Liberty Horsemanship stems from emulating the Horse’s natural state of Being. The relationship between the Horse and Humans grows through patience, trust and a sense of shared presence. Horses at Liberty perceive humans as members of their herd in a role that resembles the Lead Mare, one who is the heart and mind of the herd. The Lead Mare is a protector for the herd, always observant of the surroundings and in tune with the horses’ sense of safety and belonging. The Lead Mare emulates wisdom and strength, and as such, the horses naturally defer to this position in the herd.
Creating a Sound Environment for Horses at Liberty
Specific strategies enable humans to foster a sound environment for horses to live at liberty. These tactics require patience, consistency and a flexible mindset as unique horses and circumstances arise. Always, the goal is to foster trust between horses and human.
Wild horses graze in wide open spaces. In a domestic setting, we emulate this behavior with Slow Feeding. Providing as open and wide a space possible, like paddocks, we scatter multiple feeding bins with netted covers to simulate grazing behavior. The horses move throughout the day and night, nibbling their feed rather than gobbling flakes of hay once or twice a day. Slow Feeding complements the horse’s natural digestion by processing small amounts of hay and grasses throughout the day, minimizing digestive disorders.
Multiple water troughs are placed throughout the environment to encourage movement and interest in the environment. We emphasize the importance of clean water by changing the water daily and cleaning the troughs a few times a week.
Space to Be Horses
This is fostered by providing as wide and open space possible in a paddock-style environment. Paddocks allow us to temporarily separate horses when needed for care and medical attention as well as encourage safe social interactions when new horses arrive to the herd. The horses are given vast amounts of time and space to occupy their environment without pressure or command, except in the case of medical situations. They live in a natural herd setting, communicating with each other and establishing a hierarchy among themselves. Human caregivers move throughout this space in the role of Lead Mare, ensuring a sense of trust and safety through regular care and grounds maintenance.
Natural Presence and Relationship:
Establishing a relationship with Horses at Liberty means finding your way with each horse and learning to listen to a non-verbal mode of communication. There are the standard signals with horses, like watching their ears, eyes and hind legs, but there are also more subtle means of communication that are unique to each horse. Like relationships between humans, fostering trust and making a genuine bond with an intelligent animals requires time, patience and compassion.
The basis for trust begins with consistent and quality care. Relationship stems from providing a sound comfort zone before asking anything from the horse. Some fundamental techniques that establish a mutual relationship include:
This is the prevailing incentive when fostering a relationship with Horses at Liberty. Reinforcements include clicking, treats and positive touch and are offered gratuitously. We find, that while horses eagerly respond to treats, they are very responsive to positive touch as highly sensitive and somatic beings.
The Importance of Play and Movement
An integral to a healthy and fun relationship with Horses at Liberty. Fundamentally, we practice a non-riding philosophy with our horses. Exercise and stimulation are provided through exploratory walks, conversation and games. We use soft harness and long leads for walks and encourage the horses to explore their surroundings during walks. Using positive reinforcement, we cultivate good manners for walks for safety reasons. During daily routines, including cleaning, maintenance, care and bathing - we include the horses’ interactions and interests in what we are doing. This does mean that chores may take longer due to the horses’ input and curiosity. Care and bathing are conducted without restraints, and the horses learn to cooperate with these routines through positive reinforcement and patience. Play is integral to a fun relationship with horses, and we engineer a variety of games with the horses based on their unique personalities.
is a technique that sets a boundary between the horse and human. Touching the horse in the center of their chest, applying pressure and saying, “Back-UP,” is followed by clicking, positive touch and a treat when the horse complies with the request. Eventually, the horse learns to Back-UP with just the pressure signal and positive touch as the reward.
Presence and Bubbles
This refers to a horse’s nature as a somatic being. Horses are keenly aware of their surroundings as a prey animal. They sense movements, changes, sights and sounds at a much greater distance than we realize. For this reason, we are sensitive to each horse’s bubble, the large space around the horse that signals changes in their environment. Moving slowly and intuitively, within the horse’s view and alerting the horse with vocal signals considers the horse’s view of our relationship.
What we don't do...
Horses at Liberty does not ascribe to dominant behaviors and commands. We believe that assuming the role of dominance confuses the horses and engenders a relationship based on fear instead of trust. For these reasons, we do not practice the use of bridles, harsh restraints, physical discipline, forced lunging, riding, use of horses for labor or confinement in stalls.
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