Carolyn Resnick Horsemanship: Liberty Horse Training

The Foundation for All Equestrian Pursuits Through the Horse-Human Connection.

Several people learning my method have horses that have not yet been trained to accept the halter, and they have asked for my guidance. Of course, there are lots of halter breaking methods. They call it halter “breaking” because you must be very careful with the horse or foal, as you can easily run into resistance you cannot handle from the sheer strength of the horse fighting to get away. You need to stay away from the resistance and train the horse to never use resistance in response to a direct request from a pull of the lead rope.

I find it very interesting that we see very few DVDs on the subject of halter training a wild horse. It takes great skill, and trainers who are not at all intimidated by getting in a fight with the horse or foal, or putting a horse though a process where he learns that, if he gets into a fight with the trainer, he will lose. This is why it is called halter breaking. Many trainers are not comfortable if the horse has not experienced this fight and lost to the trainer. Many feel that it is mandatory for a wild horse to learn that the trainer is stronger and will win any battle the horse might present. This way, the horse becomes failsafe, and will always respect the halter, which is a good thing; but this way of doing it is unnecessary and brutal. What I have seen is usually a precarious process and not at all necessary.

What the horse must learn from these methods is that, no matter what happens or where he wants to go, he must not do anything but listen to the halter. Any time you are working with resistance, you need a lot of horsemanship experience and skill, and knowledge of how to be persistent, direct, authoritarian, kind and timely.

It is very simple.

Usually, on breeding ranches, horses learn in gentler ways of how to lead, because they teach a foal around their daily routines. The mares and foals are usually kept in stalls at night, and led out to fields in the morning as a handler holds the baby gently and encourages the baby to go with the mother. This gets the baby feeling safe in the arms of a human being while wearing a halter. It is so natural. With very little training, really, the foal learns how to lead with no breaking of any sort. But, if it isn’t done in these early stages, the foal gains a sense of self and independence, and it must then experience a process that I have seen many people feel a foal needs to go through: learning that he has no choice in a time in the foal’s life that he is frightened and struggles.

Because of having to train many older foals and even adult horses to lead, I developed a method that does not require training by taking the power away from a horse, or intimidating him, or getting in a fight with him and buffaloing him into thinking that I am stronger. How I do this comes from having Companion Walking well set onto my horse. I lead him to where the treats are kept and do the routines he’s done at liberty, with a halter and lead rope, and I work always within his tolerance. In no time, it is the nature of a horse to naturally, for some strange reason, be willing to listen to the halter over his whims, wants and fears.

The failsafe button that you want to get on your horse so that he is considered halter trained, I get through leading the horse at liberty with no tack, then playing the Bucket Game and practicing the Uberstreichen Exercises.

I first get to the point where I can easily lead the horse with my hands on his nose, get him to turn around left and right easily on one spot, and halt as well. In the halt, I must be able to pull his head down from light pressure. What I’m looking to do is to remove the instincts of the horse to want to resist pressure from a pull. Once I have the horse completely polite around food and companion walking with me naturally, I then teach him to do the same things, this time feeling the rope and the pull on his head. All of this must take place with him giving to pressure without thinking. It then becomes natural and the horse won’t know how to be resistant.

Next, the Bucket Game gets the horse comfortable with allowing you to handle his head without force because he is happy eating out of the bucket. The object, while holding the bucket, is to teach him that he must listen to you when you ask him to leave the bucket, stop eating, and wait for permission to come back and eat out of it again. The process needs to be given in a way that would cause the horse to feel more bonded to you.

While the horse is eating out of the bucket and will allow you to massage his head, you can then easily put on a halter. From there, you go on to using the halter to take his head out of the bucket and to bring his head into the bucket but this time with a gentle pull of the rope.

After that, you can begin with the Uberstreichen Exercises and Leading from Behind with a halter and lead rope. The horse is failsafe when he no longer refuses to give in to a pull.

