There are certain tools of the trade that are essential for the natural horseman. Probably the most popular tool is the rope halter. It is irrefutably the most essential piece of equipment that you’ll need once you decide to become “natural”. I’m not going to go into a whole lot of detail about halters right now. Just choose a nice soft halter like the 1/4″ Double Braid Polyester Yacht Horse Rope Halter (Blue w/ White and Red Tracer, Yearling) and soft lead rope that is 12-15 feet long 12 or 14ft Premium 9/16″ Double Braid Polyester Yacht Rope Horse Lead Rope with Eye Spliced Loop (Blue, 12 ft.). Aside from halters, there are several other tools that can aid you in your natural horsemanship endeavors. But which ones do you need?!
It seems these days that every well known natural horsemanship trainer has their own line of essential training tools. Which tools do I really need? Who’s products are the best? You could spend a small fortune trying them all out!
Let’s review some of the training tools that you’ll find in your favorite catalogs.
If you are a Parelli fan then you will be familiar with Carrot Sticks and Savvy Strings. The Parelli store says, “Our light-weight Carrot Stick with non-flex design has an attachment for a 6’ Savvy String and acts as an extension of your arm both in the saddle and on the ground, providing you with a longer reach for closer communication.” A set up like the one shown here will cost you $61.27 (or $45.95 if you are a member).
Buck Brannaman has the Horsemanship Flag. The store that sells them says, “Horsemanship Flags have been used for years by top horsemen such as Tom Dorrance, Buck Brannaman and Ray Hunt. It is highly durable, weather resistant and is incredibly lightweight and well balanced. At 44”, the shaft is long enough to expose your horse to the movement and feel of the flag from a safe distance.” One of these will cost you $49.95.
Stacy Westfall has a Stick and String that is very similar to a Carrot Stick for $34.95. There are also several generic varieties of sticks out there like the Abetta Carrot Stick Training Whip available on Amazon for a mere $15.99. It comes in nine different colors including pink and lime green. Natural Horse Supply is a fun place to shop because they have all sorts of training tools specific to natural horseman all in one spot.
So which one is the best? This is the part where I’m supposed to get all opinionated (that’s the whole point of blogging, right?) So here it is, are you ready….. I like none of them. And that’s because I own none of them. I’m sorry, but I’m not shelling out $50 for a silly stick. Come one, that’s like two weeks worth of hay! I’m a total DIY chick (aka cheapskate). A string on the end of a stick doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I find that I get what I need to done with just a loose piece of rope. I tie my own rope halters so I always have extra rope around. A flag on a stick however, is extremely useful to me. I’m a walk softly, carry a big stick kind of a person (soft-spoken) and flags keep me in one piece. When you wave that sucker you’re saying, “HELLO! I’M STANDING HERE! DON’T RUN ME OVER PLEASE!” DIY flags can be made out of plastic bags or bandannas, it all depends on the horse. A plastic bag will send some horses over the fence, but a bandanna may may not be enough to keep you from getting run over by others. Use your best judgement. As far as the stick to attach it to, be creative. You could use, literally, a stick. Or I’ve seen buggy whips used (they’re a little flimsy in my opinion) and even ski poles. Don’t forget that you can use the stick by itself as well for a handy tool on the ground or in the saddle.
This is a tool that I use all the time. I could write a whole article just about using one of these. Bottom line, if you don’t have one get one. The longer and softer the better.
Stacy Westfall sells these in three different sizes. Prices range from $25-$50. You can also buy nifty covers for them. Parelli has a large green model for $49.95 I would love to try one, they seem like a lot of fun. It doesn’t seem like a good idea right now though since my arena is not fenced, and is situated on a hilltop.
Cones are popular with all types of horseman, not just those of the natural inclination. There are many styles, sizes and colors out there so what you choose is a matter of personal preference. They are a wonderful visual aid and a tremendous help for patterns or riding straight lines. You can go DIY here too. I once used the new plastic Folgers coffee cans filled with rocks.
You will hear natural horsemanship trainers say to use hackamores, mecates, or to just ride in your rope halter. My advice on this is, YES. Yes, do all three or choose whichever one your horse likes the best. They are all great tools.
Please know that when I say hackamore I’m referring to the bosal variety and NOT mechanical ones. A mecate is a long rope that gives you reins and a lead rope. You can attach it to your bosal, or you can use slobber leathers to attach it to a snaffle bit. Choose your snaffle wisely.
You can modify your rope halter to make it easier to ride in. I always add nose bands to my halters, I just like them better like that. I’ve also seen “loping reins” for rope halters, which is basically just two lead ropes giving you split reins.