A horse grazes in an open field with green grass gently swaying in the breeze. A herd of horses thunder across a sandy plain with mountains stretching to the horizon under clear blue skies. Freedom, beauty, grace, strength. These are some of the images that may have drawn most of us to horses. We can find images like these on T-shirts, calendars, painted onto the side of trucks, even on the walls of stable clubhouses. We get drawn in to the horse world, get our first horse, and although we retain the image in our hearts, we fail to see how far different it is from the reality of the average domesticated horse.
The standard of horses in a 10×12 box behind steel bars prevails. It is all around us. Yet, there seems to be a growing awareness about the importance of giving more freedom to the horse – people are changing their routines with their horses. Instead of keeping a horse in a small box inside, or putting him alone in a larger enclosure outside, more people are at least leading the horse out to a field to graze – and staying with him. After all we have learned through the study of the horse, we are less intimidated by his size and strength because we understand the «why» of his many reactions. There now seems to be an increase in the number of people who desire to be accepted by the horse, to do what is best for the horse, rather than to force the horse to conform to our existence. We are discovering that we are having just as much fun, while finding new, surprising aspects about our horses, and an even greater satisfaction.
Alexander Nevzorov has recently gained much attention. But, what we are doing is nothing miraculous, or secret. Not even new. It is simply developing a relationship with the horse, and having a two-way communication. Many people talk about «leadership» and «partnership», but what that really means, in the standard horse world, is «dictator». People do not see that. They have a horse that responds, usually after being endlessly drilled, or put into a situation where there is no choice, and most people are very happy with that. The truth is, the horse knows that there is no point in «talking».
The New Haute Ecole
In what Alexander likes to call his New Haute Ecole (NHE), the relationship, the understanding, the real communication, is already in place. It comes first. How do we teach a horse to raise a leg for a Spanish Walk without touching the horse? It is communication based… two-way communication. Our horses do things for us, too, but in this similarity, there is a huge difference. There are already lots of methods out there that can get a horse to do almost anything, but our approach turns most traditional beliefs and training upside down. You have to forget all that you learned. There is quite a transition to be made in our mentality, a bridge to cross, before this method really clicks in us. At first, people still come with the expectation of training a horse to do some particular move… or even worse, using NHE for bridleless competition. It is Alexander’s belief that determination and/or greed created by competition always supersede the welfare of the horse.
Traditional training uses dominance and forced control. Many aspects of such training show the horse who is boss, force submissiveness, and/or refer to the Alpha of the herd. It is very clear to the horse that we are not a horse, just as it is clear to us that the horse is not human. With NHE we do not seek dominance and submission, but rather willingness and trust, and we want to bring out the true nature of the horse, not suppress it. This aspect of the relationship is vital. What may impress people the most is how Alexander chooses «rebel» horses, horses that refused to be subjected to traditional training and/or refused to be submissive. Repeating that type of training would be clearly futile, and a solid relationship generally thought to be impossible, but with NHE it is possible.
What NHE is Not…
Many horses, already trained by other methods, do moves similar to what NHE presents, yet that is not NHE. A person deciding to put a cordeo on the horse does not make it NHE. If we go through all the process of establishing a relationship and subsequently teaching the horse exercises to improve physical strength, and then push the horse»s limits with a 4-hour trail ride, or trying for a better clock time racing or doing barrels, that is not NHE.
True NHE is not just another tool to throw into a training bag to continue doing the same to the horse as before. It is NHE and nothing else. It is not a method to be used on a horse for our own personal gain, either monetary or ego-boosting, at the expense and gradual degradation of the horse»s health. It is putting our own desires aside. It is respect of the horse.
A New Way of Living
Ideally, the horse would be at your home with you, not in a box in a typical boarding stable. We help develop the horse»s mind, expression, and awareness. A lot of people cannot handle that. A horse playing like a horse still scares a lot of people. A large part of developing the relationship is through play. You must understand that this type of relationship of being «equal» with the horse goes both ways. If you make a request, and even though you know that the horse knows what to do, but the horse decides not to do it, you cannot force him. If you have the right attitude, showing personal interest and enthusiasm, you could always try ask ing again – like trying to convince a friend to play a game – but you must respect the horse as well.
It is important to consider whether you really want a true relationship with your horse. Many people want horses to simply react and never be expressive. We give the horse freedom to choose and it is an interaction, not a dictatorship. The motto here is, “The horse is always right.» (This comes from De Nestier, one of the old masters and founders of traditional Haute Ecole.) For those who come here ingrained with the idea of training a subservient animal, it may take time to realize the meaning of the words written here. It is a way of living with horses.
We, too, are allowed to say «no», but teaching replaces punishment. Everything a horse does is for a reason and we have to understand and guide him in the desired direction. This type of interaction will bring out the best in our horses and their trust in us. This trust will give us the horse»s attention and focus.
The greatest work here is to be done by us, and not the horses. That is already a big change to what many people are accustomed. All the answers are already in front of us with our horses, and will materialize before our eyes when we are ready to understand those answers. Working with a wild horse, with no previous human experience, would possibly be easier. There could be a transition period for a domesticated horse when he starts to realize that he now has a choice, and could still be doubtful about our true intentions, and possibly, even testy. Yet, in the meantime, we can still see the look of surprise in the horses» eyes when they realize that we are asking for interaction instead of our usual «do as I say – or else».
