Feed on

andpip-500x500It was close, so very close. Vicki and I stood poised to cut short our visit to Australia and rush back to Spain to deal with what at first glance appeared to be a major emergency affecting our mares. The decision had already been taken. Reflection following a good night’s sleep suggested that this was the way to go. Too much was at risk and prompt action was required. Anaïs and Pip needed to be relocated urgently. We had to find a new home for them and, if that turned out to be too far away, for ourselves as well. It was time to start implementing that decision. And then destiny intervened. Now we are left with the question as to whether we should again be looking for a “natural horsemanship” yard again or whether it is time for a new paradigm.



All too often it is precisely this which characterises the relationship between horses and humans or at least the threat of it: chaos! This time though the threat has been external. The property leased to Equinatural, home to our mares, was recently sold. Although livery clients, such as ourselves, were concerned, we were aware that there was a lease in place which gave us a reprieve until May next year, time enough to find an alternative.

So we thought, until the new owners decided otherwise, or so it seemed. Here in Australia we received various reports from Spain which spoke of the commencement of a campaign of harassment and intimidation designed to chase Equinatural off the premises. A single mother with a very young child, the co-owner and on-site manager of the livery yard, reportedly had to contend with an unacceptable barrage of bullying, which eventually came to include physical assault. She understandably decided to close the yard down and to arrange alternative accommodation for the horses at another livery yard by the end of December.

Part of the Equinatural herd - all shapes, sizes and ages, including a two-month old colt

Part of the Equinatural herd – all shapes, sizes and ages, including a two-month old colt

In itself, the arrangement of alternative accommodation should have been reassuring but it was not. We have visited the new yard on a number of occasions, the first time to explore whether it would be appropriate for our horses, should the need ever arise. Each time we have come away convinced that we would not want our horses to be there. Recent reports appear to support our conclusion.



In the absence of an alternative for the horses and only nine days to find appropriate accommodation for them, if we were to return to Spain as scheduled, it seemed clear to us that we would have to cut short our stay in Australia to get back much sooner. And so we set out about making arrangements to change our flights, abandon current attempts to find a new home for our geldings and ourselves in Australia, and cancel visits to friends.

It was then that destiny intervened. The news that flight changes would be penalised with a hefty surcharge caused us to falter, albeit not for long. Jaws set, we proceeded to arrange an alternative itinerary preparatory to finalising payment. Simultaneously, Vicki started working our infant network of “horsey” contacts in Andalusia and it began to yield fruit.

Coming into land at Brisbane Airport

Coming into land at Brisbane Airport

A Dutch horse feed distributor who lives quite close to where our mares are accommodated came to the rescue. If we urgently require temporary accommodation for the girls at the end of the year or sooner in the event of an emergency, he will be able to take them. Agathe has also volunteered her horse transport service should the need arise.

An emergency scenario in place, Vicki and I paused to reconsider the urgency of the moment. Just then we received news from Spain that the police had paid a visit to the new owners of the estate where Equinatural is located. Although thick with tension, calm had returned. Did we still have an emergency? We breathed in deeply, looked at each other and smiled. No! And yes, we could proceed with our plans here in Australia.


Natural horsemanship livery

Now Vicki and I find ourselves in a unique situation. As we go about searching for suitable livery (“agistment” to our Aussie friends) for our geldings here in Australia, we are conscious that we will need to do the same for our mares in Spain upon our return to Andalusia. Sure, there is a difference in that there is a compelling need for our horses in Spain to be relocated but not those in Australia, as they are relatively well looked after where they are. But ultimately we are concerned with the same question. What type of livery do we want for our horses?

In the past few years we have made a point of looking for so-called “natural” or “natural horsemanship” yards. Generally speaking, they are establishments in which horses are kept barefoot without rugs in a “herd”, with ample outdoor space and indoor cover to enable them to move and interact with other horses whenever they choose to do so whilst obtaining relief from the elements when necessary. Some also choose to adopt a more horse-friendly health-care regime, eschewing the use of potentially harmful practices, such as conventional vaccinations and worming products, and avoiding the excessive use of antibiotics. Most of those that we have come across are Parelli-inspired outfits where a version of his approach is practised (or something similar).

