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!

May 17, 2018

Cuteness abounds! (And lessons straight from nature)

Yesterday we were videotaping for my new Introduction to Liberty video series, and we were lucky enough to be able to use a small band of wild horses (feral, to be accurate) as a backdrop. Most of the brief speaking shots referenced the lessons that we can learn by studying and appreciating the horse’s true nature. In this short clip, which is terribly cute, the foal in the background is away from its mother and is decidedly relaxed about everything. While my message speaks to the myth that horses are naturally aggressive and difficult, the darling and very “chill” foal offers a wonderful contrast to this misunderstanding about equus.

Yes, horses are physical and yes they do fight. But the overwhelming majority of their time is spent displaying cooperative and relaxed behaviors. Physical displays are resolved usually quickly and if problems persist, herd members may leave and join another group… because herds that are in conflict do not do as well as herds that are more harmonious. It’s not survival of the fittest.. it’s survival of the most cooperative!

December 4, 2017

Get Your Horse's attention at Liberty – Subtly, Creatively

You’ve heard the expression, you don’t have to shout at your horse, he will hear a whisper. The same can be said about getting your horse’s attention.

There’s little question that the stronger the connection between you and your horse, the more intently, the more frequently and the longer your horse pays attention to you. It’s his nature to be tuned into his socially bonded herd mate. However, getting your horse’s attention and holding it, is also a way towards creating a connection or deepening it. But, HOW you get your horse’s attention, when a bond is still being developed, is very important. It’s easy for a horse to misunderstand your intentions if you are too loud, too close, too insistent. Once a connection is there, you can be a bit bigger and louder (in a fun way) and not worry your horse or put him off in any way. But for very sensitive horses or horses that you are still becoming bonded with, the handler must be more subtle and more thoughtful in how they ask for their horse’s attention.

This short video clip shows a simple way to get your horse’s attention at Liberty – simply cross behind them, once or a few times. You can add talking to them or saying their name, to further get their attention. Very few horses can tune this out!

November 27, 2017

Another Look at Balkiness in Horses

I have a very sensitive, very lively young Arabian gelding who is a bundle of energy. He runs around and he plays with herd mates often and it takes very little to excite him.

Interestingly, my attempts in the past to stimulate and arouse his ample play drive have been met with balkiness and reduced movement and energy. This is something that I see unfortunately in horses that have been forced to move when they didn’t want to. But this youngster’s balkiness is something I see in Liberty “newbies” or young horses – they don’t understand our brand of play and they don’t understand our communication that we are interested in playing!

This balkiness comes from confusion. So what am I doing about it? A few things: He plays a lot in the herd, and whenever possible, I will run along with he and his playmate of the moment, adding my brand of play to the “group play.” I have a specific “play language” that I use with my horses at Liberty and I will reinforce it when the opportunities arise when my horses are playing with each other.

Further, he is currently learning in-hand Liberty lessons where we sync with each other’s movement and tempo, learning half-halts and more. This creates natural engagement and these in-hand moves naturally stimulate his energy and his play drive. As his energy comes up, and he begins to trot near me, I then add my “let’s play” communication to these moves and he is learning that this is my communication that I’m interested in playing and being more athletic. We just started this recently (we’ve had a long summer off) and he is already beginning to understand me. His tempo is coming up, his animation is increasing, not to the extent that it does when he’s playing with his herd mates, but a least now we’re going in a more playful and energized direction, AND I’m not making him move!

November 26, 2017

What a Visit with a Friend with Early-Stage Dementia Taught me about Horses

Gosh that’s a shocking and very “real” title, but it reflects actual events that happened over the Thanksgiving holiday.

A friend that I haven’t seen in many, many years spent this recent holiday with us. I was aware that she had been diagnosed with early stages of dementia a year ago. She asked to spend a day with the horses, and of course, I was thrilled to share my passion and my lifestyle with her.

