I've always wanted to do liberty work! I also think Sugar would love doing it too!
Liberty is it's own kind of sport in the horse world. It also has a lot to do with trick training, (trick riding is separate). Liberty is all off line tricks, so no halters, no leads. The horse listens to the trainer's commands without having anything connected to the horse. There are a lot of tricks in liberty like bowing, rearing, lying down, leading beside, circling, jumping, Spanish walk, side passing and a lot more. Being able to lead beside well is one of the biggest fundamental parts in liberty. But overall do be able to do liberty there's a lot of fundamental groundwork involved.
I've practiced liberty-ish type of stuff with Sugar. She's actually very quick to learn! Today I spent a little time riding her bare back. But after that I took the bridle off and tied a string around her neck. This is just in case I need to pull on her head if I "lose her". There's an invisible circle around me where as long as Sugar is in that space of the circle she'll listen to me. But if she's outside she'll start walking off or not pay attention to me. My mission is to make that circle bigger! These exercises are a bit of a side project but since they're very useful I'm going to start working more on it.
I taught her to lead beside me pretty well. She's not pushy at all! I can ask her to trot just by leaning forward, stretch my hand ahead as if i'm pulling on an invisible lead, and if I have to tap her with my stick towards her rump if she doesn't respond. I also encourage her to trot by doing it myself.
I can stop her easily by stopping myself. A lot of the time as a to let her know ahead of time I'll say "woah".
I also taught her to back up without having to turn around and face her. I march my arms and lean back a little. That's her cue to back up. If she get's "sticky feet" I'll add pressure by marching with more energy and tapping her legs with my stick.
I can also back her up when facing her a pretty good distance. I can actually back her out of the invisible circle and still have her backing and not walking off.
I can yield her hindquarters and forequarters with ease. I can yield her forequarters her with ease from beside her as well. A lot of horses will get pushy when you starting walking in a arc turning into them. Sugar is really good about respecting my space as well as following me.
The only thing I can technically do but not very well is changing sides. I've done this with her before but I need to a lot more work on this as well as more work on her other side. To change sides I look over my shoulder away from her and around to her butt. That's when she switches sides and now she's on my other side.
And lastly, I can ground tie her. This she does very well in her paddock, arena, hitching posts or obstacle course. But she doesn't do as well anywhere else. A lot of the time she will stand there but I can't do off doing something else without wondering if she'll walk off or stay.
Here's a picture of a ground tie session I did with Sugar awhile ago: (with a halter and lead)
"To have the horse trot around beside you in a circle, staying exactly 4 feet away while remaining relaxed, maintaining an arc in his body and keeping slack in the lead rope both in the circle and during changes of direction."
This exercise teaches the horse to bend more in the ribs and softer in the halter. They're also a lot closer to you (4 feet) than they are in lunging. But this exercise is really good for a nervous, reactive horse as well as a pushy horse.
Pushy horses: Been able to work beside you but respect your space. This also helps have them pay attention to you while working so close to you on the ground.
Softer: Arcing that rib cage and getting softer will also help for when you're in the saddle. Softer circles!
Lighter in the halter: This helps for when you pull on the halter for the horse not to pull against it but go with your direction.
I'm going back to some of the basics in this post..
For most of it I just had to be taught once and I had it down. In fact I feel like most of what I learn I can make a good habit of doing. But...I better learn the right thing too because I can make a bad habit fast and it's harder to get rid of.
I'm going to talk about saddling, grooming/care and some of the tack I use.
Grooming/Care: For the grooming I don't usually do a lot if I'm about to ride. The the winter it takes longer to groom because the horses are usually buddy, hoofs caked and tangling mane and tail. In the summer it's very dry here so they really only get dusty (which is very easy to clean compared to mud) and they're hoofs stay clean. I'll do a quick brush down on they're bodies depending on how dirty they are. If I'm in a hurry to start working I won't bother brushing they're manes and tails out. But if I do I brush all the knots out and spray it with this stuff (called Shine-On I think) where it detangles and gives it a shine. I like to use the same spray on their bodies too, to shine it up ;)
I'll clean their hoofs out either every time I ride or every other ride/work with them. Sometimes it just depends how caked they get with pebbles and mud. But like I said it get's caked in the winter and almost always stays clean in the summer. Although in the summer it's very dry so I'll paint they're hoofs with oil so it doesn't crack. Depending on how dry I'll do this once or twice a week. In the winter I don't need too of course since it's wet enough.
