We’ve all heard and by now probably rolled our eyes at the popular maxim, “If you love something, set it free.” Certainly, when it comes to horses, there is an amount of truth to the idea…and we’re not talking about a made-for-TV moment where the young hero opens the paddock gate and lets the beautiful steed gallop away. The truth we speak of is giving the horse freedom of choice: the opportunity to choose to be with you, rather than making that choice for him by keeping him at your side or under saddle through coercion.
In THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES, horseman and clinician Jonathan Field talks about establishing this kind of connection—the one where you “free” the horse from having to stay with you for all the usual reasons (halters, ropes, saddles, fences, for example) and instead give him far better reasons to seek a partnership with you, in all that you do together.
“Through experience, I have learned there needs to be a balance between asking a horse to be connected with me and allowing him to be free, looking away,” writes Jonathan. “If you get this balance right, the horse wants to be with you even more, so you don’t have to constantly drive to get his attention.
“Sometimes, there is so much focus on keeping the horse with the person that the horse develops a lot of tension about the interaction. You may see that with a horse that looks sour at liberty. This becomes what I call ‘connection tension.’ A horse is connected, but hates it and is wishing for relief other than what he can find with his person. In years gone by, I have been there with my horses; I would look at them, wondering why they were so upset. I changed how I went about things and now watch my horses to tell me if I am on the right track. As it turned out, the very thing I spent most of my time trying to avoid was just what my horses needed: a breather and the opportunity to move freely to relieve the tension of focusing.
“The obvious worry about a horse leaving is, ‘What if he doesn’t come back?’ I get that, but an even worse situation can occur: What happens when our horse is with us, but he hates it? That defeats the entire purpose of trying to build communication with him. Something we need to teach our horse is that disconnection isn’t a negative reaction he is getting away with. By making it part of our flow at liberty, he will learn to return to us. In that moment of disconnect, he needs to be comfortable to quickly come right back. It’s a moving dynamic; we need to develop the feel and eye to see it.”
Find out how to develop the confidence to “let go” and encourage your horse moments of disconnect, so that your periods of connection are stronger and more consistent, in THE ART OF LIBERTY TRAINING FOR HORSES, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.
You can see Jonathan Field in person at the 2015 Horse Expo Pomona January 30-February 1! Click here for more information.