|This Horseman is a Natural|
A number of years ago, Jim Swanner, horseman, teacher, instructor, communicator, keynote speaker, clinician, writer and host of "All About Horses" radio, was introduced to natural horsemanship and it has had a tremendous impact on his relationship with horses and his life.
"Natural horsemanship is teaching the horse based on his nature and understanding the horse, understanding that species," Swanner said.
At a young age on the family farm, he had a way with equines – riding horses bareback with only a string around their necks.
He spent 20 years in the corporate world where he was not heavily involved with horses, but had a deep appreciation for the Western lifestyle.
After being exposed to natural horsemanship, Swanner had an epiphany about listening to the horse.
When that important concept of communication clicked with him, he began making everything about the horse.
"It has nothing to do with me – nothing to do with what I can do, but has everything to do with the love I have for these animals and the love I have for the people who love them. That’s where it is for me," Swanner said of his passion for natural horsemanship and teaching the practice.
Swanner gives natural horsemanship and riding lessons, and boards horses at his facility, K-I-N (Keeping It Natural) Stables, in Athens, just south of Tanner, which is located on the farm he grew up on.
Safety is a top priority in his barn, and he makes sure students have a firm grasp on handling and being around horses.
In riding lessons tailored to the level of the rider, he gives instruction on the horse’s nature as well as their predator-versus-prey thought patterns, an understanding of how to communicate with the horse along with appropriate methods to do so, and ways to care for and train horses.
He also instructs students on natural horsemanship lessons helping them to develop strong partnerships with their horse and to have a full appreciation for them through an understanding of their nature. These lessons take a lot of time, commitment and study.
He conveys not only proper methods and techniques, but important equine communication tools like posture and energy.
Swanner engages in a constant study of natural horsemanship and various clinicians who practice it.
He owns an extensive library in his tack room with literature on horsemanship, which he encourages his students to gain knowledge from.
Describing how scientific studies have been done to determine the amount of stress natural horsemanship versus conventional training and methods of horsemanship have on a horse, with the use of a heart monitor, he explained how conventional training causes more stress.
He emphasizes the importance of leadership while working with a horse.
"I have to be in tune with everything the horse is in tune with to know how to deal with any situation because the horse is looking to me as a leader, not a boss," he said.
He said a misconception of natural horsemanship is that the practice coddles the horses.
In a blog entry on his website, Jim conveys the importance of being assertive, but not aggressive; hence having the confidence and ability to be the horse’s leader while earning its respect.
Natural horsemanship is an art taking a lot of time, preparation and practice.
Swanner hasn’t put a bit in a horse’s mouth in eight years.
"It’s all about softness," he said. "Softness comes from inside."
With the quote, "Science is nature explained," he illuminates the significance of being able to read a horse.
"You have to understand the sensitivity of horses. You have to understand what makes them tick. You have to understand their nature," he said.
Constantly, he reminds his students to be aware of causes of their horse’s behavior.
"You have to be in tune with everything going on around you, every movement, every sound," he instructs his students.
He said it is necessary to teach the horse every concept on the ground. When applied properly, pressure is an effective way of communication with a horse.
"Once you teach the concept of going off pressure, you can move them from anywhere," he said. "You touch that horse, it’s going to move off that pressure, even backwards by the tail. If done right, it’s a cool thing to watch a horse communicate."
Some still treat the horse as a tool even though it is not.
"It’s for them to enjoy us and us to enjoy them," he added.
He conveyed how natural horsemanship transcends all riding disciplines.
"Natural horsemanship is basically being understanding. It is the foundation for any discipline regardless of what it is because, once you have that nature of understanding, the horse has the nature of understanding you and you have that partnership," he stated.
Swanner uses natural horsemanship to teach a horse how to pull a buggy.
"When I hook up a buggy for a horse to pull, it’s like he’s already pulled it for three months because of all of the preparation to get there," he said. "I even have him pulling a harrow to groom my arena before I hook him up to a $3,000 buggy."
A firm believer in the Ray Hunt quote, "Prepare to a position to make a transition," he adheres to such words of wisdom and shares them.
Jim also teaches a class at Athens State University called "Understanding More About Horses." The class provides intriguing, useful information while delving into matters of the psyche.
"It’s understanding us, understanding our DNA so to speak," he said. "A lot of us don’t know about us. We don’t know who we are. It’s about the psychology of the prey/predator."
In his fascinating class, he shows a video clip of a lion attacking a zebra and a clip of a prison rodeo wild horse race, both illustrating the nature of the predator.
"You see the actions of those guys (in the wild horse race) are not any different than the lion. It’s in our being. It’s in our DNA to act like a lion, to act like a predator, because we are," he said.
He continued that it’s necessary to be real and rid oneself of the façade.
On an 18-day mission trip, Jim taught natural horsemanship at a kids’ camp at Morning Star Ranch in Lajosmizse, Hungary, an hour south of Budapest.
While there, he demonstrated natural horsemanship techniques with a horse that had never been ridden and showed what to do to be able to get on the horse.
He also spoke to a large group of people who came to the ranch at different times.
On one occasion, Dr. Walter Hecker, chairman of the Hungarian Arabian Horse Association, spoke at the ranch during lunch.
After lunch, Swanner did a demonstration for Hector and his wife and others.
Hector presented Swanner with a book he authored about the history of the Hungarian Horsemen.
Ellen Ovson of Madison, an accomplished equestrian who has trained, broken and introduced horses to their first ride all of her life and who receives natural horsemanship lessons from Swanner, is amazed at how they has impacted her and her Appaloosa filly.
"It’s miraculous what you can do with natural horsemanship," she said. "It’s absolutely miraculous. This filly knew absolutely nothing. She didn’t know how to load on a trailer. She didn’t know how to do anything. Jim got her on a trailer within 30 minutes with no force."
Her horse responds to hand signals and crawls up on a wooden platform with ease.
"My filly will jump on the end of a 22-foot line and it’s natural motion – nothing in her mouth. I’ll be able to ride her without a bit, even bareback," she said.
She explained how working on useful ground techniques translates to being in the saddle.
"For instance, if you want a horse to side pass, you put your outside leg back and they’ve already learned what to do from what’s called the porcupine game on the ground," she said.
She explained how a horse will naturally collect.
While learning the art of natural horsemanship, she has unlearned bad habits and become more relaxed when handling her horse.
She said a rider is safer if they form a relationship with the horse where it doesn’t feel threatened.
Swanner is also a writer for the "Valley Star" and "Tennessee Valley Agriculture," and hosts the radio show "All About Horses" on WKAC 1080 which can be heard at 9:30 a.m. on Mondays. It is also streamed online at www.wkac1080.com.
He also blogs about horse topics on his website and hosts clinics.
To find out more about Swanner’s riding lessons, boarding services and clinics, check out http://jimswanner.com/.
Swanner radiates with pure enthusiasm for the art of natural horsemanship.
"When I can have communication with my horse, when it understands me, when it loves me, when it runs to me in the pasture, when it comes up and stops, and when we can run together and stop and back up and we’re in sync and in unison and in harmony, it doesn’t get any better than that," he exclaimed. "When you can ride bridleless and do all this stuff that is off-body, it doesn’t get any better than that."
Jade Currid is a freelance writer from Auburn.