Recently I talked about how my client, Stephanie, and I had brought our two horses, Punch and Maia, together to do liberty with them together in the arena. Adding distractions such as other horses or food is a great way to test out your liberty skills and see where you still need to make improvements. Both horses had established a solid foundation of liberty work on their own so now it was time to challenge them a little more.
We allowed the two horses time to meet and get comfortable with each other on their own terms loose in the indoor arena. After a few minutes it was time to test out our liberty skills. I called Maia and she came right over to me. This is the desired response- a horse that is obedient even with the distraction of another horse. I had worked with Maia with various distractions before so she had learned how to keep her focus on me.
Punch had other ideas. He continued to follow Maia around and refused to leave her when Stephanie asked him to. This shows that there is still some weakness in their partnership. Punch has not fully decided to allow her to be leader in every aspect of his life. He is perfectly fine following her when there are no other distractions, but as soon as he finds something more interesting he attempts to take over the role of leader.
Stephanie needed to reestablish her leadership role. She did this by driving Punch away from Maia and toward the opposite end of the arena where he would be away from the thing (Maia) he wanted. By asking him to move away, Stephanie was stating that she was in charge and Punch needed to listen to her or he would have to go stand by himself. Punch initially reacted by defiantly running off and attempting to circle around to get past Stephanie and back to Maia. Each time he did, Stephanie simply moved him away again back towards the other end of the arena so he was once again by himself.
Eventually Punch realized that he wasn’t going to be able to get back to Maia and that it was no fun to stand at the other end of the arena all by himself. He turned and stood still facing towards Stephanie, respectfully waiting for her to invite him back into the “herd”. Stephanie called him and he came up to her where he received lots of scratches and praise. It is important to remember to reward your horse when he does something well. You want to make being with you a pleasant experience for him.
Punch still hadn’t fully submitted to Stephanie though. After a few seconds of standing with her, he tried to duck around her and get back to Maia. This resulted in him being asked to move away and stand at the other end of the arena again. It took two or three more times of Stephanie moving him away and then calling him back before Punch was ready to accept her leadership and follow her around the arena without trying to get back to Maia.
With consistency and continued practice, Stephanie and Punch will have a much stronger relationship which will improve all of the work they do together.
To learn more about how to develop a better relationship with your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about classical dressage and liberty training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!