers. You would be amazed at how many people wonder why their horse won’t be clipped, when the truth is these same people can’t even touch the horse’s ears with their hands. The first step is to get your horse to accept your hands on his face, muzzle, ears and around his eyes and then anywhere else on his body. Once you have accomplished this step completely, move on to Step 2. Don’t move on if there is any resistance from the horse, no matter how long it takes. If you find an ‘Oh no! Don’t touch me there!’ spot on your horse, continue to rub him in that same area until he stands still and relaxes. When that happens, retreat and rub him somewhere else on his face or body that he is comfortable with. Then approach the sensitive area again. Continue using the approach and retreat method until there are no off limit spots around your horse’s body.


Now place the clippers in your hand (turned off) and desensitise the horse to having the clippers around him. Let him smell the clippers. Then rub them over his face and wave them around his eyes and ears. If your horse won’t stand still for the clippers when they are not even turned on, he won’t stand there when you use them properly. Using the approach and retreat method, make sure that he will tolerate the feeling of the clippers on all parts of his face, eyes and ears. Be patient. This may take a few days, but it will save you time in the long run if you take the time now to do this step right. As before, make sure that the horse is showing no resistance to this step before you move on.


Remove the blade and turn the clippers on to let the horse get used to the noise. Without touching him, wave the clippers around the end of his nose, his eyes and his ears. Don’t touch him with the clippers yet. Desensitise him to the sound and movement first. When clippers are close to his ears, he will probably lift his head and act a little frightened. Leave the clippers up there eight inches from the horse’s ear and wait until the horse relaxes his head. Once he relaxes, turn the clippers off and rub him. Remember, you are not trying to touch him right now with the clippers on – all you are doing is getting him to stand still with the clippers on and moving anywhere around his body. Pay particular attention to areas where reaction is high – this is usually around the ears. You may have to spend more time here.

Clipping MuzzleSTEP 4

Once the horse accepts the clippers around his head while they are turned on but not touching him, it is time to rub them all over his face and nose, around his ears and poll and over the rest of his body, with the clippers turned on (but with the guard in place). This will create a new sensation since the clippers will vibrate against his skin. If the horse gets frightened, just keep rubbing the clippers around the area he is uncomfortable in until he begins to relax. As soon as he does, turn the clippers off and rub him. Remember, approach and retreat. In the beginning, work on one area at a time. On his head, start with his muzzle and work your way up to his ears. As he relaxes in each area, you can expand the places you are rubbing until you can do it anywhere.


Once your horse is absolutely perfect with all of the previous steps, you are ready to begin clipping the hair on his body. However, if you are still getting resistance from the horse to any of the steps up to this point, you will only make matters worse by proceeding. Actually clipping the hair is another new feeling, and the horse may react to the sensation. Again, don’t start in a sensitive area. When dealing with the head, start at the muzzle, go under the chin, up the face, around the eyes, then onto the bridle path and poll area. Then you can start to work on the ears.

Continue the approach and retreat method when you are actually clipping, it is a good idea to do a little bit of clipping and then go back and rub the clippers over areas that you have already clipped. Find a starting point, clip a little bit and then rub that spot with the clippers for a few seconds, then clip a tiny bit more, then rub. If he gets suspicious or frightened, going back to rubbing the areas already clipped will help him relax, then turn off the clippers and rub him with your hand to show him you’re not trying to shove it down his throat. If you work on these steps a little bit each day, after a week or so you should be able to clip anywhere on his body with no resistance.

Ears Forward

Don’t be a loner when riding your antisocial horse. Take control and demand some manners. Horses that misbehave towards fellow horses in group situations are a hazard to themselves and others. One ‘pinny eared’ horse can disrupt an entire trail ride or group training session and create a dangerous situation. Clinton Trail RidingA horse being grumpy and pinning his ears is really just as bad as kicking another horse. In a herd situation, what does a horse do after pinning his ears? He backs the threat up with his hind feet. Horses always warn that they’re unhappy by pinning back their ears. If they’re ignored, then they back up and act like they’re going to kick. If they’re still ignored, then they kick. In this case there’s not much difference between a thought and an action. A horse will always give you a warning that he’s about to be disrespectful. It’s your responsibility to read his body language and act accordingly.

