Today we have a question from Victoria in Australia who writes:
I have a 9 year old thoroughbred mare, who I bought as a green, broken four year old. I trained her up for show jumping and she was coming along quite well until she fractured her offside hind when she was seven. Since then she has had problems on and off with lameness and more recently a sore back. She is perfectly capable of movement in the paddock but is uncomfortable and sore with a rider. The vets are unable to help anymore. So I have decided to take a new track with her and train her in liberty.
I have had experience in some well known natural horsemanship methods and have not found them useful as they seem to base their ideas on a horse that is scared of people. My horse and I are friends. I would just like to still be able to teach her new things to keep her mind occupied and so we can keep having fun together. I was wondering if you had some ideas of basic tricks I could teach her. Thanks for your help.
I wrote back:
Try teaching her to go away, disconnect from you and come back to you when you call her. If she goes a good distance from you, she does not have to disconnect, you can just call her back. What you do not want is for her to be in charge of how far she is to go. This could be easy for you since she is a good friend.
You start this interaction by giving her lots of treats, and then ask her to go trot or walk and when she returns on your call, she gets another treat. At first, it will be a little hard to get her to go, which is where the training comes into play as both you and your horse develop good team working skills. You may have to teach her how not to eat the treat first before you start this game, and that you are in control of the treats and she is not!
Once you can send her away and call her back, try sending her to a friend. When she waits politely with the friend she gets a treat from her as well. Then have your friend send her back to you as you call her at the same time. You now are having a good game of Horse Tennis. You can do this back and forth at walk and trot. All this teaches a horse that it is fun to be with all people in general. At the same time, she learns and exercises proper behavior around treats and she develops great relationships, and polite social conduct interacting with humans. This exercise helps a horse to feel responsible for their conduct and their performance.