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How do I get started with liberty training?

March 13, 20244 min read

“As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.” - Rumi


A question I get asked most frequently is how do I get started training my horse at liberty. Of course there are many roads to Rome. However, Liberty Horse UK has put together a programme of liberty horse training for beginners that is suitable for most horses and handlers. Once you have some solid basics, you can go off and adapt it to your own style.

Liberty horsemanship is the art of communicating with the horse without tack or ropes. It is possible to start the process completely at liberty. However, I have found the easiest way for most people to develop their timing and lay the foundations is to begin on the rope first. This helps the horse to understand our system of cues to give him the best chance of success.

How to get started with liberty horse training

The basic exercises

The basic exercises we teach are the hindquarter yield, the back up and the forehand yield. For safety, we first ask that we can move the horse away from us. We also check that we can lead the horse effectively. Does he stop when you stop? Does he walk on when you walk on? A useful exercise when you are training on your own is to give yourself a score out of ten. You would score a 10/10 if the horse stops without you having to touch the rope and 10/10 if he walks on again without any encouragement from the rope or the whip. Don’t worry if you start off with a rubbish score. Just ask yourself, ‘how can I help the horse get the right answer?’. Maybe you could use the environment to help.. For example, you could ask for halt as you walk towards a fence or away from the gate.

Another basic exercise is the circle. You need to be able to ask your horse to circle around you in both directions in walk and trot initially. We can look at canter later on if you don’t feel ready for that yet. If you struggle to keep the horse out on the circle, lay some cones on their side in a circle and ask the horse to circle around them. This will help you both relax.

Release, reward and relax

Timing is crucial when we are training. The horse learns primarily from the release. By release, I mean stop asking. Imagine asking someone to take a seat but then you continue to keep asking them once they are seated. They would think you were bonkers! Imagine if that person spoke a different language but they figured out by your gestures that you want them to sit down. If you kept asking, they would wonder if they got it wrong and maybe try something else. When we ask for a movement, the timing of the release says ‘YES. You got it right” to the horse. 

We can also add a reward to say ‘YES’ to the horse. This is often paired with a marker signal. The marker signal can be a click or a word, which marks the exact movement or behaviour that earnt the reward. Rewards don’t necessarily have to be food. It could be a scratch and a rub. Adding a reward can be really helpful to build motivation and build positive associations.

And what about the ‘relax’? If you’re like me, you want to be on to the next thing super quick! Just pause.. Take a few deep breaths and allow the horse to understand that he got the right answer before you start asking for something else.

What next?

The basic exercises concentrate on ‘drive’ which means asking the horse to move away from you. Once you have got the hang of these, you can introduce the draw, which means asking the horse to move towards you. And then you are ready to begin the dance of liberty horse training! 

If you would like to have a go at our level one exercises, download our FREE WORKBOOK

Basic Liberty Exercises

Liberty Horse UK runs monthly online shows, progress awards and trick titles. Members have access to a video library which runs you through the progressive training programme. For more information, click here,

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