Like any horse and rider partnership at the top of their game, great liberty trainers look totally “at one” with their horses, and it can be incredibly inspiring! For me, liberty work on the ground forms part of the bigger picture; I actually rarely develop it past the basics, but there a number of reasons why everyone should think about doing a little liberty training with their horse.
- Catching. How great would it be to never have to worry about catching your horse again?
- Leading. Forget about your horse barging past you on the ground, or dragging his feet behind you!
- Lunging. Have better control of your horse’s movements on the lunge.
- Loading. Just point your horse at an open trailer and he’ll go straight up without you!
- Standing still. Whether you’re on the yard or at an event, trying to tack up or mount, liberty training can teach your horse to stand rock still in all environments.
- Showing off to your friends… No one can deny that liberty is great for those Instagram moments!
Although the end result can portray an unshakeable bond between human and horse, like any discipline, it takes hours of patient training and step by step progress. However, if you have a plan and are prepared to put the work in, the rewards can be significant. During the Covid-19 lockdown in April and May 2020, I did a series of live-streamed demonstrations with Zulu, a 5yo gelding, who had become a little dominant on the ground with his owner. The sessions covered some basic liberty lessons, all of which will help you develop trust and respect in your horse. Once you have these established, you can teach your horse all sorts of “tricks”, such as coming to you on a whistle, which is particularly useful!
- Catching Exercise
- The Draw
- Stopping on the Circle
- Stopping on a Mark
- Following in open space
- Lunging at liberty
- Practical use; trailer loading at liberty
These are all available for Your Horsemanship members and relate to video lessons already within the Foundation Groundwork Course. Although much of the work is done in a round pen, I also show how you can gain the same results in a larger area with a halter and 12’ rope.
As with all things new, you and your horse are bound to make mistakes, so here are the main things to think about and try to avoid…
- Too much focus on getting your horse to follow you. Successful liberty training means you can start and stop your horse following you on your cue, not when the horse feels like it!
- Poor Timing. If you are too slow to reward “try’s” from your horse, they won’t learn the connection between cue and outcome.
- Inputting too much or too little energy. You need to be aware of your horse’s focus and energy levels and react and move accordingly.
- Jerky movements can cause confusion and nervousness; you need to keep your movements smooth be calm, consistent and decisive so your horse can differentiate between your cues.
- Little and often. I have found that horses can get frustrated if they do much liberty work in one session, or if you revisit it too much. To avoid turning into a nag, keep it as part of your weekly routine as an alternative or a warm up to a ridden session.
Your Horsemanship Members can access the livestreamed “lockdown” demos with Zulu via the “Live Demonstrations and Q&A’s” thread in the Chat Forum here (or search liberty). If you aren’t a member yet and you’d like to find out all the benefits of Your Horsemanship Online, and the three membership options on offer, please head to www.yourhorsemanship.com/online.