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Does anyone do Liberty Training?

Hi! I was wondering if anyone does Liberty Training with their horse? Sorry if I added this post in the wrong forum, I’m not really sure where it belongs!

I rescued my mare about a year ago, she’s not rideable due to severe knee OA/ DJD, so we have started having fun using liberty training in a ring with the use of treats, vocal cues, some targets and I definitely try to be creative to get her to explore her curiosity.

I used to be very active riding in my teens and 20’s but I had to take time off from show jumping due to health issues. Sadly, my horse was sold and I was dealing with depression at the time, although now it’s stable but I also deal with chronic fatigue and pain. I would love to ride but I’m also out of shape physically, so I often take my mare on hand walks. We both enjoy that, it’s good exercise for us both and she often walks quickly, despite her arthritis! We have an appointment for her to get an injection this week.

Looking forward to getting to know all of you, how you enjoy your horse friends, as riding or companions.



I don’t do liberty training but I do some agility training with my ponies. I’ve entered some classes with them and done pretty well. My retired older pony who is 26 seems to really enjoy it. It gives him a small job to do and keeps his mind busy. I have arthritis and it keeps me moving, too :slightly_smiling_face:.


That’s awesome!!!

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Something that I’ve noted about Liberty training in the past, that I can’t put my finger on why but it’s quite common, is the horses do not look happy. Lots of pinned/pulled back ears and pulled/tight nostrils. It isn’t the sunshine and rainbows it’s cracked up to be, at least not from the perspective of the horse.

Honestly I don’t know why that’s the case, but it’s prevalent. Here’s some examples. I see this with the NH folks too. There’s something unpleasant to the horse about being ground-worked to this degree. What exactly that is, I don’t know.

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Maybe it’s the frustration of conditioned helplessness?

Liberty is practically the definition of the opposite of learned helplessness. If you are forcing the horse then it isn’t liberty. Like all disciplines some people are just not great horse people.

I just started training with a liberty trainer, she also is a certified coach and certified biomechanics instructor. I can tell you it’s been super eye opening and I have learned so much already after just a few seasons.

My greenest mare is very excited off property. She isn’t naughty but very tense and excited which is expected after racing for many years.

After just a few sessions, there is already a notable difference in her demeanour when we head out to work. She went from a up and tense neck to walking into the arena completely relaxed head down and no fuss. This is all done by using your body cues and breath along with exercises. Im super excited to see how much more we can learn together.

It’s built on the basis of creating trust and communication to promote relaxation so the horse can learn and so can you.

I suggest finding a liberty trainer in your area or virtually to help you out. It’s very hard to learn on your own.


I agree, in theory.

But even with a soft “blow up” hammer, if you hit something long enough, it will get annoyed enough to comply.

I think a lot of liberty training is that. Conditioning, to the point of over-conditioning, a response.

Edit: I just look at the horses in the videos. Any of the videos when you google “liberty training.” Could be the best liberty training on earth, and the horse does not look, what I would call, happy. Ears are not floppy relaxed, face is not relaxed, sharp hard eyes, nostrils tight. That looks like a horse who would rather be doing something else, to me.


I remember, a long time ago, reading an interview with John Lyons and how he regretted making liberty work popular. He had noticed how his lovely appy could never relax around him as he never knew when he was being commanded, vs just chilling in the barn. John realized he had to be super careful with his actions to make sure he wasn’t accidentally sending his horse mixed signals while in the barn with him. I think THIS is why those horses look sour. They are, as they don’t have the on/off that a ridden or in hand horse has, and because the same people that expect the horse to follow their movements in the arena, expect the horse to stand quietly while they go get their brushes in the barn, or while the farrier works on their hooves. Liberty horses are at more risk of conflicting commands…which sours horses in the same way dude horses are soured.

To the OP: I can’t ride anymore either, but in hand work, such as showmanship, agility, or trail can give you new ideas and opportunities to work with your horse!


That’s actually a really thoughtful insight, and makes total sense.

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I grew up loving John Lyons and I’ve watched all his training series. What he did was not liberty. Tying your horses leg to a saddle horn and flipping it over to teach it to lay down, is not liberty. Interesting he never said anything about regretting things like this he did. That’s not liberty, that’s tricks.

He also preaches smacking the sh*t out of your horse and or kicking the crap out of it at times. So, he’s not really one to preach about what makes horses happy.

Am I thinking of the wrong trainer? He had an appy that he toured around doing liberty work back in…I think the 90’s?

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Again, I don’t really care what the handler does or does not preach about liberty. I’m looking at the horses, and they very rarely seem happy. Maybe for a fleeting moment, but then the sullenness comes back.

If my horses looked like this when being worked, I would be concerned.

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I appreciate these responses and it’s unfortunate to see Liberty getting such a negative rep!

Personally, I use Liberty by increasing my bond with my horse to make it more positive and friendly, to improve our connection. I would NOT use a dressage whip or crop, but I do use lots of positive reinforcement, love and treats.

