What is liberty and why would I want to do it?
By Vanessa Bee
In the horse world, liberty is when a horse and handler work together with no lead rope.
It can look very impressive if done well, the horse responding to cues given by the handler and moving freely with him.
So how can we even get started at working a horse freely with no ropes attached?
The first thing we need to believe is that the lead rope on a horse is no more necessary than a lead rope on a well-trained and trusting dog.
Many people want to believe that their horse loves them and stays with them willingly but the real test is when they take off the leadrope.
Some horses will stay, others will wander away and some will leave at the gallop!
When horses leave us like this it is not an indication that he does not love us, he’s giving you feedback…be interested! He must never be punished for leaving.
What we need to ask ourselves is: Why did he leave?
Was it the way you looked, was it something calling him away or did you ask too much of him and he felt it was safer to leave? The horse isn’t doing wrong when he goes, he’s just expressing his desire to be somewhere else it’s up to us to be honest and ask ourselves why?
Perhaps he didn’t understand what you wanted, so you will need to rephrase the question.
Maybe something else was more interesting, grass or another horse, so you will need to find out what makes you more interesting. (Ask a fly they are experts at getting a horse’s attention!)
He may be hungry or tired, perhaps afraid to stay with us…
Become a pleasant place for the horse to be! You might use treats or scratches or peace, each horse has his own preference it’s your job to find it!
Most horses have a headcollar and lead line put on very early in life and learn to ‘give to the pressure’ of that rope so learning to ‘lead’. But in liberty we want to get rid of the lead rope so we have to find another way of keeping the horse with us.
If you are used to keeping a leadrope on your horse and want to start that way, the following ideas should help.
You need to stop using the lead rope to give instructions and start giving visual and/or verbal cues to the horse telling him what you would like him to do and then letting him know he’s got it right.
You can let him know that he is getting the right answer by stroking, talking to him, giving him a treat or just relaxing and leaving him alone.
Once you think he understands some very simple requests you can start to experiment. Do not do this in a great big open pasture find a small fenced space about the size of a 50ft roundpen so that if the horse leaves he won’t disappear over the horizon. Unclip the rope from the headcollar.
Pretend that you still have the leadrope on without changing HOW you ask the question. If he gives you the answer you want let him know, praise him! If he wanders off that’s him telling you he doesn’t understand and you will have to help him understand by putting the rope on again and helping him.
But why would you want to work with a horse at liberty?
Mainly because it’s fun and then for me it shows that the horse finds me a good place to be. It’s proof in my mind that I have built a positive bond with my horse and that’s worth everything.