Mastery Monday: Tom Dorrance - The Trailblazer of Natural Horsemanship

Welcome to this week's Mastery Monday, where we delve into the lives and legacies of remarkable individuals who have left an indelible mark on the world of horsemanship. Today, we turn our attention to a true pioneer, Tom Dorrance, often hailed as the "father of natural horsemanship." His revolutionary approach to understanding and communicating with horses has transformed the way we relate to these magnificent creatures.

Early Life and Beginnings:

Born in 1910 in Salinas, California, Tom Dorrance grew up with a deep love for horses. He was raised in an era when traditional methods of horse training often involved force and dominance. However, Dorrance was determined to forge a different path, one that respected the horse's natural instincts and behaviors.

Tom Dorrance's journey into natural horsemanship began early in his life. He had an innate fascination with horses, and he spent countless hours observing and interacting with them on his family's ranch. This hands-on experience provided him with a unique insight into the equine world, and he soon realized that there was a better way to communicate with these magnificent creatures.

The Essence of Natural Horsemanship:

Tom Dorrance's key insight was simple yet profound: to truly connect with a horse, one must understand the world from the horse's perspective. He believed that horses were not stubborn or difficult; instead, they were intelligent beings capable of cooperation when approached with empathy and understanding.

At the heart of Dorrance's philosophy was the concept of "feel." He emphasized the importance of developing an intuitive connection with a horse, allowing the trainer to respond to the horse's thoughts and movements in real-time. This deep sense of feel enabled a trainer to communicate with the horse in a way that felt almost telepathic.

Dorrance understood that horses communicated primarily through body language, subtle cues, and energy. He believed that by tuning into these signals and responding in kind, a trainer could build a profound level of trust and partnership with the horse. It was a departure from the traditional methods of coercion and dominance that had been prevalent in horse training for centuries.

Gentle, Progressive Training:

One of the cornerstones of Tom Dorrance's natural horsemanship approach was the commitment to gentle, progressive training methods. He believed in giving the horse time to understand and respond to cues rather than resorting to force or harsh discipline. This approach not only built trust between horse and rider but also produced willing and responsive equine partners.

Dorrance was a patient teacher. He understood that every horse was unique, and each had its own set of experiences and sensitivities. Rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all training regimen, he tailored his approach to meet the specific needs of each horse. He emphasized that training should be a dialogue, not a monologue, where both horse and human were active participants in the learning process.

Through this gentle and empathetic approach, Tom Dorrance could transform even the most troubled and challenging horses into willing companions. He demonstrated that horses, when given the opportunity to express themselves and be understood, were more than willing to cooperate and thrive.

Influence and Legacy:

Tom Dorrance's teachings spread through word of mouth and workshops, gradually gaining recognition and respect among horse enthusiasts. His students, such as Ray Hunt and Buck Brannaman, went on to become influential figures in natural horsemanship, further disseminating his wisdom.

Dorrance's impact reached far beyond the training arena. His philosophy of natural horsemanship had a profound influence on how we perceive and interact with horses, not only as tools but as sentient beings deserving of respect and partnership.

Ray Hunt, one of Dorrance's most notable students, often said that Dorrance "made him understand that a horse's not a horse. He's an individual." This profound shift in perspective resonated with countless horse trainers and riders, leading to a seismic shift in the way horses were trained and cared for.

Buck Brannaman, another student of Dorrance, took these principles to heart and became a prominent figure in natural horsemanship. His work and teaching have touched the lives of countless individuals and their equine partners, emphasizing the importance of empathy and feel in creating a harmonious partnership.

Dorrance's philosophy also had a significant impact on the world of rodeo and Western horsemanship. His teachings influenced the training of rodeo horses, making them more willing and responsive partners for their riders. This transformation not only improved the welfare of the animals but also enhanced the safety of rodeo participants.


In the world of horsemanship, Tom Dorrance's legacy endures as a guiding light for those who seek a deeper connection with these magnificent animals. His emphasis on empathy, understanding, and feel continues to inspire horse trainers and riders worldwide.

As we reflect on the life and teachings of Tom Dorrance this Mastery Monday, let us remember the profound lesson he imparted: to be a master of horsemanship, one must first be a master of understanding and compassion. Through the legacy of Tom Dorrance, we are reminded that the true essence of horsemanship lies in the heart, where the bond between horse and rider is forged with patience, respect, and an unwavering commitment to partnership.

In a world that sometimes seeks shortcuts and quick fixes, Dorrance's approach serves as a timeless reminder that true mastery comes from a deep connection with one's subject, a willingness to listen, and an unyielding dedication to the well-being of our equine companions. Tom Dorrance's legacy reminds us that the horse-human relationship can be one of mutual respect, trust, and shared understanding, and it is a legacy that will continue to shape the future of horsemanship for generations to come.

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