I also like to bathe them in the summer usually after a ride or groundwork session. If I bathe them before I ride I have to make sure they're dry enough so the pad and other tack doesn't rub.
In the winter the nights are colder and I ride mostly in the afternoons so I need to make sure they're dry from sweat before letting them go. Horses can get really sweaty and hot depending on how much you work them even in cold winter. I can do a cool down by riding them at a walk for about 10 minutes before getting off or I could lead them for the same time. When I untack them I'll rub them down as much as I can to dry them off. I'll use a beach towel or straw. After if they're still damp I'll throw a special kind of blanket that helps cool them down and dry them. I don't leave the blanket on, it comes off after awhile. So even though the horse may be very hot and sweaty it's bad for them to be exposed to the cold because they're temperature can change really fast and being wet and sweaty in the cold have bad results. I want to make sure they're dry after I'm done. Horses also like to roll in the mud where they have a they're own homemade coat on to keep them warm. But mud is SO annoying to get off in the winter because any brush hardily works and the best way is to wash it off...and I can't even do that because it's cold out!!
When I throw the saddle on the horse's back, I'll put it just where the front cinch will line up with the girth. Not too far forward where it can bother the horse in the shoulders, ,making movement hard and not too far back either.
I always (and I mean always) tighten the cinch 2-3 times. I make it a habit to tighten it at least twice (never once). Horses like to push they're stomaches out. So even if it feels tight enough after awhile it'll get loose and nothing's worse than having a loose saddle! The saddle can slip under the horse and usually he'll spook...A LOT!
For the bridle there is an old rule for how tight the bridle should be. If you pull back on the bit the mouth will make wrinkles. We judge how tight it is by the wrinkles. The more wrinkles, the tighter it is. The old rule was three wrinkles. But I agree with Clinton, and that is too tight because it's already adding pressure on the mouth when you don't want it. It'll have pressure on the horse's mouth all the time and it will make it that much harder when you want to add pressure. It doesn't help the horse get any lighter or softer in the mouth. It actually teaches the horse to push against the bit.
The bit should sit on the corner of the horse's mouth. Not any further or it will fall out or hang in a uncomfortable spot. When I pick up on the reins it should add pressure, but when I release it also releases any pressure on the horse's mouth.
There are also many different types of bits. I use what's called snaffle bits. I use a twisted snaffle which looks basically like this:
(Either with a D rind or a O ring)
or a smooth snaffle which looks basically like this:
Although this smooth bit has copper lining. We just got a whole bridle set that has the bit with copper lining but I also use the same smooth bit with no copper. (The copper is for a nice taste in the horse's mouth).
The twisted snaffle has more bite to it than the smooth. So sometimes depending on how the horse is behaving I'll use something that has more bite but most of the time I use either one. I always want to ask as lightly as I can to get the lightest results with either bit.
There are also shank bits which I don't use and personally don't like very much. I've used this bit in the past and compared it to a snaffle bit and I don't like it very much but especially for training horses. Snaffle bits encourage lateral flexion; To be able to turn easier where as the shank bits are more straight and forward. Although shank bits can help with vertical flexion and can teach a horse to tuck his head in, it's still harder to soften a horse's whole body. Where as the snaffle bit makes it easier and can do both lateral and vertical. I find that horses can be SO much softer and lighter in my hands.
Now for the reins..
I use Clinton's reins and overall tack.
These reins are different than the usual reins most people use because they can adjust in length. With what are called slobber straps I can change the length of the reins any time I want instead of having to buy different reins for a different length. They are made out of yachting rope instead of leather. (CA's halters are also made out yachting rope as well). For me I like either rope or leather but I prefer the affect of being able to change the length and have slobber straps which tells the horse I'm picking up on the reins earlier on. This is really helpful to get a horse lighter. But the rope reins does win me over more because it's also easier for me to slide my hands down the reins or lead than it is with leather.
Slobber straps: (Funny name for it XD)
(fuzzy picture of Sugar in my favorite bridle set)
There is a ton of other tack I use but I'll save that for another time..
Before I mount I always do a little groundwork to make sure the horse is using the thinking side of his brain. The last few rides I've only had to do short groundwork sessions. For more than one reason I make sure to do some groundwork even if it's just 5-10 mins. Sometimes it might be an hour, it all depends! I'll do short sessions of groundwork if I've worked the horse a lot for a couple days in a row and I'm wanting to work on something in the saddle. As long as I'm satisfied and the horse is using the thinking side of his brain.
