Learn more about:
- the importance of the center of mass
- mental connection
- riding without reins
and get some great tips for your own journey!
This is what Roz had to say:
"For the past year, I have been mainly working at liberty with my horse Bob. The connection I have with Bob has been strong for many years as we also studied Parelli prior to joining Straightness Training but the mental connection is only just one part of liberty in ST.
At Grade 4, there are a lot of balls to keep up in the air, and if you can do this at liberty, your horse already understands at an organic level. Then going back to tools should be a little easier for you and your horse when it comes to doing the other pillars.
Bob has taught me so much going through the grades, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes on the way. But he is very forgiving and understanding that I am also learning as well as training him.
One of the biggest things for Bob and me is getting the center of mass back out of the shoulders. Now at this level, it is quite subtle, but you can see that when he is in his shoulders, he cannot shape up. This is because he cannot move his forelegs out of the way so that the inside hind leg can step under more.
So although the Lateral bend, Forward down, and Stepping under (LFS) is the golden thread through everything we do, we also need to keep the center of mass back to get the horizontal balance. Once the center of mass is back underneath where you would be sitting then the inside hind leg is able to step under and start to take weight.
So in Grade 4 liberty, I need to get that physical shape as well as the mental connection where he is asking how high, where do you want me to put my feet. It’s amazing to see this figuring out mental state, and always believe that you can get there with your horse. It’s all about communicating correctly and using the 5 R’s (Release, Reward, Relax, Redirect, Repeat) which is extremely powerful and this was another process that really helped Bob go from disempowering mental state to empowering.
I do use treats with Bob, but he knows his boundaries, and he never mugs me. He is really motivated by treats, and he knows when he has given me a try as he whickers.
Since the liberty work, Bob’s stretch zone has become really big to allow me to really ask him to dig deep with me to get what is required. So you see it’s a real partnership. It’s never about doing it to your horse, it’s about getting your horse to want to do it with you so that you can do it together like two dancers feeling one and other, feeling each other’s footsteps and getting into the metronome with the horse. That’s what you call real connection, and it’s not easy. You really have to be in the moment with the horse, and there has to be a total respect and trust between you. That comes with you respecting and understanding how your horse feels and thinks.
I have also taken the liberty aspect to the ridden work and started to ride with two sticks which replaces the reins. I tie the reins to the bareback pad so that they are there if I did need them.
Again this has been an extremely interesting laboratory for me. At first, I felt very vulnerable not having the reins, but it really highlighted to me how much I relied on them even though I thought the reins were slack. Bob knew I was holding them in my hands even though it was with the very lightest of feel. He is so different with the 2 sticks, and that is what pointed it out to me.
To deal with the center of mass, I’ve taught him to take it back by tapping with both sticks on either side of the chest, and if he doesn’t, I ask him to stop and back up. Back up is very powerful as it causes them to take their center of mass back. It’s amazing how quickly he has worked this out and when he keeps the center of mass back he shapes up beautifully.
So now not only do I circle him in walk and trot changing the rein, I am also asking him to take responsibility for his own shape in the laterals. It feels amazing when we get it right.
Still, a working in progress but in the end when I pick up the reins, it will be a totally different feel and even more light.
These are my insights that have been highlighted to me working at this level. It’s a fantastic time of great learning, sometimes it’s very rewarding, and other times I reflect on things and feel that I could have done something differently, but it’s all about learning by making mistakes.
So never be frightened to try something because you will never know unless you try and your horse will know that your intention is right and that you are trying.
So whatever the Grade you are working on, don’t leave it too long before you start to introduce the liberty work. It will widen and deepen your understanding of how the horse thinks and feels, and every horse is different, so you can’t treat them all the same. That’s a sign of a good trainer that can pick up a horse and work with it and learn very quickly what they need to do for that horse at any given moment."
~ ST Instructor Roz Richmond, UK
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