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!

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!

August 11, 2018

Waiting for Your Horse... Builds Initiative in Your Horse.

I posted on this on my personal facebook page recently. Check it out, if you’d like. In Liberty teaching, sitting and waiting for our horse to come to us is a very popular and often utilized technique. The thinking is that it’s important that we give our horse choice in the relationship and experience with us. This is sound advice.

However, I think that there’s an even more important reason to sit and wait for our horse to come to us and to engage us – It builds initiative in your horse. The simple act of sitting and waiting for your horse to come to you begins the process of showing your horse that he can be active in the relationship he has with you. You see, most horses have learned by the way that we have been enjoying them, that they are not to suggest ideas or movement, but to WAIT until we suggest or signal something. You know… training.

Interestingly, when socially bonded herd mates are with each other, hanging out or even playing, they take turns initiating things. Now, the older horse of the pair may initiate ideas more often, but not by much. This back and forth, in my opinion, is what a true Liberty relationship looks like.

I have developed many different ways to encourage horses to offer up ideas and express themselves. I have found that some horses want a lot of independence and free will in the relationship, and when offered it, will take it and run with it (sometimes literally). I have also found that more often than not, horses are not comfortable initiating an action in the beginning. Many feel very secure knowing that if they wait for a suggestion from you and then go along with it, that things work out very well for all – this feels good to many horses. For this horse, I don’t insist that they be independent, but rather, do small acts that may naturally encourage them to step up and do something for themselves.

Which is why sitting and waiting for your horse to come to you can be very profound for some horses. Standing at a distance, your horse needs to first have the thought of coming over to you, and in the absence of you inviting them over, they need to decide to act on their own free will and make it happen. Initiative.

July 10, 2018

A Reminder – Horses are Teaching Us

Me & Hummer- holding on- trotting

I wrote a tribute and a bit of an obituary on Hummer, my recently deceased “warrior-horse,” seen in the photo above. It has been shared quite a bit, much more than I expected, actually. Recently, it was published in a local horse community’s newsletter.

I was reading it again and one of the lines that I wrote really stood out to me. This is the line: “Hummer’s patience with me and my education was endless.”

Hummer did not like to be touched and I was describing that for years Hummer would walk up next to me and stand next to me. The moment I reached over to pet him, he would walk away. Several moments later or the next day, he would try again. I am embarrassed to say that it took me too long to understand that Hummer was trying to communicate his preferences to me: I want to be near you; I don’t want to be touched. My preconceptions about horses blinded me from seeing what he was trying to tell me. All horses want to be petted, scratched and groomed – right? No, that is not always the case.

But Hummer never pinned his ears at me, he never snarled his nostrils, he never swished his tail or bristled his skin. He simply walked away for a long enough period of time for me to “think things over.” I finally understood him. In the remaining years, he would walk up to me and I would stand with him quietly, breathe in deeply and simply enjoy his formidable presence and energy.

Ironically (or not), in recent years, he showed an interest in being petted and scratched. He would come over to me and nudge me a bit and when I reached over to scratched him did not leave. I guess it’s fair to say that we were both evolving and changing.

Which is why the original idea of the line: “Hummer’s patience with me and my education was endless.” is an interesting one, because of course, it is supposed to be the humans who are educating the other animal in our herd of two, and it is us who are supposed to be in the position of having patience, or not. Hummer showed me that this is not always the case, and that it is important that we shift our thinking and consider that we are the ones receiving the education from our horses, and it’s possible that it is the horse that is ultimately trying, as best they can, to be patient with us. It took me some time to really get this, but when it finally began to seep in, this shift in thinking has changed everything for me.

In the next post, I will briefly address the very powerful communication of “just walking away” that Hummer and other horses have taught me – an equally important lesson from my fabulous “warrior-horse.”

July 10, 2018

The Power of Just Walking Away

Some horses will pin their ears, push into you, or even more extreme behaviors when they want the human to stop what they are doing. And sometimes they communicate their displeasure with each other using similar behavior. But not all horses and not every time. I have found that many horses will simply just walk away when they don’t prefer something that another horse is doing – and this includes the older horse in the herd or the horses with the higher status. And when given the choice to do so, such as when they are at liberty with you, often horses will also just walk away from the human when they don’t want to be around what’s going on in the moment.

Further, in a herd situation, the “offending” horse may simply take note and then decide not to pursue things for awhile with the horse that just walked away, or this same horse may soon try again with the older horse, and usually change their behavior so that they can be in this horse’s good graces.