When I get in the saddle I make it a rule and habit to always flex the horse's head around while I'm mounting. This is for my safety. If the horse happened to spook or bolt when I'm in the middle of mounting it can get ugly fast, especially if I already have a foot in the stirrup. It also helps the horse to focus on you and not be able to look around and get distracted. It makes it harder for the horse to start walking off when you're trying to get on.
In a lot of Clinton's exercises it all starts from the ground. Whenever I can teach a horse something from the ground first, it will make my job a lot easier in the saddle as well as safer.
Flexing is where I can pick up on the reins lightly and flex the horse's head to where his nose towards the girth where he is either touching his belly or my leg/foot if I'm in the saddle. It should be light enough to where I can use two fingers on reins with no stiffness.
I teach this from the ground first before I do it in the saddle. This helps the horse get softer laterally as well as respect. Horses don't have hard mouths, they have hard stiff bodies. I'm working on getting my horse soft throughout his whole body (not just his head). There's five body parts of the horse that the method goes through to soften: Head and neck, poll shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters. Here's a picture of Sugar and parts of her body:
By teaching flexing it softens the horse's head and neck. A lot of the time a horse's first reaction will be to push against any pressure in the bit. Teaching the flexing teaches him to respect you more when controlling his head and softens his neck. And it's also very useful in spooking situations.. XD
I've taken both horses (Ruby and Sugar) in the water and swimming. They both loved it but I can tell Sugar loved it the most. Not only did she love it but she definitely had trust in me and didn't lose attention to obey me while being in a different and new environment.
Probably the biggest reason a horse would try to avoid water would be fear. Fear of it being very deep or just fear of drowning wether or not 3 feet deep or a 100. Because they have monocular vision it makes it very hard to tell deep or far something is. Other spooky reasons like something might be in it that could eat them WHOLE!!!!! Not all of the time but most of the time when introducing a horse to water they'll be a bit reluctant to get in. BUT, they are natural swimmers! And are known to love swimming! Like me ;)
There's an old saying; "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink". Which is true. But I can teach them to want to be in the water. I can actually change their minds from avoiding water to dying to go in.
Now if the horse is afraid of the water, which a lot of the time will be the case, I'll prove to him that there's nothing to fear. I've said this a lot in the past but it's basically all it is, make the hard thing look easy the easy thing hard. In this case the dry land is the easy part and the water the hard. So I'll move the horses feet/work her on land and let him rest in the water. In the beginning I'll let him investigate a little the water by himself. If he doesn't go in then I'll keep adding pressure till he does. Then release as soon as he's in. Horses learn from the release of pressure, not pressure itself.
I'll lunge him around to where almost half of the circle will be in the water. But as much as I can and especially in the beginning I'll make it very easy for him to be in the water. Sometimes it takes forever to get a horse comfortably in the water and other times it hardily takes anything to get him in. It all depends on the horse. Every horse is different. When lunging and he's going around on land, if he slows or tries get out of it then I'll add pressure. Because that's where he feels safe but I want him to feel safe in the water too not just on land. So if he stays on land then it just means a lot of sweat and work. Another important part to this is to establish a starting point. A lot of mistakes people make (and I've made) is asking too much in the beginning. Don't expect he'll go right in. Don't ask for him to go to swim where he can't touch right off. If it's a very difficult horse, start smaller. Even if that means two feet have finally stepped in the water-STOP! Take the pressure away and reward him.
I love the way Clinton Anderson teaches. He has his own way of explaining and puts it in this order:
Success Tips (optional)
He has all of this in order but to break it down for most important, it would be Goal, Why and Teaching Stage.
Goal. For this he shows what your goal should look like. For example, in a video, he'll bring one of his horses that are already trained and know the method. He'll do the exercise he's about to teach you on this horse. Let's say...yielding the hindquarters (groundwork). He asks, the horse does exactly what he wants; crossing hindquarters while pivoting on his forefeet. He brings in a horse that already knows the exercise to show the audience what the goal should look like.
Here's an example for the goal on yielding the hindquarters:
"To be able to disengage the horse's hindquarters 360 degrees with minimal pressure. His inside hind foot should cross over his outside foot and he should keep his front feet relatively still."
