If you’ve tried but struggled with liberty training, there might be a reason. Harmony Horsemanship founder Lindsey Partridge discusses how she moved forward with liberty training.
I dreamed of playing with my horses at liberty — out in open spaces, on the beach, cantering, and dancing together in rhythm.
For years I tried and for years I failed.
I was a successful horse trainer and competitor under saddle… I could even ride my horse bridleless. But liberty horse training was always out of my grasp — I could do the basics of getting my horse to follow me or complete some simple tasks. The hard part came when I wanted to be in open spaces, with grass as a distraction, or when I started to work on liberty circles or canter.
I spent years learning from “the best of the best” and trying to discover how I could accomplish my liberty goals. I even travelled all the way from my little farm in Ontario, Canada down to Florida with my horse so I could study with some of the best.
In the end I still didn’t accomplish my liberty goal, and what’s worse is I felt like I may have made things worse. The training methods and solutions I was shown didn’t achieve any success.
Maybe it was me? Maybe it was the fact that I had an off track Thoroughbred with so much try and stamina that she went round and round the round pen until she was dripping in sweat before she searched for a different answer.
I knew I had to change something — this wasn’t working.
I decided to drop everything I thought I knew about liberty and search for something new.
I couldn’t find any liberty training program that had the answers, but I did find two very inspiring women.
Elsa Sinclair filmed a documentary program called “Taming Wild.” She took a feral Mustang and released her into a field at her farm. Over the course of a year she trained this Mustang with literally nothing — no ropes, no whips, no round pen, no confinement and not even food or treats. In the end she was riding her horse walk, trot, canter through open fields and even on the beach.
Emma Massingale filmed a documentary program called “the Island Project” where she took two untrained ponies to an 80 acre island with two of her trained ponies. The island was completely open — no fencing, no pens, no confinement. She didn’t use any halter or lead rope and over a couple months trained her ponies to ride.
Wow! My mind was blown and I was completely inspired. I decided to try my own liberty restart and experiment with this idea of taking away the tools and confinement. I called it the OTTB Liberty Restart.
Wally was a recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse that had four starts at Woodbine Track in Ontario, Canada and just over $2000 in earnings. Not a great racehorse so he retired young at the end of his 3-year-old year.
When I went to meet him he was everything I didn’t want in my first liberty restart project — he was full of the zoomies, he was dominant and even backing his butt up to other horses that were in stalls threatening to kick them, and he seemed very mouthy and bitey. Definitely not what I was picturing for this first new attempt.
You can watch the first time I met Wally below:
Let the Training Begin
I didn’t know what to expect when I first started training. We used my large 80×200 arena and literally no whips, no halter, no ropes (except to lead him to/from the arena), and not even a neck rope.
I’d seen other trainers say they were doing a liberty restart, but they still used whips, a round pen, and a neck rope — I felt like I wouldn’t get the full experience and discovery if I did this. The main goal of this opportunity was to learn more about myself, my horse, and the language that connects us.
Our first session definitely had some struggles and it felt like this might take a long time. To my surprise, by the ninth session I felt calm and connected to Wally; we had our first ride together. It literally brought me to tears and I dismounted with tears of emotion streaming down my face — we did it… it really is possible.
By session 15 we could ride walk/trot figure 8 patterns around the arena, we traveled offsite to do a riding demo, and were riding both inside and outside. It truly was remarkable.
How this changed what I knew about Liberty
I had always been told “teach on a lead rope and test at liberty,” or that “you need to join up in a round pen first,” among many other myths about liberty. My experience with Wally changed everything — I now knew that a different way was not only possible, but also it led to significantly faster results.
I continued to challenge and change the way I thought about liberty. I decided not to use any whips or confinement in my foundational liberty training so that I could learn more about how this new mysterious method of training worked.
I experimented with my Thoroughbreds and Mustangs as part of the makeover challenges that I was doing and what I discovered I knew was going to make some waves about how we’ve all been conditioned to think about liberty training.
Lies of Liberty Exposed
After a lot of trial, challenges, and successes I was able to put together a step-by-step program that works — without chasing, without whips, and without a round pen. Not only does it work, but I was actually experiencing success with my horses in open spaces a lot faster and easier than I had ever dreamed of.
Harmony at Liberty is based on taking away the tools, chasing, and confined spaces so that you learn more about yourself, your horse, and the language that connects you. It’s not that I think a whip or a round pen are bad things to use in training, but what I know is that if you start with those tools it can prevent you from building a strong liberty connection.
Take a look at my journey with Elysia, an off track Thoroughbred that was doing liberty on the beach after just 6 weeks of training:
Here are some lies I had been told about liberty, which I now know were actually holding me back from success:
- Joining up involves chasing your horse — this couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve discovered six different join up games that cause a horse to want to be with you; none of them use whips or a round pen, and they work depending on what your horse needs in the moment.
- You need to teach your horse on a rope first — total lie! I’ve discovered how to place my hands and body language to communicate to my horse and clarify what I want. I don’t need a rope to “fix” things my horse doesn’t understand, which means our liberty relationship is so much stronger because my horse knows I can communicate effectively without needing tools.
- You need a whip for communication or to keep you safe — I understand this thought and this fear. I’ve discovered that when people use whips, they can easily get “whippy” and cause their horse to become flighty or defensive. I understand the benefit of adding a whip to give you more length for precise communication. In Harmony at Liberty I add this option for communication once we reach advanced liberty. That way we have a solid foundation in liberty first where I truly recognize what my horse needs from me — but many of my students don’t bother with introducing a whip at all and are experiencing great success.
But can no whips, chasing, or round pen really work for training liberty?
You might be thinking, “But Lindsey, you are an international champion for Thoroughbred and Mustang makeovers, a horse trainer for feature films like Unbridled and Autumn Stables, and you’re known for being a global leader in equine relationships that is already trusted by Olympian and Professional riders — I’m just a beginner.”
We first launched our Harmony at Liberty Program in summer of 2020. It’s a 12-week guided virtual course where I give students new videos every week, have biweekly live question and answer videos, video one on one coaching where students can film themselves and send it to me for feedback, and a private Facebook group where students share and learn together.
We had over 200 students in the first year with many success stories to share. Our participants ranged from people with minis to draft horses and everything in between. All age groups and experience levels from first time beginners to professional trick trainers that were looking for more. This is proof that it doesn’t just work for me, but it’s working for hundreds of others too.
Liberty should be fun for both you and your horse
I struggled for years, spent thousands of dollars, invested so many hours, traveled thousands of miles, and in the end was left feeling frustrated and no closer to my goals.
The worst part through all of my past learning is that I felt my relationship with my horse got worse the harder I tried.
It was hard, but I didn’t give up.
Through years of discovery with many different horses and students I was able to find Harmony at Liberty. I was able to learn a completely different pathway that was actually successful and didn’t require years, thousands of dollars, as many hours, the need for travel, and let both my horse and I enjoy the liberty training experience.
Now that we know the truth — that liberty horse training doesn’t need chasing, whips, or a round pen — more people can experience the fun of liberty with their horses, and more horses can enjoy the liberty training process.
About Lindsey Partridge:
Lindsey has won multiple championships and placed in the top five at the Thoroughbred Makeover and Mustang Training Challenges. She is the Founder of Harmony Horsemanship.