Working with horses at liberty, the focus is on many aspects. Liberty work teaches a horse to govern his performance himself, and really commit to the dance you would like him to participate in. The trainer learns how to control the horse’s behavior without having to actively control the horse. Liberty Training brings out different behaviors and engages the horse’s intelligence in different ways than traditional training with tack. It enhances a horse’s ability to learn new things far more than we previously thought possible. Once the horse has been exposed to training at liberty, tack becomes a supportive aid rather than a governing aid. After he has been developed at liberty, tack helps to communicate with the horse rather than control or govern him.
My life has been working with horses at liberty, and horses continue to surprise me in how quickly they learn without tack. The most notable lesson that a horse learns more quickly at liberty is to halt when asked. Halt is where my focus is these days because I am working with Lila and her horse Sebastian to prepare him for bridle-less riding.
It takes some preparation for equestrians to learn how to approach a horse at liberty. The most valuable tool to understand while training at Liberty is where you put your focus, because the wrong focus with the right approach will cause failure in training new lessons like halt. Even though we have halt with companion walking, a horse needs to be schooled again on other places where you would ask for halt. An example: let’s say you are training your horse to halt on request while you are free lunging him around you and, when you asked for the halt, the horse continued on. I would ask my horse to keep going but I would be careful that the horse did not see my driving aids as punitive. Then I would try again to get a stop at the specific point I needed the halt to occur in a very casual way. If I were to make the horse move on as a consequence of him not listening to me, and have to work around me until he stopped -- that would be using the same attitude you would use with tack. It would cause a horse to shut down and lose his thoughtfulness to want to listen and volunteer his performance. But if I ask the horse to keep going without the punitive push, the horse will most likely stop the next time around like magic. If he does not stop on his own right away, then in just a few trips around, the horse will figure out the target point himself without the consequence of pressure brought into the mix. At liberty, you need to trust and allow, and also keep the energy light and moving.
When you work with a horse in this manner, you discover what I call the New Horse. A horse that we have seen movies about and read books about, but one that will never appear when we make a horse perform under duress or consequence.
I believe that our biggest goal is to develop the ability to discern the timing at when our horses are about to offer performance and then ask them specifically at that moment to perform. We need to accept what we get, knowing that our horses will advance and learn without having to push them into performing the task. Approaching our horse and his performance in this way will allow him to develop magically. From a pause and reconnection, you will find it unnecessary to push him around, subjecting him to unpleasant consequences if he does not perform.
If you like, I would love you to give a story where your horse learned a new behavior at liberty with my method that was surprising and appeared out of the blue, or where your horse showed amazing intelligence and cooperation, or responded to you in a magical way. Please, if you are in the Insiders Circle, remember, your homework is to answer the last post. It will help me to develop the programs for you that are coming up.
Have a great weekend and keep a look out for New Horse sightings.