It is at liberty and without tack – so it must be horse-friendly, no?
For what the horse does under compulsion,is done without understanding;and there is no beauty in it either,any more than if one should whip and spur a dancer.– Xenophon
With liberty work and training having gained in popularity in recent years, you come across a lot of this type of work on social media and in video clips. I love to watch it myself when it shows a display of communication, connection and harmony but often it does not.
While it is great to see the rise of more horse-friendly methods and awareness and the clear desire of many people to improve horse welfare, we have to be cautious what we accept as such.
Most presentations of horses worked at liberty and without tack appear to be accompanied by appreciative and applauding comments. Sometimes, I am in awe as well and I wished I could spend some time behind the scenes to see what they are doing, to learn and improve my own work and to obtain the final confirmation that what I see is in alignment with the training behind the scenes. At other times, I do not agree with those comments so much and I do not necessarily see that kind of admirable work.
My own sensing tells me differently and before I switch on my thinking, analytical mind my body already shows me through tightness in my chest and stomach that this is not what it is ought to be. These feelings often are confirmed by a closer look at the horse’s expression and body language, facial expressions, tensions, tail swishing and so on as well as the subtle cues by the handler followed by the horse’s reactions and responses. What I see in these cases usually is not the result of ethical and mindful training with the horses’ best interests at heart. It does not show true connection and communication between different species.
A performance at liberty does not mean the horse has been trained in an ethical, horse-friendly way. Horses do want to feel safe and to achieve this they will collaborate if we give them the chance to understand, the chance to make mistakes, and also the chance to say no. But equally, with the application of pressure and force, we can bring them to a place where they will conform and comply with our demands. It is a place of fear which than leads them to submit to us. It always reminds me of puppet on a string or a robot. There is no beauty in that.
I am aware that it is difficult to make assumptions on the rest of the life of a horse based on a performance. However, it can tell and indicate a lot, especially if it is used by a trainer to display and market his or her services.
It makes me wonder which places this type of work touches in us humans that it is responded with such cheer and I have my own thoughts on it; and why there is far less appreciation for those who create a true bond with their horses. The show may not be as spectacular but you may see a true and authentic connection, a “happy” and relaxed horse, a relationship and communication where both horse and human have a voice, and work which has the best interest of the horse at its centre: A natural display of the beauty of connection between horse and human.
Picture: (c) Fotolia.com # 90782399 – tpetersson3