If you follow my blog you know that training my horse Nazir is not always a Sunday walk in the Park. By now, I know that I have sometimes failed to interpret his behaviour correctly in the past and that I would like to develop a much more trustful relationship with him. Forever searching for ideas to bring me closer to this goal, I sometimes check out different online programs. For now, I didn’t stick with any of them as there was usually too much pressure involved and too much bull**** about leadership. I don’t need to tell my horse who is boss and I certainly don’t want to make the wrong thing uncomfortable. So I was very happy to come across a program that perfectly fits my own philosophy: The Horsefulness Liberty Training Program by Karine Vandenborre.
The program consists of eight modules with educational videos, pdfs, video recordings of feedback sessions, and mp3s. There is an additional bonus module about how to carry the Horsefulness Training philosophy on to groundwork (which I’m already very curious about as I do a lot of groundwork myself). The modules become accessible one after each other, after a certain period of time (usually about 2-3 weeks). I like the idea that not all the content is available right away. Knowing myself, I would most likely try too much at once and move on to the next module too fast. It is a step by step program that tells you exactly what to look for in your horse, explains a lot about your body language, and how you can tell when you are ready for the next step. Below every video and pdf you can ask questions and, in addition, there is a very friendly facebook group, members only, in which Karine answers all your questions, too. At 300 Euros, the program has a reasonable price. Once paid, you have life-long access, also to future updates.
So how is the Horsefulness Liberty Program different from other liberty programs and why did I choose to follow it?
The name “Horsefulness” combines the words horsemanship, the art of handling horses, and mindfulness, “an attitude of life in which you practise yourself in conscious and non-jugdemental attention, both to yourself and everything around you”, as Karine writes in the program. For her, it is very important to build up a true connection to the horse based on trust and understanding of the horse’s signals. “Horsefulness Training teaches you the importance to constantly be aware of how your horse thinks, reacts, learns, lives…But also how you position yourself and how you respond to your horse. It teaches you to handle your horse in a non-judgemental way and with full attention.”
The program addresses common myths about leadership and hierarchy with horses, where these myths come from, and how they can have a negative impact on the horse-human relationship. The first exercises take place in the horse’s paddock or pasture, the later ones are practiced in a large enclosed arena or paddock, not in a round pen. In Karine’s opinion, a round pen is too small and doesn’t give the horse the space to express himself freely: “A horse that can communicate with you in a large space, can and will tell you a lot more.” If, by accident, we would use too much pressure, the horse would not be able to get away in a round pen. In a large space, we learn much better when we are doing something wrong. On the other hand, we can also be more confident about defining our own space without the danger of putting too much pressure on the horse, as the horse can simply go away.
“Liberty Training is all about creating trust and friendship, clear communication, togetherness and openness! It’s to develop a deep bond with your horse.” (Karine Vandenborre)
During the program, you practise the 8 connection exercises:
(1) Bonding time: you simply spend time with your horse. Sitting on his paddock or hanging out wherever he is. You don’t want anything from him. The horse can decide to come to you or not and a feeling of togetherness grows. The program explains how to deal with different horse characters and their possible reactions to your presence in the paddock.
(2) Greet & Go: In this exercise you learn to notice and respect the horse’s boundaries and invite him to make contact. After saying “hello”, you immediately leave again and show your horse that you don’t always want something from him. You learn how to approach different types of horses.
(3) Greet & Groom: This exercise quickly became my all-time favourite thing to do. When your horse allows you to approach him, you can groom him on his favourite places. You learn to see when your horse feels like grooming and when he would rather be left alone. You are encouraged to become aware of how you approach the horse.
(4) Your Spot, My Spot: Within a group of horses, there is contextual hierarchy and in this module you learn how to make your horse give up his spot without chasing him. The horse learns to give his spot willingly to the trainer and let himself be moved by the trainer. Depending on the horse you are working with, you will use different body language.
(5) Easy Herding: This exercise increases the group feeling between you and your horse even more, as horses interpret that who herds them in a friendly way is part of the group. There are different steps of this exercise: “following”, “search for me”, “active herding”, “passive herding. If you combine those you will be able to ask your horse to slow down, to halt, to go faster, to turn, and to make loops. The horse is free to go away at any time and there are no negative consequences if he decides to go.
(6) Liberty Leading: Can be a spontaneous result of all the previous exercises already. However, in this module you learn how to encourage your horse to be lead by you, in the lead or partner position. If the horse doesn’t want to follow when we invite it, more time should be spend again on connecting.
(7) Spontaneous Circling: Just like all the other exercises, spontaneous circling is trained without pressure and is not about disengaging the hind quarters but about actual following. You learn how to invite your horse to make circles around you in walk, trot and canter.
(8) The Boomerang: In this exercise you learn how to ask you horse to walk away from you and to invite him to come back quickly in a trot or canter. “If you send your horse away in the correct and playful way, it will want to return by itself!”
“Liberty Training the way I teach isn’t a quick-fix method, it asks a lot of empathy and feeling, and above all, letting go of control.” (Karine Vandenborre)
How did this program affect my relationship with Nazir?
I am currently in module five, so I cannot tell you about the full effect of the program yet. However, I find the difference in Nazir’s behaviour very remarkable already! Here are some of the things I have noticed:
I’m very curious what more this program can do for us!
I used the principles of the program when I worked with the wonderful pony mare Jette in Denmark (you can read about it here). She trusted me so quickly, I could not believe it. I also practice with the other horse’s in Nazir’s paddock and I love how they have come to accept me as part of their herd. When I sit on the paddock, all of them come to greet me and to see what I’m doing there. Sometimes one of them stands close to me and sleeps.
Thank you Karine, you have added another piece of the puzzle to my approach to horse training!
Here is the link to two free e-books, in which you can learn more about Karine’s training philosophy: http://hfa.horsefulness.be/free-e-book/
If you would like to join the program, click this link: http://horsefulnesslibertytrainingprogram.com/join-the-program-2/ (This is not an affiliate link. I solely recommend this program because I like the way it influences my work with the horses.)
If you are also a member of the program, I’d love to read your comments below!
Have a good time with your horses,