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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!

February 8, 2019

Easy Transfer of Ideas, Movement, Learning

I was reminded of something yesterday that I’ve been doing for years and it’s an amazing way to create easy movement and easy learning in our horses. Let me describe an opposite scenario of what I’m relating first. Let’s look at asking our horses to back up when we are next to them or in front of them.

A common way of doing this is to begin with the horse standing still and having no particular reason to go backwards, other than you are making a fuss in front of them, pushing them backwards, creating energy in front of them that they would want to get away from (creating a reason to go backwards, I suppose). When your horse backs up, you stop and reward and after a period of time, your horse learns a signal to back up. This is pretty typical.

I’ve always felt that this was a mindless way of teaching horses to back up, and I say mind-less, because there’s no reason or purpose (mind) attached to the learning. Just… do it. One of my personal mantras for years has been: “There must be a better way to do everything with horses.” Of course, the quest to discover better ways is endless.

Back to my post… I show my horses my communication for backing up a variety of ways, syncing is one of my favorite ways, but I also teach horses by capitalizing on situations, and then using this to build an understanding. Which brings me to the story from yesterday.

My mare Aspen has never liked backing up. All I have ever had to do is take a step towards her, and she would back up. But not because she was complying with my suggestion, but rather she doesn’t like me near her head – never has. This backing up is not a relaxed move, however, and so in recent months, I’ve been applying a tried and true way of helping her back up, calmly, and then transferring it into new situations.

Here’s what I have been doing. During winter months, Aspen needs an extra meal of grain and alfalfa because she loses weight very easily. I bring her into a small area near the other horses to eat. To let her out of this area, I need to swing the gate towards where she’s standing (because she’s ready to return to the horses), and I simply put my hand in front of her chest and begin to open the gate, I am standing in front of it – and she naturally backs up. I add the following: “Would you back for me, please?” And, “thank you,” when she is done. Over a period of weeks, I added a step or two, and she would back up, calmly, even further.

Now, the transfer. When I ask my horses to back up or back away when I am out with the herd, most of them will take a few to several steps backwards, smoothly and easily. Not Aspen, she will always pivot one way or the other on her hind end and then leave the area. I’ve never insisted that she back differently, it wasn’t important to me.

Yesterday, I needed her to back away from a fence so that I could walk by, and I put my hand in front of her chest and said: “Would you back for me, please?” And she backed up, readily and calmly – no pivoting. Of course, I followed up with: “Thank you.”

Ahhhhhh, very nice, indeed. Thank you Aspen for the reminder on how well this system of transferring ideas from one situation into another can work so effortlessly.

February 3, 2019

Horse Behavior... It's Seldom Random.

I was reminded about something really important recently about horse behavior (human behavior as well)… behavior is hardly ever random or without some purpose or reason. We humans go about our lives and just act and respond in ways that often feel devoid of thought, but I think that’s probably not true. We’re just not aware of the emotions or thinking behind many of our actions because we are consumed with other thoughts and emotions. Which is why when we observe our horses, it may be tempting to surmise that what they are doing sometimes has no real purpose or meaning…. not so, and I was reminded of it recently.

My mare Aspen has been overly aggressive recently. The herd has been on a very gentle diet over the last 8 months and their weight has plateaued very nicely. It has felt to me that Aspen is hungry these days, as evidenced by her zeal when the herd is fed their many small meals throughout the day. (In case you are wondering, the herd was on slow feeders for some time but gained too much weight because they were not getting enough exercise – too busy eating all day! And so they are fed numerous, smaller meals throughout the day and night).

In the last few weeks, I have observed through a camera that I have on the herd, that Aspen was getting more and more aggressive with the other horses, especially around meals. Which is why I assumed that her aggression was tied into hunger. A week ago, I was watching her eat up close and she was wadding her hay and spitting some of it out and cocking her head to the side… all signs of dental pain. Aha! I called my vet and we’ve set an appointment to check her teeth and take care of whatever is bothering her. In the meantime, I gave her a gram of bute, per vet orders, and then started her on a program of 1/2 gram of bute twice a day until her teeth were taken care of. Lo and behold, her aggression disappeared overnight. She’s back to her usual self, and immediately. The change in her behavior was clearly an expression of pain.