I had become aware over Thanksgiving dinner when we were catching up that her long term memory is actually quite good, but her short-term memory is surprisingly poor. She has a difficult time remembering events or conversations that had occurred 30 minutes prior! She is a naturally upbeat, positive individual and so I did not witness any frustration, but rather this incredible moment-to-moment way of experiencing events. Which brings me to the horsemanship part of this post.

We started our day with the horses by visiting with the herd. I have very sociable horses and they enjoyed sniffing my friend, nuzzling her and receiving her scratches and endless petting. My friend had not been around horses since her childhood, and yet her energy was very relaxed and very joyful. My horses were very attracted to her presence and her energy.

Over the course of the day, I brought out 3 different horses for her to spend one-on-one time with at Liberty. I offered little guidance or suggestions, knowing that if she continued to offer her relaxed energy and scratching and more, that they would stay with her and follow her around. And that’s just what they did.

My friend had zero agenda with my horses other than to enjoy them. She fussed over them, talked to them, and enjoyed observing their behavior with her. She would stand at a distance to see what they would do. She would come in and pet them to see how they felt, and when they wandered off, as they did from time to time, she simply followed along and soon reconnected with them.

Watching her was like watching a child interact with my horses. There was an innocent authenticity to her manner that was very striking, especially when I realized that she could not remember what I had been telling her about them or what she had been doing earlier with one of the horses – talk about living in the NOW!

But the most striking part to me was how much my horses were attracted to it. They were very gentle with her, one of my usual rather mischievous horses that “demands” a lot of attention, did not force himself on her. All of them were very careful and just lovely with her. I observed this knowing that I was watching something important. I made some notes on it, and will be adding it to some of the exercises in my new video series on Liberty.

Was her energy and intention congruent with how horses experience their lives? Perhaps. I think it’s more likely that they simply enjoyed that my friend only want to experience them and enjoy them, and nothing more.

November 25, 2017

Your Horse's Mind... the Most Powerful Teaching "Tool" of All!

This short and very “innocent” video clip features something that I feel very strongly about: Horses are thinking creatures. We were videotaping recently with Bonaparte, my mini, and I wanted to stand next to him and speak into the camera. Bonaparte often shows me his rump because it’s his favorite place to be scratched, and honestly, I typically indulge him. Which is also why this clip is so striking.

There’s this idea that if you are not consistent, you will confuse your horse, and this is true to some degree, but horses are intelligent enough to figure out that things may have changed in that moment, or that things change when context changes. Consider for example the very common phenomenon between two herd mates – they will stand near each other throughout the day, but they may not eat together, and one of them may be the recipient of pinned ears. Context also matters to horses, it seems.

Further, if I were to consistently ask Bonaparte to not show me his rump when we are videotaping, he would learn that in that situation, it works much better for all when he stands quietly, next to me. But when he’s out with the herd – he can discern that in that situation, that if he moves in a certain way, I will gladly scratch his tushy. HE’S INTELLIGENT ENOUGH TO LEARN THE DIFFERENCE.

But I digress. What is so interesting about this short video clip is just how quickly Bonaparte changed his behavior based upon what I was doing… and how he clearly arrived at these new ideas, calmly and after some thinking. It is not necessary to use negative reinforcement to teach ideas, nor does the change of behavior need to be treated as a response that needs to be re-conditioned. It is very possible for horses to figure out what we are looking for and simply offer it to us.

But as the saying goes: “Simple does not always mean easy.” Your horse must be inspired to seek harmony with you (for his own self-interest, not because it’s better than the lack of harmony). Your horse must have time and room and space to process, and he must know that he will be permitted to experiment with NO negative consequences to him (for getting it “wrong,” for example). And the handler must be very, very clear about what they are suggesting. Which doesn’t mean being clear on what you DON’T want, it means making what you DO want very obvious.

The most powerful teaching “tool” with horses is the horse’s mind. Horses can learn a new idea in a matter of minutes, or even seconds. Knowing this, why would ever go about teaching any other way?

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