Horse Training Methods and Philosophies

One of the things I’ve always had an interest in was horse training. And I feel as though in the past five years, the number of different ways you can train your horse has grown exponentially. I keep seeing new horse training methods everywhere I look! The latest one to take off, it seems, is clicker training.

I thought perhaps you might be feeling the same: a little overwhelmed by all the options. So today I wanted to take it back to basics for you, and talk about the two broad schools of horse training methods.

These are traditional horse training, and natural horsemanship.

Within these schools are a number of more specific methods, including things like clicker training. Let me know in the comments below if you’re interested in one sub-method, and I’ll write another post about it!

Horse Training Methods: Traditional Horse Training

I figured it makes sense to talk about the older methods first.

Traditional horse training is a system that evolved from our early domestication of the horse. As you can imagine, it involved early versions of the reins, bridle and bits to confine and teach the horse.

Later, traditional methods were used throughout military history for cavalry horses. Nowadays institutions like the Spanish Riding School and British Horse Society teach using traditional methods.

Traditional Horse Training Methods

Traditional horse training works on your horse’s flight instinct. Horses are prey animals, so when confronted with any kind of threat (or just perceived threat) their instinct is to run away. Essentially, traditional horse training methods aim to teach your horse over time that instead of fleeing he should do what you’re telling him to do.

This is achieved through teaching exercises like lunging and long reining.

Unfortunately, over the years traditional horse training methods have got a bad reputation for being cruel. I think that has more to do with cruel trainers than the method being inherently cruel. What do you think? I would be eager to discuss this more in the comments!

Horse Training Methods: Natural Horsemanship

Natural horsemanship focuses on horse psychology, and making it desirable for your horse to do what you want. It uses pressure and release techniques to guide your horse while letting him think for himself.

Often people say that natural horsemanship is less about micro-managing your horse than traditional training methods. But in some ways that makes it harder to get quick results.

I would say that natural horsemanship has really become popular since the 1980s. Lots of different sub-methods have evolved out of it: clicker, Parelli, and liberty training are just a few.

Many advocates of natural horsemanship will say that one of the great benefits is that as much as you train your horse, they train you right back. The emphasis on communication and understanding makes your a better rider and horse owner.

The biggest drawback to natural horsemanship is the time it takes. But the proponents natural horsemanship will definitely tell you it’s worth it.

Which method is better?

I don’t think one method is inherently better than the other. There’s also no reason to think you have to choose just one. For example, I know Martina uses traditional horse training methods like lunging to train her horses. But she also focuses on horse psychology and pressure and release.

Really it’s about doing what’s right for you.

One of our friends, Equine Angel, has shared her experiences on training in a guest post here. I’d encourage you to have a read of it!

You can also have a look at my follow up post on liberty training.

Want to know more about a particular training methodology? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy riding 🙂

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