Carolyn

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15 Responses to “Halter Training for the Older Foal and the Adult Horse”

  1. 15
    Angela Frey says:

    Lovely post, My foal was born three days ago on Saturday 2nd October 2010. He is my first experience of raising my own foal and I really want to do it right…My mare Shasta is a fantastic Mum and I was wondering what pointers people have for working with a young horse from the begining up? I have already gently rubbed him all over his body and Share Territory with them both as often as possible. Where shouls I go from here? I loved the post where the lady used the scratching as a reward. Any advice would be welcome…

  2. 14
    Stuart says:

    Thank you once again…. I’m just getting into halter training with our two little bull-calf Bactrian camels…. fun!
    Stuart

  3. 13
    stina says:

    checking in, i am experiencing some unique energy in my herd of horses and hope to share a video soon.

    thank you for all the blogs, i have been out for a while, but catching up now

    so i was thinking blog where you write about the abstract dance.

    i almost find it hard to believe what an energy the water hole rituals have released in my horses, they are empowered and energetic, they speak, play and tease,
    you can see and sense the energy in the “Life is a Feeling video clip” and now coming a new one “the herds wild abstract dance” where we play go trot and come back and leading from behind and sharing territory.

    yes all, just be creative, go with the flow, feel the rain, hear the sky, sense the nature, share territory

    i am happy that my videos can give inspiration,

    love stina

  4. 12
    Virginia (In the Box) says:

    Thank you Carolyn,
    This description and Hannah’s comment helps me visualize the tying the horse up for a while, while I keep it company being nearby. I can see how I would do the Sharing Territory first to get the connection established, and how that would carry that over into the period when the horse is tied.

    Virginia

  5. 11
    Toni Farrell says:

    Carolyn,

    I loved your comment:

    Any time you are working with resistance, you need a lot of horsemanship experience and skill, and knowledge of how to be persistent, direct, authoritarian, kind and timely.

    This is such a good description of “feel”. A good sense of feel is especially important when a horse becomes fearful or resistant for any reason.

    I have been working with Lyle on the UE again, and he is very receptive. Most likely because his pasture mate had a bout of Laminitis, and is on dry lot. They get to see each other over the fence but no mutual grooming or playtime. Lyle is starved for attention. I go out to his pasture several times a day and play, groom, and relax with him.

    Loved your post,
    Toni

  6. 10

    Very nice topic Carolyn and great story Laura (Candle) :-)!

    A few years ago we had three (Icelandic) foals, one of which – Saela, a very sweet little mare – got very ill when she was only a few months old. She had to spend a few weeks in the clinic with her mom. She wasn’t halter trained by that time but still had to have daily medicine and shots. You can imagine the effect on her… When she was back home again and cured, she didn’t want to be approached or touched anymore and the halter had become a big monster in her eyes.
    We took a lot of time getting her used to the halter again, by taking very small steps in the process. She didn’t know buckets by then or food other than the pasture grass, so we couldn’t use that (tried to, but she didn’t understand and was afraid of it). So I found this little spot on her chest, where she LOVED to be scratched! I used this as a ‘treat’ each time she responded in a relaxed way to the halter and rope. For instance: sniffing the halter –> SCRATCH, touching her with it (which took a long time) –> SCRATCH. Eventually I could touch her with the halter and rope all over her body and from there I went to holding the halter open in front of her, asking to stick her nose in for just an inch. She became happy to see me coming with the halter because that meant: DELICIOUS SCRATCHES :-)!
    This way I was able to dissolve her traumatic experiences and get her used to wearing the halter and being led with it in a very relaxed way. The leading was done in an inviting way, rewarding the slightest try to respond in the right way.
    I’m happy to say that Saela never had problems with the halter again after that.

    Here’s a picture of one of Saela’s halter training sessions: http://www.mijnalbum.nl/GroteFoto-EONZCLKW.jpg . I walked backwards, inviting her to follow me.

  7. 9
    Brenda says:

    Carolyn, every time I come to this blog I learn something, or realise that I made a little mistake with my horse somehow. I really have the feeling that by reading this blog, I not only learn horsemanship tricks, but slowly get a deeper understanding in the interaction between horse and human. Thank you so much for that, it is really a of great value.

  8. 8
    Brenda says:

    Great post and it answers many questions I had, even though I don’t need to halter break my horse. It left me with one question: when do you start with all this? When the foal is very young or is it better to wait until it has matured?

  9. 7
    Kathy Cavanah says:

    Hello Carolyn,

    It is very sad that many humans begin their relationships with horses as if it was a war. Many will never know that, “It is very simple.”

    Kathy

  10. 6

    @ Carolyn 5

    Thank you! That helps. :)

    By the way, your suggestion of mirroring the horse — turning away when he does, turning back when he does, etc. — has produced the most incredible change in Maia. As soon as I start doing that, she gets so connected. Today when I was doing it, she got so connected she just stayed right with me and gave me no opportunity to mirror. :) I then switched to more of a liberty dancing, directing her movements towards/away from me.

    I can’t wait to see how she continues to progress. I love seeing her every day; playing and being with her is like living a legend or a storybook. Thank you for your guidance of all of us in that journey.

