Spirit, not spurs

Spirit, not spurs

In old California, cowboys knew a subtle language between horse and rider that could replace whips and whoops. Jane Smiley tells how two brothers brought the tradition to modern horsemanship...

Tom Dorrance's original round-corral breaking-in methods, which work to unkink back muscles and haunches by encouraging the horse to buck and play but also insisting that he move his feet as the rider directs. Tom was not a believer in riding through conflicts. He preferred that, as far as possible, every ride should be a positive experience for the horse. Horses, as Ellen learned from Tom, don't like things to go wrong, but gain confidence and savoir-faire from things going right.

Maybe this idea that things can always go right if the rider knows what to ask for and how to ask for it is Tom Dorrance's greatest contribution to horsemanship.

Such a process transforms the human-equine relationship from mechanistic and unenthusiastic (or, indeed, fearful and conflict-driven) into something more like a partnership. Every horse owner has experienced the average horse — the one that could summon up some interest but usually doesn't bother, or the one that is always half-asleep, or the one that is always untrusting (and therefore untrustworthy). The average horse must be coerced, at least a little.

But the Dorrance-trained horse has a brighter eye and a more attentive look. From the first day in the round corral, his rider is doing something intriguing, and doing it in an alluring way, a way that invites the horse to join in and makes use of his innate curiosity...

Such an approach isn't confined to training horses, as Dorrance-style horsemen have learned. I have found that, for example, it's applicable to sons. A friend of mine uses Dorrance principles with her dog. Ray has tried it on snakes. And there are those who say it beats psychotherapy.

Principles of natural horsemanship

Here are some of the basic principles that natural horsemanship teaches.

Work on your own skills. The rider must communicate clearly with the horse.

Work from the horse's level of ability. Before each session, the rider must determine what the horse is capable of doing.

Take all the time the horse needs. Don't push a horse to learn more quickly than it can.

Make the right movement easy and the wrong movement hard.

Prepare the horse for instruction. Is the horse paying attention? Is it relaxed?

Always stay on this side of trouble. Don't let your ambitions get ahead of the horse.

The Vaquero way - Los Angeles Times


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