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Lessons in Liberty – Part 2


If’ you’ve been reading along in our blog series with Jim Anderson, you may have caught our last installment. If not, you can always catch it here! In the last blog, we revealed 2014 Road to the Horse Champion Jim Anderson’s foundation principles of liberty training. In this blog, we take those notions a step further and build on the first exercise of moving the horse’s hindquarters, to more advanced techniques of body control with the horse in a halter and lead.

“When we put these first four exercises together, we’re laying the foundation of our communication with our horse,” the trainer says. “At liberty, you need this so badly because eventually, we won’t have a halter or saddle or bridle on the horse. If they don’t want to to be there with you, they not going to be. However, if you can train your horse through these basic exercises, there’s never worry nor fear from him – so he wants to be with you.”

The tricky part is teaching a horse the contrast between yielding exercises and “joining up.”

“There’s a big difference in teaching a horse how to yield away from you, but not run away from you,” Anderson explains. “When you put pressure on the horse, they should yield from the pressure – but with confidence. If they yield out of fear and you took the halter off – the horse would be gone. I need to be able to use my giddy-up stick and have it mean certain cues to my horse, without it ever implying to him ‘Leave me.’”

Often, people don’t mean to teach their horses this, but it happens unintentionally.

“It’s one of the most important points of liberty training. Pressure is something that signals to the equine they should remain with us, not leave us. Horses in nature use pressure but they’re actually still joined up. They can put pressure on each other, but they still want to be together. That’s what we need to figure out as riders or handlers. Well-trained liberty horses understand this – they don’t take it personally.”

• Rope halter
• Soft lead shank (0.5” thick, 16-feet long)
• Giddy-Up stick (On average,a four-foot dressage whip – depending on the horse.)

First Exercise: Yielding the Hind Quarters. Again, you need to read the first blog in our installment for this exercise.

Exercise #2.

Second Exercise: Get the Horse’s Shoulders Yielding Away From the Handler. The horse may yield away from us, but they must remain focused on us as they yield away. So when you yield the shoulder, the horse must always have one eye looking at us.


Exercise #3.

3rd Exercise: Softening of the head and neck. Softening it laterally; right and left. And softening it vertically; being able to set the head and neck down. When you can put the head wherever you want, it means the horse really has confidence in us as the handler. It’s an exercise that helps to bring the focus back to us.


Exercise #4.

4th Exercise: The Ribcage. When the horse circles on the lead line it arcs its ribcage around us. The horse has to give its ribcage and arc its entire body around yet, their whole focus is on us as they’re still kind of yielding away. They should hold a perfect circle around us and they should not push into us at any point. The horse must keep the same radius around, with the ribcage arced to the outside.

When I point my giddy-up stick at the ribcage, the horse should bend it outward and actually give me one eye or two. When the stick goes to the ground, that’s when he should yield his hindquarters away, but come to me. This is why it’s so important for the development of subtle cues – learned through the repetition of exercises one through four. When we are successful in all of them, I can merely bend my giddy-up stick at my horse and he does what I am requesting. The important point here is that my cues are incredibly subtle.


Lessons in Liberty

Jim Anderson was recently featured on a television feature this past weekend. It’s all part of Equus: The Story of the Horse airing Sunday nights on The Nature of Things at 8 PM on CBC-TV. Photo by Jenn Webster.


Did you happen to catch Equus, Story of the Horse on CBC (The Nature of Things) this past Sunday on TV? In this beautiful documentary that will feature over three hours with anthropologist-turned-filmmaker Niobe Thompson, viewers are taken on an epic journey across 11 countries and back in time to the mysterious beginnings of thehorse-human relationship. Thompson also spends a day in the Canadian Rockies with our friend and  “extreme cowboy” Jimmy Anderson, a professional trainer who has many accolades to his name. Anderson has left the old idea of “breaking horses” behind and he showcases his concepts in the TV feature.

We’ve featured Jimmy in many issues of WHR before, but back in 2016 we had the opportunity to spend a whole day with him, his wife Andrea and their horses. On this very special day, we got an inside look at some of the very first steps in liberty training. As the equine world is constantly shifting, those lessons learned back in 2016 are still applicable today. A well balanced seat and effective discipline-specific skills are no longer the only pursuits of the western rider these days. With the desire to create an even deeper connection with their horses, many western aficionados have turned to liberty to enrich their horse-to-human communication.

Jim and Andrea Anderson.

In unrestrained, free environments accentuated by the absence of tack, a handler can take one’s horsemanship to a new level with liberty. It’s a discipline limited only by a handler’s imagination and it’s reached through a willing partnership.

With a collection of exercises from the 2014 Road to the Horse Champion, Jim Anderson that we’ll detail in a dual-part blog series, you too, can achieve a higher level of learning and ultimately, an increased state of “brokeness” with your horse. Upon closer inspection, you’ll realize that the underlying foundation of liberty is no different than that of any other discipline – it simply allows for a little more creativity upon execution.