Years ago, I had a professional specialty of helping challenging horses and often aggressive horses. I learned then that most aggressive behavior is pain or fear-based, and usually a combination of both, for obvious reasons. Whenever a horse was sent to me, I went searching for physical causes first, emotional and mental causes second (as I said, they were usually tied together). It’s interesting that when the changes creep in slowly with your own horse, it’s easy to overlook this very obvious correlation: Pain – aggression. Thank you Aspen for the reminder.

Post Script: Aspen just had her teeth floated since I wrote this and sharp points were pressing into her left cheek. She is happy horse now and is eating well.

Post, Post Script: It has been a few weeks since I wrote this post, and Aspen has mellowed, considerably.

January 28, 2019

Liberty Secret – Be the Friend that's "Different."

Bonparte pedestal 2 edited

Unless you live with your horse all day long (in my dreams!), you are a visitor in their lives. This goes triple if they live in a herd, as my horses do. So when you show up to do something with them, and their social needs have been met all day long, it can be challenging to pique their interest. I have said often that it’s not too challenging to create a social relationship with a horse that is kept in relative isolation, in a barn all day, for example. It is a whole other matter to become important to a horse who already has socially bonded herd mates.

Fortunately, horses can have more than one socially bonded herd mate, and so there is opportunity to become their “other friend.” I have found that trying to emulate the relationships they have with other horses, in terms of things that you may do together, can get your foot in the door and is often a good starting place. But, if you really want your horse to look forward to seeing you and leaving the herd to play with you – you need to be the other herd mate that is very different and in ways that are very interesting.

All of my horses leave the herd readily to be with me and do things with me. A few are positively jazzed about leaving the herd, and these same horses show me very clearly that they do not want to return to the herd, as well. I often have to drag a few of them back to the herd, they stop often and have to be encouraged to move forward as we are walking back to their area. It’s important to realize that everyone of them as at least one BFF in the herd!

Why is this happening? Well, as it turns out, that while herd-living offers security and relaxation… it can also get a little dull. I believe that the reason that my horses leave the herd, and do not ever call out to the herd and seldom seem to even be aware of them, has less to do with confidence and security that I offer them, but more that I am INTERESTING to them and I am ENJOYABLE to them! Being with me, I believe (and I hope) is like a fun day at the park, a field trip from school, a short vacation from regular life.

When you ask your horse to leave his friends and the safety of other horses, strive to be very, very interesting. Do things that he would never do in the herd. Give him a brand of attention that he is not getting from other horses. He will be standing at the gate every time you drive up, you can be assured!

January 24, 2019

Have You Considered that Horses don't Think in Words, Labels or Language?

Amira, jaw to side at Liberty

I read an interesting article in The New York Times on the brains of octopus. (I’m getting to horses, really I am). There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests that octopus are thinking creatures with great memories, and it’s even reported that they seem to entertain themselves. The article went on to say that early studies suggest that their brain is entirely different than ours and most other animals. The authors suggest that how cognition occurs in brains and nervous systems needs to be rethought. (Admittedly, the scientists are having a bit of time studying these creature’s brains because every time they attach an electrode to them, the octopus promptly removes it!).

It got me thinking about horses and how their minds may work, what they are understanding with us, and what we may be inferring into their actions. It’s interesting to consider, for example, that horses don’t ascribe language to ideas and objects and events. When we humans ponder things in our minds or when looking at something, we tend to label our observations and thoughts with words from our language. So right there, humans and horses are different.

(On a separate note, a friend of mine who is a psychologist and a philosopher was writing a book that basically states that human intelligence and consciousness is tied into the existence of language. We had several lively discussions on this subject as I inserted animal intelligence and their lack of language, into the debates… but I digress.)

When we are pondering ideas, we also have a monologue running through our minds throughout the day: “I need to pick up the dry cleaning this afternoon,” to “I’m feeling a bit down today, I wonder why?” When we are with our horses, we ponder them, plan our movements, usually in our minds, and with some kind of language attached to it. This language, I think, also helps us with memory retention.