    Hannah

  11. 5

    Dear Hannah,
    Partly if I do some Shairng Territoy at liberty before hand and get a connective feeling that cares over in the time the horse horse is tied.
    As you see how your horse because very well adjusted from the experiance It would be just as valuable. I do like my horses to enjoy not having to do anyting being around me at liberty so I am not going to give it up completly.

  12. 4

    You’re right, I think it is so interesting that a horse so naturally listens to the halter above his fears and wants. Just today Maia was spooked by a fire in a burn barrel and yet was remarkably willing to listen to the halter through her fears.

    By the way, I took your suggestion of tying her up for a period of time each day. Today was the first day and I had her tied to the fence for about 1/2 hr in the outdoor arena we play in. I just practiced my acting lines near her. She was very calm and relaxed and actually seemed to rather like it. It put her in such a “dreamy” state that she was very connected all the way back to the pasture and even when I let her go, she wanted to stay with me in that very calm state. Wonderful!

    Out of curiosity, do you “count” the time you spend hanging out with/watching your horse when he is tied Sharing Space?

    Blessings,
    Hannah

  13. 3
    Stephanie Morse says:

    Thanks Carolyn

    I’ve noticed in a few posts you reference various ‘games’, like the carrot game and the bucket game.

    Is it in your insider circle posts where you discuss these games? Because I faithfully read all your blogs but can’t remember seeing discussion of these games.

    By the way, I’ve mentioned my horse Monkey in a few posts and wanted to let you know that he’s been heading in the barn pretty much when I go out and say come on, time to eat. I think he’s starting to be less standoffish with me. And he’s allowing me to put the halter on most easily much of the time, almost putting his head in it by himself !!!

  14. 2
    Candle Hill says:

    Thank you, Carolyn, for this fuller discussion of teaching a young horse to respect a halter without a battle. Before reading it, I had an interesting experience with my foal today that leads me to believe it will be easy to make the transition from liberty to halter-and-leadline using your principles.

    I brought the mare and foal into the barn to be seen by my “healer” friend, an amazing woman who employs ortho-bionomy, essential oils (and, I suspect, magic) to cure lameness and body soreness. The mare was off in her left fore, probably from being body slammed once too often by her son or some other mishap in the pasture. As my friend worked on the mare in her stall with the door open, the colt hung out in the aisle, exploring empty stalls and playing with a rag, unhaltered and at liberty. When my friend was finished with the mare, she stroked the colt, who was standing at the moment near the open door, quiet and polite, totally unafraid and mildly curious. Her knowledgable fingers discovered that he was out in the poll, which she said was very common in foals. “It’s too bad you haven’t halter-broken him yet,” she said to me. “I’d like to fix that, but of course I can’t without being able to hold him still.”

    Well, I figured addressing it now was better for my kid than waiting, and I knew from prior experience with this particular manipulation that he would feel immediate relief. So I said, with more confidence that I felt,”Let’s do it now. I’ll hold him still.”

    I slipped his halter on. We’ve done that before, although I have not yet attached a line to it, just let him wear it for a while now and again. He has never objected and did not do so now. I left the halter on without any line, for my friend to grasp if necessary. She is gentle and knows how to apply the right kind of pressure and release. But she never needed to, he stood like a champion. I put one arm around his shoulder and rested the other on his butt, hugging him to me a bit and asking him to stand still. We’ve done that before, too, but only for a moment or two. He stood utterly relaxed and calm, as my friend put her hands on his poll and neck, made an adjustment to each side, then just held her hand still on top of his poll for nearly a minute. There was no resistence. As we both stepped away from the colt, he let out a big sigh, blew out through his nose and just stood there for a few minutes with a very interior, thinking-it-over expression.

    So maybe it doesn’t seem like much, but to me it was huge. It was the way he did it that was so astonishing. With mild interest and absolutely no shred of concern or fear, he patiently stood still and allowed a stranger touch him intimately for several minutes. At this point in his life, a few minutes are a really long time. What I saw in his demeanor reminded me of nothing so much as the face of Alfred E. Neuman, the iconic cover boy of Mad Magazine (What, me worry?), the face that did not have a care in the world except mischief. I have never before seen a three month old foal with such confidence. I am used to foals who stand still when I make it clear they must, but have never seen one do it with so little resistence, so much positive participation. He was totally present in a way that made me realize for the first time how other foals became absent when I made them hold still for somthing with my halter and rope.

    I am going to enjoy this so much.

  15. 1
    kate bremer says:

    great post. Thanks!