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Leslie’s Liberty Diary

Leslie’s Liberty Diary is just that… a running journal of sessions as Leslie continues to advance Liberty training with her herd. Leslie often stops in the middle of her sessions to jot down (in her iphone) insights, breakthrough moments and sometimes humorous antics. Leslie’s Liberty Diary shares some of moments with you. Enjoy!

November 16, 2017

The Start of a New Journey – Hooves!!

Well I guess it was inevitable that I began to trim my own horse’s hooves. It’s been coming along for some time as I have been doing “maintenance trimming” for years now. I have been very reluctant to take on the full care of my horse’s hooves because I have 9 horses and it’s a pretty serious investment in my time. Plus, the learning curve was daunting to me. However, I am very pleased that I made the decision recently to take on the care of their hooves because I’ve known for some time that the more sound and happy your horse is, more they give of themselves at Liberty. It has only been two and a half months, but my horses that were “sound” are showing me that they can be even more comfortable and more vibrant. And my horses that were not thriving with prior trimming methods are beginning to blossom and show me that their full potential is right around the corner. Further, a few of my horses became laminitic in the spring/summer, and I am thrilled to announce that their hooves are healing and they are slowly, but surely returning to their former selves. One of these horses has a “leaky gut” (turns out, he’s had it for years), which is still being understood and managed- so he’s had a few very minor and brief setbacks as I am experimenting with diet, supplements and medicine combinations that will keep his gut happy. However, he is slowly becoming healthy.

My journey to find a methodology that aligns with my experiences and observations about hoof care and hoof health has had many chapters and many directions. I have settled on a philosophy and method that is working supremely well for me and my horses. Thankfully, it is also the most “hands-off,” “less is more” method that I have encountered, which means that I am spending way less time working on hooves than I would have predicted.

An important aspect of how I am approaching the health of my horse’s hooves is paying attention to how they are moving and using their bodies and their hooves. I have a camera on my horses and I can observe how they move, how they place their hooves, and how they stand and how they are feeling, throughout the day. (Turns out, even very subtle discomfort in the hooves, the kind that is not that noticeable, is expressed in their social engagements – so interesting!). This information is daily feedback as to how they are doing with the changes that are occurring in their hooves, and the ideas that I am applying directly to their hooves. In fact, when I was experimenting with trimming methods, the camera would tell me immediately how my horses were responding to the changes in their hooves. I got a lot of negative feedback for some time before I finally found a method that produced happier and more athletic movement. How my horses use their bodies, how they use their hooves and their relative enthusiasm (relative to their personality!) is now my main guide. I do not measure angles, I do not trim to a hoof model or ideal, I apply the very common sense ideas of a methodology ( to be named and described in another post, very soon), and the results are very quick (sometimes days) and very, very excellent.

My new journey has just begun, and I expect to see more twists and turns along the way (already experiencing a few), and I fully expect the learning to never end. I will be posting on this journey and the ideas in the weeks and months to come. I have been documenting the progress with photos. I cannot say enough how important it has been to use my horse’s movement and enthusiasm as my guide. The hoof continues to amaze me with its incredible healing capability and the sheer speed with which it will remodel and work to heal itself. I have seen discernible changes in the hooves, literally, overnight. Which is why feedback through movement is so incredible – when the hooves make a change that quickly, it shows up in my horse’s movement and attitudes, just as quickly. I don’t have to wait weeks and weeks to know if something is working. I will know in a matter of days, sometimes hours, whether a change is helping them or making them even happier. Amazing!

October 1, 2017

Following behaviors, seeking behaviors, joining behaviors, drawing behaviors...

  • … are they most powerful behaviors in a herd. Horses are joiners, horses are stay-ers, horses seek each other. If we want to create a bond with them, ask them to join us, THESE are the behaviors we should be inspiring in our horses.

    Most folks are beginning to feel that driving their horse around isn’t the only way, nor is it possibly the best way… but what ARE the better ideas? What do THEY look like?

