From your horse to you: special gifts of connection

Recently a trainer came to me and asked to observe a class because she wanted to see what was different about it than the liberty work she practices. It made me think about the way I do things and how effective it is, and I get used to the results because they are there and tangible. But someone coming in may think, well, so what is so different about what she does?


What is so different is the following: when I work with a horse I want to see that they are engaged and interested in what I’m doing. There are many horses who will do as they are told, sort of like the masses of people in the world who will get up in the morning, brush their teeth, go to work, come home, fix the drainpipe, play with the kids, but have no joy in what they do. Others do all those things and enjoy themselves, feeling as though they are contributing to something larger.

Jack enjoyed leaping around the hay pile.
Jack enjoyed leaping around the hay pile.

I want the horse I’m working with to have joy in what she does with me. If I encounter a horse who is joyless or resistant to instruction, my job is to find out how to engage her in an activity. I begin where I can meet her, because at the very beginning, we don’t even have a basis for trust. She has no investment in doing anything for me. Some horses might do what they think I want because they are “well-trained” in many ways, and want to get through the work with a gold star. That’s not what I’m asking. What I’m asking for is a little different, something from which we will both benefit.

One way to see if the horse is engaged with what you are doing is to watch her eyes – remember, “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” Are her eyes curious, alight with some inner interest, or are they shut off, cloudy, dull? A horse that has curiosity will take no time to engage in this type of liberty training because they are full of life and wonder. A horse that has cloudy or dull eyes may do what I ask but has no interest, is just plodding through the steps. That same presentation might also show a horse that is very resistant, won’t engage in anything I suggest.

Before I began doing liberty training, I could tell if my horse was doing something because he felt he “had” to or whether he was really buying into the activity. It was especially apparent riding endurance because my horses loved to do rides, but if I was pushing at them, they would get into a zone and it was definitely time off time. I notice it in horses that do a lot of repetitive work as well. I have done bodywork on horses who show signs of dullness, and they would resume an interest in their work and life, but it would shut down again if their circumstances didn’t change. This could be due to not enough stimulation, boring work, or pain, or all of the above.

Even though I try to remain non-goal oriented, in the human sense, what I am after is those special gifts of connection. I want my horse to get to the stage where she wants to offer me a performance of some kind, on her own. Sort of like how you teach a child to think on their own. It’s all there, you just set it up so they can accomplish it. In the beginning, I may not be asking for whatever it is they give me, but it is wonderful that they offer it all the same.

So what do horses offer in terms of “special gifts of connection?” Here is an example of those gifts: When my gelding Khami was a youngster we were taking riding lessons. We would go through various techniques: sidepasses, flying lead changes, etc. and at the end of the lesson, the last five minutes, Khami would offer his “medley” of everything we had learned, putting it all together into kind of a dance without my prompting.  He was so joyful and pleased with himself to offer this at the end of the lesson, that it made me and my trainer, laugh with joy at what had just happened. Granted, Khami has always been a naturally happy horse with lots of ideas of his own and huge curiosity for life. For this, I am eternally grateful: he is the blueprint for what other horses might experience in their own way. I don’t expect other horses to be a carbon cut-out of what he is, just that they find their own joy in their relationships with humans.

Of course, now that he’s older, he has less energy for those antics, but his curiosity and interest in his people and various jobs he does is huge. If I see his eyes grow dull, I know I’m either boring him to death or he’s ill.Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 8.22.57 PM

Most recently, I was working with a young mare who had been traumatized in life. She felt she had to do exactly as she was told but there was an element of confusion to her too, because the foundation work I was presenting were nothing like what she had been taught. I could hear her inner voice, “You want me to do what?” Yet with some food and coaxing, her owner and I were able to bring her out and eventually, she gave more than we had expected: a walk together with really good connection, some momentary lapses of confusion, but it was a beginning. From there, we can build on that connection and have her grow in her joy and come up with her own thoughts on the topic.

Another mare who has had a lot of training going over and under obstacles, acted like this was beneath her to do this. I could see it in her eyes and feel her resistance. I offered many other activities at liberty first – walking with me is one of her favorites, and she became very willing to do all the cavaletti and bridges I might have to offer after this– and with interest. Now we are going over cavaletti at liberty.

My horses sometimes vie with each other for the new activity. Having multiple horses or being at a clinic with other horses is very stimulating for horses. They learn from each other. When I work with one horse on dancing for example, the others will be pressed against the fence, wanting their turn. Each horse comes in more and more enthusiastic.IMG_0208

When I was getting Patches back to having an interest in riding, he would watch the other horses be tacked up and whinny at me, wanting to go. I told him when he was ready to be saddled without kicking out (this was after exploring every physical aspect of why he kicked out), then he could go too. It worked like a charm. I wanted him to really want that experience in this case. He now stands quietly to be saddled, goes out on the trail with the other horses and really enjoys himself.

IMG_0240On a daily basis, the special gifts can be very quiet, so much so that you might miss them: such as having a horse just wanting to be near you while grazing, or who just wants to stand with you. A horse that comes over while you are sitting with them, and asks you to walk with her. A horse that comes to the mounting block, perfectly positioned, and asks you to get on his back. Stay tuned for those beautiful moments of sharing, those special gifts from your horse to you.Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 5.30.02 PM

Here is Patches’ latest video, for your viewing pleasure. I’m not sure what we will do with his talents in this area, but he thought of this entirely himself:

Fascinating article on Ortho-Bionomy: Better than a pain pill?

A good way to experience work on yourself besides having a people session is to have a horse and rider session. For those who want to experience horse and rider work, take advantage of $10 off one session with me – good for the rest of August through the end of September.

Services: Bodywork (Ortho-Bionomy for people, Equine Positional Release/Equine Ortho-Bionomy): private sessions,  tutorials, phone consultations, distance healing and gift certificates

Liberty Training: clinics, mini-clinics, workshops, private and semi-private sessions, tutorials, consultations: by appointment:  505.501.2478 or emailing

Looking forward to Fall Lessons – semi-private, private and small group sessions. Scheduling now. Contact me for details.

Liberty Foundations Waterhole Rituals Equine Clinic at Spirit Horse Ranch near Oklahoma City, co-teaching: Ruella Yates, Certified Carolyn Resnick Trainer and Susan Smith, Suggested CR Trainer. Liberty Horse Training. September 28-29, 2013. Contact Ruella Yates at, or 405-771-4274. Susan will be giving a three-hour tutorial on her OrthoHorse bodywork for a limited number of students. Call 505-501-2478 or email for details.



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