The Savvy Station

What is Liberty Training?

by Parelli Professionals on Nov 29, 2023

What is Liberty Training?

By Juli Piovesan, 4-Star Senior Instructor, HDS, & Parelli's Director of Education


According to Pat Parelli, if you take the halter and lead rope off, you’ve only got one thing left:  the truth.  If we look at Liberty training in its simplest form, it tells the truth about our relationship with our horse.  


Does your horse leave you the moment the halter comes off?  Is he more interested in the grass, other horses, sniffing the ground (or poop!), wandering around the pen?  All of this is common behavior for horses. 


So then the question becomes, how do you create that magical connection that we’ve all seen in beautiful videos or demonstrations where the horse just wants to dance alongside its human in an ethereal display of partnership? 


If Liberty training tells the truth, the truth behind Liberty can be summed up in one word:  Connection. 


Connection is King. 

In every aspect of our horse training, what we’re looking to create first is connection, both on the ground and riding.   Here at Parelli we look at teaching/training our horses in 4 different Savvys, or ways we play with our horses, both on the ground and riding.  But no matter what Savvy we’re playing in, On Line (ground “work” with a halter and rope), Liberty (on the ground without a halter or line attached), FreeStyle (riding on a loose or casual rein), or Finesse (precision riding), we focus on connection first.  In fact, it’s so important to our hierarchy of priorities that we won’t even get on our horses to ride unless they pass certain connection tests.


We want our horses to want to be with us, to look to us as a friend and a leader, and to willingly want to do what we ask and go where we want them to go.  In order to create these partnership habits, we play friendship and yielding games just like horses naturally do with each other in a herd environment.  These are called the Parelli 7 Games because they focus on 7 unique categories of skills and are derived from the way horses play with other horses.  They are games, not work, because horses naturally do not “work” with each other in the herd.  And if our horses are recreation for us, we want to be recreation for our horses.


We can learn to play all 7 Games in all 4 Savvys, but it is important to play them On Line first.  Think of On Line as having a safety net with your horse — not only does it give you physical safety through a measure of control, but it also prevents your horse from just leaving if he gets scared or confused.  Of course, we’re never intentionally trying to create fear or unconfidence in our horses, but it will happen at times accidentally as we are learning to use our body language, control our tools, and refine our techniques.  If you want to get really good at Liberty, start On Line first.  The games, patterns, and skills you develop with a halter and a line attached will lay a solid foundation for your Liberty play. 


As you continue to develop your On Line skills, you’ll begin to play On Line as if you were at Liberty.  Think about putting slack in the line and just using your body language and your phases to communicate with your horse.  If you’re communicating effectively On Line, your horse will understand and choose to respond even without you having to use the rope.  You’ll rely less and less on the halter and the rope, until one day you realize you don’t need it at all to keep your horse with you.  Connection has become King.  


Of course, there will be times when you will want to go back On Line to build the next set of skills, teach a new technique, expand your patterns or simply stay safe in a new environment.  Remember On Line build to Liberty.  One isn’t better than the other; they are both important to developing a well-rounded partnership. 


Pat Parelli began his very first seminar over 4 decades ago with this opening thought:  Horsemanship can be obtained naturally using communication, understanding, and psychology versus mechanics, fear and intimidation. 


Years later, this remains one of our guiding principles.  Even at Liberty, be sure you are using communication and understanding to create connection and develop a bond.  It may take longer to lay this solid foundation than if you resorted to more trick based techniques or forceful maneuvers.  But in the long run, it will stand the test of time.  


Picture a mare running free out in a field with her young foal matching her stride for stride, turning when she turns, stopping when she stops and gracefully backing up.  Their bond and the mama’s leadership creates a strong connection, naturally.  This is our goal in Liberty training.  Always remember, Connection is King. 

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