In Preparation for my Horse Behaviour Seminar this past April, I was reminded of how a horse's innate character plays a big part in how a liberty session will play out.
I planned to have Escudo, my Andalusian/Quarter Horse gelding be part of my seminar by having participants observe his behaviour during a liberty session. A few days before the seminar I brought Escudo into my arena for a refresher.
When studying horse behaviour we need to consider - left brain, right brain, introvert, extrovert
and mild, moderate and extreme behaviour. Escudo is a mild left brain extrovert who has been a fabulous liberty partner. He is easy to direct back on track when he pulls out his dominant card, he's curious, friendly, and loves to show off what he can do. This type of character is a lot of fun to do liberty with, but that being said, he is a true LBE - as was proven two days before our demonstration.
Left Brain Extrovert (LBE) Defined:
Day 1 Demo Prep
I asked Escudo to circle around me at a walk, trot and canter. This is when I realized he was not connected to me as much as I would like. With a wisp of his tail, he left, kicking up dust as he cantered off expressing his new felt sense of freedom. It's common for a horse at liberty to feel the need to leave their partner in order to let off a little steam. This release of steam is NOT a bad thing! It helps settle their emotions so they may later return to their partner with a better mindset, and carry on with the task at hand. I figured this is what Escudo needed, so I watched as he gleefully expressed himself for a few minutes and then re-engaged him with the circle game.
Day 2 Demo Prep
The day before the seminar I sensed more resistance and less respect. It seemed that Escudo had discovered a new and exciting pattern - leaving me! His LBE self said : "I want to be in charge of my own destiny". Having realized this, I came up with a plan to win Escudo back. I had to rethink who he is, what he needs, and reinvent 'circling around me'.
Remember....If a LBE horse feels like they are being drilled, we are too demanding of them, or there isn't something interesting to keep their focus, they will try to take control. As for Escudo, our relationship was still solid, but he had had enough of circling, and there wasn't enough respect to keep him with me.
To be successful with a LBE at liberty, one needs a balance of:
Fixing an Undesirable Pattern
Having realized Escudo's newfound comfort in leaving, I had to take a new approach to an old pattern, at least until I got him back on track. Although still at liberty, I stopped sending Escudo out on the circle from a distance, where the opportunity for him to leave me was too strong. Instead, I asked for a smaller, tighter circle, which eliminated the choice to leave. Taking away the privilege of a large liberty circle which offers freedom and opinion, gave him no choice but to pay attention to me. This redirection of energy spurred respect, yet still allowed for freedom and fulfillment.
Escudo did stick with me during the Horse Behaviour Seminar the next day. Participants did figure out he was a LBE, and in the days that followed, I challenged him to go back to being able to follow the point of my finger when I asked for a large liberty circle. He not only was able to respectfully follow my suggestion of being out on the circle, but he did it with more attention and connection.
Horses being honest characters, will tell you readily if things aren't going well for them. Liberty is the truth, so one needs to be aware of every changing second and to the needs and wants of a horse. How we present ourselves as their leader is different for each quadrant. The more you understand all four quadrants, the better you will understand your horse, and the more opportunity you will have to offer him the safety, comfort and respect he needs. In return, your partnership will blossom!