Not all hearts and roses with horses

My Valentine’s Day message is: it’s not all “hearts and roses” with horses!

Students may embrace Liberty Foundations and find their horse miraculously comes into relationship. Horse owners are in heaven thinking that they’ve achieved this blissful state with their horse so easily.

jazzie_drillteam_flowersThen as the student asks more of the horse, the horse may suddenly become resistant. When I talk about asking more, it’s about asking the horse to move away from food, when you have only one source of food offered. This is usually the place in the liberty training where people have difficulty, if they have difficulty at all.

DSC_0276The food is offered as an extra, not at meal time, to avoid putting undue stress on the horse. Still, the horse may be of the mind that any food put down on the ground is for him.

.When we give them a choice then things all start shifting around. Horses are not accustomed to the new freedom or being heard. There is a tendency to think oh, I can’t ask of the horse, or, now I can ask anything of the horse. Neither of those tendencies are good paths to follow. It’s important to be taking the temperature of the relationship all the time during this phase, because you are still providing the building blocks of relationship but aren’t completely there yet. It’s good to really sit back and assess and really feel what’s going on.DSC_0060

There are subtle changes taking place, but the new order of things does not entitle the owner to be able to ride off in the sunset or expect undying loyalty and obedience from their horse. The horse has the choice to leave the relationship at any time, something he or she may not be accustomed to. In their world, most horses don’t have a lot of freedom; they are hauled around at the end of a lead rope, saddled up and brushed and put away, without having a say in the matter.

In a clinic or lesson setting, we can start building in the foundations but the ongoing work has to take place, similar to any other type of horse training in that regard. The horse has to begin to see you exhibiting consistent behavior – consistent with the behavior he sees when you are doing foundations.

As you are doing them, the horse is also gradually learning to acknowledge you as a leader. He is also recognizing more and more your place in the herd. Because he has choices, it doesn’t mean that he gets to call all the shots. It means he has choices, just as we do, but still fewer because he’s a horse. Yet we are offering choice and respect together. Although we begin with no expectations, expectations do come because we are not going to be satisfied with just sitting with a horse forever, nor walking next to them as they do with other horses. We do have an agenda because we’re human and we think beyond the present moment. We have the intellect to do so, which can be a blessing and a curse at the same time where horses are concerned.

I consider this to be a plateau in the relationship. It’s sort of like in a romantic relationship, like when you have gotten over the “honeymoon” period and have to deal with some real life problems of likes and dislikes, priorities, etc.

IMG_1242I used to think of Patches as the perfect liberty horse. He was so excited to do liberty with me, he danced, he walked everywhere with me, he was so enthusiastic. Then as time went on, he would not always be so enthusiastic or want to do those things.

I needed to mix it up a little and expect more of him. He also had some health issues so we needed to do groundwork activities before restarting very light saddle work. The changes, both subtle and not so subtle, showed me that working on the relationship was not just something to take for granted, or to think that once I had done all the work with him I wouldn’t need to do it again. He still is the perfect liberty horse, but it did not happen by my doing the foundational work only once or twice and then forgetting about it. I had to embody the work, make it mine, be it when I’m with my horses as much as possible.

The relationship changes over time. It’s not all hearts and roses. Every once in awhile, while moving forward with certain goal-oriented activities, I notice that my horse isn’t listening to me really, like while riding. I add in something like the exercise Staking the Claim, where I am taking food or space away from the horse. It’s sort of like reminding a loved one that you need space, or you need help, or you need a particular chunk of their time.

So while I’m working on the building blocks and paying attention to my horse, I’m also making small requests along the way, just as I might expect a child to brush his teeth, put away his dirty plate, etc. before we go to the movies. I should not have to correct bad behavior because he will want to please and listen to me.

If there is so-called “bad behavior,” we will go back to the basic Foundations and get clear and grounded. Then I will wait for the change which will definitely come. If it doesn’t come right away, then I’ll try another basic piece that the horse knows, until he shifts his understanding again. I feel that what I’m doing is helping him to remember those things that he’s hardwired to do with other horses, that he also does with me. We are maintaining safety and harmony in the herd together, horse and human, which also carries over to horse to horse relationships as well.

Straight from the heart: what do horses tell us

Be true to your horse


Keep an eye on the calendar as more events will be added as they are planned.

copyright: Susan Smith, OrthoHorse)

Services: Bodywork: (Ortho-Bionomy for people, Equine Ortho-Bionomy, Equine Positional Release (EPR)): 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 in your area. Prices will vary according to location.


March/April Clinic in Santa Fe: Stay tuned for dates!

April 10-12 – Spring Liberty Weekend in Oklahoma — Susan Smith and Ruella Yates, co-instructors. Contact either of us: or ruella@libertyfoundations for further details.

September 26-27Fall Weekend Liberty Foundations Clinic in Oklahoma — Susan Smith and Ruella Yates, co-instructors. Contact either of us: or ruella@libertyfoundations for further details.

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 7011 Sahaja 2015 5-Day Clinic on the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean – Susan Smith & Stina Herberg. See details:

Independent Liberty Trainers Network

Susan & Stina Team Up to Make the Sahaja Clinic an Unforgettable Experience

Susan is a member of the Independent Liberty Trainers Network.



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