Liberty, Part 1

There is nothing more amazing (in my opinion, at least) than watching a horse and human communicate without any physical connection between them. The person points, the horse goes. A slight movement, and the horse responds. It’s a dance.

Training a horse to work with you at liberty isn’t difficult. It’s mostly basic ground training. Even if you don’t take it all the way and actually take your horse off line and work truly at liberty with him, teaching your horse the basics of liberty will vastly improve how you communicate on the ground, and, as I’ve said before, groundwork translates directly into work in the saddle.

In this post I will describe the theory behind beginning to teach the basics of liberty, and in the next few, I’ll describe just how to go about it.

Horses communicate with each other via body language. It’s not something every human is great at, so there will be just about as much learning for you in this post as for your horse. Liberty isn’t just you telling your horse what to do with various previously-taught signals. Both of you are talking to each other, back and forth.

For example. You ask the horse to do something. He doesn’t do it. Now what? He’s telling you something. Maybe your use of his language wasn’t sufficient for him to understand. You’ll have to look at him and read the signs and adjust what you are asking accordingly. In the beginning stages especially, you’ll have to ‘translate’ a lot of what you’re saying.

The cue I use to ‘walk on’ in body language is shifting my weight forward and moving my right arm in the direction I wish to travel. This cues the horse to get ready, we’re going. Jamileh didn’t automatically know what that meant the first time I did it. So, I gave her the cue, then when she did nothing I gave her a cue for the same thing that she already knows; pressure on her halter rope. She stepped forward. What a good girl!

The same concept of translation works in the saddle too. I was teaching Jamileh how to neck rein, so I started with the cue I wanted her to learn (pulling the right rein over her neck to turn left). She didn’t know what to do with it and started fishing for an answer. After maybe three seconds, I gave her a clue, the translation, by using a direct rein to nose her in the right direction. After a few weeks of consistency, her neck reining is vastly improved, and I hardly ever have to ‘translate’ for her.

Try something like that. Practice translating. You’ll have to be good at it!

The Horsegentler

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