Our mares in the herd at he 4Horses Creek "natural horsemanship" yard

Our mares in the herd at the 4Horses Creek “natural horsemanship” yard

We have opted for such livery yards, not because we feel that they are perfect but because they enable horses to live more closely in line with their intrinsic nature than conventional livery yards. In such conventional conditions horses are generally kept in stables for up to 24 hours a day and, if they are turned out, this usually occurs in small fields with only a few fellow equines and then only for part of the day. More often than not they are also kept with metal studs (also known as “horseshoes”) nailed to their hooves and are ridden with the aid of metal and leather restraints and instruments of force, such as bits, spurs, martingales and the like. Such conditions, I feel, are not in the interests of the horse’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.


Differences and similarities

Overall, as I have indicated, there are a great deal of differences between “natural horsemanship” and conventional (be it “western”, “English” or similar) livery yards. And as I have also shown, those differences pertain to care, accommodation and horse-human interaction.

Yet there are also similarities. What both approaches tend to have in common is, firstly, that their supporters generally feel that their approach is superior to any other. All too often they even do so to the extent that they feel quite justified in vilifying any approach which does not correspond to theirs.

Secondly, both conventional and “natural” horsemanship rely on yielding to pressure, an approach which is founded on a fundamental misunderstanding of how horses deal with pressure, as I have shown in my paper entitled Yielding to Pressure: The Reality of the Myth (which you may download here). While “natural horsemanship” practitioners are keen to point out that they ride bitless, those who rely on harsh rope halters forget that such head collars can inflict as much harm (if not more) on a horse’s nose and poll than a bit in the mouth. Something similar may be said about the heavy snap at the end of a lead rope and the way it is waved towards and even against the horse’s jaw to get them to move backwards, producing a creature at the end of the lead who is confused and terrified.

How to back up your horse the “natural horsemanship” way.

Thirdly, “success” of both approaches relies on conditioned behaviour and, where that fails, brute force or the threat of such force and perhaps ultimately learned helplessness on the part of the horse.

Fourthly, through their apparent but illusional “success” both approaches entice horse owners and carers to resort to them as a means to achieve personal gain in the form of wealth, status or self-aggrandisment.

Fifthly, as in the case of all favoured models, there is a temptation on the part of the practitioner of either the conventional or the “natural horsemanship” approach to adhere to their preferred model at the horse’s expense. An example in the case of “natural horsemanship” may be found in many of its practitioners’ insistence that a horse not be rugged even if this means that the creature suffers sweet itch and scrapes their skin open in a desperate attempt to find relief. Similarly, there are those who insist that horses not be stabled under any circumstances unless it is sick or injured, with the result that the creature may be exposed to intense heat and sunlight, not to mention pests, in hot climates instead of being stabled during the day and turned out at night where this is the only possible alternative. Another example may be found in some “natural horsemanship” practitioners’ refusal to make the transition from hoof studs to barefoot in stages (hind feet first and front feet later) or with the temporary aid of shoes (what is commonly referred to as horse boots, a bit like calling a spade a “shovel”).


Dangers of “natural horsemanship”

In his book, It is Not I Who Seek the Horse: The Horse Seeks Me, Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling convincingly argues that the “natural horsemanship” approach is designed to persuade the horse that the trainer’s pressure is more attractive than all of the other options available to them. It is for this reason, and this alone, that the horse ultimately yields to the trainer’s will and produces the behaviour which the trainer requires of it. This is the underlying premise of Monty Roberts’ “join-up”.