While no one wants to be on an antisocial horse, keep in mind that it’s common for horses to get a little cranky when another horse comes near them. This is especially true if the horse is a dominant horse in the herd. As the other horses are coming up on him, your horse is just saying, ‘Hey, you better stay back or else!’ So if your horse pins his ears or gets cranky as another horse comes up close to him, he’s not a particularly bad horse, he’s just being a horse.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I accept this behaviour and neither should you, but before you start to fix a problem, it’s always good to know how and why it developed. Why would a horse pin his ears or kick at others? It may be due to a lack of respect. Maybe you never taught your horse to respect you, or you’re not giving him enough to think about when you’re riding. As a result, he has time to cause trouble and worry about keeping other horses out of his personal space. When it comes to training horses and working with them on a daily basis, I figure the horse has 23 hours a day to do whatever he wants – eat, sleep, play, whatever. I only ask for one hour out of his day and the least he can do is put on a good attitude and respect me. I make no excuses for cranky attitudes in my horses, whether they be a mare in heat or an extremely dominant horse in the herd. When I’m riding them, their attention and focus better be on me.


When it comes to cranky horses, there are two schools of thought on how to deal with the problem. The first group of people avoids riding in group situations and only rides their horses when they’re sure they’ll be alone. The second group of people makes excuses for their horses and tries to take the responsibility off their shoulders and put it on someone else’s.

If your horse is kicking or pinning his ears when he’s around others, he’s telling you that you’re not keeping him busy enough and he doesn’t respect your leadership. A lot of groundwork, moving the horse’s feet forwards, backwards, left and right and always rewarding the slightest try, will teach him to respect you and keep his attention focused on you. Although this probably won’t cure the problem, it will certainly help by laying a foundation of respect.

The best way to get a horse over pinning his ears or kicking other horses is to expose him to it, let him commit to the mistake and then correct him. Protecting him by keeping him away from other horses is not going to make his cranky attitude go away. In fact, it will only make it worse. A lot of people who have horses that misbehave in group situations mistakenly think that keeping their horse in the barn while the others are riding and only sneaking in rides when the arena is clear will fix the problem. That’s like putting a band aid on a sore – it fixes nothing. Instead, I’m going to share with you two different strategies that will shape up your horse’s attitude.


First, you need to set the situation up so that you can correct your horse. It’s best to practice this at home in an arena or in a pasture. You wouldn’t want to take your horse on a trail ride with twelve other horses and try to address the problem. Find a starting point and then build from there. Ask a friend to help you. It’s important that the other horse is quiet and doesn’t have a problem with another horse being close to him. You’ll have your hands full enough fixing your horse, let alone trying to deal with two cranky horses at the same time!

When you’re set to go, have your friend ride his horse away from you while you follow close behind. You want to dare your horse to pin his ears back and act snarly, and if he truly has a problem, this shouldn’t be hard to do. Point his nose toward the other horse’s hindquarters and, if he pins his ears back or gets cranky, immediately bend him in a circle and put him to work. Really make him hustle his feet. You want him to clearly understand that his behaviour is unacceptable and if he even acts like he’s going to get cranky, there are going to be consequences. Those consequences are moving his feet and working hard.

This not only keeps the horse from kicking out or biting the other horse, but it also teaches him why he should avoid kicking in the first place. If he kicks, he has to work hard. Bend the horse in a circle until you feel that he’s got his attention back on you, and then go back to following the other horse and dare him to misbehave again. If he does, no big deal, just bend him around in a circle again. You may have to repeat the process several times before the horse finally understands that when he acts cranky, you’ll make him work hard. When he remains pleasant and relaxed, you’ll leave him alone.