    This short video clip says it all. Begin with following behaviors and drawing behaviors… an entire relationship can be built on this. Suggestions from you for more movement and different kind of movement can be built from this. After all, it’s a very short distance between “Horse come along with me, ” to “Horse, let’s do something together.”

    September 27, 2017

    Sometimes it's Best (and more fun) to just Join In!

    When I get my hay delivered, the truck has to go into the area where my horses live and then back up to the area where I keep my hay, where it is tossed and then stacked. The short video clip shows this well. Which means that every 6 weeks or so, a big rolling hay-buffet enters my horse’s area and a feast ensues. The horses know this truck very well and line up on either side and chow down.

    I used to try to dissuade them from eating the hay (and yes occasionally they pull a hay bale off the truck), but I gave up on that years ago because the truck is just too rewarding for them.

    In my previous post, I talked about the value of shared experiences. The hay truck is definitely a unique experience that we can share together – and it’s certainly better than trying to keep the horses away from the feast. And so, I often get in there and “eat” right along side my herd. Just another opportunity to bond – and a fun one as well!

    September 25, 2017

    Everything is a Shared Experience

    Simone and Banjo winter spray fb

    That’s a lofty statement for something as silly as what I’m about to describe… but important ideas are often buried inside light moments.

    It’s easy to think that when we begin some kind of session, activity or lesson with our horse that the experience of it begins the moment our minds are engaged. And when we are with our horses, but not thinking or not doing something that is “important,” well, it’s like it’s not really happening.

    But consider for a moment that every time you are with or near your horse,from your horse’s point of view- you are having a shared experience. Even when your mind is miles away.

    It is very smart and also very worthwhile to put your mind and your heart into every single thing that you are doing that your horse may feel is a shared experience. And I mean everything. When you go to fetch your horse from the pasture, really get into every particle of it. When you do mundane chores like picking out your horse’s hooves (which is actually quite fascinating, but I’m a bit of a hoof-geek), really, really notice every detail, especially what your horse is doing and how he is feeling.

    Which brings me to the silliness that I referenced. Summers in Phoenix AZ can be quite hard on my cold-blooded and very black Friesian mare. I rinse her down often. When I drag the hose into her area she comes right over for her soaking. I spend quite a bit of time on this rinsing and scraping to be sure that she is actually being cooled off. And the water goes everywhere, and all over me. She’s wet, I’m wet, the ground is wet. A few other horses typically come around, I spray them down, we all get wet. And it’s a three-way or four-way water party. It’s not something that I do for them; it’s something that we share together. And in thinking this way, what could be a mundane chore, becomes an opportunity to enjoy each other, to experience each other.

    July 4, 2017

    Happy Independence Day!... For my American Friends & Horse Lovers Everywhere

    Happy Liberty Day fb

    June 28, 2017

    The New Communication – "Sign Language" for Horses.

    In this short video clip taken from a Liberty clinic, I am teaching communication to a horse. This was at the end of a 2-day clinic, and this horse was beginning to understand the ideas readily. However, observe in this video how I go with the flow of the horse’s movement, and attach communication to what he is showing me. Sometimes, this horse moved along in response to an idea that I’ve suggested, and sometimes he moved in his own way, at which point, rather than correct him, I simply attached a signal or communication to what he was doing. It is an exchange of ideas.

    It is important to know that horses learn the handler’s communication just as easily this way. The regular teaching concept of: Handler gives signal or stimulation (pressure)… horse responds… signal is ceased or stimulation stops… horse learns – This is not the only way that horses can learn new ideas!

    When I was describing this to a good friend recently, he said it’s very similar to teaching sign language to people who are deaf. You are simply teaching a symbol or sign to an agreed upon idea. WOW! It can be said that using pressure or a signal in advance can also achieve the same end (horse learns that pressure on their side means to move forward, for example)… but the point is that the “symbol” can be taught in a variety of ways – because the horse is intelligent enough to learn it. Which is why I think it’s so important that we do everything we can to use a process of teaching ideas that appeals to the horse’s intelligence not on their reactions to stimulation or pressure!

