In my introduction to liberty workshops I usually play with horses that I’ve never met with no tack. I have no clue how these horses will respond or how our session will evolve. The horses also have no idea of what I will expect of them. For some of the horses in my workshops this is initially nerve wracking. I tend to be a little nervous on the way to these workshops too, but liberty is all about staying present and going with the flow so it really doesn’t matter what happens.
My last workshop took place on the gorgeous island of Gabriola. I worked with two geldings who processed their stress in different ways. They both provided an excellent example for my human students watching. The boys demonstrated how horses release their anxiety as they grow in confidence and start feeling safe. I decided to share that with you too!
Shilo released stress in the most obvious and profound way. He yawned at least eight times in a row, his jaw gaping as wide as possible with his eyes squeezing tight. You can see him in the pictures in this blog. He looks like he has a flip top head!
Whenever I meditate, as the stress of my day drains out of my body, I yawn. I yawn over and over with no control over it. So I understood this gelding and his need to pause and process. It was important that I respected his process and allowed him his time to heal. It was probably the most vital moment in our liberty session.
You will also notice horses letting go of stress with sighing or head shaking. This little gelding worked on releasing his neck muscles by quickly shaking his head side to side, like a dog shaking after a bath.
The first horse, Donny, initially wanted to look outside the ring. I wasn’t asking anything of him, but he was worried and was pacing along the fence at first. He just wasn’t sure why he was left in the ring with me. As time went on he started coming around closer to me and I rewarded him for staying present for our session verbally, and by petting him and also giving him bits of apple. He expressed lots of interest in a large soccer ball so I praised him a lot for interacting with the ball too, so he could start growing his trust in me and discover we were there to play.
You don’t need to put big pressure on a horse. You can just stay present and ask for the tiniest little changes and a horse will respond and start to chill out. Donny demonstrated this with dropping his head. At other times he was licking and chewing. He also snorted and blew out his nostrils.
At one point mid way through the session I did tell Donny that he could run around. Some horses need to be on the move and express themselves to get out of their tension. I didn’t keep the forward pressure on Donny. I told him to go and then let him rip and snort around the ring. Once Donny was on the move, he livened right up, prancing with his tail and head high. He occasionally turned his head in towards me and then puffed up and seemed to grow a hand taller. The human participants laughed with joy to see his proud carriage.
This quick burst of energy brought Donny back to confidence and he then settled down to interact with me, lowering his head and sighing. He returned to practicing stillness and learning to walk with me.
Keep your eyes on your horses and look for the signs that they are decompressing and feeling good. You will know you are on the right track with your work when your horse moves deeper into comfort and relaxation through the activities.