Sometimes things can happen around us or to us suddenly, and we react first before we have any thoughts about it. In the seconds following, as we are trying to understand what had just happened, the words and language begin to flow. If what happened is so foreign, it’s possible for several seconds that we have little or no words going through our minds yet. Interesting, because maybe this is what it feels like to be a horse.

What’s remarkable is to consider that horses don’t have an internal monologue the way we do. They sense and experience events moment to moment, and have thoughts about them, feelings about them, responses to them and memories about them if it’s happened before. Consider the photo with this post: This mare is not thinking that she is putting her muzzle on the back of my hand. She is attracted to my hand, she is enjoying what she is doing, she is feeling something, thinking something… but who knows what? All I know is that if we repeat this often and she enjoys it, it will become a regular part of our time together. What do horses do with this input of information? How does it effect their decisions in the moment and in the future? We may never know. An object or event or experience may become seared into long term memory and what happened and how it made them feel creates a memory that can be retrieved in the future. But there are no labels in the way of language attached, just sensory impressions. What we can be certain of, however, is that HOW they process information and HOW they use their minds is DIFFERENT than us.

January 13, 2019

Using Your Breathe to Attract Your Horse

Last month, I did a fundraising clinic in Tucson Arizona for Karuna Horse Rescue. I presented Liberty principles and techniques with 6 rescue horses – all very different. It was a free-flowing, go-with-the-moment kind of day. We covered a lot of ground and the horses were all amazing.

In this clip, I am with a very traumatized and fearful mare named Dharma. She had been there a few months and was coming around, but would only let a few people handler her, and even then, they needed go slow and very carefully. Haltering her and moving her was quite the challenge. I spent an hour with her showing many Liberty ideas on how to connect with horses. The ideas that I presented are worthwhile for all human-horse relationships, but are especially powerful when you are trying to help a traumatized horse.

It is important to offer your horse self-determination and self-mastery. I talked about this all day long. It is a foundation to all Liberty, and in my opinion, all of our work and play with horses. This was a the core of everything that I showed in all of my presentations. In this short video, I am using breathing to cause this mare to feel that being near me is better than being away from me. I had visited with her the evening before the clinic and she would not come near me, as I expected based upon her story. All attempts to go to her and pet her were thwarted by her.

Just standing with her and breathing for about 3-4 minutes (this clip is edited down) was enough to create contrast: What it feels like to be near me, and what it feels like to be away from me. As you see in this clip, she began to show that she may in fact prefer to be near me. From here, I was able to help her become proactive in her decisions about being with me and doing things with me. I will post more videos on this session and others from the clinic soon. Be sure to look for them.

January 1, 2019

Be the Real You

Me and Bonito, Real you

Many people are having horse experiences that are not aligned with what they feel in their heart. They are going against their gut and their intuition. Their every day practices do not jibe with their core values. This creates a quiet, and for some, a deep feeling of despair, which often results in horses being sold or just stuck out on a pasture somewhere.

So many times, too many to count actually, I’ve been in a clinic or teaching situation and I will be talking about compassion, dignity and offering the horse self-determination and inspiring a deep trust and confidence in your horse… and attendees will have powerful experiences, saying things like: “This is how I feel, but I didn’t know that others felt this way.” And, “I didn’t know that there were experiences and activities that I could learn that were based upon what I feel in my heart.”

Case in point: At a clinic last year, a young woman expressed to me that she was new to horses, and she had been learning about them by spending her time with her then two horses, loose, in the area where they lived. She did not feel unsafe and in fact, she was really enjoying them. She went on to say that the facility that she was keeping her horses at were giving her a very hard time for her practices (especially that she was not riding her horses). They were also belittling her. She asked me pointedly – “Am I wrong to think that this is an okay way to be with my horses? Are my observations about what they really need and want from me real? Or are the boarders and “old horse hands” right about their concerns and their ideas about how to enjoy horses?” Basically, she wanted to know: “Am I crazy?”

She seemed like she needed some serious validation, so this is what I said to her (I’m paraphrasing.) “I am so glad that you are here today because I am here to tell you that you are NOT crazy and in fact, many horse people arrive at similar conclusions about horses ONLY after years of doing things a different way, a more traditional way, a way that never felt good to them.” I went on: “Often it takes a crisis or just a feeling of disillusionment to cause them to begin looking for new ideas, a different direction. You kind of zoomed past all that, naturally.”