    June 28, 2017

    A New Way to Teach Communication

    This post is something that I feel very strongly about and is a relatively new area of Liberty that I’ve been exploring in the last few years. I am very, very excited about this new thinking.

    Typically, when we are teaching horses new communication to do something: go forward, go faster, stop, go to the right, to the left, etc., we give the horse a kind of signal and then cause the desired movement to happen. For example: stimulating the horse to move forward, typically in a way that is a bit startling, to teach go forward. Or if the horse is already moving, then we pull on the horse’s body, pulling on a rein to move to the right, for example) or put pressure on the horse’s body to cause them to move away from that sensation. When the horse does what we are looking for, we stop the sensation or pressure.

    Well, it’s challenging to use this thinking at Liberty because the handler often cannot touch their horse’s body in a particular moment. And if the handler should use their energy and movement to exert a kind of pressure to create some kind of movement in the horse, there’s the possibility that the horse will be startled or bothered and will leave the situation. Liberty is kind of tricky that way. (I am saying with a slight smirk on my face!) As it turns out, horses don’t care for pressure, and if you are offering your horse the freedom to express “no” and the freedom to leave… pressure can be the very thing to cause that to happen. The previous post in Leslie’s Liberty Diary shows this very well. So, there must be better ways, and as it turns out – there are.

    Before I dedicated myself to Liberty horsemanship, I had already begun to think that the use of pressure or pulling on a horse to teach was quite crude. I also felt that horses were intelligent creatures and could learn new ideas, and didn’t need to be so physically manipulated. When I began to focus on Liberty, it became clear that there had to be better ideas, better ways of having a conversation with our horses.

    Fortunately, the horses began to show me that there is a better way. I had begun a similar type path while I was doing “regular” training and still teaching horses to become riding horses. I found that when I used barrels and poles and created patterns, the horses would readily move very freely and with confidence, and then I was able to attach communication to their movement, or use these patterns to reinforce communication.

    I took this idea a few steps further at Liberty. I teach a very freestyle form of Liberty, where horse and handler make up the conversation between them as they go along, with the handler loosely focusing on ideas that they want to include in the session. I call this style of teaching: “Dabble with deliberation,” the focus of the next Diary post. Check it out now.

    June 24, 2017

    There's No "Magic" in Horsemanship – Just Phenomenon We can't Explain... Yet.

    Me and Bonito, bio blog post

    It’s not that I don’t believe in magic… far from it. I think incredible things happen to us everyday that seem occur by their own forces. We simply don’t always understand them, and so, we call this phenomenon “magic.”

    One of my personal passions with horses is to try to demystify things that seem to be magical in our experiences with horses. I actually love magical moments, it’s not that I want to take the charm out of them, but rather the idea of magic, while it may attract some horse owners to the horse experience, it can discourage others. You see, we have been seduced by the idea of “horse whisperers.” We’ve been told over and over again that a person must possess some other-worldly talents or forces to accomplish incredible feats with horses, and as such, horse owners fear that these magical abilities elude them. These same horse owners may become disappointed in themselves and in their horse experiences. This is a shame.

    And so for this reason, I reject the idea of magic with horses, and instead prefer to suggest that there may be remarkable phenomenon going on between our species when we get together that is simply beyond our understanding. These “forces,” I suspect, represent qualities and ideas that are tied into our emotions and our spiritual beings. The fact that we don’t understand what appears to be “magical” in fact is what often sets us off on our quest with horses. Relating to horses is a mystery to be explored.

    I am reminded almost daily that there really is no magical way of being with horses when I watch my own herd of horses. I have a camera that captures and records the herd so that I can check in on them throughout the day and evening, and go back into recent past and observe herd behavior and herd antics. While I have spent countless hours watching them over the years, I was always present, and as such, no doubt changed the dynamic, just a bit. Watching my herd through the camera has given me even more insight into the relationships in the herd.

