Liberty: What’s the Point?

Glenn Stewart Natural Horsemanship

Unfortunately, a lot of the things people do are to impress someone else.  If people are doing liberty to impress others, their horse knows and it shows.  If they are doing liberty to see how much of a relationship they can build, that also shows.  Making them circle or follow you around until they start pinning their ears is not good horsemanship and is pointless other than it might impress the neighbor but still it isn't impressing the horse. The more you can ask, or do, with a horse and the horse thinks it is interesting, and the play drive and curiosity is kept alive, the better the horsemanship.  When liberty is done with this in mind, then there is a point and a purpose to it.

The depth of trust, timing, feel, understanding, athleticism, heart and desire in both the horse and the human has to be developed and protected, especially in the horse, because it's our idea and we initiate it.  I often see horses doing liberty and a lot of what is going on is strictly for the human’s enjoyment.  When things are done coming from this place of selfishness, liberty never ever gets real good, and definitely has a ceiling to it. We need to try as often as possible to make liberty as interesting and fun for the horse as it is for us.

From a more pragmatic perspective, liberty with ole Dobbin is easy. Trying to take the liberty people use with Dobbin and use it in a real life setting such as with the wild horses in the mountains, it is quite another story. It takes some real savvy to talk one of those horses into allowing you to touch them without a rope. What we learn working with Dobbin is a start but, generally, there needs to be a much deeper level of understanding to do liberty with a wild horse.  It would be very handy to have the skills to use in a setting such as this real life situation.  The wild mountain horses we play with won't accept mediocre timing, too much pressure, too little pressure, poor angles, or lack of feel and flow.

Liberty is also used to develop self-carriage and impulsion and should be something horses can have fun with. The more we learn, the more we can see these things. The more we learn to see the things that may be or not be there, like the horse’s play drive or self-carriage, the more we can develop these areas. Many times it was there, but it's gone now. Why did it go - where is it, and can I get it back. When I say where has "it" gone, or I've never seen “it”, can I get "it", I’m talking about everything from the try a horse has, the play drive, his self-carriage, suppleness, and roundness to respect and confidence.

Liberty is another way to develop ourselves and our horses that you can't get by only doing 3 of the 4 Savvy’s (Online, Freestyle and Finesse).  I really believe the more gadgets, devices, equipment and tools we take away from ourselves the better we get. The tools and equipment we use are a safety net to use while we learn and should be thought of as a way to help the horse make the right choice easier and help make the answers easier to find.  The less reliance on tools, gear and equipment to make the horse do something compared to learning the skills needed to become or develop into things we do together with the horse, the closer we get to becoming a "horseman".  You might have heard me say, “You can fool the fans but you can't fool the players, you can add that we sure can't fool our horses." How’s that for a long-winded answer to your question?  If you visit our website at and look under "articles" you can see a little movie clip you might enjoy.  It shows a bit about how a horse’s confidence can be built using liberty. 

Have fun and enjoy your holidays with your family and with your horse!


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