Who is the lead horse?

In Liberty Foundation Horsemanship, we talk a lot about “leadership,” which is also talked about in other forms of horsemanship. Basically, what that means is that a person must earn the “respect” of the horse, which begins with forming “trust,” or some sort of healthy “bond.”

IMG_1756 What does all this mean exactly? And how does it apply to the “lead horse?”

The lead horse in a herd is the horse that is watching out for everyone else’s well-being. This horse is not always the same horse, but some horses have stronger leadership qualities than others. Sometimes in a herd, horses will trade off being the lead horse. The lead horse knows where all the horses are at any given time. That’s why it’s important that we begin to cultivate our horse looking at us when we stand near, so our horse acknowledges our presence. We want our horse aware of us all the time, and where we are.IMG_1604

I think horses develop spooking because they aren’t tuned in and then things startle them easily. They develop reactivity in their nervous systems. If they know who the lead horse is at any given time, and keep an eye on that horse, they will feel safer and then not have much need to spook.

How often do horses spook when they don’t have a rider on their back? I truly believe spooking comes about because the horse isn’t sure of the horse/human relationship, and hasn’t got that lead horse awareness deeply embedded. When the rider isn’t taking care of matters, then the horse must do so. Before you get to that point, it’s best if the relationship is much stronger. With a deeper level of trust, you will find less reactivity in the horse.

IMG_1623 IMG_1624This is also why we want to be able to move our horses gently, within their accustomed rhythm, so they don’t feel jolted out of “the way of horses” into some human goal-oriented, pushy type pace. When they are herded by each other, it is generally very subtle and we can do the same thing. Sometimes they will come after each other with teeth bared and ears flattened. There are times, particularly with bold horses, where we have to get after them a bit more to move away, but it’s best to use your energy in a bigger way than to push the horse physically.

We want our horse to acknowledge us as a lead horse. We must also respect the horse’s stature in the relationship. This is how two friends are, or two colleagues.

I have horses who very clearly display their leadership, but do not challenge mine. I have come to recognize that I must listen to everything that horse has to tell me, in her body. As he ages, my gelding who is my lead horse gives over much more responsibility to my mare, who is three years younger than he. Each of them wears this mantle differently but very effectively. She tends to manage space as you see in the above two photos (black horse). My gelding (bay) manages food. They both manage relationships. They take care of things. Because these horses have these roles, it does not mean they feel they can be in charge of me.

IMG_1753By watching their behavior with each other, I can learn how to work with them most effectively and what will help them. I can also see what strengths they have that will benefit me when I am alone with each one. I know who to ask for certain tasks. This way, they generally come up to the task with pleasure and are proud to be selected. They will also begin to trust this process and try new things willingly.

What is important to them? Food and space and relationships. They don’t veer away from what is important to them; they don’t get distracted unless something interrupts their thinking processes.

If you have a horse who is always bossing other horses around in an aggressive, hostile way, that one is not a lead horse. The Liberty Foundations can instill in that horse a sense of belonging and a sense of his rightful place in any herd. He will then stop lunging, biting and harassing other horses. Peace will be restored in your herd. This type of horse could become a lead horse, once he is taught how to be one. Conversely, the horse who is always picked on can gain some stature in the herd by using the Liberty Foundations.IMG_1662

For most horses, a lightbulb goes on in their heads when they encounter a human who knows what’s important to them, and how to restore their place in the herd, without force or coercion. From there, trust is built. From that trust, you will become a lead horse and consequently, have a horse you can depend on.


(copyright: Susan Smith, OrthoHorse)

Services: Bodywork (Ortho-Bionomy for people, Equine Ortho-Bionomy): private sessions,  tutorials, phone consultations, Horse & Rider sessions, distance healing communication and gift certificates

Some Don’t Like it Hot – These Liberty Coaching clinics will take place in the cooler morning hours over the summer. If you want to host a clinic in your area, contact me to make arrangements. Prices will vary according to location and travel. susansmith@orthohorse.info 505-501-2478.

Liberty Coaching: clinics, mini-clinics, workshops, private and semi-private sessions, tutorials, consultations: by appointment:  505.501.2478 or emailing susansmith@orthohorse.info  Scheduling now. Contact me for details.

Starting July 22: First Horses at Liberty Foundations Online course. In this class, comprised of four calls complete with lessons, you will learn the fundamentals of how to work with a horse at liberty, inspired by herd behavior. The way that horses interact with each other maintains cooperative relationships, safety and survival. No restraints are used – the horse becomes a willing participant. Contact me if interested. Cost $300. The class runs through September 3.

The Course: Included in the course are the four webinar calls (if you opt to take the entire class), email access to the instructor for questions, an ability to post your own videos for discussion, teaching videos and photos with discussion. A class will be posted on a private page of my website before each call.

Cost: The course can be taken in two segments: Calls on July 22 and August 6 for $150, and Calls on August 22 and September 3 for $150. $290 if you sign up for both segments. There is a PayPal button with all these options available on my website home page www.orthohorse.info

The second segment may be valuable for continuing students as well as new students. The advantage of taking the entire class is that you will get the flow of the six Liberty Foundations from start to finish, and also benefit from the videos and discussion of the last part of the class.

The class will continue for two weeks after the last phone date (September 3) to give people a chance to submit videos and comment on them. There will be a private Facebook page for student discussion for each segment of the class.

Those who take the first segment only will be able to send in videos two weeks after the last of the first segment calls (August 6) but will not have access to the materials shared in the second segment and thereafter.

I conducted a free Liberty Coaching Call on March 12. If you did not have a chance to listen, here is the link: http://www.susith.com/orthohorse/freehorseatlibcall.mp3

July 22, August 6, August 20, September 3.
Payment via check, PayPal or credit card

July 23 – Trail Riding Class in Cerrillos in July. Learn how to apply some Liberty Foundations to your trail riding experience for a safer, more connected ride, what I call the “centaur relationship” with your horse. The class will involve some ground, dimensional and saddle work, and a short trail ride. This clinic will fill up fast so let me know if you want to participate. 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m

Combining cumulative knowledge from over 18 years of endurance riding, Liberty Horsemanship and Ortho-Bionomy bodywork practice, Susan Smith brings a unique perspective to getting a horse and rider ready for the trail – in mind, body and spirit.

September 27-28 – Spirit Horse Ranch Two-Day Liberty Foundations Clinic, Oklahoma City, OklahomaEngaging the Hearts and Minds of Horses. Susan Smith and Ruella Yates, co-teaching. Contact me or Ruella at 405-771-4274 (ruella@libertyfoundations.com)

December 13-14 – Horses at Liberty Weekend Clinic, DeLand, Florida Bring your Horse into Deep Working Connection with Liberty Horsemanship. Instructor: Susan Smith. Contact Anne Daimler tdaimler@cfl.rr.com (386-822-4564) Susan at susansmith@orthohorse.info (505-983-2128 or cell 505-501-2478) 9:00-4:30 p.m.

Susan is a member of the Independent Liberty Trainers Network. libertytrainersnetwork.com/





3 thoughts on “Who is the lead horse?

  1. I really liked this blog, as you made clear the difference between a lead horse and dominance! I look forward to your writing each week!
    Ruella Yates
    Liberty Foundations
    Spirit Horse Ranch

  2. Catherine Goode would like to reserve a place in the SEptember clinic with Kitty Owens and Glorya Duer. Please save me a space. I will not be bringing a horse. Let me know how to contact you. cgoode11@hotmail.com.

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE Smartphone

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