If you have an extremely dominant horse, you may find that the first strategy isn’t enough to make him want to change his attitude. If that’s the case, try this. Like in the first situation, you’re still going to dare the horse to act cranky by riding him close to the other horse. However, instead of bending him around in a circle when he misbehaves, you’ll tap him between the ears with a dressage whip to make him feel uncomfortable. This sounds aggressive, but keep something in mind, when a horse is misbehaving you need to get in and get out. Be black and white with no shades of grey. You’re not whacking the horse so hard that he drops to his knees with brain damage. You’re more or less surprising him. You want him to think that every time he flattens his ears back to his neck, they hit him on the head. Your timing is really important here – you have to time the tap with the exact instant the horse pins his ears back. That way, the horse will think he’s making himself feel uncomfortable.

As you’re following the other horse, keep your whip in the middle of your chest or over your shoulder so that the horse can’t see it and know it might be coming. You want him to honestly think that he’s whacking himself with his ears, and when it comes, you want it to shock him. So, as you’re following the horse along, keep the stick in the middle of your chest and as soon as the horse even acts likes he’s going to get snarly, use it between the ears. This’ll surprise him and make him throw his head up. Then pretend like nothing $happened. Think of it like an electric fence. When you get zapped by an electric fence it doesn’t really hurt; it takes you by surprise.

Key Communication

93 per cent of communication is non-verbal. Are you using yours effectively with your horse? Horse CommunicationHave you ever wondered why horses can respond totally differently to two people, even though their behaviour appears exactly the same? Whether doing mounted or ground work, I have witnessed this on numerous of occasions. I’ve been surprised by the vastly different results that two people performing the same actions often get. What is it about some people that are able to get that quiet sense of co-operation from their horses, while others seem to constantly struggle? I have been fascinated by this phenomenon for many years. Through my work in the field of Equine Guided Psychotherapy (EGP), I have been able to explore it in perhaps more detail than traditional horse work might normally allow for.

EGP is a form of psychotherapy for people that takes place on the ground with horses. The client might come for a range of issues including stress, anxiety or depression. Instead of traditional talking therapy, activities with horses are carefully designed to help each client move further towards their outcome. Often the horses are loose and have the choice to stay close to the client or keep their distance. In the EGP field, many practitioners believe that there is an underlying process taking place within the client which is different from their spoken communication. For  practitioners, the horses gave them important clues about what their clients’ inner processes might be.

Where the horses choose to stand when I am running an EGP session is an important piece of feedback for me. I have often found that when a client feels connected to their body with good access to their somatic (body) intelligence, the herd will often choose to stay close by. It is when we, as humans, inevitably return to our heads (maybe in discussing the exercise that has just taken place or talking about what might happen in the future) that the horses will often lose interest in the process and move further away.

We can see this in the round pen when training horses too. When sending a horse away for example, every cell in my body is saying ‘go away.’ I don’t need to say the words because my intention is very clear and my body follows. My eyes are fixed onto the horse’s eyes, the muscles in my face change and my stomach area is open, projecting my energy. If there was any area of doubt that crept in, the horse would be reading me, seeing and feeling this through my non-verbal communication.

Through the Monty Roberts method of horsemanship and Equine Guided Psychotherapy, I have come to the belief that horses attune to our inner truth. In other words, they respond to what we are feeling, rather than what we say we are feeling. They are constantly scanning for this somatic information. Their ancestors have had to as a matter of survival. Being able to read another animal’s true intention has enabled them to drink from the same watering hole as predators, keeping them going through 60 million years of evolution. If we know what to look for, we can learn from the horse’s natural expertise in this area, honouring them as teachers of honesty and complete congruency.


One of the most extreme examples I have seen in this area of my work came about on a Life Skills Course I was facilitating with young people that had been expelled from school. One of the clients used to alternate between an ‘egocentric’ and a ‘victim’ state of being. In the egocentric state, she made jokes to the rest of the group, spoke loudly and showed no fear, even though it didn’t match her non-verbal communication. In the victim state of being, she spoke very quietly, felt she had no choice and would often assign blame for all kinds of things to other members of the group.

