Autumn Reflections

Thank you to everyone for their well wishes for Nibbles! She’s back to her normal self and appears to be no worse for the wear. I wish I knew what caused her to act colicky but I guess it’s not always that easy.

I didn’t go to the barn yesterday. One of my best friends was in town very briefly before she and her husband move far away for his new job. They also just got a three month old Vizsla puppy whom I was dying to meet.

PaisleyI won’t be able to get to the barn tonight either due to other obligations so Nibbles will have had three days off. After talking to a few trainer friends, I’ve decided to try riding her with a crop to tap her shoulder when she doesn’t want to move forward and doesn’t respond to my seat-leg-then voice aid. It’s times like these where I wish I had a barn buddy to help us out of a sticky spot. But that’s a topic for another time.

I want to tackle a hot button topic today. I’m really looking forward to the comments on this so please don’t feel like your opinion doesn’t matter if this topic is not something you’ve personally dabbled in.

A few years ago with my first horse, Morkie, sporting her rope halter.

A few years ago with my first horse, Morkie, sporting her rope halter.

I read an opinion piece called “What I Don’t Do Natural Horsemanship Anymore” and it really resonated with me. You see, as someone who ascribes to some natural horsemanship principles, I agree with some of the points she makes. In particular, she talked about how after six years of NH, she was too afraid to ride her horse. I got chills at this point because that was me.

Let me back up. I started taking riding lessons at an Arabian barn when I was 8 years old. I started out doing Arabian shows and won everything through the Regional level. When I was 11, my family moved 3 hours away from my trainer and we bought Morkie from my trainer and she came with us. Two years later I was the working student for a well-known dressage trainer in the Arabian world. Fast forward a few years to age 14 when I stumbled across a rescue case I couldn’t break away from. For those of you who know this story, that horse was Tiki.

The rescue horse, Tiki. 2010

The rescue horse, Tiki. 2010

At that time, I had left my working student position and I wasn’t working with a trainer regularly. I was introduced to a certain school of NH and had a lot of success getting past Tiki’s trust issues. And I really never stopped. Hindsight 20/20, what I realized I was doing was trading all of my riding time for NH time. It got to the point where I quit riding, I was so engrossed.

Enter Sara in 2009. After three years in my Equine Business program (still not with a trainer), I decided I wanted to run a breeding program because I knew I didn’t want to ride professionally. I hopped on a plane across country and met this 16 hand, unbroke four year old mare and fell in love. Can you see where this is going?


Sara as a rising five year old in 2010.

I was boarding back at my first trainer’s barn but I didn’t want her help because I felt like she used methods I didn’t approve of. When Sara proved to be more complex than Tiki with NH, I turned back to my “normal” ways and things went really well until she contracted Strangles and was confined to a stall for 6 weeks. From there, things spiraled out of control. I did end up backing her myself in 2011 after moving barns. I had the help of a NH trainer and I can confidently say that Sara was given a great foundation. However, I still wasn’t riding.

Back to present day and the article. I very recently sold Sara. As a nine year old, she remained very green but, hey, if you wanted her to lunge over a tarp, she’d do that. Now that the only horse I have left is Nibbles (not including my broodmare who is out on lease and in foal), I’m faced with the same decision: do I NH my way into not riding again? Of course, the question doesn’t sound like that when I’m analyzing things but that’s really what I’m asking.


So this is where I’m at. I still use the principles I learned. I treat the horse with respect. I prepare and do my best to set up the horse for success. But what I know now is that it’s not about NH – these are the principles of truly good horseman and have been for years before NH ever existed. It’s not about sticks and strings or backing a horse up by wiggling a rope. If I want to keep riding – and I desperately do – it’s about preparing on the ground then translating it to riding. It seems so simple looking back.

I’m still trying to find that sweet spot for me. As I work full-time and plan a wedding, going to the barn 7 days a week and taking lessons on several of those days just isn’t possible for me. But I’m fighting for barn time and I’m doing a good job of getting there 4 days a week. I’m tacking up and riding every. single. time. (ahem, except when Nibbles feigns colic)

I don’t know exactly where I’ll be or what my real goal is with horses now as a mid-twenties working woman and soon to be wife. But what I do know is this: I want to be the best rider for every horse I ride, even if I never step foot in a competition arena again. To do that, you have to actually ride.