This woman’s utter “innocence” to the horse owning experience is the very thing that allowed her to know her REAL horse self right away and then act on it. She wasn’t burdened by ideas that had been taught to her that she would then have to modify or abandon altogether at a later date.

Fast forward to the present: She is now running a fabulous horse rescue in Tucson, Arizona and is rehabilitating countless horses, doing things HER way, in alignment with her core values and her heart. She and the horses are BOTH thriving.

This year, perhaps you may want to put more of WHO YOU ARE in your horse experience. More on this topic to come soon.

October 27, 2018

Less Discomfort Means… More Joy, More Peace, More connection

Les walking with Simone

I am continually reminded about how closely related our horse’s well-being is with their ability to connect with us. In fact, every time I get this reminder, I’m a bit embarrassed that I STILL need it. When the connection between myself and my horse feels that it’s wavering, I often start pondering emotional, mental and relationship type areas… and the obstacle to our connection, or a better connection is often just staring me in the face – I’m just not looking for it. And so, I get a reminder, once again with my glorious Friesian mare Simone, seen here in the photo at a Liberty workshop.

Simone has Wobbler’s Syndrome and has had it for years. It effects (among other things) how well her left hip and left stifle works. She’s had surgery for it, many years ago, and it helped a great deal. But there are lingering physical issues, especially with her left stifle. This joint has been slightly sticky or very sticky for many years.

In recent months, I’ve been changing the toe and heel angles on her back hooves (more upright and taller heel and shorter toe) and lo and behold, her stickiness went away almost immediately. This was about 6 trims ago now, and this phenomenon has held fast. So much so, that when her left stifle begins to stick (3-5 weeks later) I know that she’s due for a trim.

But that’s not the most striking thing – she is moving with more ease, she is lighter on her feet…and she is happier. And lately, I’ve noticed that this once opinionated and kind of pushy mare is softening right before my very eyes. She is becoming sweeter, softer… and is glomming all over me, more than ever. Amazing.

Moral of my story: If your horse is a bit stand-offish, has a cloud over their heads or you feel like your connection with them is inconsistent… go looking for a physical cause, because your horse WANTS to connect, she just feels that she can’t right now.

September 21, 2018

Horse's Idea – Longer Session, Your Idea – Shorter Session

Yesterday I was scratching my mare Sweet Pea on her rump, something that she loves. I stopped and stepped back, and sure enough, she took a few steps back to me. I scratched her again, stepped back and waited. She stepped back again. We repeated this for about 15 minutes and then I finished by adding a tap, tap to her rump, which then caused her to back up to be scratched.

I was struck by something that I’ve always known instinctively but never really stopped to think about: When a new move or idea comes from my horses, we can play with it (as long as I am continuing to follow along with my horse’s ideas) for sometime, usually until they get bored with it – and the learning will remain.

Contrast that with what happens when I am setting out to show my horse a new idea, that I am originating… typically, we need to play with it only for a few short moments, returning to it, often and as makes sense in that particular session. Learning then comes along in small bits over a few to several sessions – typically.

Why would this be? Well it’s pretty obvious to me. When we present ideas to our horses, there is still a bit of a gap in understanding, even when we are trying to be as clear as we can. Of course, really fast learning does occur when the idea originates with us, but often it takes several sessions. When ideas BEGIN with our horse, and we pick up on it, our mutual understanding of a SAME idea seems to be more clear in our horse’s mind.

Which is why I am a BIG fan of adding my communication and body language to what my horse is currently doing, which is a bit like what I did with Sweet Pea, although there was a 1-2 sequence to it. But… the idea came from her, in other words, I did not ask her to back up to me, or cause it to happen in any way, I just waited, and because she was INSPIRED to back up, she did. This made a lot of sense to her and immediately. In my liberty lessons, one of the many ways that I teach new communication or reinforce previously learned communication, is to ADD it to something the horse is already doing. I’ve known for some time that this is powerful to creating SHARED UNDERSTANDING… and now with my recent thinking on this, I may know why.

