Monday, February 15, 2016

Mind, Body and Spirit: Working With My Horses at Liberty

"Generally, people have no idea what I'm talking about, so we need to try to figure out some way to understand this thing the horse is so full of, and that he has such a strong desire to get from the person in return. ...It has to be togetherness. ....Mind, Body and Spirit is what we're talking about here."

Tom Dorrance, True Unity


I love how when you're actively engaged in a passion, one thing leads to another.  Maybe you're thinking about that thing more, so you naturally pick up brighter details.

"When you look over on that hill there, why you may not see anything the first time you look. But, you keep looking and you're liable to pick up something you didn't see the first time." Bill Dorrance, True Horsemanship Through Feel

After seeing the movie Taming Wild and then, in my search for more connection, or togetherness, with Leah, decided to give "at liberty" a try, I have been experimenting more and more with the "thing the horse is so full of, and that he has such a strong desire to get from the person in return." 

I spent the latter part of the week doing most of my work with the horses in their pasture.  It was so fun, and freeing, it didn't feel like "training", yet, there was so much going on in our relationships.

Cowboy so enjoyed following me at liberty, I couldn't get him to separate.  I walked, jogged, zig-zagged, and he was like glue.  He had a deep, natural desire to follow and be with me.

Beautiful, at first reactive, also started to follow, and even defied the herd leader, Cowgirl, to do so.  Also, by the end of the weekend, her usually high-held head had lowered.  She had a new calm as I'd walk up the road to their turnout. 


Leah, who had been avoiding me, started walking swiftly toward me whenever I'd enter the turnout.  It was as if I was holding treats...but I wasn't.  

I'm reading True Unity by Tom Dorrance and the same basic principles are there.  In fact, he said he wouldn't feel safe on a horse that he didn't have that togetherness with.  And, by togetherness he means body, mind, and spirit. I couldn't believe I was reading about the "spiritual" aspect of horses from an old cowboy.  

There's something strong that happens between horses and humans, and there's such a curiosity and joy in it all.

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Guess what I got for Valentine's Day?


150 tons of sand.


And flowers.


And a date night to the Symphony (Tchaikovsky on Dante) at the beautiful Fox Theater.

It was a memorable weekend, love from my horses and love from my husband...lots of love to go around.  

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After starting the book, True Unity, a post came up on my Facebook page from it:

"We are trying to build up a horse's confidence. We're trying to get him brave in his feet. His feet are really scared, so we are trying to get his feet to be really brave."

- Tom Dorrance from the book, "True Unity".

Just one of those sweet confirmations telling me I'm on the right path.

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I welcome all of your own stories and thoughts on "at liberty" work, the book True Unity, Tom Dorrance and anything else you can add about the horse/human connection.

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Note to myself: Don't try at liberty work when the horses are hungry. 

17 comments:

  1. What a beautiful post. I really have to try and get some of Tom's books.
    I love your note to yourself too. :)

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    1. That's an easy one to get. I'd like to get Bill, his brother's book, but it starts at 91.90 on Amazon. If you find it for less, let me know. "When you look over on that hill there, why you may not see anything the first time you look. But, you keep looking and you're liable to pick up something you didn't see the first time." Bill Dorrance, True Horsemanship Through Feel

      My note to self was what I learned this evening. They ate through their round bale, so they weren't as satisfied as they normally are. They could only think of eating and they were not happy with me for wanting to play.

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  2. Liberty is such a wonderful part of training. I learned the hard way this summer that all work (training) and no play (liberty/jumping) makes Gambler mischievous and discontent. This is probably more true with him than other horses because of his personality, but it has served me well.

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    1. I think liberty is good for both of us in that our minds are stretched out of the box when we don't have "tools". We have to think more about how we're going to work with our horses to achieve connection and accomplish a goal. I'm going to take the tarp out today and try to get Beautiful and Leah to cross it at liberty. Should be interesting. Beautiful is a lot like your Gambler--very fun loving.

