Nearly 15 Years ago I discovered a new way of thinking about horses. It was called Natural Horsemanship. Natural horsemanship was different because it put an understanding of the needs of the horse at the center of the training relationship between the horse and the human. For those of you that were not around in those early days it might be difficult to understand what a quantum shift in human thinking this was. Up until that time all horse/human understanding had been based on the function of the horse, in other words what the horse could do for us. But Natural Horsemanship was different, it was based instead on the observed behavior of horses and how horses communicated with each other. The early pioneers of this thinking reasoned that if we could also communicate with our horses in this way we would be able to achieve a great deal more by cooperation and understanding of the horse rather than the 'mechanics, fear and intimidation' of the traditional and historical models of horsemanship that had gone before.
I, along with many thousands of others signed up for various courses and systems of natural horsemanship promoted by this horseman or that horseman. Like many of others I attempted to climb the ladder of the systems, moving from exercise to exercise and level to level and eventually like many others I finally quit the system. I think, this I one of the major drawbacks of natural horsemanship - it is a system; and it is the nature of such things that while a small minority of students adapt and thrive the vast majority do not.
The other big drawback of natural horsemanship is that it is based on a fundamental law of behavior known as negative reinforcement. Typically this takes the form of pressure and release or advance and retreat and also certain types of training known as habituation. These are all legitimate ways of training a horse to do something but unfortunately they are highly negative ways to train something especially when applied repeatedly over a long period of time. And negative experiences tend to evoke something called the flight or fight response. Hence the huge numbers of 'drop-outs' (both human and equine), from the systems.
Having said all that I am not 'anti' natural horsemanship. Natural horsemanship has had a profound and generally positive influence of my journey with horses. My attitude is that it is an important step along the way but it is not a destination in itself. Almost all of the training exercises can be trained using far more positive methods to achieve the same results and in fact because they are positive methods they tend to have positive side-effects and spin-offs.
My advice to anyone would be by all means to explore the world of natural horsemanship, you never know you may be lucky and be one of the successful ones but bear in mind that it is likely you will at some point fall out of the system. However be aware there are further more positive directions in which to take you new found understanding of your horse.