Why is exactly what it sounds like. Why? He explains why you would teach this certain exercise. What you and your horse would benefit from it. I used to wonder a lot on why people would do some of the things they did. Like backing for example. Of course I'd want my horse to back a few steps every once in awhile. And even if he's terrible at it, I'm fine with just a few lazy steps. But why teach him to back up so well? The only reason at the time I thought was it looks cool. To be able to have your horse back with speed just by a wiggle of a finger at about 14 feet away! That's cool! And it can be a reason I would teach my horse. But there's more to it than just that.. Backing is actually one of the most important lessons you could teach your horse. Clinton said if he had a choice to be able to teach a horse only one exercise, it would be backing. Backing is a huge fundamental part in the horse's training. For one, it teaches respect. (Very good lesson for a pushy horse).
It also helps for when you're in the saddle too. Wether you're backing on the ground work in the saddle. Horses are constantly thinking forward, forward, forward. When do you ever see a horse back up? Hardily ever. In a horse's everyday life, hardily at all. Because they hardily actually need to back up unless they feel trapped and backing is the only way out. So when you teach the horse to back, and I mean to back a lot, it actually helps the horse to start thinking about backing and stopping. It's very helpful for a better stop. You have to stop first before you back up. It helps the horse to think about backing/stopping instead of forward all the time.
"A horse that backs up really well is showing you a lot of respect. The better you can get a horse to back up, the more respectful and responsive he will be in everything else that you ask him to do. A good backup is the foundation of the stop as well as collection. A respectful horse backs up with energy any time you want. A disrespectful horse ignores you and walks toward you with pushy, dominant behavior. If you don't back your horse up, he will get pushier and more disrespectful."
There's a reason for all of Clinton's exercises why you would teach a horse a certain lesson. In the Fundamentals there's always a fundamental lesson for the horse to learn before he can something more advanced.
The teaching stage is all the information on how to teach the horse that exercise. I'll go into this another time...
Starting: Always start with a starting point. People have a tendency to start out big. Backing, they ask for 10 steps in the beginning of the first lesson. It's like asking a kid to read a sentence full of big words when he doesn't even know the alphabet yet. Always ask for 1 or 2 steps in the beginning and reward the slightest try. Build off of that until the horse can back 20 feet with ease.
Goal, Why and Teaching Stage are the three main subjects.
Handler Mistakes: Handler mistakes are where Clinton shows any habits or things you might not be doing right or to make sure you are doing "this" right.
Horse Problems: Horse problems are what the horse might do. How he might react in the wrong way and what you should do.
Practical Purpose: Where you can/should do "this" certain exercise.
Yesterday was a beautiful day! Sunny and almost too hot. But everything looked like spring!
Amber and I decided to go trail riding and this time we took the streets for a change. I usually don't ride the streets, and the three biggest reasons: Afraid if the horses spooked into traffic, pooping in front of someone's driveway, horse (most likely from falling) get's away from me and runs home.
Those are just my main reason why I don't ride through the streets. I'd like to a lot more to help Sugar get experience it. But at least we were able to yesterday!
It's really important (especially for a trail horse) to change the "scenery". If I just worked with Sugar in the arena only she will do very good in the arena. But only in the arena. Each time a horse is introduced to a new environment they're distracted. Especially a nervous horse. They'll see and hear things they may have never seen and heard before. It can get messy and very difficult if you're not prepared. Never assume a horse will act fine when you bring them to a new place. That's why I try to have Sugar work in as many different environments as possible. A arena is very different than being out on the trails. Riding through a neighborhood is very different than the trails.
We went over a little bridge that goes over a little piece of the lake. It's so cute to see how curious Sugar can be in new environments! There's just a lot more all around her and a lot closer which can be really frightening but she handled it very well. The day before I worked on redirecting her energy every time she got nervous or spooked that when I did this same trick yesterday she calmed down a lot faster and would take a little more time to think about it before really spooking. I think another issue was there are just a lot of dogs around. When we were going down the street a dog came running out of a house to chase us at the wrong time....just when some cars were about to pass. I really hate it when that happens...
She did spook a bit but not too bad. However she did run out a few feet into the street. Thankfully we don't have really narrow roads and there'll be empty lots in between a lot of the houses. That's about really the only scary incident we had.
We rode to Amber's house where we drank ice water and ate donuts! Then we rode to a little park next to her house that's near the Sacramento river.
After that we rode around the lake to beach where we rode into the water. I've actually never taken Sugar in the water before. I have had her wade in water maybe up to her knees but never actually taken her in for a swim. I had left her halter and lead on so I could do some groundwork by and in the water with her. But I didn't need to introduce and groundwork into the water. She LOVED it!
