A Bit of Horse Philosophy: Natural Humanship


Cactus Jack Splash the Appaloosa HorseThe DOR (Dope on a Rope/Human) has been reading everything she can get her hands on about natural horsemanship for the past three years. She has attended clinics as both a participant and observer. Most of her herd has been trained at one time or another using this method. Well goody for her, but that means more work on my part learning natural humanship!

I started my study in this when I was sent to training by my first owner. I was sent to a wonderful facility and trainer, but I had no idea what I was supposed to to with a human. I was rough around the edges and made a few mistakes. I found out that bucking until I was so tired that I couldn't stand and then rolling around on the ground like a pig when the saddle was put on got me absolutely nowhere. I quickly discovered that if I stood nicely and didn't buck the saddle got taken off sooner. Hmmmm, lesson one; treat the DOR like they have the best ideas ever and their silly behavior ends sooner.

Horse on a lead

Natural humanship is the philosophy of working with DORs by appealing to their instincts and social structure. It involves communication techniques derived from the observation of the social structure of humans, allowing horses to exhibit behaviors that resemble the interactions that humans have with each other.

  • Humans are social creatures. They have a highly developed communication system practiced primarily through speech and very little body language. This requires horses to learn techniques that mimic speech to communicate with their DOR. I nicker using different pitches to send messages to my DOR. I also use "human-like" facial expressions and body language to reinforce what I am saying.
  • Teaching DORs using fear, while occasionally effective, will probably get you a new home. It is essential that the human feel safe around you at all times. If a horse is calm and nurturing to their DOR the bonding process will be quicker and more effective. I have found that stepping on their toes, nipping, and hopping up and down causes the DOR to withdraw. I want the DOR to come closer and stay longer, I can accomplish this through continued mellow behavior.
  • The horse must know the DOR's natural instincts and communication system, using this knowledge to train their DOR. DORs worry about how they look when other DORs are around, so the best thing we horses can do for them is to make sure they look cool at all times.
  • There is the aspect of operant conditioning in this method. Apply pressure to get the DOR to exhibit the desired behavior, releasing that pressure when the DOR takes action to exhibit that behavior. Reward the try, setting the bar a bit higher each time, until the desired behavior is reached. Remember DORs are often a bit insecure, so take baby steps.
  • DORs benefit greatly from groundwork. There are seven games to play with your DOR to make this time more enjoyable: 
    • Catch me if you can-in this game you don't give in to easily, make the DOR work to catch you, they appreciate you more that way.
    • Touch my nose as I back up really fast-in this game once the DOR has haltered you back up at least three steps, the DOR wants to nuzzle you because you have been so good but they need to understand personal space, let your DOR touch your nose when you are ready.
    • Peek-a-boo with my hinny-DORs love to pat our big ol butts, when they go to pat your rear move it away from them, again this is a lesson in personal space.
    • Let's see how dizzy you can get while I run circles around you on a rope-this game is about teaching your DOR balance, you don't want them wobbly when they are riding.
    • Let me see how close you can stand to things and have me still squeeze through-this teaches the DOR how much space they need to allow you so they don't get bumped.
    • You point the way I am looking and then I will go there-the point of this game is to show the DOR that when they use body language you listen.
    • You do the chicken dance and I will move along just so you won't look silly-this is building the strength of your herd, the DOR will realize that you are willing to look silly to in order to protect them. I love the seven games, they are very therapeutic.

Once you have your DOR good with all of these activities you can move on to the riding lessons. I will cover those tomorrow.

Enjoy your day and don't forget to hug your DOR!

Giddy-Up, Janine
9/20/2011 2:28:55 PM

Love this blurb, its so funny and DOR is such a great term... I stumbled across this because I teach riding and constantly refer to ineffective riding techniques as "natural humanship". I decided I would write a guide to humanship for horses. I googled the idea- and it got me here.

Nebraska Dave
8/7/2010 3:28:35 PM

@Hey, Cactus. Good to see you back here with good advice for other horses. I see that you have been very busy with your DOR. Your techniques are wonderful. You should write a blog. Oh, wait, you already do. I’m waiting in anticipation for part II. Have a great training day.

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