Some people associate liberty training purely with extravagant horse behaviour like rearing, galloping and bucking. This can sound impressive, but also intimidating to the average horse handler. It’s true that the more advanced horse and handler combinations do play with big, bouncy movements. However, that is only one small facet of liberty training and it’s not necessary for you if it makes you uncomfortable.
Rambunctious play does not have to be part of your sessions at all. If you decide you do want to play with big movement, it can be on your terms. Another common misconception about liberty training is that the horse is completely without discipline or direction. This is far from the truth! I wouldn’t enter into a relationship with a 900 lb animal without a solid basis for safety and respect. I would also never ask my students to do so.
I’ve trained horses for years with different methods and I’ve found liberty is the safest method yet.
Why is that?
- I can train from a distance, well out of range of the horse
- I’m not attached to the horse by a line. (If you have a horse at the end of a rope, she has you at the end of her rope too.)
- My horse only enters into an interaction with me by choice so he is cooperative and isn’t attempting to resist or escape
- I’m focusing on the communication and the relationship so there are less misunderstandings which could lead to an accident
- A primary goal is to teach my horse to stay out of my space, move away on cue and only approach in a way I’m comfortable with
- The foundations are very low key. I spend most of my time sitting around journaling. Kinda hard to get hurt in a lawn chair as long as I’ve taught my horse where my boundary lies.
- I have an old back injury and one of the popular ways to re-injure myself was when a horse tugged on my line. I’ve eliminated that line.
- By the time I do introduce tack, my horse is already keen to be with me and understands the safety rules.
I recommend you train with a helmet. I also like to carry a whip. This whip is not for wacking my horse, but it is for giving cues and defending my body bubble. I can wave it around, make noise with it and be irritating so that a horse won’t break into my space. You can watch my videos for ideas on how to use a whip effectively and humanely to teach your horse to leave the area and also to protect your own space.
What’s a safe horse for liberty training?
You can teach liberty to a horse of any age or breed. Liberty can help you and your horse regardless of the discipline you plan to ride or whether you want to compete or never step foot in the show ring. If your horse has an unsoundness that prevents him from carrying weight on his back, but not from moving around then you can still teach liberty safely to him. Some exercises do not involve movement and you can engage in these with an unsound horse or a horse that is in the healing process. It will be good for your horse’s mind and relationships with you even if he isn’t sound enough to try physical activities.
You will want to train with a horse that you can teach to move out of your space and that you can keep at a certain distance away from you.
Most horses are appropriate for liberty training, but there are a few to avoid.
Please do not attempt liberty training with horses that will:
- Charge you
- Chase you out of their territory
- Fight you over food
- Deliberately sideswipe and kick you
- Deliberately pursue and bite you
Leave the particularly naughty horses to the professional trainers.