Sometimes people ask about the natural horsemanship approach thinking that it must be something soft and cuddly. Where the horse is trained, and ridden using only techniques that are pleasing to the untrained human eye.
There are horsemen past and present who have honed their ability to read horses in such a meaningful way as to be able to communicate with the horse, using its own language. David and Karen O'Connor, Udo Burger, Reiner Klimke, Pat Parelli, Bill Dorrance, GaWaNi Pony Boy, Mark Rashid, Rick Gore, Linda Parelli, Monty Roberts, Luis Lucio, Ingrid Klimke to name just and handful.
Not all of these would ascribe to the view they were 'natural horsemen' but they knew the needs of the individual horse and created a partnership between horse and human based amongst other things on trust, respect and leadership.
Pony Boy says that horses need clear unambiguous leadership. The horse hierarchy is based upon who leads and who follows. It is not possible to have a successful relationship with your horse if your horse thinks you are below it in the hierarchy. One of the challenges and tasks of the natural approach is to establish and maintain the status of leader of the individual horse. This must be done in a way the horse recognises and respects. With the Parelli approach we start by using a soft phase, directing the horse to do something, like move backwards, increasing the pressure in phases so the horse learns the pattern and cues. Eventually and quite quickly the horse becomes soft and responsive to the initial request phase.
We humans rarely or never exert the kind of force on a horse that horses use on each other. What humans have is mental ability and tools. Even so, this is arguably still not comparable to what happens when horses meet for the first time and start to sort out the pecking order in the herd.
Thankfully humans and horses usually engage in more gentle communication that the video clip below, showing what happened when Charlie horse met his new field mates in June 2013.
Here is an excellent example of the display horses will put on to impress and challenge others. The smaller light bay pony is trying to dominate Charlie and get him to submit. Charlie doesn't understand and, being naturally dominant himself, he refuses to give in. The battle between them goes on and on until the pony gets the response he wants from Charlie; submission.