Natural Horsemanship vs Positive Reinforcement: Which Training Approach is Right for Your Horse?

Sep 19, 2023 | Super Equestrian


Natural Horsemanship vs Positive Reinforcement: Which Training Approach is Right for Your Horse?

A horse is a domestic animal. They can do so many activities following the command of their master. There are certain training methods available that are applied to the horses to make them perform their activities appropriately. 

Natural horsemanship and positive reinforcement both training approaches start with creating a strong relationship with the horse to make itself responsive and friendly to the owner. 

During natural horsemanship doing some exercises such as lead exercise, ground work, pressure point helps to increase connection between the horse and the owner. On the other hand, positive reinforcement technique focuses more on the affection and care of the horse. 

These activities seem easy to talk about, but are very difficult to do in practice. Let's identify which training approach might be right for your horse.

Exploring Natural Horsemanship

Natural horsemanship is one of the training approaches to make the horse understand and follow the command of his master.In this training approach it can learn everything about its duty. But do you think natural horsemanship creates an ideal environment for learning?

Let's find out the answer here. 

How Does Natural Horsemanship Prioritise Communication and Connection?

Natural horsemanship is all about understanding the behaviour of  the horse. This natural horsemanship gives priority to the communication and connection between the horse and you.

You have to communicate with the horse to make himself learn. The strategy of your communication can play a good role in controlling the behaviour of the horse. If he can trust you, he will easily follow your instructions.

If you can not make a good connection with the horse, it will not listen to your words. So, you have to be very careful while instructing him. A wrong approach can create a fear in its mind. 

What are the Historical Origins and Evolution of Natural Horsemanship Methods?

In the beginning of this method the masters used to torture their horses by applying pressure. But this method strongly discourages any kind of suffering for the horses.

In the beginning of the 20th century some horse lovers started to promote easier strategies for training. Showing sympathy to the horses was their main objective. Tom and Bill Dorrance, Pat Parelli and some other fearless people have contributed a lot to establish this stress free natural horsemanship method.

How Does Body Language and Leadership Play a Role in Effective Natural Horsemanship Training?

Well, if you can't explain something to a person, how can you make him understand? You can use body language. In the case of a horse, you can convey everything to him via body language as well.

This is a very good strategy to guide a horse. You have to apply the power of leadership to the horse as well. But you have to apply the leadership skill in a positive manner. All the horses do not behave in the same way.

So, you have to understand their feelings. If they respond effectively to your body language, they will follow your instructions. 

Think, if your teacher punishes you for not understanding a topic, would you be afraid of him? Yes, you will be afraid of him and unwilling to learn from him. 

Similarly, punishing a horse to teach it something will have a negative impact on it.You must guide your horses with kindness and love. If you are a beginner for training your horse with a natural horsemanship method you can watch this video Natural Horsemanship Basics.

What Techniques Define Natural Horsemanship? A Closer Look at Join-Up, Groundwork, and More.

Natural horsemanship is one of the most acceptable training approaches for horses due to some reasons. This method works through the release of pressure from the horse. 

You can read the psychology of your horse through this technique. There are some techniques that can be used to define natural horsemanship. Let's understand those techniques:

  • Join up:  Establishing the join up techniques create a special bond between you and the horse. Let's discuss how you can use this technique. First of all, you have to select an area so that your horse can run freely. There you have to  control his movement and speed with the use of a lunge whip. You can draw a lunge line and pull the horse away from the border of the line.
What Techniques Define Natural Horsemanship

       After some time, you have to release the pressure and leave the lunge whip. You should try to release the horse away from you. Then the horse will feel insecure and move back to you with trust.

       Now, you can keep your hands on his face and he will definitely enjoy the affection. You can consider it "join up". This technique builds trust for the master in the horse’s mind.

  • Groundwork: It is a combination of different types of exercise that the horse can do on the ground. These exercises help the horses to get relief from stress and boredom.There are five types of groundwork techniques. Let's have a good understanding on all the strategies:           
What Techniques Define Natural Horsemanship
  • Lead exercise: You have to teach him that you can decide where to move and where he should stop moving. This exercise can help your horse to understand who is the leader. He will follow your guideline and think of you as his mentor.
What Techniques Define Natural Horsemanship
  • Touch exercise: You have to touch almost all the parts of his body to make himself familiar with your touch. Then he can differentiate your touch if someone else touches him. This is a good exercise to strengthen your bond with the horse. 
What Techniques Define Natural Horsemanship
  • Pressure points: If you press behind the ear of your horse, he will move his head downward. In the same way, if you press behind his ears he will come forward. Now, say if you want to move the horse one step back, where should you put pressure? You have to put pressure on his chest. So, applying pressure might be a good exercise for your horse
  • Circle work: You have to draw a circle in the ground and let your horse move there. You will teach him the direction using your body language and holding the rope. He will move without any rider. This way you can make him familiar with all the areas.

