Working with horse-to-horse bonds

Years ago, when I got my mare Zuzka, the trainer I was working with at the time was so happy when we were able to put her in the same corral space with my gelding Khami. The trainer said it helped her training because the mare would be moved around all day by him.

Zuzka and Khami
Khami and Zuzka

This gave Zuzka continuous exposure to taking direction from another horse, plus it provided rhythms she was familiar with from her years growing up in a big herd, which in turn translated to her being able to take direction from a human. It showed me the beginnings of what we would later come to call the Liberty Foundations, using the horse’s natural tendencies for training purposes.

What the trainer didn’t say but what I learned later was, that this rhythmic moving was also reinstating something very primal in Zuzka and Khami. They became lifelong friends. It made it possible for me to ride Zuzka and teach a child on Khami.  At times Khami could be rather rambunctious. He would be happy while he was with her, and eventually this would translate to being able to take direction from the child who was growing in confidence and skills.

Ponying the older horse
Ponying the older horse

I also used Zuzka’s “position in the herd,” so to speak, to pony Khami comfortably, without the biting, kicking and pulling that some people experience with beginning the ponying experience. Khami had to take a role beneath Zuzka to be ponied, which he didn’t mind and she really liked. Since they were good friends, it was also easy to take them out together on the trail this way.

Now Jazzmine who is younger, benefits from Zuzka’s bravery and experience to help her transition to new experiences, like the trails around our place. This has worked so well that while Jazzie would hang behind Zuzka at first, she is now forging out ahead bravely, no longer hiding in Zuzka’s tail so much.

Ponying is also helping Jazzie develop her own skills by first being able to be ponied off Zuzka. This is a prelude to getting her comfortable going places on her own, without another horse.

The horse-to-horse interactions really help us tease out personality traits, fears and strengths, so that we can know our horses better. It

Kaiden on his first trail ride being ponied.
Kaiden on his first trail ride being ponied.

helps us in training because we then don’t have to simply work with rote methods, we can pick the ways that work best for that individual horse.

This has also worked with Patches, who wants to come with us on our ponying jaunts, but it’s hard on the shoulders to pony two horses. So I let him run free on the property, because I know he isn’t going to leave his mares. He might munch some grass, but then he comes trotting happily up to their sides. This is also strengthening his confidence in us being able to all do something together. And the mares don’t bolt forward when they see he is trotting while they’re walking. They are staying connected to their rider and/or person ponying.

The other place this can be used is in Liberty Foundations. While working with one horse, another horse will watch and then want to come into the arena and do the same activity, or try to do it better than the first horse! Sometimes at clinics a horse that may have been shy or unwilling to connect when she was in the arena, will see another horse do the work, and suddenly be filled with enthusiasm to do it themselves. In this way, our work can be made so much easier. It’s like a two-for-one experience as both horses benefit from one being worked in the arena.

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 8.12.00 PMThis week a student came to work with my horses, whom she knew. We had worked with her horses at liberty in the past, but not with mine. The liberty experience with the two mares brought her into connection and into the moment, she said. “Something shifted,” she said, in working with Zuzka, who wanted to stand and breathe with her. The next time she saw Zuzka a few days later, Zuzka came to greet her and dipped her head into the halter. During the lesson, Jazzie moved from aloofness to coming into great connection with some advanced deeply connected movements, demonstrating where we could go with the foundations if we keep practicing, much like practicing yoga or some other gentle discipline. Each mare knew of the other’s experience, and each provided a different experience for the student.

Patches and Zora
Patches and Zora

An added bonus of this lesson was that the mares deepened their friendship after working with the student. They began to hang out more, standing comfortably together, which hasn’t always been the case.

The whole feeling of the small herd has changed as they have individually, and collectively, been stimulated by new experiences of being together, and apart, and with people, in a specific, engaged way. Each horse honors the other for what they bring to the herd as an individual. This doesn’t come without the occasional squeals and posturing to make sure boundaries are maintained, of course. That’s part of being a family. But each horse also is honored by people for what and who she or he is, on a deeper level.

The herd in Canoncito

This is one way in which we can nourish the interactions of a herd, by joining in their healthy rhythms, reinforcing what they do best.

Copyright (c) Susan Smith


Take advantage of a special offer: $20 off a Horse + Rider session ($95 value) from now through September 1! You can purchase it now and use at any time.

Article in Horse Around New Mexico about Horse + Rider work (also another one in the September/October issue – not yet posted):

Horse Around Article P1Horse Around Article P2

Professional Services include:

Bodywork: (Ortho-Bionomy for people, Equine Ortho-Bionomy, Equine Positional Release (EPR)): private sessions,  tutorials, phone consultations, Horse & Rider sessions, Equine Body Balance.

Distance Healing Communication

Gift certificates

Ask about The Equine Body instruction & curriculum beginning in September!

Liberty Coaching:

Clinics, mini-clinics, workshops,

Private and semi-private sessions, tutorials

Consultations: by appointment:  505.501.2478 or emailing  Contact me for details.

Let me know if you want to do a clinic in your area. Prices will vary according to location & travel costs.

Time is running out! Early Bird Ends September 1! Saturday, September 19 – The Equine Body Balance Workshops presents “Tenets of Equine Healing” one-day workshop at Arrowhead Ranch, Santa Fe. For the owner, horse professional or person interested in learning who would like to be able to do some bodywork on their own horse or others.

This approach to equine healing provides a framework for the student to use simple techniques to aid the healing of the horse. These techniques follow the horse’s natural tendencies, resulting in specific, sustainable results.

Cost: $140 Early Bird (paid before September 1), $150 after September 1. $15 trailer in fee if you wish to bring a horse. We will work with ranch horses.

To enroll, contact Susan on Facebook, email or 505-501-2478. Payment can be made by check, PayPal/credit card or cash.

September 25 – The Equine Body Balance Workshops presents “Tenets of Equine Healing” one-day workshop in Jones, Oklahoma. Instructor, Susan Smith Cost: $175. Clinic is filling quickly so be sure to enroll!


September 26-27 – Fall Liberty Weekend in Oklahoma — Susan Smith and Ruella Yates, co-instructors. Contact either of us: or ruella@libertyfoundations for further details. Cost: $325. Clinic is filling quickly, be sure to enroll!

Saturday, October 10 – “Hang with the Herd” – Third in a series of Liberty Workshops. Join me and my herd under a canopy of the trees for some real quality time together –Experience herd, honesty, healing. A new Liberty Foundations 1-day workshop for those who want an introduction to the work or to reinvigorate their liberty process. PayPal and credit card payment available. Whether you have studied Liberty Foundations with me before or not, you will benefit from this workshop.

Hang with the Herd_flyer_Oct10_Page_1

We will interact with the herd in the morning, and work with horses in the arena in the afternoon. We may possibly go to lunch at a nearby restaurant or bring a lunch. Excellent herd to liberty experience! Space will be limited, be sure to enroll soon to ensure your spot. Location: Mac’s Overnight Stables, Canoncito (near El Dorado), Santa Fe, NM.  Time: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. $150 Early Bird before Oct. 1, $160 after Oct 1. Contact or 505-501-2478 for information.

February 6-7, 2016 — Weekend Liberty Foundations Clinic in DeLand, Florida at Curly Dee Ranch.DeLand_Liberty_Feb_2016

Susan is a member of the Independent Liberty Trainers Network.

Associate Instructor, Advanced Practitioner – Ortho-Bionomy & Equine Ortho-Bionomy

Practitioner, Equine Positional Release


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