September 12, 2018

Rituals... So common, So "Un-noteworthy"... and So Overlooked.

Every time and every day you do anything with your horse or horses, there’s a routine involved, a habit, a predictable sequence of events. Much of this is being created by your actions, and some of it is springing from your horse’s actions, that you then respond to, in a way that probably feels very predictable to your horse..

Horses are ritualistic creatures, I’ve posted on this before. (We are as well). They do things in the same way, the same time, and the same place over and over and over again. The herd does things in the same way, the same time, and the same place. You get the idea.

When our worlds intersect, we create rituals with our horses, and they create rituals with us. We can participate in the rituals without really contemplating them or using them to some benefit for both ourselves and our horses. OR we can be very aware of these rituals, very mindful of the quality of them (are we reinforcing habits that we want to see more of or less of?) and we can USE them to deepen our connection and strengthen our communication..

Everyday when I go out to my herd, I look for these rituals and all the ways that I can use them to help strengthen our relationship. I was reminded of this recently with my mare, Aspen, and thought I’d post on it, as a recent example..

After the herd has been given their small meal of hay in the afternoon, Aspen gets her turn in the “VIP suite”, a small fenced in area next to the herd, for her extra high protein meal, to help keep weight on her. She knows the routine well, for obvious reasons. But she doesn’t always know when I will call for her because it can vary. I walk to the gate of the VIP suite, she sees me. I call her name and she walks over briskly. At the same time, a few of the other horses will wander over hoping that it may be their turn (they know it’s not). I will let them know with hand signals or talking to them, that they are not to get close to the gate. They stop. Aspen arrives, I let her in.

A typical routine – we all have one that is similar. But, the savvy handler knows that that the routine is a shared herd experience, this creates bonds between herd mates. Further, calling her and inviting her over reinforces communication of come to me, and oh by the way, that sound that I utter (what we call “her name”) means that I am communicating with YOU, Aspen, and none of the other horses.

When the other horses wander over, communications of “stop, please,” “stay over there,” and “not your turn” are reinforced – always a good thing. When the horses stand quietly and stay clear when Aspen walks by and goes through the gate, I am also mindful to go over to them, pet them and reward them for following my ideas. Another opportunity to reinforce harmonious behavior from them.

Every day, this ritual (and about 25 other rituals) occur. They are great opportunities for all the reasons I just mentioned, but the most important thing is that WE ARE JOINED BY THESE RITUALS. In these moments, they are now HERD RITUALS. Cool.

September 6, 2018

Helping my Horse Stand... not Making him Stand

My feral horse Banjo is a fidgety thing, and this characteristic can really present itself when he’s tied to something. He’s been this way since I adopted him from a local rescue as a baby. Admittedly, I don’t tie up my horses often, maybe once or twice a week for some reason or another. I try to do as much of his regular care (picking out hooves, etc) when he’s loose with the herd. When I do tie up Banjo, as I did today, standing still for any length of time can be a challenge for him.

The temperatures in Phoenix AZ where I live are finally dropping which means that videotaping season is around the corner. It’s time to get the horses cleaned up a bit and get their scrapes healed up and more. They are getting their first blush of a winter coat, and now’s the perfect time to put on their fly sheets to get their scrapes healed and coats looking nice. I keep my horses in a herd, and putting fly sheets on my herd “mud puppies” is necessary for my videotaping.

Banjo can stand quietly for about 20 minutes and then his “thermometer” starts to pop – letting me know, that “he’s cooked.” I was well into a bath when Banjo’s hooves started to get busy, fidgeting and moving about. Rather than insist that he stay still, I decided instead to ask him to do something he knows very well how to do and that is to “stand.” When I raise my hand in the air, in a fist and say “stand,” he will stand up straight, and often square up, head up in the air – he looks quite pretty, actually. He is generally quite pleased with himself and will stand… for a short bit, and then I ask again. But, here’s where it is really interesting… if I ask several times, the fidgety-ness tends to reverse itself and it seems to me that he realizes that he actually CAN stand, and standing still becomes much easier for him. And so, this is what we did, I asked repeatedly to stand, showing him that he CAN stand, and that’s what he did. Good boy Banjo!