In this sense one might also add that such an approach produces a refined version of learned helplessness. In a nutshell, a horse is said to suffer from learned helplessness if they surrender and give up all resistance, because it has become clear to them that all avenues of escape have been closed off. The refinement of the “natural horsemanship” variant of learned helplessness lies in the fact that one of the avenues of escape that has been closed off is nevertheless preferable to all of the others.

Learning to longe a horse via the Parelli variant of “natural horsemanship”

The Parelli variant of “natural horsemanship” is less refined. It simply relies on psychological repression secured through brute physical force or the threat of it. The result is ultimately and almost inevitably learned helplessness, the few exceptions proving the rule. It is only in this manner that one can secure the horse’s cooperation in charging blindly on a circle at the end of a longeing lead while their human consults the latest post on their “natural horsemanship” page on Facebook.

Perhaps the most insidious danger of “natural horsemanship” lies in its name. It is insidious in that it is self-deluding. It is self-deluding in that it masks the harm caused by the perpetrator. And it is self-deluding in that the name suggests to the human pursuing the “natural horsemanship” approach that they are helping their horse, whereas there may be a good chance of them doing so in relation to the care and accommodation of their equine friend but almost none at all when it comes to interaction between the two species. Having said that, I have been privileged to witness the utterly liberating work of a Level 2 Parelli instructor who frequently manages to create magic with horses, albeit in spite and not because of the “natural horsemanship” approach which she pursues. Her secret? Awareness, intent and the joy of life.


Beyond natural

Then there is the concept of “natural” itself. Here I would like to restate what I wrote in my post entitled Beyond Natural, Back to the Horse.

“Natural”, the word does sound so utterly sexy, does it not, especially to those of us who increasingly insist on finding a way of keeping and interacting with horses, which prioritises their interests and wellbeing? It is enticing in its presumed promise of serenity and balance, is it not? This is how horses survive in the wild. This is how they relate to each other in the absence of humans. This “natural” condition, it should be our guiding principle, our beacon to light our way through the dark spread by conventional husbandry and horsemanship. All that we do with horses should fit within this paradigm, should it not?

But are we not fooling ourselves? Is nature always nice? And where, I ask you, do horses survive anywhere on this planet in the absence of human control or influence? Even the feral brumbies of Western Australia and the world’s only true wild horses, the Przewalski of Mongolia – amongst the most sparsely populated parts of the earth – are unable to escape it. And are these wild and feral horses no more than a small fraction of the globe’s equines, the vast majority of whom simply try to survive under the rigours of human domination, which range from firm to savage. Is it not time to admit that, when it comes to horses, “natural” is a myth, something which largely exists within our imagination as a romantic illusion and not much anywhere else?

Is it not time to jettison our romantic illusions of what is “natural”?

Yet, what if there is more? If you strip away “4 Horses Creek”, “Equinatural” or any other name we humans may bestow on an equine establishment to nurture the notion of “natural”, and if you then coldly examine all that is done in its name (and not merely the “aberrations” which I mention above), how much will you find that is utterly “unnatural”? You will certainly not need me to help you answer that question and you will definitely not need me to come up with the answer: “a lot”. Which is not to suggest that because it is “unnatural”, it must therefore be harmful to the horse. Yet we are left with a very awkward question and it is this: if much (or perhaps even most) of what is done in the name of “natural” horse-keeping and horsemanship is “unnatural”, are we not missing the point which is at the heart of both, namely, the horse? Which in turn leads to another curly query and it is this: if the pursuit of things “natural” is missing the point, could it not be harmful to the horse?

Let me illustrate this with an example. In the pursuit of all that is “natural” in relationship to horses, many of us are unequivocal in our demand for them to be allowed to live in a herd with ample resources rather than be stabled for up to twelve hours or more every day. Yet there are times of the year in some parts of the world, where doing so is akin to condemning them to profound suffering because of flies and horse flies, in particular. Yet prevention is easy. Simply confine the horse to a dark indoor area and the flies disappear as though a magician had waved a wand. It would not be “natural” to do so, surely? But would it not be more “unnatural” not to? Or do the questions simply represent a dangerous red herring, because neither is in the interests of the horse. But if they are not, what is?


