“It’s Like Fly Fishing”: Liberty Tips from Jonathan Field

As you increase the space between you and your horse when working at liberty, the ability to retrieve his focus is paramount. It’s a delicate balance to draw a horse back in to you, especially when he has broken free.

When I start bringing a disconnected horse’s focus back to me, I think of the process as being like casting a fly-fishing rod with a very fine, long line. Once I “hook” my horse, or capture his attention, I must move very delicately with him to not break the line. When successful, I have secured the string connection and he “hooks” on and comes back to me.

HERE ARE A COUPLE OF TIPS:
  • As soon as the horse looks at you, try to draw him with a bit of movement on your part. Walking backward on an arc to his side may help to “hook” him on. Move too fast, you’ll break the string; stand frozen, and there’s nothing for your horse to connect with.
  • If he stops and stands to look at you, walk arcs in front and around to each side of him and think about driving one side of him to draw the other toward you. In essence, this is what you are doing when walking the arcs, just at a greater distance. You are driving one side to draw the other. Your goal is to walk around to the horse’s side, trying to get the hindquarters to unlock in order to invite his front foot to take a step toward you. As soon as he does, smile, back away, and give your horse relief from the pressure you applied by walking the arc around to his side. Taking pressure off by backing away shows him that coming toward you is the right answer.

If you’ve done your earlier preparation for liberty training well, your horse should perk up, realize what you want, and come to you. When he does, make sure to reward this draw by rubbing him on the head, hanging out with him, and really making him feel like he made a great decision. You want a horse to realize that comfort is found with you. Ultimately, you want to become the sweet spot for him and have him desire to keep up with you and stay close.

I tend to only do 15- to 20-minute liberty sessions. Don’t allow liberty training to become drudgery. Instead, keep it fun, light, and exciting. I want to quit right when my horse thinks, “This is great!” Then, I leave and go on with my day. My horse is left feeling that the play session was the best thing that happened that day. Here’s a good saying to remember: You want to be there for a good time, not a long time. There’s always tomorrow.

Short sessions will also help you feel excited about getting out there because even if you don’t have much time, you can slip in what I call a “15-minute horse vacation.” Many people don’t get to their horse in a day because they feel it is too big a task to gear up for. So they don’t do anything. Short and fun liberty sessions can bring you out to play with your horse more often. You will be amazed at how your horse starts to meet you at the gate.

This excerpt from The Art of Liberty Training for Horses by Jonathan Field is reprinted with permission from

Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).

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