Playing at Liberty with Horses
Playing at Liberty is the most natural way to communicate with horses. To do this you need to learn a set of skills and learn to communicate like a horse. Learn to understand what your horse is telling you and making sure your horse understands you.
You don’t have a clue what that person is telling you. It helps when the person smiles, does not raise his or her voice and does not yell. At least you don’t feel pressured, which makes it a little easier. But in the end, there no chance of having a conversation regardless of both parties trying very hard.
Often the conversation will end in mutual frustration, creating the impression the other party does not want to listen to you, or does this on purpose. Many people will at this moment start sending their horse around and around. Or even worse, use a whip to punish or force the horse into obedience.
All this, while the horse is trying to figure out what you want and why you are doing this to him or her. And what is happening, because in a herd these kind of situations do not exist.
Liberty is about learning a skill.
Overcoming the communication challenge and understanding each other is the foundation of Liberty with horses. It is a skill. A set of techniques. And in addition to this you need to learn horse language to communicate. Like learning French, Spanish or any other language. Imagine you are native tongue is English and you are an expert in your field. It makes it easier when your audience also masters English. Just imagine you need to teach in French, and you don’t master French. Now your expertise is basically worthless. So not only do you need to learn the skills and techniques, you also need to learn to communicate in horse language.
Not surprisingly overcoming communication, mastering a language is a challenge in any relationship. Even when you speak the same language, it is sometimes hard to have a conversation. There are many ingredients in communication. Intentions, emotions, frustrations, culture, listening and observing using all senses, control of movements and pressure, interpretation and misinterpretation, degree of willingness to participate in the conversation, mood swings, how you feel physically, distractions, a certain situation, communication skills in general, etc.
It all starts by genuinely caring and being interested in the other party.
As in hospitality, which is the business we are in, showing that one genuinely cares and wants to go the extra length helps. That is of course if your body language radiates you care. If you don’t smile, come across intimidating or have a critical look on your face, chances are that the other party will not perceive you really do care. Same with yelling or forcefully telling somebody what to do. You need to radiate care through all senses. From within and with intention.
Living creatures usually don’t mind following good, consistent and competent leadership. They trust your intentions and competence.
Why is working at Liberty natural?
Think of yourself. Don’t you enjoy things more and learn the best when you are not forced? Operating in a non-threatening environment where nobody is screaming or yelling at you? Even when you don’t understand but want to understand? When the person you are working or playing with speaks your language. For people this means learning to communicate the way horses communicate in the herd.
Make it interesting enough for the horse to want to stay with his human. And yes, part of leadership and communication is also to know and understand which pressure to apply. The same pressure horses apply during their communication in the herd.
Will it be more challenging?
Of course, it will be more challenging. It is easier to force the horse to do something than to ask permission and have a mutual conversation. Or seek the horse’s willingness to co-operate and engage in the conversation.
Do we use pressure working at Liberty?
Of course. Positive and Respectful Pressure is an ingredient in any form of communication. To work at Liberty, you need to be open and prepared for differences of opinion and in mutually solving them in a constructive way. Without holding grudges. And yes, of course, learn when you as a leader needs to step in and be firm. Always communicating in horse language. We need to learn to apply pressure the horses way. And most important without anger, frustration and in the moment.
When horses communicate, they use pressure all the time. Mostly in a subtle way, gradually increasing pressure. Horses in the herd use pressure, force, body language, care, relaxation, intention as pressure. However, in horse communication frustration, anger and holding a grudge does not exist. It is always in the moment. There is no tomorrow and no yesterday. It is here. Right now. And tomorrow it might be totally different. Because the horse is preoccupied with surviving at this moment and in this situation. That might change at any time. Just imagine a strong wind comes up, a big piece of plastic flies by, a bunch of horses come racing by the arena you are working in, etc. The moment changes and you need to know how to handle that in horse language.
The Way of The Horse
In the end, working at Liberty with horses can be summarized in as mirroring the way horses, communicate and interact with each other. The way they interact living, moving, surviving and thriving in a herd. That is their most natural place.
Why don’t you start there? Take the time to observe how horses interact with each other at liberty in the herd. Because playing at Liberty comes closest to communicating with horses the way horses communicate in their most natural environment.
Can Everybody learn this?
Most people can, to a certain extent. Some will be more natural at it. Some have talent. Some will learn the skill and art because they are dedicated, passionate and interested.
A perfect example of what a person can accomplish through hard work and dedication is Marijn, one of the owners of The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch and The Trapper Creek Ranch. Born in 1964, Marijn was not raised with horses and until 13 years ago very scared of horses. Marijn was not even interested in horses. Through circumstances, she got interested in Working at Liberty with Horses. Spending endless hours, studying and working with mentors like Farrah Green, Amie Bowers and others, she was invited to participate and give a demonstration in Playing at Liberty at The Art of The Cowgirl Event organized by famous horsewoman Tammy Pate in Phoenix Arizona in 2020.
Marijn did not have any natural talent or special gift to work and play with horses. But she decided to master the skill and made it work. Among other accomplishments, Marijn got her Level 4 Parelli Certification in 2 years.
Just imagine what you could accomplish, putting your mind, dreams and positive energy to work!
All pictures on this page were taken during Art of the Cowgirl, where Marijn gave demonstrations playing with her horses Johnny (Palomino half Mustang), Aisha (grey McCullough Peaks Mustang) and Courage (retired professional cutting horse).
Marijn is a testimonial that also you can do it!
Interested in participating in a 5-Day Liberty Clinic at Trapper Creek Ranch with Farrah Green and Marijn?