• Rope halter
• Soft lead shank (0.5” thick, 16-feet long)
• Giddy-Up stick (On average,a four-foot dressage whip – depending on the horse.)

It’s important to note a horse must first have an understanding of your cues while still haltered and on your line, before you can turn him loose. If not, your horse will not easily find the answer you’re hoping he’ll reach because he doesn’t understand. Once you’ve laid the foundation for him how to learn, your horse can be successful with liberty. In fact, you are setting him up for success by keeping him on line until he understands your cues 100 per cent.

“When we put any kind of contact or pressure to a horse, he will automatically look for a release or a reward,” says Anderson. “If the horse doesn’t know any better, when you first put pressure on him, his self-preservation kicks in. He will react with fight, flight, a kick or a bite. It’s only after we’ve first taught the horse how to learn and built a foundation for learning, that we can go towards liberty.”

Anderson explains that in order to prepare a horse for learning, a handler must first show the horse how to look for his reward.

“What’s important is that you set the foundation so when your horse is faced with a task, his self-preservation doesn’t kick in and we don’t create worry and fear within him,” the trainer says. “We don’t train for liberty through pressure and punishment – we train through reward.”

He clarifies that the horse will operate from its “self-preservation brain” or from its “thinking brain.” A handler aims to get the horse thinking from the latter so he’s always looking for a reward and not worried about pressure or punishment. After that, you can begin to incorporate body control into the training.

“It doesn’t matter which discipline you go to eventually, it’s all put together by several pieces of basic body control into one maneuver. An example of a higher degree of difficulty maneuver would be the lead change at liberty. In it, you’re asking the horse several things at once. But instead of the horse worrying, he has learned how to think his way through your instruction. You do this by starting with very little, simple things.”

Holding the lead in one hand, you want your horse to walk or trot in comfortable circles around you.

Yielding the Hind Quarters
Working with the horse in a halter on the line and a Giddy-Up stick, the very first goal of liberty in Anderson’s program is to teach the horse how to yield his hindquarters. This exercise is twofold in that it teaches the horse how to physically move his hind end on your cue, but it also brings both of his eyes back to you as the handler – an essential component of liberty. When the horse has both of his eyes on you, he doesn’t have one eye looking out to the pasture.

“In liberty it’s not enough for the horse to be attentive and focused on us – we also need to be attentive and focused on him. With a horse, the focus leaves first and the feet follow. If we don’t have halter and shank attached to it, at liberty the horse can just leave. We have to focused and attentive on our horse, so we keep his focus. We need the ability to divert his attention back to us at any time. That way, we can also join his feet up to us even more,” Anderson explains.

“When the horse’s focus is on you 100 per cent, the join up and the bond between you and the horse becomes really strong. That’s the whole foundation of liberty,” he says.

Hold your Giddy-Up stick in the opposite hand, pointed away from the hindquarters until you are ready to move the hindquarters.


“When I want the horse to yield his hindquarters away from me, I hold my inside hand (the one holding the lead) up near his eye and direct my Giddy-Up stick towards his hind feet.” – Jim Anderson

“The goal is to get him to swing his hind end away even just one step, but the main key is to have him put both of his eyes on me as a result.” – Jim Anderson


When he does, I relax both my Giddy-Up stick and my focus and reach towards my horse to pet and reward him.

*NOTE: It’s important to note that there is a balance between yielding exercises and joining up. There’s a big difference in teaching a horse how to respond to the Giddy-Up stick, rather than running away from it. It’s normal in horsemanship to train horses to go forward or faster when we longe them – increased pressure from the stick means “go faster” or “move out.” In liberty, a handler must refine the concept with the horse somewhat and teach him that we will put pressure on him with the stick, but when the horse yields away from the pressure with confidence, he is rewarded. He’s still joined up with the handler and not reacting in flight mode. When the horse isn’t worried about pressure, we can finally take the halter off and he won’t leave. Utilizing a Giddy-Up stick should never indicate “leave the handler” to the horse. It’s only after we’ve established exercises like yielding the hindquarters plus other basic body control concepts, that we can then advance into more intermediate liberty concepts. Stay tuned for our next blog and until then – keep your halters on!

Calgary Stampede's 4-H's Rodeo

The kids may be champing at the bit, so to speak. But organizers of the Calgary Stampede’s Invitational 4-H Rodeo make sure to combine enthusiasm with education.

The Stampede’s 15th annual Invitational 4-H Rodeo, sponsored by Westcan Bulk Transport, Bayer CropScience and Lammle’s Western Wear and Tack, will set up shop at Olds College, in Olds, Alta., on Saturday, Aug. 25 and Sunday, Aug. 26. About 100 youngsters, aged 9 through 20 and representing about 30 4-H clubs across Alberta, will climb into the saddle — many of them entering the rodeo ring for the very first time.

