I thought I’d share a few words about liberty work with young horses, or even older rehabilitation project horses. What we’re trying to do with this is a sort of Yang/Yang thing that involves trust on the one side, and respect on the other.
First, I want a horse to move when I tell him to move. Then, I want him to willingly come to me, and stay beside me while I rub on him. In the small pen that starts with making noise or waving objects to make the horse move. But it’s not about wearing him out so he’ll be too tired to flee or kick or buck. An untrained animal is never too tired to kick into “evasion” gear!
As a horse is moving around the perimeter of a square or round pen he will give indications of beginning to work with you. One of the earliest signs is that he slows down, then points his inside ear at you. The way the horses vision works causes him to point an ear in the direction of his concentration. Next, he will stop, and if he faces you, and begins to lick and chew, you have achieved your goal. If he turns away, well, he gets to run more, until he figures out that it’s better to turn toward you. The next thing I work on is to walk around the side of the horse until he takes one step away from me with a hind foot. When he does,I turn away, to reward him. This gets repeated multiple times on each side. At some point, he will actually add one step toward me with a front foot. When he does, that session is now over. He goes back to the stall. He has now shown me some willingness to work, some curiosity, even maybe the beginning of trust.
So there you have started a conversation. He obeys your signal to move, and yet he shows some trust by moving toward you. In repeated sessions this mere spiderweb of trust can build into a strong bond, as long as you keep the rules of engagement in mind: ask frequently, expect little, reward the slightest try. The best reward? Turn and Walk away.