Natural Horsemanship Training

The challenge for us is, “How do we relate best with the horse’s innate characteristics, in an environment where they can interact happily with different riders on a day-to-day basis?” Attempting to understand this interaction has carried us forward on the journey of discovering what horsemanship can truly be.
Trekking horses can do other things too

What is Natural Horsemanship, you may ask?

Natural Horsemanship is a collective term for various horse training techniques rapidly growing in popularity since the 1980s.

The term, Natural Horsemanship, has been adopted by many horse trainers, educators, and clinicians. To describe “it” is to think beyond traditional training methods. In its simplest form, it is about understanding and being aware of what is important to the horse and noticing the subtle things they communicate to us.

Natural Horsemanship can be taken out of context. Some people have been heard to jest that this style involves riding around naked without a saddle on the horse. Rest assured, even though our horses are barefoot and bitless, we do provide saddles!

Russell Higgins Trail Riding Camp at River Valley Stables. Our first experience of Natural Horsemanship, was through Parelli

What is Natural?

Natural describes something that comes from nature rather than being man-made. So often, we think it best practice to impose our ideas on something natural. What if, instead, we listen, observe, and notice with empathy those things that are natural? We can become open to a journey of partnership with nature rather than fighting to control it.


Many children are fortunate to have more naturalness than most adults. Adults get weighed down with the responsibilities of living. Look at that young teenager and pony partnership, having so much fun together. It is an excellent example of keeping the relationship natural.

I remember myself as a child, lucky enough to have my own pony, spending hours and hours together. It didn’t matter if we were out riding, or I was grooming her, or we just hung out. What we did, we did together. Without even realising at the time, we had formed a partnership. It was just a natural thing. If I wasn’t confident in my ability with her, she wasn’t secure either, or when I was, we went together. She was my mirror, and she was my partner.

Nicola as a young teen with her little thoroughbred mare “Lady Jane”. Brian Sage her father took the photo. Horse and teen had a connection there

The Journey

Being involved in running a trekking operation for some years now, I have spent a lot of time with many different horses and humans. Every ride, interaction, and horse has made me realise there is more to learn than is possible in this lifetime!

Immersing myself in the teachings of skilled horse people, whose accomplishments I respect and who have achieved more than I could ever pack into my lifetime, has been a big help with improving my knowledge and understanding of horsemanship.

However, the best teachers have been the horses in my life. Observing how they are with different riders on every ride. Their interaction with us and each other. What gives them confidence. What tips them over their threshold of comfort. That look they may have given but was overlooked. Their body stance relaxed or heightened. Through becoming aware of these subtleties in their communication, I have gained a better perception and understanding of their behaviour. They soon let you know when you need to back off and when they will give more. Some of these things have been learned the hard way, but better to understand than not!

Every horse has been different. There is not one textbook for all. You learn to work with the horse you have at that moment. It is human nature to become an expert about horses, and when things aren’t turning out well for us, we blame the horse. By blaming the horse, we have lost the ability to look at what the horse is telling us and enjoy being in the moment with them. This is the journey.

5-year-old NZ Kaimanawa horse “Brave”. Nicola tamed and trained from the wild. This has been an incredible experience in horsemanship. The one skill you learn from an experience like this patience. Timelines mean nothing.


I love to see horses and riders connecting and building a partnership. Taking the time to form a partnership is what good horsemanship is about. Connection is key to achieving this.

If you know how to sit on a horse and don’t have to worry about learning that, you can then focus on engaging with them. It is this focus and engagement that brings connection.

It is unfair to expect any horse to know what we want. Horses are very intuitive, but they are not mind readers. They enjoy a two-way conversation and us being clear about our intentions.

When you have a conversation with your horse and start connecting, the partnership will come, and it is an experience worth having!

For the month of August in the winter of 2014 in we had a huge amount of fun with the trekking horses doing a photo shoot with the different tour guides.

For all the Horses that have made us better Humans

It is a delight to share our journey with you through our experiences with the horses, what they have taught us, and will undoubtedly continue to show us.

Here are some words from a few good horse people, some of who I have been fortunate to meet, and others that have inspired me through their journey. We hope you get inspired too and come riding with us.

Warwick Schiller

“Take every behaviour your horse displays as valuable information and not as a personal insult.” “What we can learn from horses about ourselves is much more important than what horses can learn from us about themselves.”

Buck Brannaman

“Never in history has a troubled horse been fixed by pulling on two reins.” “The cool thing about horses, they don’t have prejudice, they don’t care if you are tall or thin, dark or light or if you’re rich or poor. They don’t care about that. They care about how you make them feel.”
Nicola meets Buck Branaman at a clinic in Taupo NZ. After seeing his movie “Buck” it was a dream come true to experience him teaching.

Mark Rashid

“Horsemanship is the art of mastering our own movements, thoughts, emotions and behaviours.” “After all, the qualities required to be good with horses are the same qualities required to be good at life in general, and vice versa. Chances are”

Pat Parelli

“A horse doesn’t care how much you know until he knows how much you care.”
The Journey Continues……
Ross Jacobs shares his knowledge through a clinic at River Valley

Ross Jacobs

“I believe being highly consistent is extremely important in bringing clarity to a horse.” “Even if a person is never likely to have a true partnership with a horse, we should still try every day. It also means we love and respect a horse for the amazing creature it is.”

Neil Davies

“The first step must be to teach your horse to be relaxed and confident.” “The truth is anyone can learn to understand horses. You must forget about you. It’s not about you, it’s about the horse.”

Have any questions?

Speak to one of our friendly adventure consultants who would love to help you out. / 0800 248666