On the way to performance with liberty horse training

Recently liberty presentations have been a part of national competitions, such as the Extreme Mustang Makeover and just this past weekend, the American Horsewoman’s Challenge (AHC). These events require trainers to train a horse within a prescribed space of time.

eye_of_horseIn listening to interviews with the participants of the Challenge, it became obvious that liberty was the thing they were most concerned about. Why is that?

One several time champion said that she could get most horses to do most things on a lead, in a round pen or under saddle. But liberty ups the ante and really exposes what your relationship with the horse is.

Two others said in a joint interview that the liberty was the class they were most worried about because the horse can just decide to do whatever.

That’s true, they can. But with the ability to put liberty schooling on a horse, you can develop a far deeper relationship with your horse that can carry over into all your riding work.

Krystle and Zoe at the American Horsewoman's Challenge
Krystle and Zoe at the American Horsewoman’s Challenge

The American Horsewoman’s Challenge held their liberty competition on Friday, and Cowboy Dressage, Extreme Trail and Freestyle on the weekend. It demonstrates what they believe the crowd wants to watch: they feel the crowd wants to watch riding. I feel it’s exciting that the AHC wanted to include liberty work because it seeks to encourage a new generation of horsewomen: those who are interested in developing the relationship with the horse.

In my work with people and horses, most people are focused on being able to ride their horses. If they are having difficulty with a relationship with their horse, then they’ll come to me to get the horse bodywork or liberty training. If they think it all has to do with their riding, then they will hire a riding instructor.

Most riding instructors do not practice liberty training, so it isn’t in their toolbox. Liberty work helps all aspects of the relationship, should the person have a difficult time with the horse in the saddle.


Andi and Tex having a conversation
Andi and Tex having a conversation

A bridge needs to be built between these two activities: relationship and riding. For those who ride well and in relationship, they have few problems with most horses. But others may find their energy on the ground is not right or they are not reading the horse’s energy right, and what follows is a disconnect.

They may be doing fine up until they meet that one horse who requires something else from them.

With Liberty Foundations, we can expose the holes in the relationship with the horse and in his schooling. We can build trust and companionship where there is none. Many horses will allow people to ride them without particularly trusting or caring for their rider. The horse will also do perfect maneuvers in the round pen in the same way. The terms “push-button” or “dead-broke” are often used to describe these horses, but these horses may never have been asked their opinion on anything before.SHR_09_2014_Andi_Tex2

The other day a friend of mine was telling me how her young gelding had tired of a sport activity after giving a stellar performance at a regional show. She was giving him a break, and trying to figure out what it was he wanted to do. I said, we assume horses want to do what we want to do, but it can be the farthest thing from their minds. I think it’s only by being quiet and allowing the horse to “speak” to us that we will find out the depths of our relationship with him or her, and what his or her preferences might be.

I think it will take time for the people who run events to notice the difference between a horse giving a performance because he has to and a horse who has total buy-in, and loves his owner and loves his job. It takes a trained eye to notice whether the horse is truly engaged with his rider or owner. Many seasoned horse professionals do not necessarily know this or foster this with their students because they don’t see it. They may also have a breath of knowledge that they trust and rely on, and taking on something as off-the-grid as pure liberty training may just not be on their radar.

Working with dimensions
Working with dimensions

The work we do with Liberty Foundations fosters deep working relationship with horses, even horses we don’t know. It gives the horse the following:

  • breathing space to make his own decisions and come joyfully into relationship
  • it teaches people about their energetic dimensions and how to use those to interact with the horse
  • it focuses on watching our own body language,
  • it demonstrates for people how to tell what the horse needs
  • it teaches flexibility and creativity

Horses by nature, do not follow a series of steps; instead they are fluid, dynamic and creative in their responses, but at the same time, they have certain foundational behavior that is predictable and works for them in their herds.

I’m not suggesting that we all go out and start legging ourselves up for the AHC or next Mustang Makeover. Most of the work I do with liberty clients is quiet work behind-the-scenes, building relationship, getting a tighter bond that will carry people and their horses into whatever activity they choose to share together. Yet this is the same simple foundation that people like Krystle McCormack, Mary Kitzmiller (who earned the highest score in the AHC) and our own New Mexico movie wrangler Holly Smith take into the limelight with their own brand of creativity. Those good horse trainers will take the information and make it their own, and shine with a performance based on true bond.

As one of our clinic participants said at our Oklahoma Spirit Horse Ranch Weekend Clinic, “(They) (meaning Ruella Yates and myself – instructors) make it look easy, but I’ll tell you, it’s really not easy like it looks when you get out there and try it.”

Why is it not easy for most people? Because most people, as a result of the demands of society and social conditioning, have their eye on the prize, not on the process.

Mare and Regalo, working with his heart space.
Mare and Regalo, working with his heart space.

To me, just like in bodywork and healing, or psychotherapy, the process is everything. The process brings us home and brings us centered. From that center we radiate out to the world whatever the prize may end up to be.

Please see last week’s story, 5 paths to building connection with horses, as well as some beautiful work on video from a Santa Fe clinic with participants reiki master Lorrin Maughan and movie wrangler, Holly Smith.

Horsemanship isn’t built in a day

Photos by Lori Hinkle, One Defining Moment


(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.

I’m now putting together the 2015 Clinic Calendar. Let me know if you want to do a clinic at your location. Prices will vary according to location.

By popular demand, the last Santa Fe 1-Day Liberty Workshop of 2014 will be held at Arrowhead Ranch November 15, from 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. We will work with the natural tendencies of the horse, honoring her/his need for food, safety, space and community. We also work with establishing our place in “the herd.” Cost: Early Bird payment before November 1st: $150, after November 1st: $175.

Who will benefit from this work?

All horses and humans, but specifically:

  • Horses who have not responded to traditional natural horsesmanship
  • Horses who have been frightened, abused and in other ways traumatized
  • Horses who may be aggressive or too passive in their herd situations
  • Horses who have problems with humans
  • All humans who may be puzzled about relationship with horses and want to deepen their connection.

December 13-14 I will be in DeLand, Florida teaching a Weekend Liberty Clinic, which is already full. Anyone who would like to be placed on the Waiting List, let me know. If you want to be sure to get a slot, private lessons, sessions and an OrthoHorse Tutorial offered on Friday, December 12th

January 27-March 10, 2015Horses at Liberty Online Advanced will continue the instruction for those students who have taken an introductory online or in-person clinic from me.

The work builds on what has been taught in the introductory course with refining movements, body language, knowing what and when to ask for change, celebrating the horse’s gifts of engagement. Cost: $311

Payment for the Santa Fe 1-Day Liberty Workshop and Advanced Online can be made by check, PayPal or credit card. A PayPal button for each of those events is available on the home page of my website, http://www.orthohorse.info

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



3 thoughts on “On the way to performance with liberty horse training

  1. What an exciting time in history to be a Liberty Foundations trainer, Susan! We are on the cutting edge of a movement that is changing the world for horses and the people who love them! Our students rock the planet! Beautifully written, as always!
    Ruella Yates
    Liberty Foundations
    Spirit Horse Ranch
    Oklahoma City

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