Day 49 - My theory on the liberty-conflict concept

100 days Nov 19, 2017

Last time we talked about how some liberty work seems to encourage horses to exhibit conflict behaviours such as ear pinning and tail swishing and I suggested you check out YouTube, sans sound, to see for yourself.

When the horse is under saddle or being worked on the ground wearing tack, it's easy to see the pressure being used. Pressure is our motivation - motivation for the horse to make a movement, do something differently or trial a new behaviour. When this is an obvious signal, such as tapping the horse with the whip to cue hindquarter movement, then we can easily see when it's applied and when it's released - which is, hopefully, immediately the horse makes the movement.

When the pressure is our voice or body language, it's harder to release and for those watching it's also more difficult to see when it's being applied.

Some trainers (and you know I mean anyone that works with a horse because we are all training our horses every time we interact with them) fail to realise that these things, their voice and body language, are pressure, or at least they fail to release them in a timely manner. This leads to frustration and confusion in the horse because, without a well-timed release, the lines become blurred. The horse performs the movement but the voice cue continues or the trainer's body language remains unchanged.

When the immediate reward of a release of pressure is not there, even simple lessons become frustrating for the horse. I encourage you to pop back over to YouTube and watch a few of those liberty videos again. I found that the trainers using whips, not that they touch the horse with the whip, in general, have less conflicted horses. Could this be that raising and lowering the whip make it easier for both horse and handler to know when pressure is released? I think so.

OK, so if a sign that the horse isn't getting a release of pressure is a swishing tail, pinning ears or tossing of the head and we know that this means the horse is confused, frustrated, stressed or in pain, then can you think of a situation where these behaviours are commonly seen and appear to go unnoticed? If you can, leave me a comment below.

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