What do you love about your horse?

I ask this question because it is a part of the whole perspective about experiencing Liberty Horsemanship with your horse — the getting-to-know-you part that’s so important.

Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 5.31.29 PM

What do you love about your horse?

For the person who is not sure they love their horse at all, it makes them stop and think. Sometimes to be honest, there is not much there between the horse and human. Sometimes it’s all mushy stuff, but the horse will not do anything the human wants them to do. Underneath it all, the person is exasperated and can’t figure out why she is so frustrated with the horse, and begins to question why she has one at all.

She keeps feeding him carrots and taking him for walks and sweet talking him but he is still, just a horse. Happy to do anything that doesn’t require anything of him.Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 12.55.20 PM

I want to know what people love most about their horses because there is no right answer. All answers are revealing. All answers lead to finding a better way to communicate with the horse.

Some people know their horses really well and will recite their likes and dislikes, somewhat like new parents who talk about which pacifier their baby likes and whether he will eat pablum or not. It’s funny to me that horse people resemble new baby parents in a way, with their recitals of preferences for the horse. In these cases, the horse’s preferences outweigh what the human might want to do with the horse, and the horse in that way, may direct outcomes.

IMG_1934With Liberty Foundations we want to know the horse’s preferences, in the beginning, so we can learn all about him. We can then understand and take joy in what changes he is able to make when he is able to make them. What pleases our horse is valuable in our training because we can offer pleasurable things and also withhold them in certain situations. We don’t pressure the horse into doing any activity; the horse decides on his own what he would like to do as long as it doesn’t put you in danger.

Ultimately, however, we don’t want the horse calling all the shots. The owner who just “loves” her horse and doesn’t expect anything of him, is asking for trouble, especially if her horse is a real pistol.

Why don’t I ask what you don’t like about your horse?

The reason I don’t ask that question is because for many people, the focus is on what their horse won’t or can’t do. The reason this is more common than “what I love…” is because we are expected to “do” something with our horses, or we ourselves have expectations of them.

The fewer expectations I have of my horses in terms of “behavior” the better our relationship becomes. Behavior becomes a non-issue. They can then use the big canvas of life to show me what they can and like to do, and I in turn, learn more about them.

An example is this: one day I put the big ball out in the arena to see who would play with it. When Khami was younger he used to like to push the ball and I rode him to the ball, dreaming of someday having a horse soccer team. I had expectations, you bet. But he still enjoyed it, because back then I was full of expectations of performance and he went along with that, because he also enjoyed what we did together.

However, the ball was just there, and Patches began to push it around. The next time I put Patches and the ball in the arena, he decided to really have fun with it. I didn’t ask him; the ball had merely been a suggestion.Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 5.31.45 PM

I really had no idea the ball would be so exciting to Patches, and that he would want to show off in this way. I learned something new about him.

If I had expected something of Patches or Khami, getting stuck in a mindset, then neither horse would do anything. I also didn’t bemoan the fact that Khami is no longer really interested in that kind of play, or reminisce of times past. The ball was an open invitation to the boys.

By keeping this openness, both horses retained their dignity and had the space to explore or not.

If I keep this question about my horse first and foremost in my brain when I enter the workspace or am going to see the horses, then the negative thoughts don’t get in there. I also think it in my heart, what I feel about each one of them, feel the joy in them. When I get there, one in particular will be at the gate, nickering. It may be the one I’m thinking of, or it might be another one.

Quiet time with oats
Quiet time with oats

When I have an idea of something to do like go to a lesson, then I have a horse that is curious and interested in going with me. I don’t think, well, he’s not doing the Liberty Foundations properly, won’t pick up a right lead, can’t get him to open the gate, etc. I think of all the joy I have with that horse and what a day we’re going to have.

When you have had a horse for awhile and start this new work, you will have knowledge of what she likes to do already. Try to put aside the rhetoric from other disciplines and come to this work with a beginner’s mind. If you board at a barn where certain practices are considered the way to train horses, then what you are doing will seem heretic. Finding a place to work at liberty may even present a challenge. There may be people around with lots of “advice,” but if they aren’t tuned into this liberty practice, they won’t know how to advise you so it’s best not to listen to them while you’re trying to learn this. This way of working with horses is different than other practices, so it needs to have the floor if you decide to learn it.

While you’re learning it, there may be other things you need to do with your horse not at liberty, and it’s of course fine to do them. Liberty Foundations are exactly that: foundations that give the horse a sense of security and well being, so that what you engage in together will be enjoyable and greatly anticipated.


(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

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.

September 6 – One-Day Liberty Horsemanship Clinic. A few spaces left!!!!  In this clinic you will learn the fundamentals of how to work with a horse at liberty, inspired by equine herd behavior. The way that horses interact with each other maintains cooperative relationships, safety and survival within a herd. No restraints are used – the horse becomes a willing participant. A working relationship is desired, where the horse has choice, and ultimately chooses the human to work with. This work extends and translates to all aspects of horsemanship – online and mounted.

9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Limit: 8 people, 4 horses. $150 for clinic. $15 trailer in fee. Cancellations: 2 weeks prior to class are non-refundable. For those coming from out of town, arrangements can be made for private lessons or bodywork sessions on Friday, September 5.

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)

Beginning in October: Liberty Foundations Online classes – beginning and advanced – offered by Susan Smith (October 1-beginning) and Ruella Yates (October 7-advanced), Horses at Liberty Online and Spirit Horse Ranch Online. 

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/



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