Monty Roberts: The Not So Natural Horseman


by Sheila Green

It’s not unusual for people to become attached, even irrationally, to certain concepts, and to extol them without due consideration. In the horse world, a current fad is to use the buzzword ‘natural’. Things that go back to ancient history are suddenly being said to be the ‘new’ work of the ‘natural’ school of horsemanship. Other things intrinsic to horse nature are ignored completely.

The problem with the use of this term is that the word implies a respect and understanding of the horse’s natural state, when in fact it’s used far too often as a dishonest evasion by people who exhibit only disrespect and lack of understanding of horses and the conditions of nature which have produced them.

This writer has seen those who attempt to refer to their methods as ‘natural’ actually indulge in things that are unnaturally brutal and counterproductive to good training. Those throwing the term around tend to represent quite severe ignorance of the historical methods of starting and training horses gently and in such a way as to promote their obedience and longevity.

Firstly, the major mistake made by most of those publicly attempting to call themselves ‘natural’ is that they abuse their trainee horses physically, destroying their confidence first and their bodies afterward.

What would be ‘natural’ about forcing an unfit unconditioned horse to gallop hard and fast in small circles for an extended period of time, until exhausted of wind and muscle, and right at the beginning of a work session? Even the US Cavalry (and no one could hold such an organization up as ‘touchy-feely’) didn’t gallop remounts for the first five weeks of training! Worse yet, this is carelessly done to horses the military wouldn’t consider sufficiently old to handle training well at all, in many cases.

How many of the self-proclaimed ‘natural’ horsemen will chase completely unprepared horses even younger than three, so that they gallop in small round pens? It’s a recipe for leg damage and worse yet it’s predatory, just running the poor things down. This inhibits good responses rather than encouraging them.

Secondly, the other errors frequently perpetrated by those who attempt to claim they’re ‘natural’ is to ignore the available capabilities of the horse. Their influence systems are crude, poorly-timed, insufficient, and ineffective, when they don’t employ preparation, specific cues, and appropriate rewards.

When horses can readily accept scores of various commands associated with cues based on equine body language, why would one have to rely upon only upon one or two? When these are animals sensitive to the sight of a flicked ear, why would anyone have to hit horses’ faces with coiled lariats, kick horses in the ribs, hit them in the heads with sticks, jerk their mouths with bits, or choke their throats to force them to take riders far too soon for their own good? Those are all things the ‘natural’ camp has offered, among many other similar offenses to horse nature.

The use of the word ‘natural’ is more a red flag than a term of recommendation, especially when it reflects a hurried, insensitive, inhumane, and ignorant approach, in many instances to be seen today.

What of the ‘vaquero’? Some of the so-called ‘naturals’ have never seen anything remotely resembling a ‘vaquero’, and even if they had, let’s ponder this: the influence of that perspective would have had to lose the religious bent demanding inferiority of other species to start to know the nature of those other species well enough. That is to say, they weren’t equestrian virtuosos as a rule either (though any such group could get a few).