Wondering about working horses at liberty? Here’s what you need to know…

  • If you’ve ever seen horses working at liberty or a horse liberty training display, you’ll have probably been impressed by what the trainers and their horses can achieve without so much as a headcollar or lead rope.

    What is liberty training?

    Liberty is the state of being free from restriction, being able to do as you wish and go where you want. When you apply this to training horses, liberty training relates to any work done with horses while they’re loose, without a rope or reins, so they have the freedom to move around at will. It usually takes place in a large paddock or arena.

    Professional liberty horse trainers may perform tricks and movements with their horses, such as rearing or bowing, all without any tack. Instead they use vocal, whip or hand cues. Some trainers focus on lateral work, which can be also taught at liberty from the ground, to help improve a horse’s suppleness, while others use the skills learnt and translate them into ridden work with bareback and bridleless riding.

    What are the benefits of liberty training?

    Many people who participate in liberty training report that their horses become more responsive and connected with them under saddle as a result. It also improves your horsemanship skills and increases the bond and trust you share with your horse.

    Working with a horse from the ground also means that you spend a lot more time watching and learning about their movement and behaviour.

    Many liberty horse trainers enjoy the challenge training at liberty presents without the ridden aspect.

    How to start horse liberty training

    Anyone can have a go at liberty training with their horse. Unlike riding, you don’t need to be a particular size match – it’s something you could do with a Shetland pony or a warmblood.

    Working at liberty is about building up a system of communication – it requires patience, practice and doesn’t happen overnight. At the beginning, you start with the horse on the line or lead rode, teaching simple cues and learning to move the horse away from you, towards and around you.

    Some liberty trainers offer clinics and online courses to help you get started.

    Liberty Horse UK

    While liberty training isn’t as big in the UK as it is in the US or on the continent, things are starting to grow. Liberty Horse UK is currently the only official group in the UK. It was set up by Louise Donnor-Broom in 2022 and aims to raise the profile of the discipline in the UK and to provide an accessible place for liberty enthusiasts, of all ages and abilities, to train and compete.

    The group currently holds online shows whereby members send in a video to be judged, similar to online dressage competitions. Members can also attend clinics and gain progress awards as they work through the stages of training.

    Famous liberty horse trainers

    Close up of Jean-Francois Pignon liberty training with his horses

    Jean-François Pignon has been a frequent visitor to the UK, performing with his liberty horses on at London International and HOYS on multiple occasions, as well as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and 90th birthday celebrations.

    Emma Massingale liberty training with her horse on the beach

    Emma Massingale is based in Devon with her team of horses and ponies. She’s known for planning adventures with her horses, such as The Island Project, and co-ordinating her team for filming and adverts.

    Ben Atkinson doing a liberty display with three horses

    Ben Atkinson is well known for stunt riding displays, but he also incorporates liberty work into his performances. As part of the family business, Atkinson Action Horses he travels around the world putting on displays and has provided horses for film and TV work, including Peaky Blinders, Poldark and Victoria.

    Dan James founded the International Liberty Horse Association 2019. He has appeared on Australia’s Got Talent alongside partner Dan Steers and offers training via Double Dan Horsemanship, which has headquarters in Kentuck, USA and New South Wales, Australia.

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