I described this in more detail in my previous post with my recently deceased horse, Hummer. He did not want to be touched when he was near me, and when I reached out to pet him or scratch him, he would simply walk away from me. He was a dominant type fellow, and yet there was no ear-pinning, no snatching at me, no tail swishing… just a quiet, but very deliberate leaving. I have to admit that I didn’t catch on right away, but I realized, eventually that he was sending me a message: I want to be near you, but I don’t want to be touched.

This can be a powerful way to show your horse what behaviors you would like for them to change, and it’s super smart for a variety of reasons. One, you are asking your horse to self-manage himself – to THINK about what he or she is about to do, in advance, and then to experiment with trying a new behavior (and they will!). Two, it’s a non-confrontational way to ask your horse to consider his behavior when he’s with you, this helps him to build his trust and confidence in you. Three, your horse is relaxed and thinking, which means that he’s much more likely to remember the lesson for the long-term. Four, you are recognizing that your horse has a mind and can figure things out – horses seem to really appreciate this. Five, it’s just more dignified, don’t you agree? No flailing, no yelling, no threats… it’s intelligent and thoughtful – your horse will be impressed.

Now, there is a caveat to this – your leaving needs to be something your horse doesn’t want to see happen! Ahhhh, and that’s where this very smart idea comes with a condition attached to it. You see, if your horse doesn’t want to be around you, and he pushes into you, and you walk away… well, you know what you have just taught your horse… how to cause you to leave, something he wants! But if your horse feels better with you than he does when he’s not with you, then you sticking around is something he may be willing to change his behavior for. Which is why, this walk way idea, while it’s tempting to apply it right away, truth is, you must have some kind of connection first. At the very least, you must have shown your horse that being with you is better than not being with – whatever that may mean at this time in your relationship.

This very powerful way of asking our horses to THINK about what they are doing with us, and then go about the changing of their own way, is just one of the many very important lessons that my “warrior horse” Hummer taught me. Rest in peace, my friend and know that your lessons live on.

    June 30, 2018

    Sometimes You Need to Bother

    A few days ago, I went with a friend to look at a horse. (This sounds like the opening line to a novel, doesn’t it?). Nice horse, very easy-going and just perfect for my friend, I hope that she buys him.

    The horse was being represented by a horse-trader, nice enough fellow, very chatty actually. He was talking up a storm about this horse, but not in a salesman sort of way, more of a guy-who-talks-a lot sort of way. This horse was very mindful of people and his behavior when he was around them. The chatty horse trader said something that I thought was very striking in a multi-layered way. This is what he said: “The gal who owned this horse never fed him out of her hand. And you know, if you never hand feed your horse a carrot, you’ll have a horse for life.”

    And then he looked at me, nodding his head at me and smiling, just knowing, that of course, I would agree with his sage wisdom.

    In fairness, he’s not wrong on the idea that hand-treating your horse can cause all kinds of un-wanted behavior. I will give him that. But that’s not what was so interesting about what he said.

    His exact words stuck with me because what he thought he said and what he really said, may not have been the same thing. You see, what I think he meant to convey is that when you don’t hand feed your horse, you won’t have problems with your horse when he’s in your space and relationship-problems in general that can (and they do) arise from hand feeding horses. But what he actually said was something a bit more. Think about the line “…horse for life.” What he is suggesting is that when folks have a horse with problems, they don’t keep that horse and tend to move that horse along to another person. And I thought, well, gee, what he’s saying is that horses are disposable. He’s also suggesting that people don’t want to take on any responsibility for their horse challenges, and especially they don’t want to go through the effort to help the horse learn some new ideas to replace the troublesome behaviors.

    Now, I’m not saying that he isn’t correct in his assessment of folks’ desire to “not be bothered” with it all, because unfortunately, he is right on this. But rather, I felt it was a shame that the answer to folks’ couldn’t-be-bothered-ness, is to avoid anything that could be tricky in the first place. Of course, I am thinking of all areas of horsemanship that fall beyond conventional wisdom, not just feeding your horse treats by hand. There are many rewards to doing things differently with horses, whether it’s using food or many other outside-the-norm ideas, but when you are “breaking the rules” you have to be prepared for the unintended consequences that sometimes arise, and be prepared to help your horse find a place of harmony for the both of you when things fall down a bit. It’s our responsibility to the horse. Why just send them down the road when things get a little challenging (especially when you created the problem)?

