Moving in and out of connection

One thing that new liberty students may find troubling is their horse moving in and out of connection. In the beginning, when the student first gets a connection on the ground, real movement together, it’s very exciting. It feels wonderful. Then the horse decides to break connection and go visit with someone else or another horse. The student looks over at me, crestfallen, as if to say, what do I do now?

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May the herd be with you

In the pasture, the horses usually gallop off to one particular favorite place, up over the ridge to where some colts are stabled. Then I hike up there and my mare Zuzka rounds everyone up when I ask the horses to come back with me. This time, my gelding Khami took over, and he got everyone going.

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Wise words from the Skin Horse

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

Kaiden doing a foal feeding with Zuzka.
Kaiden doing a foal feeding with Zuzka.


“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

—The Velveteen Rabbit (or How Toys Become Real) by Margery Williams, 1922

I always had a great love for stuffed animals, and The Velveteen Rabbit was one of my favorite stories to read to all the children in our family.

You know the pony you outgrew when you began to grow bigger and needed a bigger horse? The attachments formed at an early age with animals are like pure gold. When I read the words of the Skin Horse, I think of all the horses and ponies I’ve known who have become Real, with most of their hair loved off, you could say.rose1

Some horses and ponies are a bit like the Skin Horse, in that children have loved them practically to death. They have been passed around from family to family, but hopefully well cared for, being loved by each one in their own way.

Jazzie_Ruella_cometomeWhen I encounter some rescue horses, I can tell whether they have been well loved. Hard times came on them since then, but they have not lost their trust in humankind. Once they recognize humans who care, they get a shine in their eyes because it’s familiar to them. No matter what neglect and abuse they have suffered, they retain this incredible, indomitable spirit. They know they have been valued, and it is with them forever. Even if they aren’t in the best of health, they reflect a knowledge of love from humans. Some of the most beautiful horses I know are these great champions – perhaps they have won ribbons, perhaps they have carried a child safely over fences, perhaps they have been great athletes.

I’m sure horses have pride in themselves and their accomplishments. In fact, I know they do.  Khami, my older gelding, when I speak about all the miles he has done, would probably gruffly say “it was nothing.” I know he is a proud and very stoic horse and loved being an endurance and trail horse.Kaiden riding bareback

Photo by Katherine Hanson
Photo by Katherine Hanson

Patches was once a show horse and holds his head up proudly when I talk about his past life, about which I know virtually nothing. I only know what he has shown me, what he could do in a show ring, how he could ride the rail like my others may never do, keep a steady tempo and be totally responsive.get-attachment

So just like the Skin Horse, some of these horses are only “ugly to those who don’t understand.” Otherwise they are beautiful.

I think the Skin Horse is right in that people with sharp edges and who break easily don’t often “become Real.” What is meant by becoming Real? Becoming feeling, loved – just like aging really. Those with sharp edges just grow sharper edges and break apart, while those who are loved just soften more. The lines around their eyes and mouths are not set in a frown like the sharp ones, but form more of a curve of amusement.

Those with sharp edges and who break apart easily also do not generally care to keep a horse beyond its usefulness, so the horse will go to the next available home. If lucky, the horse will be treasured by someone who sees his incredible gifts.

I feel I have been polishing Patches for a long time now, burnishing the glow in him, finding what makes him really tick, allowing happiness back into his life. If he is  a Skin Horse, he is no longer even what would be called “shabby” because he has a place in the world with people who love him.


I could’ve said, well, we already have a horse for children to learn to ride on, so we don’t really need him now. But I didn’t. Patches had had five homes before he came to us. He had also been a therapeutic riding horse, which is extremely stressful. He so wanted a forever family.

Because he is loved, his amazing sweetness and a huge personality shines through. I share with you this portrait of Patches by Katherine Hanson because, I think she depicted him as he wants us to view him today. Others have photographed Patches but I think this one exemplifies his true beauty.  Like the Skin Horse says, “it doesn’t happen all at once. You become.”


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): 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.


January 27-March 4 or 18, 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,

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 26-27 – Fall 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.

Susan is a member of the Independent Liberty Trainers Network.