For years dog owners have been training their dogs to work off leash in all situations. Whether this was to prepare them for the show ring or just to come when called while playing in the park, it is important for dogs to be reliable without having to be tethered to their human companions.
This has not been the case for horses. As horses are large animals, people feel the need to have some direct control over them at all times when requiring them to perform. Bits in their mouths, tight reins to control them and spurs to make them move forward, are all the traditional means of dominating horses.
In recent years these tools have been proven unnecessary by trainers such as Pat Parrelli, Monty Roberts, Lynn Palm and others who have proven that creating a relationship with one’s horse reduces the need for harsh training tools. The methods these trainers utilize is called Liberty Training.
Trainers of horses who work in feature films began this trend, as more often than not, the horses would have to perform without their trainer in a distraction filled environment, sometimes without the benefit of an enclosure. These horses had to be liberty trained and reliable.
Though useful in filmmaking and at exhibitions to wow the audience, most horse enthusiasts never saw the need for this type of training with their own horses. After watching a fantastic exhibition of equine control without the benefit of tack they would go home and return to their normal traditional riding and training methods – bits, bridles, saddles and spurs.
When you embrace the reason for Liberty training you will also see how it can totally change the relationship with your horse from one of domination to that of partnership. A horse that is taught at Liberty will perform with more pizzazz, as he is thoroughly enjoying himself and the challenges you present. Your horse will want to be with you, not continually try to escape you.
And, the reasons for Liberty training? First of all, the development of communication between you and your horse. Not just communication when you are aboard or leading him, but to fully understand each other’s body language at all times. For him to know when you want him to turn left or right, to come to you or back up. For a young horse who cannot yet be ridden, Liberty training will give him a complete understanding of you prior to your teaching him the meanings of leg and seat cues when you are riding him. Liberty training will reduce the need for harsh bits as your horse will fully understand how to respond when requested. If you are adventurous and have a good riding seat you can become totally in tune with your horse without the use of tack.
Saddles place a barrier between you and your horse. While you often learn how to recognize his reactions while riding with a saddle, you will feel them prior to experiencing them if you ride without tack. If your horse is in tune with you through Liberty training, you can tell him what to do while riding without needing to dominate him to make him perform. You will feel when he is insecure, frightened, relaxed or anticipatory.
Bridles and bits may give control of your horse’s head but they don’t control his mind. They are there to react to his movements, control his direction. If your horse is Liberty trained you will be controlling him through your body language and vocal cues, no need for the bridle to do so.
While many believe that it is impossible to get a horse to hold a head set or properly collect through Liberty training that is incorrect. Through the use of behavior shaping, using positive reinforcement training techniques, similar to those used in modern dog training, your horse will learn to offer the appropriate response without your having to use any force or physical guidance other than your visual and verbal cues.
If you wish to maintain control over your horse through domination, then by all means use your harsh bits and traditional methods. However, if you want to develop a relationship with your horse, teamwork and communication, Liberty training is how you will accomplish these goals. There are few experiences that can compare to this type of partnership.