Thank you to Eve Tai for this writeup and for the attached videos!

A few weeks ago, SAFE hosted Laura Nurss, a horsemanship and liberty work teacher at Horse Haven at Bear Creek. We asked Laura to come to SAFE Harbor to work with Dottie, Sapphire, and Lola to help them feel more settled in their bodies and with the SAFE human community. As much as we love and care for our SAFE horses, it can be tough to forge a bond with them. Liberty work gives us an avenue through which to build trust, mutual respect, and connection.

Laura started out by sharing that attending to a relationship with a horse out of the saddle directly affects our riding relationship. She demonstrated — through the use of body language, gestures, and movements such as rope twirling — how to establish a connection with our first horse, Dottie. Laura applied pressure (e.g. stepping into Dottie’s space) when she wanted something and released it as soon as Dottie complied. Soon Dottie was trotting and even cantering with ease.

Always give a horse a choice, Laura says, whether between one path that leads to an unpleasant outcome (more work) and another path that might lead to a reward (stroking). Laura also showed us that different horses require different approaches. When Sapphire entered the arena all pinned ears and attitude, Laura applied more pressure by upping the energy and frequently changing Sapphire’s pacing and direction. Laura noted that because Sapphire is a sassy, smart horse, that sessions with her should be active and strong, whereas with Dottie, a more nervous horse, sessions should be slower-paced and with smoother gestures.

SAFE trainer Terry Phelps-Peddy was a quick study, first watching, then shadowing Laura. By the time Lola arrived, Terry was ready. After careening around and testing boundaries, Lola settled down and began running with ease. By session’s end, Lola – yes, LOLA — walked up to Terry, licking and chewing and bowing her head. “At last,” she seemed to be saying, “You are speaking my language.”

A big thank you to Laura for volunteering an afternoon to work with our SAFE ponies!