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  3. This all rings so true -- especially in regards to my experience with Tex. Lucy, like Cowboy, is stuck to me like glue. Tex and I are working on relationship -- this post makes me feel like we're on the right track.

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    1. I've been thinking about all these terms--partnership, connection, unity, togetherness...relationship....the reason we love horses. They want it. I can only think that Tex must feel more secure knowing he has his human's heart. I think you were very wise to start there, Annette. I'm excited to see what he gives back to you because you took the time and got to know him.

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  4. Have you seen/heard of Jonathan Field’s “The Art of Liberty Training for Horses”? It would be an excellent resource for you in your liberty work. Jonathan is a Canadian horseman and he has a kind and gentle way with horses – he truly speaks their language. Here’s a link for info. on the book: https://jonathanfieldhorsemanship.net/shop/liberty-book

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    1. No, I hadn't heard of that book. It looks interesting. Thank you for the recommendation. :)

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  5. Couple of years ago my friend put on an open house @ her training facility - one of the exhibitions was a dog & handler running an agility course on 1 side of the arena with my friend & her horse @ liberty running a similar obstacle course on the other side @ the same time. It was a lot of practice to do a tandem demo with 2 different animals, but very impressive to watch, I think in part because people expect to see a dog doing this stuff but not so much a horse, & @ liberty to boot.

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    1. I would have loved to have seen it. What an amazing accomplishment for your friend and her horse.

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  6. It sounds like you and the horses are having fun and forming wonderful partnerships with your at liberty fun. I have one Dorrance book called Horsemanship Through Feel and I love it. So many useful insights in there. I'll have to check out the one you have on True Unity.

    Haven't actually had a chance to do anything with the horses with our below 0 freezing temps and frozen water pipes. I'm hoping to start doing something this weekend though.

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    1. Ah, you have the one I want. I've been reading portions of it online, but I can't find under $91.00 for sale, and that just seems like too much money. I may have to do a library search. I believe that one is by his brother Bill. Dear Lord, it's cold where you are. I've been reading about that. I'm so sorry!! All you can do is try to survive.

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  7. I love spending time with my horses in the pasture. I feel much more like they view me as an amiable herd member. Everyone comes right up to me. I move among members of the herd at will with no suspicion from anyone that I might catch them....if I wander through with a halter and leadrope, a couple older wiser horses will choose to walk away when I approach. All the babies always just come right up to see what I'm doing. I am the boss even when I'm just walking around petting horses. They know they are not allowed to make crabby faces at one another and if I'm around they are not supposed to chase eachother. The young ones are still learning that. I can lead any horse around by just my arm under their neck pulling their mane directing them. I love the softness that I've developed with them by doing this. It's made a huge difference with Shimmer too. She used to be hard to catch, butt toward me, but once she was with the herd, instead of being harder to catch, she got easier.

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    1. Wow, that is amazing. I guess we could say that our work within the herd is our most powerful tool for overall connection. It seems too simple. It is simple. The other night when we put out a round bale, I went and stood at the feeder with the alpha horse. She gave me my choice of spots. It was pitch dark, but we could see each other. I saw Cowgirl's ears go back and turned to find Beautiful approaching me. I pushes her to a less desirable spot at the feeder and it seemed to make her calmer. My husband and I just stood there and enjoyed being part of their dinner table company. They acted like it was normal and we have an open invitation.

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  8. Awesome V Day for you! I'm getting some sand and D.G. delivered today -- only 30 tons to fill in the low spots, though.

    I felt closest to heaven during one at liberty moment. I had moved my horses from NV to AZ and hadn't seen them in a month or so. When I arrived at the stable where I was boarding them, I led all three out of their stalls into the arena and free lunged them without ropes and whips. All three trotted around me in unison, spaced perfectly evenly apart, as if they were in a round pen and not a large rectangular arena. I have no idea what I did differently that day to receive so much cooperation. I think the horses were just happy to see me.

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    1. That is beautiful! I know how you feel--you get a moment like that and you wonder if you'll ever get another one. The stars just line up. :)

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