Hank and Carla

Would Your Horse Choose To Train With You if Given a Choice?

You love your horse and your training sessions.  Does your horse feel the same way?  Liberty sessions are an excellent way to keep your horse engaged and to determine if you’re horse is signing up for class.  The VIDEO in this blog demonstrates Hank, a retired Thoroughbred, doing just that.  He’s engaged in his classes and he can leave at any time because the ring isn’t fully enclosed.

I’m letting you peek into the window of Hank and Carla’s session so that you can see liberty in action.  Within this single lesson last Thursday, Aug 1 2013, there is a constant communication between Hank and Carla.  What keeps Hank enthused about his training?  Why does he rarely leave the ring and how does Carla keep him interested even though she’s gradually increasing the difficulty of Hank’s sessions over time?  Hank is even learning some lateral work.

How does Carla keep Hank’s interest?

Movement:  Hank loves to express himself through movement.  You can see this in the last half of his free lunge session.  Carla uses big body language, jumping up and spreading her arms wide, deliberately increasing the energy to inspire Hank to do the same.  He responds by jumping around and showing off his big bucks.  However, you will also notice him demonstrating his love of movement in more subtle ways by collecting himself, holding himself a little taller and trotting “on the bit” even though there’s no tack in other parts of the video.

Challenge:  Carla keeps the sessions just challenging enough for Hank, without over-facing him.  She could haul out jumps (Hank is reluctant to even cross a trotting pole) or ask Hank to do twenty circles around her free lunging, but those exercises would send him packing.  Carla asks Hank to do things that are in his comfort zone and then she ups the ante every now and again to challenge him a little.  The lateral work does just that.  He was coming in on the circle anyway and Carla just steps in and presses him for a few sideways steps.  Hank responds with a “Yah, I could do that.”  and gives her some very big lateral steps.

Energy: Carla balances the session by raising and lowering the energy.  The session is a balance of quiet and active time.  The split is tailored to Hank’s preferences so he is allowed rest and also experiences excitement.

Rewards:  Carla uses her voice and her hands to praise Hank.  There is also a food reward in the white bucket.  The bucket belongs to Carla.  She decides when Hank will receive a reward and he makes an effort to understand Carla and discover what earns him a treat.  There is no magic formula to receive the treats.  Randomly Carla will give out treats when she wants to share.

Leadership:  There is a constant discussion back and forth between Hank and Carla’s body language and actions.  The question on the table is always, “Who is the leader here?”  When Carla is grounded, confident, calm, and strong in her message then Hank has the answer.  He makes suggestions and Carla gives him a platform to do so.  For example:  Hank looks at the bucket.  This is his way to indicate he would like a treat.  Now Carla knows what Hank wants.  She takes this into consideration, but rather than going right away to grab Hank a treat (which is what she would do if he was leading the exchange), she asks him to walk over to her.   She’s made a request and Hank has a decision to make.  He’s given the time and space to choose. This choice empowers him.  By sticking to her path and her plan, Hank realizes that Carla is the decision maker.

Freedom:  Hank is never forced to do an exercise.  He can leave at any time.  If you’ve ever felt obligated to do something versus volunteered to do the same thing, you know the different feeling it gives you.  When Hank is given the option to say no, then he feels like he can also say, “Yes.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  Please comment below.


Heather Nelson



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