A horse-friendly backyard is required to perform these exercises. Then, follow this article to learn how to create a horse friendly backyard

Embracing Positive Reinforcement

Nowadays positive reinforcement has caught the attraction of every horse loving individual. Let's discuss this method: 

What is Positive Reinforcement and How Does it Motivate Horses?

Positive reinforcement is the technique of encouraging the behaviour of your horse through giving reward, when it can successfully complete any particular task. Positive reinforcement techniques influence the behaviour of the horse in many ways. 

What is Positive Reinforcement and How Does it Motivate Horses

Suppose you got good marks in the exam. So, your teacher was happy and gave you a prize. Will your interest in studies increase or decrease from now?

You will surely get motivated to study more. Similarly, if the master rewards his horse for completing any task well, it will become motivated and enjoy every task. If you want to know why positive reinforcement is applied to train a horse you can watch this video Why we train horses with positive reinforcement.

How Does Positive Reinforcement Utilise Psychological Principles to Shape Behaviour?

Positive reinforcement uses some psychological principles. Before applying those principles you should have a good understanding of the behaviour and characteristics of your horse. You have to communicate with the horse with facial expressions or using body languages.

Then you can apply the strategies according to his character. You can use clapping or giving thumbs up if he can perform his job. You can hug your horse  tightly or pat your hand on his back to encourage him. You have to praise him. These are the methods to shape his behaviour. 

As these reinforcement techniques utilise a positive approach, your horse will respond positively. Positive reinforcement is all about encouraging and motivating someone to achieve a good outcome from him. 

Can Treats, Clickers, and Affection Enhance Positive Reinforcement Training?

It depends on the characteristics of the horse. Like human beings the horses are not similar to each other. Every horse has individual natural characteristics. They will react differently if you use any particular reinforcement technique. 

Besides this there are some strategies that can enhance the positive reinforcement training. While giving training you want that your horse will do the particular behaviour repeatedly or can continue it forever. Suppose, when the horse can state accurately on the Matt, you can give him a food treat to stand like this in future. 

If you express your affection for him via shaking his head, he will trust you and he will follow your instructions. Likewise, positive reinforcement can be increased by following the clickers method as well.

Clicker work is a form of exercise.This exercise can help to learn about various strategies and the horse has to perform that repeatedly. If he can do the correct technique you can give a reward for it.

Suppose, you have asked your horse to touch a bag or something else, and he has touched this specific thing accurately. Then you have to give him a reward. These little things will make the horses very happy.

If you want to know more about clicker work watch this video Clicker training for horses.

What Real-world Scenarios Demonstrate the Power of Positive Reinforcement in Horse Training?

If you look at the real world scenario, you will find some different things. Most people do not understand the meaning of reinforcement techniques. What does the thing actually mean? You can add or reinforce something in response to a desirable or undesirable behaviour of the horse. 

If the behaviour is desirable you can give him a positive reward i.e clapping, hugging or giving food treats. If you want to know about the favourite foods of horses, read this article What do horses like to eat as a treat?

What Real-world Scenarios Demonstrate the Power of Positive Reinforcement in Horse Training

Sometimes the horse does not follow his master's instructions. In that case, most of the masters give them punishment to teach the right thing. Despite these, many have achieved promising results by following positive reinforcement.  

Most of the horse lovers of this modern generation appreciate this positive reinforcement technique. This method is also playing a role in changing the negative behaviour of horses as well.

Comparative Analysis: Pros and Cons

Each subject has its pros and cons. We have to move forward with these things in mind. Let's know the pros and cons of the training methods:

What Advantages Does Natural Horsemanship Offer, and How Do They Benefit Horses?

Natural horsemanship is the traditional method to train the horse. It has a lot of advantages. 

This method helps to create a strong relationship between the horse and his handler. The communication power is increased, which plays a significant role to conform the command of the handler during training.The horse respects his master and enjoys the benefit the master gives him. He feels comfortable and safe with his master. 

The exercises that are taught in the training session of natural horsemanship keeps the horse healthy and fit. His body becomes flexible and he can do different types of activities.

At some point you can prepare the horse for racing. During the race he had to be whipped. Read this article to know why horses are whipped when racing.

What Benefits Does Positive Reinforcement Bring to Equine Training, and Why?