This is no quick fix to get horses to do neat stuff. If we do not believe in the philosophy behind this, it will not work. If the horse»s best interest is at heart, then the horse will end up doing more than ever imagined. Once you can accept the horse as he is, and help him to understand what you are trying to convey, and have the patience to get there, it is a beautiful experience. It is not the goal, it is the journey.
First, we have to free the horse. Remove the bit and shoes, and get off his back. That is a simple statement supported by decades of research and scientific study. This effort on our part is well worth it. This is a time for healing to begin. Many people say that their horse is quite happy without doing this, and shows no signs of suffering. But animals will suffer silently, learn to live with it», accept, and adapt. Horses are especially good at masking locomotor problems, while people are not so good at noticing. We can wait to ride our horses until they have healed, are in perfect shape, and do moves that are natural and safe for them in a natural collection.
For just a small example of info on these subjects, see Dr. Cook’s articles regarding the bit, here: www.bitlessbridle.com/cat/articles.html
Regarding shoes, see this: www.barefoothorse.com
Even with limited space available, we can try to make the habitat for the horse more natural and healthy. See the book “Paddock Paradise” by Jaime Jackson (also listed in the the barefoothorse site above) and the HIT Active Stable in the Wildhorse link above.
For horses that are boarded with no such possibility of outdoor freedom, things will be more difficult. To play freely with the horse, but then confine him again for up to 23 hours, or to feed him only 2-3 times daily when he is made for continual grazing, this hungry horse with cabin fever may not be so focused, cooperative or trusting. But the real start here is to be non-demanding to your horse. We cannot force someone to have confidence in us. We cannot force someone to play with us. Just spend time with your horse, groom him, talk to him, sing, walk together, and laugh.
One of the first exercises suggested by NHE is to try to get the horse to pick up a ball and bring it to us. Even this simple task takes time. It is not a trick – the real task here is simply for us to find a way to get the horse to understand what it is we are asking, which can become very frustrating or discouraging for many. If you had a child in front of you that did not speak your language, but you wanted to befriend and show him something, how would you do it?
This cannot be forced, bribed, tricked, or coerced in any known «training» manner. The difficult part for us is to explain to the horse what we want. It is also an important aspect to develop because we will then be working with the horse»s mind, communicating, and not evoking a physical or learned reaction. The horse will know quickly enough, even though he may not participate at first. It is not a trick to have the horse bring the ball to you. The important part of this is to have the horse willingly partake in your request to freely interact. We can see that the horse almost immediately understands, but, in some cases, will not do it. That is the start of the relationship building – a change in the usual way we relate to the horse. If the horse decides to walk away, you must let him walk away. «If I give my horse all this freedom of choice, how will we ever get anything done?» It»s only when the horse decides that he trusts you and believes in you. A big part of this depends on our own attitude.
It can take 6 weeks, it can take 6 months. If people do not believe in this and have no patience, then what they want is a slave. This method would not be for them. They can spend the next 6 years fighting with their horse, searching from one method to the next. This would mean that the horse has a great character and they cannot see what they have right in front of them, or, they will have a resigned zombie. Some horses will give more as you push more. Get that extra speed, make that sharper turn, and there will come a day when the horse can no longer walk without pain.
This is not to say that other people do not have good relationships with their horses without doing this. Many have achieved this type of relationship on their own through observation, or putting their own desires aside and respecting the horse, truly loving their horse, or maybe developed such a relationship even by accident, without knowing exactly how they did it. But, in NHE, there is no force, no pain, and the horse must be absolutely sure that he will never be hit. There are lots of play and stretching exercises for the horse, all preparatory groundwork, but not mindless lungeing.
Most people who are interested in NHE have done a long road with horses, and have varied experience. Yet, I have seen teenage girls master this with their first horse.
The horse heals, becomes trusting, understands what we ask, develops physically and mentally, and when the horse begins to collect naturally, he can then easily accept a rider and already knows what to do, with willingness and confidence.
If for nothing else, many are interested in getting the horse to collect. We do not get the horse to collect. The collection comes on its own. There are exercises to help the various muscle developments and it is like an athlete in training. There should be no rush for this. It will come when the horse is ready. It should be pointed out that a horse that was forced into collection for years through bridle and bit or tie downs, may not collect at liberty. The horse will not go into a frame that previously caused pain and/or was brought on by pain. Collection, as a goal in itself, will not be successful for those who ignore all other aspects of the relationship. It will fall apart because the horse will no longer have the willingness and trust because of renewed induced force and pain of standard ways. All that work would be for nothing.
This is a lot to absorb for someone starting out. It takes time, and with each little step, there is a new awareness that leads to the next step. Everything falls into place quite easily for those willing to learn and who have the best interest of the horse at heart.
We offer the forum for those who want to see if this is really right for them, and for those who want to continue, there is an online school. These are free. We can offer guidance and clarification on the various subjects and lessons and the other members can also offer support and insight through their own experience. The International Forum (in English) is one year young and we are growing to help find the best ways to teach this through a virtual medium. There is no place or trainer to send your horse to. This is a personal journey between ourselves and our horses. We can bring back to life those first impressions of the beauty of the horse.
Not everyone who learns from us is interested in doing Haute Ecole. But they do benefit from the new way of living with the horse. In many cases, they end up with a «new» horse. Alert, vibrant, energetic, willing and cooperative… and educated!
About the author:
Michael Bevilacqua owns and manages a horse schooling facility in Quebec, Canada. He offers informative seminars and private clinics on horse behaviour and Nevzorov Haute Ecole Principles.
“No such thing as a bad horse”