What I do know is that I don’t want to be that person that lies to themselves about “Oh, but I love my horse” when in reality you’re too terrified to ride the horse you love so much. I’ve been there and I’m marching steadily away from that place. I know that will involve some tough decisions and change (like finding a new instructor) but I’m determined to do right by me as a rider and by my horse. Horses are too expensive and life is too short.


6 thoughts on “Autumn Reflections

  1. Hawk says:

    I worked very briefly with a NH trainer when I had my baby sport horse Jet a few years back. He was super young (2 yrs) and I couldn’t ride him yet, so all I did was ground work. TBH I wasn’t that impressed with NH. I found it to be glorified ground work. Joining up, getting the horse to backup when you wiggle a lead rope or stop when you hold up a hand is fine and dandy, but that isn’t the end all for a horse. I think a good ground foundation is a must (something I had with Jet but have neglected with Fiction) but beyond that, depending on your goals, riding may be more important. I saw an amazing video today of a woman running her horse (on the ground without a leadrope) through an agility course (like a dog course but larger for horses) and thought that it was amazing and that I would love to do that with Fiction….but then I took a step back and went why? There is no reason for Fiction to learn any of that. As long as he respects my space on the ground and behaves himself, that is all I need honestly (although I do believe that working on squaring up at the halt on the ground translates very well over to mounted halts – Jet was a fine testament of this). Maybe I just don’t understand NH enough to see the appeal of it. I don’t know.

    • Rebecca says:

      For me, it was about first gaining my rescue’s trust. Then it was about giving him confidence in me as a leader (ie. I move your feet which means I’m the leader). Beyond trust and respect, I think it totally loses its appeal. Unless it translates to your goals, it doesn’t make sense. I agree with you there! 🙂

  2. Stephanie says:

    I haven’t been a fan of NH, ever. I think it’s important for horses to have good ground manners and certainly have a good foundation before they’re backed, but I don’t understand the appeal of “bonding” and “joining up”, etc. Don’t get me wrong- I don’t want to beat my horses to fear me or be beaten into submission, but I don’t think mystikal majickal bonding is the answer either.

    A few years ago I went to a Clinton Anderson clinic with work; I was disgusted. Clinton seemed like a good horseman, but he was peddling his NH shtick so hard that I was totally turned off to his message (the bulk of which seemed to be “BUY MY STUFF!”). It didn’t help that many of his methods appeared to be repackaged classical dressage principles and he made fun of English riders more than once. (Then again, in Tulsa, OK, he probably had an idea of what his audience was.)

    • Rebecca says:

      I totally get what you’re saying. And I think that a lot of money goes into NH which doesn’t help. Folks like Buck Brannaman are a different breed in my opinion because they aren’t slickly (is that a word?) marketed. That being said, it all comes down to at the end of the day 1) Do you have your horse’s respect? 2) Do you have your horses trust? I don’t think you need shiny DVD’s and empty pocket books to achieve that. I only wish I realized that sooner.

  3. Karen says:

    You said it in your post. It’s about laying down a foundation, and translating that to under saddle work. I typically turn my nose up at die-hard NH people who drink the koolaid and buy their expensive sticks. I admit that. But … I do agree with SOME of the concepts (respect of personal space, giving to pressure, etc). The concepts that are common horse sense. One of my friends recently had some major success with clicker training. Her horse was difficult to catch in the field and clicker training cured him of that. It was interesting to see. So I do think some of the concepts do have value. But my horse does not have any experience with clicker training. I have not had a reason to teach it to him because when I started him I took my time and gave him a super solid foundation. He also does not “join up” on the lunge. When I say whoa, he stops and waits for me to come to him. He does not come in to my on the circle. That drives me crazy. But to each his own.

  4. Erika says:

    Great post – I really enjoyed it! I personally don’t have any big opinions on NH, except to say that I haven’t ever gotten too involved in it. There are people at my barn who do it, and I have to say, a lot of them do seem afraid of their horses.

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