This article is the result of the disappointing reading of a French magazine article about liberty. To give you a brief idea of the content of the article I have translated and listed below some of the key statements: 

  • “It is necessary to start working on the ground with an halter and a lead before ‘removing it all’.”
  • “People that practice Liberty also* use a stick to clarify their request to the horse.” * in addition to the halter and lead.
  • “To start liberty work, prefer a calm, isolated space and which is not too big, […] in order to keep your horse attention.”

Now, one of the biggest problems in the equestrian world is not what methods horse trainers use but how they word their methods. It is common to inflict pain to the horse and violate all his needs and desires while speaking about trust, partnership and I don’t know what else. I am quite certain that if methods and devices were called and described for what they really are, the majority of people won’t buy into it. This article is only one more example of how words are misused in the equestrian world.


The real definition of liberty is the following:


lib·er·ty [lib-er-tee]

noun, plural lib·er·ties.

1. freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control

2. freedom from external or foreign rule; independence.

3. freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.

4. freedom from captivity, confinement, or physical restraint.


Social, environmental and physical restriction is not liberty. Isolating an animal from his peer, removing his capacities to switch activity and restricting him physically means that you remove any kind of liberty or choice to the animal.


In the equestrian world the definition of liberty would be more like “training a horse to be able to perform tasks without tack”. People seem more bothered by the end result than the process. I believe some of the important reasons behind this are the lack of information, not knowing how to do things differently, and the fear that the horse with which we want a relationship so desperately, will not want to have anything to do with us if he had the choice. This is how people settle for semblance of liberty, relationship etc.


So, why people start liberty by restriction? You will notice trainers that use negative reinforcement based method will always start their training with the horse restricted in some way; either by using headgear and lead or by using a small isolated area. Never you will see them start their training on a huge field without the use of ropes or stick. The reason why is because negative reinforcement is not rewarding for the horse and they know it! The horse has no need to cooperate if the aversive stimulus cannot be applied in the first place.


But why restriction works? Why eventually can you remove all the visible ropes? Once the horse is being repeatedly forced to endure restriction then restriction become a state of mind even when the horse is at liberty. This phenomenon is referred to as learned helplessness and was discovered by psychologist Seligman. In the experiment, the animal is repeatedly hurt by an adverse stimuli which he cannot escape. Eventually the animal will stop trying to avoid it. When opportunities to escape are finally presented, the animal that is in learned helplessness will not try to escape. (Seligman, M.E.P.; Maier, S.F. (1967)