Working in freedom: I am the one working and the horse is the one who has the freedom.
This is what happens when I meet Molly while she is out in the field with her friend Lady for a summer break. They have been out now for a couple of days and settled down together. Lady is the leader and I have to go to her first. Let her check me out. If I do not do that, I will not be able to approach Molly, Lady will move her away! I have passed the test and I can approach Molly and have her check me out. We have been working together now for over 2 years. Last year I still needed a head collar to do bodywork, she really needed it than being down with severe laminitis.
This year she is doing really good and has already cantered and trotted around in the long grass as a spring chicken. First, I use the rope to lead her around and asses her movement, which is strong and confident, she is in great form. Then I drop the rope, so she is free to move of if she wants to.
Her chest is always a bit sensitive and when I softly massage her she flicks her head and bares her teeth as an automatic response, an old habit. I stay soft and she relaxes into my hand. Her feet have not moved. Next, I place a hand on her shoulder … her feet don’t move but she swings her open mouth at me, again an old ingrained response, her heart is not in it. I just put my hand on a different part of her shoulder going into stroking. She relaxes and goes to grazing. If it was really that bad, so painful right now she would have walked away, but is just old reactions and they are fading away. This is what I love about working within the herd with the horse, no headcollar, they can move away at any time. Of course, I only do it with a horse I already have build a relationship with, we know each other inside out!
Picking up her front feet has always been a problem. She did not want to lift them; she could not stand long on just one front foot. It was a total NO GO area. Now I have been working on her lifting her own leg on an ask/tap from me. And I have been able to handle the leg. But that was in the stable with grooming and body work easing her into it.
Now we are in a big field and no headcollar. After massaging her chest and stroking her shoulders I slide down and tap, can you lift your leg for me? She does. I let her put it straight down and ask again. Now I pull it slightly forward before I release. She stays in place and does not stamp it down. Then I ask her to lift her leg for the third time and bring the leg up, this opens up her ribcage. She is totally fine with this. And after doing the same on the other side I let her graze on. All the while she has not moved away which is the best way to know I have her full consent.