Back to the horse

Fortunately, there would appear to be a very simple solution to this dark riddle and perhaps the brumbies can help point the way. Australia is a vast country and it is home to some 300,000 brumbies. They may be found in areas that vary greatly in terms of their geography and climate and include the arid Outback, subtropical coastal areas, high country of Snowy River fame, and even parts of the Monsoon-inundated tropics. Yes, human intervention occurs and it is often cruel.

Yet even without it the life of a brumby is harsh. Apart from the challenges peculiar to the geography and climate of the areas in which they find themselves, Australia is a country that is hard, particularly on a species such as the horse which is innately alien to it. If the drought does not bring a horse down, perhaps a cyclone will. But then again, it could be one of the many species of amongst the world’s most poisonous snakes to which the country is home, or perhaps a “saltie”, one of the huge, prehistoric salt-water crocodiles that inhabit the rivers and billabongs of the tropical north. Alternatively, the brumbies may find it impossible to compete with both indigenous and introduced species for feed and water, amongst them hundreds of thousands to millions (depending on the species) of feral camels, buffalo, donkeys, goats and the like. Nature can be and often is cruel. No humans are required for this.

Perhaps we need to abandon our preoccupation with trying to ensure that all we do for the horse is “natural”. And perhaps we will find it easier to do this once we realise that nature can be and often is harmful to the horse. Put another way, “natural” is not by definition in the horse’s interests, assuming that the condition still exists on a planet which is already suffering greatly from the “unnatural” intervention of humans and is forecast to suffer even more. In fact, “natural” can be harmful to the horse to the point of claiming its life. If she could speak, my mare, Pip, could confirm that “natural” can burn fear into her soul as effectively as any bit, spurs or whip may have done in her former life.

Perhaps it is time for us to abandon the concept of “natural” when we search for appropriate ways of caring for and interacting with our equine friends. Perhaps this is the moment when we should refocus on the very point which inspired the ideas of “natural horse-keeping” and “natural horsemanship. And perhaps it is now that we should return to that very point: the horse. If we are truly committed to the wellbeing of the horse, then surely the measure of all we do for and with our equine friends must not be whether it is “natural” but rather that it is in their interests. Perhaps we should now leave “natural” for what it is and go back to the horse.


Holistic horse-humanship

This is not to deny that “natural horsemanship” has not served any positive purpose. In my own development it marked the first time that I felt entirely safe with horses. This was an essential first step towards what I have since experienced with horses. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the “natural horsemanship” approach has reached its use-by-date for the reasons outlined above.

Now is the time not merely for a new approach but an entirely fresh paradigm, one which appears to be developing organically amongst people around the world who are committed to becoming and being the kind of human a horse seeks to be with.

This new paradigm, which I have come to call “Triple H” (HHH) to denote holistic horse-humanship, appears to be based on the following principles:
– it assumes that it is the human who needs to change and not the horse, and that this change entails that the human regains their humanity;
– it is designed to improve the horse’s wellbeing;
– it is holistic in its scope and remedies;
– it is experiential in that learning and development occur through experience and reflection on it;
– except in unusual circumstances, the horse’s evident happiness is the key determiner of the satisfactory nature of its accommodation, care and interaction with humans;
– however, this does not excuse us from our own responsibility to ensure that the horse is not misused or abused, especially where the horse may seem to indicate that they are content but we ourselves are aware that the situation is simply not good enough;
– the term “human” is used not only to include all genders but also to emphasise the need for a humane approach.


Being a Triple H solution

And so I go in search of a holistic horse-humanship solution for our mares in Spain and our geldings in Australia. Although life does not come with guarantees, the beauty of such a search is that it has already found the genesis of such a solution. It begins in me, in you and in all of us and to a greater or lesser extent we can be that solution wherever we encounter horses, whatever the conditions with which they have to contend. All we need is awareness, intent and the joy of life. The rest will take care of itself! And now to practise what I preach….