Master bit maker Dave Elliott, of Fort Macleod, Alta., will be conducting a clinic on bits and bit fitting on Saturday, Aug. 25 during the Calgary Stampede’s 15th annual Invitational 4-H Rodeo at Olds College in Olds, AB. Photo credit: Calgary Stampede

And that’s why education is priority No. 1 at the Stampede’s 4-H Rodeo, with the mornings of Aug. 25 and 26 chock-a-block with seminars and clinics, conducted by some of the sport’s finest and most erudite practitioners. The weekend clinic schedule includes everything from yoga tutelage to trick riding demonstrations to breakaway roping lessons. And, in the interests of keeping equine companions happy and healthy, there’ll be some extremely important instruction on horse care — from head to toe.

Master bit maker Dave Elliott, owner of Elliott Bits and Spurs in Fort Macleod, Alta., will provide critical advice on bits and bit fitting on the morning of Saturday, Aug. 25 — heavy on the anatomical perspective, and free of various industry influences.

“Through an emphasis on anatomy, and a non-marketing-based approach, we try to help owners be better to their horses. Because the simple fact is that the wrong bit, or the wrong fit, can not only hurt a horse — it can traumatize a horse,” says Elliott. “Bitting, really, is a process of elimination, based on a horse’s likes and dislikes in terms of pressure on the tongue, or the bars (gums), or the palate, and so on.

“We talk about neurological connections and muscle connections. We talk about the nerves in the tongue, and how they affect the ear, the stomach, and the eye directly. Can you create ulcers in your horse’s stomach by the way you use your bit? Definitely,” adds Elliott. “And because of the relative age and experience of our audience, we’re building a philosophy, not trying to change a philosophy.”

Veteran farrier Marshall Iles of Calgary, meanwhile, will be leading Aug. 25 morning seminars on basic equine hoof care from an owner’s perspective.

“It’s just like a car. It doesn’t matter how expensive your car is — if you’ve got a flat tire, you’re not going anywhere,” says Iles, a volunteer with the Stampede’s annual World Championship Blacksmiths’ Competition for more than three decades. “We’ll be discussing the reasons why horses need shoes, identifying parts of the horse’s foot so they have an educated point of reference, and covering off different shoes and tools, as well as basic anatomy and physiology.”

This year’s Stampede 4-H Rodeo is expected to draw participants from the Montana border all the way up into the Peace Country.

Over the years, various rodeo careers have been launched at the Stampede 4-H Rodeo, with some devotees moving on to Wrangler (junior high), high school, college, amateur, and even professional rodeo. Given that tradition, organizers of the Stampede’s 4-H Rodeo are always seeking top-notch expertise, with lessons to last a lifetime.

Organizers of the Stampede’s annual Invitational 4-H Rodeo make education priority No. 1, with a series of seminars and clinics focusing on everything from breakaway roping to goat tying to yoga. Photo credit: Calgary Stampede

The 2012 edition will also feature Aug. 25 seminars on yoga by Strathmore, Alta.-based Becky Stone, a certified yoga instructor with an extensive rodeo background. Meanwhile, Niki Cammaert Flundra, an internationally recognized trick rider now based in Pincher Creek, Alta., will be giving trick riding demonstrations with her students and discussing liberty horse training.

On the morning of Aug. 26, Dave Shields of Okotoks, Alta., an owner of the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame’s Legendary Achievement Award, will conduct a roughstock clinic while Lindsay Miller of Dalemead, Alta., a competitor in the Canadian All Girl Rodeo Association, will present a goat-tying seminar. The same morning, Lorne Lausen of Strathmore, Alta., and colleague Bryan Mandeville will conduct a breakaway roping session.

“I think things are just getting better and better on the educational front, with quality clinicians every year. We feel, as a committee, that this is extremely important, because generally speaking, kids don’t get the opportunity to learn from the experts — the guys and gals who’ve been there,” says Laura Frank, vice-chair of the Stampede’s 4-H Rodeo committee. “We bring in the fundamental aspects of rodeo — the discussion of animal care, body care, even mind care. I think that’s what is really unique and exciting for the kids at the Stampede 4-H Rodeo — they get to test the waters in a safe environment.”

The participants in the Stampede’s 4-H Rodeo get turned loose in the afternoon, with timed events (barrel racing, pole bending, and thread-the-needle) scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 25 and roughstock events (goat tying, steer daubing, breakaway roping, and cow riding) slated for Sunday, Aug. 26. The afternoon rodeo begins at 1 p.m. both days.

This year’s Stampede 4-H Rodeo is being held off-site in Olds, and about a month earlier than usual, because of work on the Agrium Western Events Center, one of the most significant infrastructure projects in Stampede history. For details and artistic renderings of this magnificent 150,000-square-foot agriculture showcase and competition venue, scheduled for completion in 2014, visit