    You really can have your carrot and eat it too… it just may require being a bit “bothered.”

    June 8, 2018

    Body Posture can Create Natural Confidence

    If you ask a body language expert, they will tell you that when you stand up straight, shoulders back, that you exude confidence. But more importantly, you also feel more confident. It’s a mind-body connection thing or even a “fake it til you make it” thing. It think there’s a chemical change in our bodies when we carry ourselves a certain way that affects our mind and our emotions… but this post is not about people, it’s about horses.

    When horses feel confident, they have a certain stance that they take on. Of course, every breed is different, but I think you all know what I’m talking about. It’s worth noting that some disciplines foster a head down, or even head down, tucked head, body posturing… this is not synonymous with confidence and it would be interesting to consider how this posture may effect a horse’s sense of self… but I digress.

    When I play with in-hand work with my horses at Liberty, where I teach them natural self-carriage and impulsion, their bodies take on a very striking posture. Neck and head elevated, back rounded, hindquarters engaged… you know the posture I’m talking about. I don’t teach these ideas with the intention of doing in-hand dressage work at Liberty, I use in-hand exercises to bring up a horse’s natural athleticism and spirit… also their confidence. The horses can get quite excited when they start engaging their bodies, often prancing as we go along.

    Lately, I’ve been asking my Friesian mare to move with more elevation in her front end, in the hopes of building her confidence, generally, but also very specifically. You see, she’s afraid of one end of the arena because in the past, there were tractor implements scattered about and it concerned her. We have visited them many times and we have spent a lot of time at this end of the arena, and she is doing very well. But you know how it is… something can happen to trigger a fear-memory and she will blast off like a rocket. Now, when I whistle to her, she will turn right around, often at a canter, and come right back to me – funny horse. It’s been clear to me that she her nervous system can still be stimulated, so I decided to try another approach.

    Lately, I’ve been asking her to lift her front end and exude, well, Friesian like qualities… in the hopes that this will build her confidence and cause her to be generally more brave in the arena. I have witnessed first-hand that horses will actually do something that they previously were worried about… right after performing movement that creates natural confidence. We’ll see – it’s an interesting experiment. I will post on it again in the future and report back to you.

    May 24, 2018

    Don't Fight Your Challenges; Embrace Them (no matter how hard)

    It’s human nature to fight against any forces, real or imagined, physical or emotional, when things get challenging. Something I learned some time ago, when things get challenging with your horse – don’t fight it, SINK INTO IT. Embrace the challenge, feel it, surrender to it. And… even try to ENJOY IT.

    Hummer has been very sick and as of late (liver disease), and he is not eating his regular hay or grain. Yesterday, I surrendered to the challenge before me, trying to find something that my once very muscular, but now very thin horse, would eat. I spent the day walking around with him, letting him find something, anything, that he would rip off, chew on and swallow. I felt no sense of time, no sense of self really. We actually had 3 beautiful walks, he was quite engaged in his pursuit of something that he thought he could stomach… and I SANK into the moment, I SURRENDERED into the experience and I thoroughly ENJOYED every detail of it. What could have been a very distressing and very frustrating day actually produced a lovely and very meaningful day with my mighty horse Hummer.

    In my new videos that we are working on now, I have a short section on the power of SINKING into your challenges. Don’t fight them; there’s power in EMBRACING them and actually ENJOYING them.

    When we resist a challenge and focus on the troubling aspects of it, my experience is that our minds become closed to the possibilities and insights that this situation has to offer. When we surrender to the experience and even look for the positivity in it, we become relaxed and our minds can become open to wisdom and even creative ideas to help us solve this specific challenge. Sinking into our challenges also help to put things into a more beneficial perspective – it can cause us to remember that ALL challenges with our horses are STILL a privilege… After all, it means that we are lucky enough to have horses in our lives.

    Me & Hummer fun LNH website

    FOOTNOTE: Hummer has passed.(Photo above) His body could no longer fight off infections and he became quite sick. We tried to bring him back, but he was not going to heal and so we helped him cross over before he suffered. The days leading up to and on the day of his planned passing, I surrendered myself to every moment with him and soaked up everything for all its worth. I am very saddened by his passing, but I have NO regrets about how we spent the last days together- totally present, totally WITH each other, mind, body and spirit. RIP, my friend.