Life does not come with with a warranty!



Horses and Humans on Facebook

May I remind you that we now have a Horses and Humans group on Facebook. If you would like to leave a comment, you can do so on this blog or on the the Horses and Humans Facebook group page. All new posts will feature on that page along with additional content posted by any of our members. Please feel free to join us at:


There is also a Horses and Humans publications page, which contains information concerning the publications released under the Horses and Humans imprint. Some of those publications will be free of charge. You will find it here:


I also have a Facebook page through which you may contact me. You will find it at:


Equine Touch

Our Equine Touch business is called Humans for Horses, you can find our website at:


and our Facebook page at:




16 Responses to “From “Natural Horsemanship” to Holistic Horse-Humanship”

  1. Glenn Wilson says:

    Hello Andrew

    All that you write and muse over is a conundrum that could be equally applied to humans.

    It is a far from perfect world while being perfect in every sense.

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Glenn

      In many respects you are right, I think. It could be equally applied to humans.

      However, I must confess to being utterly challenged by the notion of a “far from perfect world … being perfect in every sense”, especially when our planet and all who share it are under such threat from human greed.

      Be well!

  2. Patrick says:

    hullo Andrew thank you for these latest words. To some extent the reading leaves me kind of lost for words……..
    Your current Spain problem is unfortunate but alas not unusual. You will be aware by now that property arrangements in Spain are frequently, uhm, difficult.
    As to the new paradigm named HHH……it’s clear you are a writer and writers like to play with words. So HHH is the new chosen label but surely your intent in spending time amongst horses remains the same…?
    I am perplexed that you to choose to maintain horses simultaneously in Spain and in Australia……..all will suffer your absences.
    Anyway meantime it seems you may be in international travel towards the end of this month….I hope find time enjoy a Christmas holiday celebration….and good luck with the search in Spain.

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Patrick

      “HHH” is merely my attempt to give certain developments as a name, which makes it easier to pose them as an alternative for “natural horsemanship”, which I personally believe is a dangerous concept.

      How we come to have horses on opposite sides of the world is a long story which is detailed in this blog. Happy reading!

      Be well!

  3. Dear Andrew…it is very interesting again this post of yours…it is equally interesting to see you write about the holistic approach..
    I seem to remember that this holistic approach in the way I look at how people deal/ride/interact with horses has already been shown in my comments on your postings at the very beginning when KFH was still your main subject….
    It is good to see and read that you have in the meantime grown/evolved a lot…that you are allowing yourself to look at the horse world a bit more with so-called “expanded eyes”….
    Always remember too to be aware of yourself in this whole story, accept the you in this whole story and feel compassion for the you in this whole story…Instead of thinking something is or isnot in the interest of the horse, the horse seemingly having brought you here to this point where you are at present….a point where I am sure you are sometimes also asking yourself “Who do I Know myself to be in this writing”? Especially so as one’s ego can still subconsciously sometimes be playing an important role in this process of BECOMING…
    Wishing you and Vicky a good remainder of your stay in Australia with your Aussie friends and horses….wishing you a safe return journey to Spain and take care of yourself especially as 2016 may turn out to be an amazing year for you…
    Bless You!

  4. cindy says:

    Could you simply describe, in three words, how horses communicate with one another? I’m not interested in human, dog, positive, negative, conditioned behavior! Just the equines innate communication process.

    Thank you

  5. Patrick says:

    uhm…..how about 2 words…..such as…..

    body language…?

    • cindy says:

      Ok, great!
      By what means do they establish leadership within the herd? uhm…2 words

      This is just an exercise in simplicity. :))

  6. Patrick says:

    experience, wisdom

  7. cindy says:

    There is a specific thing they protect and a physical way of trying to accomplish it. It is an innate way prey animals establish their place in the herd.
    : ))