One of the ponies we used for the riding part of the course was particularly expressive when relating to this client’s different emotional states. When the client was in either of these states, he used to strike up a nice canter and then come to a grinding halt and stick his head on the floor simultaneously. Not easy to stay on regardless how well balanced you are! There were other times that he went beautifully, despite the fact she had only been riding for a few months. What made the difference? I believe it was her internal state. He went well when her internal state reflected her external state and she acted with authenticity.

The Myth of Natural Horsemanship

An excerpt from award winning equestrian writer Tom Moates calls for clarity on the term 'Natural Horsemanship.'

Tom MoatesI must inform you that natural horsemanship is a myth - it does not actually exist. I know that sounds odd coming from the author of a book and countless articles on the subject. So, let me explain what I mean, and shed some light onto the true nature of those two words strung together before I tackle anything else.

Natural horsemanship is a term that casts such a wide net that it means, at most, very little, and very likely nothing at all. It apparently came into usage when the clinician Pat Parelli coined it to try and describe what he was doing with his horsemanship programme, and later wrote a book by the same name. The public, which always seeks to categorise people, places, things, and everything else under headings to try and make it all conform to some sense of law and order, scooped it up and lumped a huge spectrum of stuff under it.

On the other hand, it hasn’t hurt a whole slew of clinicians and practitioners of every sort to have some umbrella under which to tell the public that what they are doing is new, different, correct, valuable, and basically an innovative deal - whether that was actually the case or not.

The ‘natural’ association in the name easily aligns itself with increasingly popular environmentalist ideas, so it grabs the attention and quick endorsement of a growing and financially secure group of people already recycling, driving hybrids and buying earth friendly dish soap. It is without question the spearhead of a marketing coup with a great many millions of dollars spent to its credit annually. It was so successful that it swiftly and firmly became established in the global marketplace as well. It reminds me of the term ‘organic.’ Some years ago, a few folks coined that phrase to mean that the food they produced was free from pesticides, chemical fertilizers and other potentially hazardous ingredients. Today, largely due to the fact that organics became such a desirable, marketable item fetching high prices and developing wide consumer confidence, the term has been hijacked by big business. These days, thanks it seems to the lobbying efforts of corporations, one may even legally label food ‘organic’ that includes some non-organic ingredients, which is no where close to the original usage. As a descriptive term, it is so diluted now that in fact food must be labelled ‘100% organic’ to actually mean what used to be (and is probably now misunderstood by the buying masses today as) organic.

Back to natural horsemanship. It is just such a misnomer. First of all, there are numerous clinicians that I know that do not call themselves natural horsemen, and loath the term being used to describe them. However, they get lumped under the heading anyway by their pupils, authors, journalists and public at large that externally force the label upon them. Shouldn’t they know best what they are and what they do? Then there are also many clinicians that go out of their way to make certain they are associated with natural horsemanship.

Thinking‘Horse whisperer’ is another interesting and very closely related example. Because of the wide audience of the Hollywood film by that name, non-horse people in particular like to apply the term to many horse folk that also are lumped under the natural horsemanship heading. However, to a much larger extent, horse whisperer for some reason developed a somewhat negative connotation among horse folk. It seems generally politically incorrect to use it in horse circles, and one who does use it to describe himself instantly denotes himself as an outsider, even to many natural horsemanship enthusiasts. Perhaps it has to do with one of my all-time favourite clinician quotes from Buck Brannaman who said something like, ‘If someone comes up to you and calls himself a horse whisperer, put your hand on your wallet and get away as quickly as you can!’ It seems that the general meaning has shifted now, and one who calls himself a horse whisperer  is thought to be an obvious fraud.

