The shaping of a liberty horse

Two days. Five horses. Nine people. Liberty Foundations.

I’ve been talking for awhile about how we put the Liberty Foundations on a horse in a clinic. This last weekend in Florida we had several examples of how we did that with four new horses who had never experienced this work before. I picked out one to make a slide show of how that was accomplished.

Christa and Sam
Christa and Sam

The 16-year-old OTTB gelding, Sam, would walk with me in the beginning, but he would push his shoulder into me. That made it clear to me that he didn’t respect my space, and he wanted to go where he wanted to go. By walking with him and adjusting my stride, making sure he didn’t crowd me, I began the process of getting him to listen and pay attention to my space. A number of people worked with him until his crowding became less persistent.


Renee needed to define her space while walking with Sam.
Renee needed to define her space while walking with Sam.

Sam had become so arrogant that he was given to some explosive behavior when under saddle. When horses create fear in their handlers, then a vicious cycle starts and nobody wins. I don’t think Sam meant to be malicious, he just needed some boundaries. Boundaries make horses feel safe, so they don’t have to take matters into their own hooves. I knew he was capable of great things, but needed some guidance.

On the first day we got pretty far with this. On the second day, he looked different. His eyes were soft and he was crowding only every few steps instead of every step. A lot happens overnight when the horse has a chance to think about the work. When people work at home with their own horses, the activity may take quite a bit longer, because there isn’t the opportunity to repeat the exercise with different people. Having the energetic input of all the different people in a clinic situation helps the horse recalibrate in his nervous system to the new information and experience each person’s energetic field.

The crowding lasted only a short time the second day, one or two bumps, then he became very interested in the activity of walking side by side, and just being with whomever was walking with him. Food was no longer a big draw like it had been on the first day, although he did get to do a treasure hunt with his owner. What we noticed was that he had more curiosity and interest in the fact that she knew where the food was.

On a treasure hunt...
On a treasure hunt…

The work with this horse was very quiet. In a clinic such as this, if the people are coming to see a performance, it really isn’t there. They are not coming to see what wondrous things I can do with “making” a horse leap around at liberty. I am there to show people what they can do with horses, if their energy is right and they learn the horse’s language. It has to be done slowly so they can understand how it’s done and what it feels like to walk next to a horse who is in connection.

As humans, we can’t do everything horses do with each other safely, so we create some steps that are horselike that the horse recognizes and can relate to.

Andy mirroring Sam's stride.
 Sam mirroring Andy’s stride.

After the horses go home, they need to continue the work so that it becomes embodied in both their owners and themselves, so that the impulses to be explosive or disrespectful will diminish naturally over time.


(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  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.


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 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,

Susan is a member of the Independent Liberty Trainers Network.


4 thoughts on “The shaping of a liberty horse

  1. Really like this slide show/diary of how this clinic changed the life of Sam…and the people there, too! Thanks, Susan!
    Ruella Yates
    Liberty Foundations
    Spirit Horse Ranch
    near Oklahoma City

  2. I was there!…the changes in Sam were obvious on the second day….it was so fascinating to also watch Christa, his owner, whose confidence increased as Sam changed…..who changed first, Sam or Christa??!!!…..good on them both!….

    1. Hey Karen, Of course it was wonderful to see Christa’s response to what Sam gave her in terms of connection! What a great team! And what came first? Who knows! It is a community effort. Without the first day the second day wouldn’t have happened as it did. So glad to meet you and spend the clinic with you.

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