Throughout the ages, many philosophies about training horses have come and gone, some of them good, some of them bad. In the days when people relied on horses for transportation, horses needed to be backed and broken quickly, often using barbaric methods, to supply the demand. While some people took great pride in their horses, others viewed them only as a means to get from point A to point B and took marginal care of them, similar to the way many people today treat their cars.
Today, we are in the midst of an unfolding revolution in horsemanship. At least in the United States, where owning a horse isn't out of reach for the middle class, many people no longer view horses as merely beasts of burden. Instead, horses have gained ground as companion animals, treasured and revered alongside our dogs and cats. Of course, horses are still exploited for many uses, racing for example. But more of them enjoy pampered lifestyles while they're working well and in the money.
The so-called natural horsemanship approach appeals to dedicated horse lovers who are truly interested in understanding their horses better and moving to higher levels of communication. The philosophy has increased awareness about good versus bad training methods and the use of humane, psychological methods versus forcing the horse into submission.
Of course, the knowledge that gentling the horse works better than brute force has existed for centuries in Europe among practitioners of classical horsemanship. Classical means old, but this style of horsemanship has become synonymous with modern-day dressage.
Dressage training takes years, even decades, for horse and rider to master the higher-level movements, if they even reach the upper levels at all. But the end result is a beautiful ballet on horseback executed with precision and lightness.