Working with horses in a force free way is an huge exercise in trust and letting go of control.
Despite the common myth/saying in the horse world that “A horse wouldn’t do anything if they didn’t want to” there seems to be this unspoken rule in the horse world that a horse won’t cooperate with us unless we somehow make them.
No one really talks about it, because then we would have to admit that the horse doesn’t really enjoy working with us. But it becomes clear when you watch how people behave with horses.
Personally I think this is something that is taught to you the moment you enter the horse world, which in most people’s cases is at a young age.
Things like: always hold on to the horse with a rope before haltering them or they may run off, close the halter around their neck while you bridle them or he may walk out of the crossties, never let go of the lead rope while working or he’s not going to participate.
In some circle even just leading a horse down the road without a bitted bridle is considered dangerous and irresponsible.
Heck, even a lot of conventional liberty work is taught by making the horse uncomfortable when they’re walking away from the trainer, either by adding pressure with the whip, or making them work hard.
There’s always this element of control around horses,
Often times this unconscious, most of the time people don’t even realize how much we push and pull on our horses until we can’t do so anymore. And that’s when you get that moment of realization that “Crap! I truly do not have control in this moment”
When you start giving up control, and allowing your horse a choice, it can feel vulnerable and frightening. That moment when all of a sudden you’re not able to physically push and pull your horse to do something and have nothing but your energy & body language to communicate and the horses willingness to stay with you is all you got regarding cooperation.
But this moment is so so powerful!
It can go two ways, but either way tells you exactly how your horse feels about the work you do with them. Either the horse decides “thank goodness, I’m out of here!” Or they think “huh! I guess i could leave now.. but I may stay to see what they got to offer” and that is such a wonderful realization.
Usually at the beginning most horses tend to be hesitant, and they tend to walk away frequently, almost as if testing their newfound freedom.
But the more you give them the choice, and the more they learn that you trust them, and make the work together fun and rewarding, the more they are willing to work with you, because they now can trust you to allow them to say no.
But first it’s on us to let go of that control.