Natural horsemanship as a compound phrase suffers terribly from this problem. It clearly seeks to describe subjects in the realm of horsemanship, but what is natural about it? I’ve heard clinicians that didn’t like being lumped under the heading argue to distance themselves from it saying things like, ‘If you put a halter or saddle on a horse, there’s nothing natural about that.’ Good point. There’s another one as well. Many people think the most completely natural horses in the world are the mustangs of the American west, but they aren’t the least bit natural either. The best book I ever read on that subject is Paula Morin’s compilation of 63 interviews with all kinds of people that have extensive personal experience with the wild horses of the Great Basin titled ‘Honest Horses’ (University of Nevada Press, 2006). She makes an outstanding point that is true but few people seem to realise: ‘Only the plain and stocky Przewalski Horse of Mongolia fits the scientifically rigorous definition for a bona fide wild horse.

Regardless of how many generations horses have lived on the range [the American west], feral is the accurate description for them. They are domestic animals that have returned to live in a wild state.’ And the fact that horses were reintroduced to North America by the Spanish only a few hundred years ago after a millennia long disappearance from this continent puts them at odds with the natural eco-system here. It is a relationship thus wrought with difficulties as the horses’ grazing habits destroy the natural balance of the ranges where they populate the regions. So, if mustangs in the wild, almost universally considered the most natural of all natural horses by the masses, aren’t natural, then what in the world possibly can be natural about any modern human/horse interaction? Especially those that involve man made tack, fencing and tools like crops?

The ‘natural’ derives from Parelli’s initial usage of the term, and in particular in his book, Natural Horse*Man*Ship. His reason for coining the phrase, he states in that narrative, had to do with describing the method of communicating he was working on between human and horse.He believed his games and pressure-and release methods were, as he says, ‘Native, instinctive, inborn, inherent and intuitive.’ Now therein lays an interesting use of natural. The term natural horsemanship is basically meant to be synonymous with something along the lines of, natural communication with horses, or speak Horse, or interact with horses the way they interact with each other in a herd and get more done with them more gently than most other humans do. That I can begin to follow, but there are such variations out there that it hardly nails down anything specific. Is Californio vaquero style of traditional horsemanship natural horsemanship, for instance? What about someone who trains with a natural horsemanship programme and then goes and competes with that horse.Can that still be considered natural horsemanship in the incredibly unnatural show ring? You get the idea.

Another misconception that runs rampant, and is eagerly proclaimed by some, is that natural horsemanship is brand new. The idea that many of the methods commonly boxed and sold to the public as innovations created recently and comprising a totally new revolution in working with horses is misleading. Really exceptional horse folk have existed at times since humans began working with horses. The main difference today is that the discussion about how one gets that good is at an entirely new level. I was recently watching a PBS documentary on the incredible English upper class woman turned Montana pioneer, Evelyn Cameron, when suddenly they mentioned a quote from one of her diary entries that I recognised instantly as what today we would call ‘desensitising’ a horse. I looked it up. She wrote exactly this on March 26, 1895 (the grammar is forgone a bit in this entry, but the meaning is clear):

‘Took the foals down to water. They were frightened of the clothes on the washing line blowing in the wind, therefore I made them go round and round the length of the line. Little grey [foal] was awfully wilful and threw itself down and skinned my fingers so I tied them up, put gloves on and broke one at a time. Had hard battle with Figs [iron grey] to get her to go under the line, but got both finally so that they let the clothes flap all round them.’

Horse's ThoughtUltimately, what natural horsemanship is if anything, is a shift in the language of horsemanship. How people change the language of horsemanship at large and share ideas as an attempt to impart ways of improving the horse/human relationship is where some consistency may be found under this heading. But, the frequent application of the term natural horsemanship to all kinds of people and methods muddies the waters. It might be best for those of us seeking a way to get better with horses to narrow our focus to a clearer understanding of what individuals are really doing with horses. Specifics are truly telling, and it’s perhaps best to leave the enormously broad überheadings out of the arena.

This excerpt is taken from the book 'A Horse's Thought - A Journey into Honest Horsemanship' by Tom Moates, which is now available for the Kindle. To learn more visit