Sharing heart and mind with your horse on a trail ride

I have recently written about the trail in The Trail as a Metaphor for Life.IMG_1874


Many horses and riders take to the trails without any problems whatsoever.  Some are bringing along green horses, or horses who are having repeat problems. Some horses have physical problems. With a new horse there is invariably something to work on, because you don’t know each other very well.

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 8.14.56 PMIn most cases, the horse needs to feel “met” by his human. Many times this connection is not there because of fear or unrealized expectations on the part of the human. It doesn’t matter what or why, consequently the horse feels unheard, like a New York cab driver. This happens a lot on the trail especially if we ride with friends.

In working with horse/human pairs, I want them to join their hearts and minds, so their thoughts come together and there are fewer if any, moments of disconnect.

In a trail ride clinic this week, which involved both liberty training and trail riding, I encountered a horse who wanted to either be really close to his buddy or he wanted to be in the lead. When his rider tried to put him somewhere else in the lineup, he began to buck. Apparently he goes out with her by himself just fine, but his problem seems to be in a group, where he forgets or disregards her leadership.

First of all, he was scaring her to death with his behavior so she would get tense and then he escalated. I asked all the riders to drop their energy into their legs and sit quietly, including her, because her horse needed our help in settling.

We figured out that by allowing that horse to be in the lead, then asking if he could try different positions in the lineup, he was relaxed. Before he got ramped up, it was best to move his position to one he was more comfortable with.

Rather than our focus being on: get him to do this or that, which we also have tools for, we focused on where the horse was most comfortable.Zuzka and Foal 01

An off-the-track-thoroughbred (OTTB) also wanted to be in the lead and is a seasoned trail horse, but he is used to be ridden alone or with one other horse only. It’s extremely hard for him to be anywhere but in the lead, because that’s what he’s been bred to do and taught to do since birth. He did very well in various positions in the lineup, and got more comfortable as time went on.

When another horse reacts on the trail, the riders need to be very grounded in their bodies and their energy, not just the one on the reactive horse, but everyone in the group.Their horses may react too, and then you might have a rodeo.

These principles I take from the liberty arena to the trail are very useful. Liberty Foundations is the best for building the connection between you and your horse, before you go on a trail ride. Training begins with the foal at the dam’s teat – she tells him when he can eat and when he can’t. We emulate that with liberty work, so the horse will look to us for when it is time to eat and when not to. Liberty translates to training to the saddle, because you have a completely willing and interested mount who wants to go places with you.

IMG_1879Ideally this is the place to start. Without halter or saddle, we get the horse to a place of working relationship before asking more. People can have excellent relationships with their horses, but if they don’t have this, the horse can feel he is in charge of the situation. Or he may feel enslaved if he is always being directed online or from the saddle.

Most of the time I hear about how people “make” horses do things. You can not get the desired result – and the relationship – if you haven’t done the homework first. Some horses will do what you want because they have been treated as slaves. Starting horses without tack ensures that they want to be part of the activity, so when I begin to add activities, I can see what they like and don’t like. I can see what’s stressful for them.

Most of the people I work with have horses who have been traditionally trained. To do Liberty Foundations requires a paradigm shift in thinking — from everything we’ve ever been taught.

I encourage people to get the horse checked out by a vet and bodyworker if he shows particular resistance to being saddled, cinched or mounted. The horse should start his journey with “his best foot forward,” so to speak.


(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. 505-501-2478.

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

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 (

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 (386-822-4564) Susan at (505-983-2128 or cell 505-501-2478) 9:00-4:30 p.m.

Susan is a member of the Independent Liberty Trainers Network.




2 thoughts on “Sharing heart and mind with your horse on a trail ride

  1. Great advice for trail rides, Susan. The Liberty Foundations activities make safe trail horses!
    Ruella Yates
    Liberty Foundations
    Spirit Horse Ranch
    Oklahoma City, OK

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