How and why my Seven Steps of Liberty Training developed into the Waterhole Rituals

This was a very good question from Elizabeth in Thursday’s classroom and I thought it would be useful to share my answer with you too. Elizabeth's question was how the 7 steps of liberty training I taught in my first video Liberty Training are related to the Waterhole Rituals. Well, the short answer is that they are basically the same although I have obviously continued to develop my Method a great deal since that first video came out. For example, the 7 steps of liberty training I taught back then didn't incorporate treats as a training aid and the video did not go into as much detail and had fewer related programs.

I realized over many years that I needed to give people more information on how to use my Method because most people have little practice in interacting with a horse without fences or tack. I needed to find a way to give the horse more reason to want to connect with a human and “food” was the answer. By introducing the use of treats, it helped to develop the bond and keep the horse motivated to figure out what the person might want when the person was not clear and giving mixed signals.

The Liberty Training DVD helped a lot of people all over the world for twenty years or more and I continue to sell it to both long-time and newer students. Some people do not want to use treats and some horses actually don’t work well with treats. Some people, after they have the Waterhole Rituals down, would like to develop their skills even further where treats are not used. The original Method still serves a purpose for many people but I would not suggest it for new people just starting out.

In the beginning, there were many reasons that I did not use treats, one being that the horse world was all in agreement that treats for training were not acceptable. Horses do not use treats to develop a bond or so I thought. I wanted to be sure that my horses were truly bonded to me and not to the treats. I wanted the horses to want my company and bond to me as deeply as horses bond to one another. I was looking for loyalty. I wanted to trust that the bond and respect happened like it does in nature where there are no fences. I also did not want to use any sort of manipulation that you would not find with horses in nature. I wanted to prove to myself I had a real ability to communicate with a horse in the same manner horses communicate with each other. I wanted to prove my theory that the instinctual social rituals of horses that I discovered could be used by people to develop a working bond with horses. I needed to determine if I could train a horse exactly the way horses trained horses, by creating a working bond that would open a natural door enabling me to ride them. This did not, in my mind, include using food as horses do not "bribe" other horses.

On further reflection however, I realized that significant communication does occur amongst herd members in relation to food. Rather than bribery, it is based on setting boundaries around access to food. After running a herd mate off a food source, a horse will then share the food with the displaced horse provided appropriate respect is shown. This sharing, including whisker touching ceremonies, clearly involved a food reward.

So I then realized that food does play a natural part. I had seen the whisker touching ceremony as a separate interaction from the horse’s ceremonies of establishing personal boundaries. By shifting my viewpoint, I discovered that horses give food rewards and this gave rise to the answer on how to use food rewards and consequently how The Seven Steps morphed into the Waterhole Rituals and how they differ.

In my original DVD I did not go into as much detail with people. Because in my life at that time people were not that interested in horse behavior, they just wanted the connection they saw I had. Some people thought that I used a round pen for training. In the DVD it shows me working in a round pen part of the time to instruct the viewer. In fact, I only used the round pen to have the camera set up I needed to show specific points of the training. However, I do use a round pen to train a horse but much later in his training after the bond and respect are established and we have developed a partnership and teamworking skills at liberty with my Method. Then I use the round pen to develop the gaits of the horse, to develop three speeds of walk trot and canter. Once the bond is firmly established, the round pen can be a relaxing place that brings out a great work ethic in a horse because there is no place to go, so the horse gets into the rhythm of the gaits in walk, trot and canter nicely.

As any method develops over time, there will be changes. My Method has changed to more support the growing interest in bonding with horse which was always my interest anyway. Using food speeds up the bonding and exposes the aggressive side of a horse more than it would without food. It is important to find his dominate nature so you can shape his behavior into being polite and respectful. The process creates friendship. The Method works a lot faster and is easier and more supportive.

Another thing that is different is that nowadays I put a lot more emphasis on “Sharing Territory” and what can take place in these moments that is so valuable. I cannot stress too highly the incredible benefit there is to just spending time with your horse. You should never under-estimate the value this will bring you and I advise you to not to skip over this Ritual because you think that nothing is happening - because it most definitely is.

So, what do I use today? I use treats and if I find a horse that works better without them, I have the old method to fall back on. I cannot tell you how fulfilling it is for me to have the ability to win the trust, then the bond and then the respect with practically any horse and to then be able to move into a working partnership that is more dependable than even a well trained horse.

Which Method is better? That is a hard call. The Waterhole Rituals DVD does not need the Liberty Training DVD to have clarity. I made the Liberty Training DVD to be used with my clinics and so it needs more support from me. The (Introduction to the) Waterhole Rituals DVD was developed to stand alone and is obviously more my current style and approach with horses. Working a horse without treats definitely honed my skills and the Waterhole Rituals brought about a closeness that cannot be denied and is based on greater knowledge of horse behavior.

I do not therefore recommend the Liberty Training DVD over the Waterhole Rituals DVD for the reasons I mention above. It is however a part of my history and I'm sure the more experienced among you will still be able to learn something from it as you would by watching any experienced horse person at work.

By the way, several of you have been asking about when the full DVD set of the Waterhole Rituals is coming out. Unfortunately we have suffered some delays and setbacks but I hadn't some positive news the other day about my former videographer perhaps coming to work with me again so I will let you know how that develops. In the meantime, if you have any questions on the subject of the 2 DVDs we talked about today, please feel free to ask and I will pick out several to answer.

If you have any topics that you would like me to write about on my Tuesday blogs, then let me know and maybe I will pick yours!

In fact, lets make it fun. For everyone that sends in a topic along with a self-addressed envelope (address below), I will send you a pair of UE whiskers. The whiskers are the small straps you attach to your horse’s halter that you use to do the UE exercises with. I will be selling the whiskers in the future for $10.00 a pair, plus shipping. We also will be sharing the pattern in how to make them out of leather although many people just use shoelaces. I look forward to hearing from you as ever.


P.S. Please send to your self-addressed envelop to my shipping address: Carolyn Resnick Method, 947 Eldorado Dr., Escondido, CA. 92025, USA.