Normally when I take a horse to the water more or less for the first time, I'll do some groundwork instead of going straight into the water. Horses can't tell how deep the water is. So a lot of the time a horse will try to avoid water, even a puddle. And when they're in the water they might get nervous especially getting deeper. BUT they are natural born swimmers! So you don't have to teach them to swim! And in fact, horses in general LOVE swimming! And I can tell Sugar LOVES swimming! She had no hesitation and probably would of swam across the lake! She wasn't over excited either. She just walked in and was very light in my hands and feet. I took my boots off and in my bare-feet she was VERY light. Amber and I thought about unsaddling and getting completely wet but we decided to do that a different day. Although we ended up very wet anyway!
The way I introduce Sugar to a new object or in this case, water, I use Clinton's method. I'll make the water look easy to be in and where ever she wants to go/the land look hard. What I mean by this is I work her out of the water first. Then when I send her in I relax and not hurry her. If she wants to investigate, that's awesome! She can sniff and even play with it before fully stepping in. But each time I want her to go further and further. When she's on land she has to work again. When she's in the water she get's to rest.
In Sugar's case however I didn't need to do this really at all. She had no problem walking right in the water. Some horses will be nervous about it at the beginning and some will take right to it. Every horse is different.
When I took Ruby swimming she seemed to love it too but was pretty hard to handle. And seemed picky some days as if that day she didn't care for a swim where as Sugar was very responsive to me obeyed on point. Ruby does need a lot more work but Sugar is my main horse. She's younger, more willing and a bigger challenge!
Yesterday, when I was working on Sugar's stops and practicing rollbacks, I was riding her past the lake. There was a guy there fishing and he was just getting back into his pickup when both of his dogs saw us and took off towards Sugar. I know that the dogs wouldn't hurt her, they're always more excited than anything else and even if they did get close enough they would probably be the ones hurt. I'd be next. But besides that...
I'm so glad I know how to take control of her even when there are dogs chasing her because that's very terrifying for her. I flex her neck around which basically puts her in a bind. She did move around run a little but overall wasn't as terrified as I thought she'd be. She calmed down right away when I gave her neck back and just stood there with not a care in the world. I think she might of been a little more scared of the man yelling and chasing after his dogs but Sugar only ran a few strides before she calmed down and when he got his dogs back I released her. This all took about 10 seconds.
I'm so proud of how well Sugar does. When she does spook at something I redirect her energy and start moving her feet. When we stop it's that much easier to stay calm. And when she does actually get scared of something she'll just perk up a little or she does freak out and runs a few yards but then calms down very fast. It's usually something unexpected or far off where she can't make out what it is. I do however might need to put more desensitizing in with different objects and things that makes sounds. I skip desensitizing quite often recently because she hardily if at all needs it. But I want to keep it up and introduce her to new things.
I really wanted to have Sugar do rollbacks. And if you don't know, rollbacks are very common in reining horses or cow horses but are also taught for other uses too. A rollback is where you are riding at any gait (usually at a canter), stop, horse pivots on his hindquarters while forequarters do more or less a 180 and head off in the opposite direction or maybe a right angle. Might be a little hard to picture so here's a gif:
I've watched Clinton show how to teach horses do this. Although I think I need to do more of my "homework" and make sure Sugar knows how to stop better. Her stop is really messy and that's if she stops off my seat..
But today I worked on her stopping, backing, spinning/yielding forequarters and then towards the end I practiced a little rollback stuff along the fence. She actually backs up with energy but sometimes at the beginning when I ask her she get's "sticky feet". I didn't work in the arena this time. I did all this out in a field instead. For the rollbacks, to help her move her forequarters around instead of just going forward and turning, I used a fence to block her from walking forward. I didn't have enough space at that fence to canter her in circles so I went along fences practicing rollbacks going back and forth. This actually helped her slow down especially if when we were going in the direction of her paddock. She figured out we were just going to do more rollbacks again instead of going straight home so she slowed her pace to a easy canter or trot. (I did a little on cantering and more on trotting because I still needed to get her stopping down).
When we're about to (attempt) a rollback, I'll say "woah", sit/lean back, open my inside rein and put pressure with my outside leg near her girth. Usually when I turn I use my inside leg/spur to round her turn but with rollbacks I'm actually asking her to move her front end over. I do have a habit of doing the wrong leg at the wrong time which will teach her wrong but at least I know what to do! More or less since I haven't actually taught a horse that yet. I also want to learn how to sidepass:
But overall I'm not very experienced yet and neither are the horses. I also need to make sure that they know what I can teach them now/the Fundamentals. I don't want to start jumping ahead and not be prepared for it.. :)