Trick Training Animals Lessons With Lukas, The World S Smartest Horse: Liberty

Submitted by: Karen Murdock

For those of you familiar with Lukas, you already know that I consider liberty work to be the most important element in my training program; I credit Lukas’ learning to learn, and our bond to it. Lukas is never tied – all of our ground time together is spent with him loose, and us interacting voluntarily. Even under saddle I encourage him to express himself, and he initiates and sustains movements with the merest hint from me.

As you re probably aware, there are many versions of liberty training. What you won’t ever see me doing is running my horse endlessly around a pen until it’s too exhausted and hopeless to move. This is not training, in my opinion, and I don’t condone it – I never want to see a look of resignation on my horse’s face. What I do practice is a scientific and systematic process with the following six steps: I observe, assess, come up with a plan, implement the plan, analyze the outcome and adjust it as necessary. This provides an immediate and ongoing feedback loop that is very effective and efficient. Movement and choice become a bridge between us and a means of communication.

What would our lives be like if everyone said and did exactly what they meant? Imagine no contradictions, disguises or distractions. Communication that is clear, direct, meaningful and purposeful avoids confusion, frustration and irritation. Developing this self-control requires that we pay attention and cultivate awareness – and you thought you were just going to learn to train animals here!


At this point, I d like to cite an example that I use in my presentations. This scenario could happen at any barn – I’ve seen it every place that I’ve ever been. I ask a volunteer to come up and be my horse student. I then yank on the imaginary lead rope Don’t, whack, Come on! itch my arm, “I’m hungry, I wish it was lunch time,” whack again, Quit it! wave at passerby, “Love your jacket – where did you get it?, blah, blah, yank again, “Oh, my phone’s ringing – where did I put it?” hit, hit, hands on hips, whack again, hit again and look at my watch, throw up my hands and exclaim, “You dumb horse! I then ask my poor student, How was that for you? Did you learn anything? I m often told that I m not someone they d want to be around much! Most of the time I can’t even figure out what people are trying to teach their horses from watching them.

Now, let’s look at how to establish cooperation and rapport.

Liberty training is a very intuitive and interactive process. Initially, as you ll recall from the six steps, I m observing and making mental notes about the horse s reactions, preferences and traits. During this time I ll intervene only to test theories and confirm notions that I might have. For instance, a quick step or a flick of my rope how do they react? Next, I ll come up with a plan based on these observations. For example, a nervous, uneasy horse will require slower movements on my part and much reassurance. I then implement the plan to determine my accuracy in judgments and correct my actions accordingly as things evolve.

I m often asked: What am I watching for? Everything! Each footfall, flick of an ear, tail swish and slight inclination. In this way, I m looking for what I want and planning to create the elaborate moves that Lukas is so well-known for.

Also, I don t ever let misunderstandings be prolonged into lengthy conflict adjustments occur in small increments designed to promote positive progress in the direction I ve chosen.

In this way liberty work becomes a carefully choreographed exchange with open communication and responses that build on positive lessons and experiences. Careful controlled movement with just enough prompting to initiate a response, immediate acknowledgment and then building on the process is what creates an intricate exchange and beautiful connection.

About the Author: Copyright 2011 Karen Murdock is a retired psychiatric nurse, who has been fixing problem horses for over 30 years. Owner of

. All of her services and proceeds go to benefit the horses.


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