In equine training the positive reinforcement approach brings some unique consequences.

Positive reinforcement helps to develop the character of any horse. They learn the right manner from this training. You can cooperate with your horse to teach him discipline.

If you conduct training on the basis of giving reward, it can help to build a trustable relationship between you and the horse. Eventually the horse learns all the activities very quickly and happily. You can prepare it for horse riding as well. If you want to know more about horse riding, read this article Why do horses allow us to ride them.

How Do Natural Horsemanship and Positive Reinforcement Differ in Their Approaches and Outcomes?

Natural horsemanship sometimes utilises the concept of negative reinforcement. The master applies physical pressure, which is very unpleasant for the horse. Ultimately the horse avoids those activities and does not cooperate with his master. 

So, the natural horsemanship process will bring a good outcome if it is applied in the right and positive way. 

On the other hand, positive reinforcement brings the power of communication and cooperation to the horse and his handler. The primary objective of positive reinforcement is to make the learning approach interesting and enjoyable. And this is the most appreciated method for horse training nowadays. 

Factors Guiding Your Choice

After considering all the training methods we have our own preference as well. Let's discuss which training approach might be suitable for my horse:

How Can You Match Your Training Approach to Your Horse's Personality and Learning Style?

The personality of your horse can play a significant role in understanding which training approach might be suitable for it. You should consider the habituation, response, living environment and mentality before applying any training approach. 

If it is a young horse, it will enjoy every task you give. You have to introduce the horse to you via body language and doing some funny movements in front of it. Then you have to give it a task and see how it does. This is a natural horsemanship approach.

If it does not do what you say, then you can apply positive reinforcement. You can give it a sugar cube or anything else and see if it responds. According to its response you will decide which training approach might be suitable for your horse. 

What Role Does Your Training Goal Play in Selecting Between Natural Horsemanship and Positive Reinforcement?

In choosing between natural horsemanship and positive reinforcement method, you have to give priority to the scientific information. You have to know which technique is scientifically more acceptable. 

Natural horsemanship is basically the handling of a horse. But positive reinforcement can build and improve your bonding with the horse. The horse will cooperate with you like it's friend. So, you can think which technique might be good for your horse. 

How Does Your Level of Expertise Influence Your Decision in Adopting a Specific Training Method?

Selecting a particular training approach is actually dependent on your experience on that training. 

Suppose, you can sing very well but you do not know how to draw anything. Maybe you have some idea about drawing but you are not good at it. So, can you teach someone how to draw? you can't because you are not a professional on this. 

Similarly, which training method you should give your horse depends on how much of an expert you are in that training. 

Striking a Balance: Hybrid Approaches

The combined approach of these two training strategies will bring a different outcome in the training. Let's find out what type of outcome will be obtained:

Is There a Middle Ground? Exploring the Integration of Natural Horsemanship and Positive Reinforcement

If you consider the blended approach of horse training, you will get some unique results. 

There might be a middle ground between these two approaches. You can evaluate the positive impacts from these two approaches to get a satisfactory result. 

Using the natural horsemanship method you can build a good understanding with your horse. Then you can go for applying a positive reinforcement method. Your horse will surely respond positively with this combined approach.

How Have Hybrid Techniques Yielded Effective Results in Equine Training?

In Equine training the master of a horse can apply natural horsemanship or positive reinforcement technique to train their horse. 

Both of these methods have some pros and cons. If you just use one method to train your horse, the impact might not be so satisfactory. Because you have no idea how your horse will respond to the particular technique. In this case, the solution is to use the blended approach. 

If you just bring the positive vibes from all these two techniques, it will definitely give you an excellent result. 

What Steps Can You Take to Personalise and Adapt Training Methods for Optimal Outcomes?

First of all, you have to make a good friendship with the horse and encourage him to follow your instructions. You must create good communication with your horse, so that it can easily understand your commands. 

Then, you have to inspire it in every activity to make it delightful. If you follow these steps, you will get an optimal outcome from the training method. 

A good horse trainer can guide you to choose the right training method for your horse. If you are looking for a reputable horse trainer you can read this article How to find a reputable horse trainer.

To conclude

Natural horsemanship and positive reinforcement both are applicable for the horses as a training approach. Natural horsemanship method teaches the horse many things by giving him appropriate training in accordance with its own characteristics. 

On the other hand, positive reinforcement technique tries to make the horse do the work with full enjoyment. You can follow both training approaches to determine the characteristics of your horse. 

If you have any opinions on this topic, please comment. Feel free to share this article with anyone who is concerned about proper training methods for their horses.

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