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What is liberty training?

April 17, 20244 min read

What is Liberty Training?

Liberty by its definition means free. Working the horse without tack or ropes is our ultimate goal. There are many different paths to get there and liberty training means different things to different people. This my take on it…

Communication and understanding is first developed on the rope. Whilst I believe it is important to recognise how the horse is feeling and adjust what we ask of him accordingly, I do not believe that the horse should be allowed complete autonomy. What we repeat, we get more of. So if the horse is repeatedly running to the gate for the security of the herd, he is being reinforced by that. The reinforcement is not coming through you and the behaviour being reinforced is running to the gate. That said, we should absolutely acknowledge how he is feeling and take his insecurities into account by lowering our expectations for the task or asking for it in a place where he feels comfortable. 

By working on the rope until he understands the system of cues, we give the horse the best chance of success. We are not forcing or coercing him, but simply removing undesirable options and helping make the right choice.

Liberty horse

Body Language

It is important to understand the horse’s body language to ensure that he feels comfortable with what we have asked. Displacement behaviours such as scratching or rubbing their head on their legs can be a clear sign that we have asked too much. Subtle signs such as looking off into the distance can also be an indication they feel insecure or have ‘zoned out’.

The Training Staircase

I imagine a training session as a series of steps up a staircase. The desired behaviour is the ‘top of staircase behaviour’. However, there are many little steps we need to take before we get there. When we break it down into little chunks, it is easier for the horse to understand. These are known as successive approximations amongst training nerds like me!

It is important to note that progression up the staircase is rarely linear and often involves going up and down until you reach the top. A good rule of thumb to help guide your decisions is, if you ‘fail’ twice at a certain step, come back down a step and consolidate before moving up again. Patient and progressive training is the best way to ensure the mental and physical development of the horse.

What Liberty Training is NOT

Many people believe they are working at liberty if a horse is simply following them round because they are curious. The horse is being reinforced by temporarily satisfying his interest but wanders off quickly when something more reinforcing takes his fancy. In this scenario, there is insufficient reinforcement history between the horse and the trainer to persuade the horse to stick around. Repetition and association between the task and the reinforcement is the key to success. 

A horse cavorting around you in the arena and happening to be loose whilst you are in there is also not a display of liberty training. Yes, the horse is at liberty but the behaviour is not on cue and there is no dialogue between horse and human. The horse is simply responding to his environment and the human happens to be there at the same time. 

And finally, liberty is not chasing the horse around until he is scared, tired or frustrated and has no option but to come into the middle. There is a huge difference between asking him on a little and chasing him to this point. Once again, there is no dialogue in this scenario. The human is dictating the terms and not taking the horse’s feelings into account.

In Summary

You will find your own path and find what sits comfortably with you. No two people or horses are alike. That is the wonder of the liberty journey. Liberty Horse UK has put together a training programme to give you a starting point, from which you can spread your own wings and fly.

Other resources to help you get started

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

If you would like to have a go at the level one exercises, why not download our FREE WORKBOOK to guide you.

What is liberty training?

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