For me, it’s all about improving our connection and doing fun things together- NOT putting on a show.

I highly suggest others check out various Facebook groups:

The Non Ridden Equine
The Equestrian Pedestrian

I have actually learned most of my positive liberty through Nina at The Equestrian Pedestrian on her Facebook group, by watching her many videos. They’re very positive in nature.

The Non Ridden Equine is also a very positive and broader based group for non ridden ways to interact with your horse.

I wasn’t aware of the negativity surrounding Liberty but I purely do this to bond and connect with my horse.


I think I haven’t been clear.

I don’t hate liberty training. I think it’s pretty neat.

What has always concerned me is that the horses do not seem truly happy to do the work. That doesn’t mean they are being mistreated necessarily - just that it might feel like bonding to us, but not to them.

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I think it all really depends on the individual practicing Liberty and their horse.

I’m not going to “force” my horse to do something… if she doesn’t want to, we try something else or don’t do it.

I think just like many different types of interactions with animals, it depends on how it’s done.

Personally, I try to make it fun and improve the bond with my horse, whether it’s Liberty or enrichment activities- a good group for that on Facebook is Thunderhooves.

I try to have fun with her and do something we enjoy that improves our bond, rather than forcing things, but I have seen it done that way.


He’s a very famous western trainer who trained his Appy Bright Zipp to do all sorts of tricks and that horse was certainly amazing but he was trained by force. It’s all laid out in his training books and videos. Nothing was hidden. As a teen I thought I could follow that same path as him and teach my horse the same way until I realized how wrong it felt at the time and I just couldn’t use those methods. 20 years later and the horse world has finally recognized that isn’t the way.

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I do quite a bit of liberty along with clicker training. One horse who isn’t going under saddle yet is brilliant at free longeing, she will do w t c whoa on a 20 meter circle at liberty on voice commands and body language. She always looks happy because she loves to move. If she’s having an off day I don’t insist. We also do lateral at liberty with clicker training which she loves.

Other mare is a bit lazier so I don’t tend to try to free longe her. But we do a lot of clicker tricks and lateral work and obstacles at liberty or in hand or what I think of as hybrid. For instance we are in the shared arena on Obstacles night and I can’t have her truly at liberty it’s too crowded. But I can toss the lead rope over her neck and say “go stand on the box” and she’ll walk away from me and stand nicely on the box until I whistle for her to come down. She just loves that work.

Horses also will have “listening ears” in work and often pin their ears when they are bombing around alone in turnout too so ears in isolation are not a sign of anything, necessarily. It’s not like only pricked ears are happy. My horse has pricked ears when she is in front on the trail but listening ears when she is not lead horse because she is paying attention to what’s behind her.


I hadn’t even thought about what you were saying before, but I think you have a good point, regarding the mixed signals to horses. I noticed, sometimes that my horse is really laid-back with me, because I often explore curiosity with her, and we often are very laid-back. Often we just have fun together and I think it’s a good relationship but then when the farrier or the vet comes, sometimes I expect her to stand still and she just kind of wants to wander off. I was actually wondering why she was moving around a fair amount with the farrier, but I think she started doing it after we did liberty. I also tried to do some in hand work with her too, and I try to explore different things to do with her because she’s not rideable with severe arthritis. I feel like I’m constantly trying to think about what kind of things we can do together since she’s not rideable, and we do take walks together, we have tried some in hand work. What I like about the type of liberty that we do is it strengthens the connection that we have in a positive way.

I’m always looking for new ideas as to what we can do together other than riding.

I’ve just had my first day in Liberty and personally it was the most rewarding experience of my long life. It was literally what I had dreamed of as a child but could never find. It isn’t my only method but it falls right in line with my entire approach. We shall see how it pans out but so far it’s the best thing I have ever done with a horse. By far. I went to Wild to Willing in Santa Ynez, CA and they are amazing.

I think this is definitely a thing. As Charlie is progressing on his groundwork/liberty I have started teaching some relax asks. He’s pretty eager to please and was starting to anticipate the ask and offering his “moves” before I made a clear ask. He generally knows if I have the dressage whip on the ground, it’s work time. If I don’t, he doesn’t get too eager.

We just started working on bridle-less riding with a neck rope this week and that is super cool. We had good directional control at the walk and trot, perfect downward to walk and whoas. We did our working eq gate and reverse gate bridle-less!

More on the topic; I don’t think I’ve would have gotten as far as we are without my chronic health issues. I have a lot of bad health days, low energy days, pain days and on those days, we do groundwork or lowkey bareback riding and if I’m not up to that, we groom or I just sit with him in his stall or pasture and zen out.

It’s not lost on me that I will have set backs and my body will continue to attack itself as I age, so it’s been important to prep Charlie for that just as much as myself. All the relationship/building non-riding trust time we’ve had has certainly helped!