As restrictions are lifted and barns begin to open back up, you might be yearning to spend some extra time with your horse. One way to bond with your horse while improving your communication with them is through liberty work. We couldn’t think of anyone better to learn about this kind of work from than sponsored rider Sam VanFleet, mustang trainer and liberty extraordinaire!
I’m Sam VanFleet, aka VanFleet Mustangs. My passion is competing in Extreme Mustang Makeovers and helping get mustangs out of holding and into new homes. Along the way, I have discovered how much working off the line has improved how I listen to my horses. While working with young, green horses and wild mustangs, you can’t always follow that ‘Ask, Tell, Demand’ motto. If they don’t know what you’re asking, you can’t exactly demand it from them. You need to show them the answer, follow through, and teach them. That’s how I got into liberty work, and now I use it with every horse I work with.
Can You Do Liberty with Your Horse? Of Course You Can!
Anyone can do liberty with their horse. In fact, it can help you in all aspects of listening and having a better connection to your horse whether you mainly trail ride, show, or just hang out with your horse. Liberty really boils down to communication through body language. Even if you don’t plan to start performing at liberty, it’s still fun to play around with at home. If you’re looking for something new to do with your horse during the COVID-19 quarantine, liberty may be something fun to try. Read on to learn about a few things that are important to remember while working your horse at liberty.
There’s A Lot of Draw Involved
You need to be able to get your horse to follow you. How can you do that? Reward them for being with you by letting them rest when they’re nearby. The best way to start working on your horse’s draw is to walk backwards while facing your horse and hold a whip straight out parallel to your horse. It creates a little bit of a funnel for your horse to come into you. Once you want to stop, slowly lower your whip as your pace slows down until you come to a halt. Rub on your horse to reward them.
You can start on the rail with this exercise and then slowly ease off the rail and into a more open area. Remember to keep a personal bubble. It’s not OK for your horse to be on top of you. Back them up if they get in your space uninvited.
Once your horse seems to have a pretty strong draw, you can start adding sharper turns into your liberty work. Start doing this by backing up in smaller steps and turning in a circle. If your horse veers off, go back to walking backwards in a straight line. As soon as your horse catches up to you, reward them by stopping to pet them. Eventually your horse should begin circling around you. If you feel like your horse is connected, ask them to come up to the trot!
Walk In Step with Your Horse
If your horse is pretty good at drawing, try working shoulder to poll with your horse! See if they take a step with you when you start walking. Will they trot if you speed up your pace and stop when you stop? If your horse is lagging behind you, carry a dressage or carriage whip and reach back to tap them until they catch up. Once they catch up, come to a halt and rub on them. If they have no issue speeding up and taking off, but blow through you when you want to halt, then back them up as soon as you ask them to halt. Make sure you back them up at least 5-6 steps. After a few corrections this will start to slow down their thinking and tune them in to your body language a bit more. You can eventually try making a figure-eight and adjusting your speed!
Remember to Have Fun with It!
It’s really about tuning into your horse and seeing if you can communicate with them more through body language than a halter and lead rope. If you’re wanting more specific liberty exercises, I have a couple YouTube videos on how to start liberty with your horse:
Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel to keep up with my how-to videos and more! For positive reinforcement, I recommend these treats. If you need a whip, this will work perfectly.
Have fun with your liberty training!