I’ve been playing with Buddy at liberty for a couple of years now. I say playing and not working, not to diminish our efforts or learnings, but to remind me that ‘work’ is not a great term to use when we do things with our horses, and play sounds much more fun.
When I see other trainers and displays where liberty is done, it very often looks more like play and enjoyment, and for many years I thought ‘If only I could do that with my horse, I bet if I let my horse loose in the school she would just walk off, or not move’. (She being Coffee – Buddy’s Dam)
For a long time I just thought I wasn’t good enough, my horse wasn’t good enough, I didn’t have the right trainer, the right equipment, blah blah blah, any excuse to distract me from what that ‘i bet…’ thought was saying. I knew back then that my horse was trying to say something to me. Something about what I was doing, or how I was acting, meant my horse did not want to be around me. A hard pill to swallow when you are passionate about horses and riding, and you have a deep desire to do well with them.
That was the first thing I had to not only acknowledge, but come to terms with and accept, before I could move forward.
Humans take these things personally. I thought my horse doesn’t love me, she only does things for food or because I make her. I felt like a bad human.
Eventually, after I stopped having my own little pity party, I started to search for ways to do something about it. How can I be a human that my horse wants to be around and wants to try things for? I had used a Monty Roberts trainer in the past to help us with our loading issues. I thought they were her issues but lately I’ve begun to realise some of the issue is mine. It was at a time when I knew something was a miss but didn’t yet really want to acknowledge it. I hurts our ego as a human, to feel small, insignificant, unloved, and useless. When you take a horse off line, what you are left with is the truth.
So, I looked further in to Monty Roberts and I had heard of some guy called Pat Parelli, who was also some master whizz at liberty and knowing how to speak horse. I read articles and watched videos, I basically found every free titbit of information I could find. Free because I didn’t have any money spare to invest in courses, training and equipment. I started to use some of what I had learnt from the loading sessions, along with the bits I found on the internet and in magazines. At the time, there wasn’t much out there. ‘Natural horsemanship’ was still very new and you were basically considered wierd by the majority of horse folk, if that’s what you were in to.
By following these methods I found some improvements. I developed my way of looking at situations and found new ‘better’ ways to solve problems. Some took more time than ‘traditional’ solutions I’d heard of or used, but the horses seemed more resposive and accepting, and the results were longer lasting and the horses seemed calmer.
It wasn’t long after this that we had to sell our horse. I was distraught and thought I may never have the chance to have another. I returned to riding school lessons, and mostly put aside the ‘natural’ horsemanship ideal.
Cut forward a few years and an even longer story, I had my old horse back and also her foal. I was determined to train him myself in everything. Cut forward a few more years of searching, researching, making mistakes, fixing them etc etc… And one of the biggest things I’ve found so far is that, of all the trainers I’ve read about, watched videos of, been to demonstartions and seen articles in magazines and so on, I don’t wholly commit to any one of them. Every single one so far has done something, said something that just doesn’t ring true for me. That’s not to say they are wrong. They are all professionals in their own right, and have huge success rates with horses. So I’ve also been through those moments of ‘what the hell do I know, they are successful, so I should listen to them, and follow their program’ and I’ve tried and tried to do it their way, but if I have had results, they’ve just not always felt right.
My next big hurdle to overcome then was to drop the ‘want’ feeling. I was getting a lot of good stuff done on-line, I had a responsive, relaxed horse I thought. With a bit of rope and almost no pressure what so ever, I could have him doing all sorts of things, I thought we were playing together well. But take away the rope and what are you left with….. the Truth. I would try taking away the rope, and for a few minutes he might stay with me, but then he would go. This might be when he realised he no longer had that rope, or perhaps that I had no treats, or maybe it was when I asked him to do something or tried something new.
I signed us up to go to a liberty clinic with a local trainer Cheryl Buck. She had done Parelli training to a high level, and then like me (I felt) she had found other ways of working/playing too, and had not got a ‘This way is the only way’ approach. I explained to her what was going on and we did some nice work on-line. She had a few things to adjust that helped, but largely I felt I had proved my point of ‘we can pretty much do anything on-line’. Then the liberty session came and it wasn’t long before Buddy left. He stayed with me this time longer than he ever had, and wether that was taking some comfort from me as someone he knows in a new environment, or something to do with the pointers in the online session, who knows, but one things for sure, he still left. And it still hurt.
She asked me then how much I wanted it to work. How much I wanted him to come to me and to be around me. I of course replied, ‘a lot’. To which she said, ‘stop wanting it so much’. She had me send Buddy away and got me to just follow directions from her, and when he was just on the verge of completely leaving me, at a distance, at canter, she got me to crouch down in to a ball. The timing wasn’t so apparent then, but the result was clear. As I crouched and because I was working only on her instructions not doing things to create a result, Buddy came cantering over to stand by me. I hadn’t wanted him, in that moment, to come to me, I hadn’t expected it. I had only crouched down and made me and my energy very small in a big arena; he felt the absense and came to me.
This was also the turning point for two more things that followed (and I feel are connected to) losing our ‘want’, which is our energy and being present in the moment.
If we want, very desperatley, for our horse to come to us, our energy is likely smothering… it is based on our ego. If they come we think they think highly of us, other people will be impressed, perhaps we will be impressed; this is in effect an energy that will push them away. It is not an energy that is to be followed like a leader, or ‘respected’ ( I use this term lightly here. The word respect could take a whole blog of it’s own).
If we ‘want’ very desperatley our horse to come to us, we are thinking in the future, we are hoping, and not looking at the here and now, and probably we are expecting it not to happen, because it hasn’t happened before. We are not present and in the moment.
I’ve found further clarity in these points by reading and watching Anna Marcinak – One Horse Life, and have attended a couple of her webinars.
Since that clinic I’ve also played with Straightness Training, Horse Agility and Rider Biomechanics. This has helped me notice and address any body tensions and imbalances in the horses body, made things more fun, got more ideas for things to do and further energy work, and notice rider tensions and imbalances and how to address those too.
My next bit of learning in this area is to come from Karen Rohlf – Dressage Naturally at a clinic by one of her endorsed clinicians in the UK. I look forward to hearing more about Dressage Naturally as it is another view point I’ve enjoyed reading about so far.
So the point of this story? Well I’m not sure there was one. I felt compelled after this morning to write about my liberty journey, and so I have. I hope reading it helps you in some way.
My advice from here?
Never stop learning.
Don’t be afraid of making a mistake.
If you find something doesn’t work for you, maybe try a couple more times and then put it to one side if it’s still not working. You may find in time or with another horse you will use it again, but trust that you know what is right for you and your horse right now.
If other people on the yard make you feel wierd for doing something different, this is not a reflection on you. This is a reflection on them. Let that wierd light shine!
Your dreams are not made of what other people do. Follow YOUR dreams.
Please note there should be links HERE for all the trainers mentioned. If anything is missing and you want to see it linked there, please let me know.
If you have any questions or comments please do send me a message.