STORY & PHOTOS BY JENN WEBSTER
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.”
TOOLS YOU’LL NEED:
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.