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What equipment do I need to get started at liberty?

April 05, 20243 min read

Introduction:

People often ask me whether they need a round pen to get started at liberty or whether it is necessary to use a whip. In this article, we discuss the basic, must have pieces of equipment and how you can adapt it to suit your training style.

Do you need a round pen to start liberty training?

Is a round pen necessary for liberty training

I’m not going to lie, my round pen is super handy! It helps me to contain my horses to a smaller area and also provides me with a great place to stick my phone for videoing! However, the style of training I prefer does not involve chasing the horse around a small area until they comply with my requests. I prefer to build a system of communication and understanding that allows the horse to figure out what I mean and gain reinforcement for making the ‘right’ decision. 

One thing you can guarantee during the course of your training, is that your horse will leave! That being said, we don’t want to rehearse this too often, as the horse will soon learn to find more reinforcement in the environment, than with you. So if you don’t have a small area to work with, you need to use your problem solving skills to set the horse up for success as best you can; stay on the line for longer, set up some barricades in the corner of the field, keep the rope tied round the horse’s neck whilst you make the transition to working at liberty.. and finally make sure you reinforce him frequently for sticking with you. Remember, our 3R’s of reinforcement; release (stop asking), reward (can be food or a scratch) and relax.

Do you need a whip to work your horse at liberty?

I use a whip, because I find it the easiest option. I don’t use it to hit my horses! I use it as a visual cue, a guide to help them move in the desired direction. However, we have members who prefer to use hand signals and we also have members who use targets to explain to the horse where to go.

What matters most is that you understand how to reinforce a desired behaviour with the 3R’s, that your timing is good and you break the task down into small chunks. This is something we spend a great deal of time talking about in our coaching groups! 

If you do want to use a whip, you might find you need different types of whips for different tasks. My ‘go to’ selection is a schooling whip, a schooling whip with the baler band taped to the end and a lunge whip. Experiment with what feels comfortable for you and your horse.

And what about halters and ropes?

So long as your headcollar / halter fits well and doesn’t run the risk of the horse getting his foot stuck in it. I don’t think it matters what type of halter you use. I am, however, fussy with my ropes! A lead rope is too short, a lunge line is too long but a 12ft soft rope is just right (call me Goldilocks!) A 12 ft rope means you can work up close without getting too much rope in a tangle in your hands, but you can also work at sufficient distance to establish a circle. 

Conclusion

In summary, start off simple.. Don’t have ‘all the gear and no idea’. Learn how horses learn and follow a good programme of basic exercises that build solid communication. Use the resources and tools you’ve got and try to improvise, adapt and overcome!

Other resources to help you get started

If you’d like to learn more about the foundation exercises, download our workbook now.

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,

equipment for liberty training

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