    (The short clip from my camera shows the very interesting “standing in a line” phenomenon I see a lot in my herd. In the summer months, horses will put their heads into the tails of other horses to help keep the flies off. What’s interesting, and you will have to take my word for it, is there’s no rhyme or reason to the order in terms of herd-ranking. It is a line of “opportunity,” nothing more.)

    What does all of this have to do with reframing the idea of magic? Watching my horses through the camera continues to affirm for me that the relationships within the herd are always in a state of flux, and are very context-oriented. Horses will follow one herd member into one type of situation, but will align themselves with another horse in a different situation. Who gets to do what, with whom and where and when… varies from scene to scene, herd member to herd member, day-to-day.

    Much of the “magic” that is ascribed to humans that have special talents with horses is based upon assumptions about herd behavior and herd social organization, and the handler’s ability to emulate it. There are indeed still unknown and complex forces in the herd, but achieving “magical” outcomes with horses, in my opinion, comes from the acceptance that every horse, every herd group, every situation is different, and is always changing. If we can endeavor to look at the relationships, including the ones that we have with our horses, as they truly are, in that moment, we can learn and demystify them. We can become skilled and highly intuitive with our horses. Anyone can do this, you don’t have to have magical abilities just a good set of eyes!

    June 22, 2017

    Connection First

    I have a very strong mantra in Liberty: Connection First… Energy, Excitement and Play Second. There are some that feel that movement is what creates a bond with your horse, and even movement that drives your horse away. Studies of feral horses living as herds in natural environments do not bear this out. Being with each other, near each other, moving around together, usually at the walk, eating together… is what forms bonds between herd mates and within the herd.

    When you are playing with Liberty, this truth becomes very apparent, and especially when you give your horse the freedom to leave, with NO negative consequence to him or her. (Horses will come back to you, even at Liberty, when you drive them away, if you cause them to feel that being away from you is very undesirable. I do not consider this technique “proof” that driving horses away at Liberty will cause them to WANT to be with you!)

    This short video showcases the wisdom of my mantra very well. It was the end of the day, at the end of a clinic, and I was playing with a clinic horse who did not know me well. He had learned the communication that you see in the video during the weekend, which is why he responded to it so well. My style is easy and very casual, and the horse is relaxed.

    As an experiment, I decided to send some energy to this horse, just a little bit, to see if it would stimulate a play response (which it can AFTER a connection has been forming). As you can see in the video, it created concern with this horse. His response was a PERFECT demonstration of why I don’t recommend sending energy to horses until you have a good connection.

    Later on, sending your horse energy at Liberty will have the opposite effect – it will trigger a playful response and he will want to come back for more of that from you!

    June 16, 2017

    Sync with Your Horse

    Horses sync, mimic and model the behaviors of other horses, and especially with their socially bonded herd mates. Some horses will sync with their owner or handler readily, and others are a bit more reserved about engaging in this very interesting “conversation.”

    I develop this very natural behavior in a series of exercises that are designed specifically to encourage it, and then make it a very real and fun part of your two-way conversation with your horse at Liberty. Over time, syncing can be used to teach new ideas, or at least hint at them or reinforce them.

    In the Introduction to Liberty video series that we are creating right now, I develop syncing behaviors and a syncing dialogue through the Be with Me exercises (connection exercises) and in the early Liberty sessions. These exercises seem to “tease” it out of horses pretty readily and naturally. It just happens – it’s a lot of fun and in many ways, is an untapped or underutilized bonding and then teaching technique.

    This video, taken from the Introduction to Liberty video series, is a brief montage of the first phase of developing syncing behaviors. In this initial step, I am syncing with the movement as well as the expressions of focus and interest that is coming form my horse. Enjoy!