I think the answer might be twofold:
1. To help us on our way to being better horsemen. But there is another answer, and I don’t like that one as much:
2. To build horsemanship “cultures,” and in so doing, line the pockets of the founders of the schools of horsemanship which spawn these cultures.
Whenever I explore a new form of horsemanship, the first thing I do is look at how much equipment is necessary to do the work. Being somewhat spazzy, I usually end up smacking myself in the face with whips and slashing myself to smithereens with ropes. Both the devotees and the clinicians always tell me that, with time and practice I will be able to use these tools for their intended purpose rather than for self-inflicted grievous bodily harm.
Natural Horsemanship would seem by definition to require no special equipment at all. Shouldn’t it be like the days when horses first came to the Americas, and the Native Americans gentled horses without carrot sticks, eighteen different lengths of ropes, special halters, and the like?
The word “natural” to me indicates some distillation to the essence of things. This purity I infer from the name just doesn’t exist. I don’t want to slam natural horsemanship. It’s got some really good stuff, which I use every day.
Not only am I intimidated by the loads of equipment you have to buy when you take up one form or another of horsemanship, but I am also skeptical. I’m skeptical of the fact that corporate merchandising gets in the way of true connection with the horse. The big-business natural horsemanship gurus sure do want you to buy a lot of their branded equipment.
I see the usefulness of many of these products. They can help with a number of riding and training issues:
• they can help a rider gain balance in the saddle
• have more fun and communication with the horse with brideless riding
• communicate your intentions more clearly without harming the horse and using dominance
• calm a fearful horse and increase his awareness of his body and his surroundings
However, when a given practitioner’s “culture” requires the purchase of these products to learn and advance in the “program,” I see this as a red flag that corporate merchandising has taken over from the sharing of ideas.
Many gifted animal experts and horse trainers offer for sale the equipment they use to train horses. I think it’s always worth a look at what’s on offer, if only to learn what the trainers have to say about it, and how they use it. You can learn a lot this way.
It’s nice when you can learn from a practitioner and not be forced to buy buy buy. As you learn and your horses’ skills develop, you can make the choice whether or not to add a given rope, whip, spurs, or bit to your toolbox. In this way, you don’t get locked in to one method or another, and you retain your ability to think for yourself about what works for you and your horse.
This is the crux of the matter: be aware of what you really want out of a piece of equipment, and the horsemanship culture that comes along with it. Throwing yourself wholeheartedly into one “sect” or another really separates you from your own common sense and connection to your horse. The wholesale adoption of the program and equipment of a particular trainer, believing that he or she “has the answer,” you short-circuit your own connection to your horse and your own ability to make decisions about what’s right for the two of you.
In short, you substitute your teachers’ pre-formed ideas for your own mindfulness. And even though it may come with a free halter and lead rope, this is never a good idea.
© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch
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