Horsemanship Training or Natural Horsemanship, What's the Difference?

Whichever, good horsemanship should be the result!
(on this page About Australia Horsemanship, is referred to as AAH)

natural horsemanship

Putting a name on something helps to categorise it so that we can all understand the essence of what we are trying to describe.

So, yes, AAH teaches natural horsemanship or horse whispering, as it has become known. However...

There should be no big mystique about natural horsemanship. Clever marketing and movies have made it seem much more than what it really is. 

Ultimately, it is about good horsemanship.

The essence of natural horsemanship or horse whispering, can also be defined by your approach to dealing with horses. Also, the types of things that you want to do with your horse. 

natural horsemanship - horsemanship training

AAH teaches good-horsemanship, which can be extended to the realm of the things people like to do in Natural Horsemanship, if you choose.

It helps to realise, that nothing we do with horses is 'natural'.

In fact, all of what we do is unnatural to the horse.

For example, working a horse while holding a 'stick', a so-called 'horseman's stick', surely cannot be 'natural' from the horse's point of view.

It makes us laugh when people are caught up in their equipment, which somehow makes it 'natural' horsemanship.

The only truly natural thing for a horse is to be in the wild, unhandled. So, let's 'cut to the chase'. Being a good horseman (gender neutral of course) is a combination of: - 

  • Safety for you and your horse
  • Considering the welfare of your horse both physically and emotionally
  • Being aware, conscious and observant of, the communication and signals that your horse offers you
  • Knowing how to motivate your horse in a fair and empathetic manner, so it agrees and responds to your requests, in a willing manner
  • Giving your horse a chance to choose options, in order to discover the desired behaviour, rather than giving it no choice
  • Taking the time to develop and improve the responses from your horse
  • Understanding how to use equipment effectively, fairly and safely, for you and your horse

There is a lot more that can be discussed to define good horsemanship but it really isn't necessary. 

natural horsemanship and horsemanship training

Within the parameters described above, there is enough scope to realize, there can be more than one good way of getting the job done.

Also, natural horsemanship, is not the exclusive domain of only one or two high profile horse trainers.  

In the initial lessons, the horse training methods AAH use and teach, are designed to get changes quickly, without rushing your horse.

The training system is definable and learnable. 

This means it will empower you to get along with your horse harmoniously.   

You do not require a lot of special equipment. 

This is about simplicity and effectiveness, without any razzmatazz. 

You can call it natural horsemanship or horse whispering if you like but to AAH, it is simply good horsemanship.  

Is It A Good Training Method?

When investigating training methods, we suggest that you apply the following '4 Point Training Assessment'.  This will allow you to determine if a training method is a good method and the trainer, is worthy of your acceptance or not.

Here is the 4 Point Training Assessment: -  

1. Can you get hurt?
Nothing can ever be guaranteed. Horses are unpredictable and so being with horses is an obvious risk. However, all reasonable precautions must be inherent in the training, both on the ground and when riding. Whether on the ground or riding, understanding how to keep yourself safe is paramount. Also, helmets should be worn, at least when riding.  

2. Can the horse get hurt?
Again, nothing can ever be guaranteed but we must avoid or minimise risk. Avoiding tie-down or tie-up methods, inappropriate rope use, such as butt-ropes, using adequate leg protection on your horse, working environment etc, are a few examples that will go a long way to avoiding unnecessary risk and potential harm.  

3. Is the horse calmer after the lesson than before?
There should be a discernible difference in the emotional state of the horse, a lowered state of excitement, a sense of calm and cooperation, more willingness.  

4. Is the horse physically capable of doing what you are asking it to do? 
If your horse is injured or has arthritis for example, then one would think it is obvious. There will be limitations to your horses' capability. In such case, it is not safe for the horse or fair, to ask it to do what it cannot do without pain or harm. 

We pride ourselves on only using methods that meet the 4 Point Training Assessment.  

You can assess anyone's training methods applying this assessment.

Part of what they do may meet the test but perhaps not all. So just use from their training, what meets the assessment test and ignore the rest. 

Our training complies with all 4 rules.

Failed Methods - To Be Avoided 

Here are some examples of methods that fail the assessment: -  

X Basically, it is anything that ties a horse's head down, leg up, mouth or tongue closed and lassoing legs, among others.

X Unfair methods of hitting the horse or confining the horse. Obvious, yes! I am sure you would agree, that using a stick to whack a horse on the head is unfair but one of the world's highest profile horse trainers does this!

X Putting handlers, YOU, in the wrong position where you can get kicked. An example of this, is methods where you are encouraged to move towards the horses' rump and motivate it with a sick, whip or flag, whilst being within kicking distance of the horse. We see this in other training methods constantly, it is rife out there.

This is not an exhaustive list. 

There are some high profile and high-level riding instructors, still using some of these methods, yet they claim to be considerate of the horse!  

Such methods unnecessarily risk the horse's safety and emotional wellbeing. 

What tends to be missing, is the deep thinking that analyses, "what could happen if something goes wrong or how could this harm the horse?"

Anyway, that is why approach is a cut-above many others.

So remember: -

A good training method, should always consist of 4 fundamental rules.

  • You should keep safe
  • You should keep your horse safe 
  • Your horse to be calmer after the lesson than before 
  • Your horse must be physically capable of performing what you are asking


The first thing to realise, it is not the equipment that trains the horse. It is not body language either.

It is your intent.

If you do not convey your intentions to the horse, the horse will not respond, no matter what equipment.

3m lead rope

Your intent comes deep within.

It in essence, is your inner energy, your inner feel, it is who you are.

The horse reads that and if you are not in control of it and can modulate it effectively, you will struggle to get the results you want, both on the ground and when riding.  

Body language is an external reflection of your true inner intent.  

Getting conscious of your inner intent is the gateway.  

This is an aspect that we emphasise in our training system.

rope halter


Some see rope halters as the domain on Natural Horsemanship but that too misses the point.

A rope halter often gives more control for the handler and potentially, a softer feel for the horse.

Sometimes softer but you have to watch out for poor-quality rope halters that are stiff and hard that can rub the fur off the horse and cause pain or irritation.

dressage whip

STICKS or WHIPS - Some believe that a 'stick', meaning such things as a carrot stick, horseman's stick, other stick, is more 'natural' than using a whip.
That is simply not true!

It is how you use the equipment that counts. However, there are very good reasons for a dressage whip compared to a 'stick'. See benefits below...

Benefits of a Dressage Whip - 110cm long

 A dressage whip is lighter and therefore, faster to start and stop.

This means more precise communication with your horse and less stress on your arms, especially your Deltoid muscle.

A dressage whip is significantly cheaper to purchase. The cheaper, stiffer dressage whips are best.

Some people argue that a handler might 'beat-up' the horse with a whip. Well that can happen with anything. The essence of good-horsemanship is emotional control. As you gain knowledge and skill, the frustrations disappear and it takes away the likelihood of misusing equipment, stick, whip, rope, bit or anything else.

To Use A Bit or Not

Some natural horsemanship trainers suggest that using a bit is not natural and therefore, should not be used but this is both unrealistic and not true.  

The choice is yours. If you don't want to use a bit, you will be shown how to ride successfully without one. However, it is important to understand the following.  

Many of our clients need to use a bit for pony club, adult riding and competitions or just better and easier control, should an emergency arise.

The issue is whether you are hurting your horse or are you creating a willing, happy partner without pain? 

You will learn how to use horse bit so that you do not create pain or discomfort for the horse.  

When using a bit, it should be a kind bit and using a bit in the correct way is paramount. 

Here is a link to a discussion on bits, bitless or bridleless.


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