What Does it Mean to Train Your Horse at Liberty?


The concept of training your horse at liberty has been used a lot in the last two decades. And it has been used by many people and in many different ways.

Even though many people disagree with the details of what this concept means, they generally agree on the basics.

This type of training usually refers to ground training in any discipline where the horse does what the trainer asks without using any tack and not being ridden.

However, some people will train their horse using tack and then after their horse has the movements down as a routine, they take the tack off and their horse will continue to follow the routine. This is more like the Webster’s definition of a “Liberty Horse”. It is a trained behavior.

  • A “Liberty Horse” is… “a circus horse that performs tricks (as wheeling, circling, running in file) in a group and without a rider.”

Then there are some people who just go straight to riding without tack after their horse has got the hang of liberty work with tack. Again, this is a trained behavior.

There are lots of people online working with horses at liberty and they all have a slightly different version of what Liberty means to them when training.

Overall, I can see why this type of training has become so popular with both horses and people.

And while I love to see so many trainers and non-trainers adopting the concept of working with their horses without tack, there are some very important elements that I feel are missing from the training programs of some of the big name ‘gurus’.

It often feels to me that, knowingly or unknowingly, they are just paying lip-service to what I feel are the core parts of liberty training.

If we go back to what the Webster dictionary says on the topic, you will see what I mean…

  • “Training” is… “the act, process, or method of one that trains. The skill, knowledge, or experience acquired by one that trains. The state of being trained.”
  • “Liberty” is… “a state of being free. The power to do as one pleases. Freedom from physical restraint. Freedom from arbitrary control. The positive enjoyment of various social rights and privileges. The power of choice.”

Putting these two definitions together pretty much makes up my definition of how I train horses at liberty as well.

My definition: “A method of ground training horses without the use of tack, punishment, or pain that allows a horse the freedom to choose what makes him/her happy. Training that puts a mutual relationship of trust, love, and respect as the priority.”

To me, the first and most important concept of training horses at liberty is your horse’s power of choice and his freedom to make his own decisions.

Just as the dictionary definition of Liberty states… your horse is allowed to be in a state of freedom to choose what pleases him/her while being trained. Therefore, doing what your horse enjoys. But also acting as a true partner and friend in a relationship.

It isn’t always your choice nor your horse’s choice. It’s a give and take relationship. The same as you would do with your human best friend.

I believe that along with your horse’s freedom and power of choice, that your horse also has various rights and privileges in this relationship-based type of training.

  • Your horse has the right to say no and refuse your requests (training) without the fear of punishment, pain, or retribution.
  • Your horse has the right to be a part of the training process and give his opinions. It’s a two-way conversation.
  • Your horse has the privilege of having a say in the training process and the ability to make mutual decisions.

My definition of this type of ground training also includes the concept of starting the training at liberty. That means not teaching your horse to follow a specific routine using tack and then taking the tack off to get the same trained behavior. To me, that’s trick training.

Trick training is fun and has its purpose, but I believe that training your horse at liberty is a relationship-based training that puts more emphasis on the relationship rather than a specific trick.

Therefore, the second most important concept of my definition of training horses at liberty is that the training is based strictly and solely on the relationship between horse and owner.

That there is a true heart-to-heart relationship developed. You still get the results you desire but you get so much more as well.

When your horse is used to doing a specific routine over and over with tack and then told to do it without tack, that takes away the whole idea of the horse having a choice. He’s now been trained to do a trick. He feels obligated to do what he has been told.

This takes away the horse’s freedom to say no. In his mind, he is still following directions and still being controlled. The definition of liberty says…”freedom from arbitrary control”. The horse loses his freedom of choice.

Even though it often takes more time to build a relationship, developing a deep trust and love within this type of training, and then working together in a partnership doing new training lessons together without tack. It is so much more rewarding, at least to me.

Knowing that your horse is doing new things with you because he enjoys it and enjoys making you happy is priceless to me. The warmth that you feel in your heart when you know your horse would rather be with you than another horse and that he loves doing things with you because you are friends is incredible.

You’ll even be able to see it in your horse’s attitude and performance as well. My horses have a pep to their step, a sparkle in their eyes, they are energetic and happy to be with me and do things together as a team. We have fun together. They eagerly want to do anything and try new things.

I believe that training your horse at liberty allows learning new things in any discipline to become an enjoyable process instead of a chore for both of you. Plus when you do ride, the riding becomes more effortless and enjoyable because you are doing it as a team, together in-sync and happy.

When your horse is happy, feels in control of his choices, and trusts you… the possibilities are endless. I’m sure you can tell the difference at shows between a horse that is doing what he has been told to do but he doesn’t enjoy it (ears pinned) and a horse that loves what he is doing and is doing it in unity with and for his rider.

This is what training your horse at liberty using my approach can do for you and your horse.

Training and performances become easier, effortless, and enjoyable. You can see and feel the difference. It’s like night and day.

It has transformed my relationships with my horses for the better and I’ve seen it do the same for all of my students as well.

My online programs promote training your horse at liberty based on choice and relationship.

If this resonates with you and you haven’t yet dipped your toe into my programs, then click this link. Check them out and let me know if you have any questions, by contacting me. I look forward to hearing from you.

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