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!

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.

    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.