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What if horses were given choice? Would they choose to engage in all the activities of training, to let us ride them? Is it even possible to provide this kind of choice, and if so, could friendship and relationship be enough for the horse to want to work with us?

These are the questions that Andrea Wady set out to answer in her work with her own horses.

The question culminated in a trek across the country Andrea calls home, Costa Rica, to make a movie called Taming Wild Pura Vida. Andrea trekked with friend and mentor Elsa Sinclair and two rescue horses, with the mission to see if on the trek, these damaged horses could be rehabilitated.

I traveled to meet Andrea, work with her and her horses, and learn about how she thinks about training and horsemanship.

A quote that Andrea shared with me from her friend, trainer Elsa Sinclair, was that it is important to first build “depth of friendship” before “width of skill”.

In this interview, you will hear Andrea discuss how she creates this friendship through looking for shared interests with the horse and ways to provide value to them.


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34 Responses

  1. Callie, thank you so much for asking the question about how to build a relationship based on a horse’s free choice to be with us. That is knowledge I crave. I sometimes feel like Andrea said, “it just didn’t feel right putting a halter on, picking up a stick… I really wanted to explore if there was another way to reach them.” Thank you for pursuing this publicly so we can try to move forward on this with you.

  2. Callie, three days ago my horses just ran away from me crossed a large stream and will not come to me. I do liberty work. They are safe where they are, they do know how to come to me and there was a circumstance that led up to it. I was working on separation anxiety. wow My horses know I cannot get to them. This is huge, I feel I have been in prayer and your email is a gift. thank you, I’ll stay in touch.
    My gut told me i was given a huge opportunity. monica

  3. Callie,
    This was super powerful! I am just beginning natural horsemanship and would love to know more about what Andrea does. I have great respect for animals and deep inside have always been concerned about their emotional welfare. It appears there are a great deal of humans who tout themselves as the experts, but are not interested enough to understand the animals, they are only smart enough to beat the animals into submission and train them to do what they want. The animals on the other hand, are so afraid of us that they just do as they are told and could not possibly be happy inside . It is time that we dig deeper and stop making the horse world all about us, it needs to be shared equally. Thank you so much for sharing Andrea’s video.

  4. Hey Callie,
    Thanks for sharing this! This sounds like what the next step for me and my horse’s relationship. Does Andrea do clinics?

  5. Wonderful, beautiful & fascinating all at the same time. Thank you for bringing this subject to our attention. Though I was raised on horses from the age of 9 into my 40’s I’ve been without one for the last 8-10 years now and I miss them so. I am a follower of your weekly videos anyway and find each one such a great learning experience and hope one day I will again be able to apply all that you teach.

    Thank you!

  6. I think all great horsepeople ask “if I were a horse how do I feel about this?” Constantly/consistently stripping away humanness to feel from the horse’s perspective (as much as a human can). If I am a horse – do I feel safe here? Can I escape if I don’t? Do I understand what this person wants? We communicate in a different language, horses are bi-lingual, i.e. they are motivated to discover what we are asking (for self preservation mostly, but also from curiosity), if they understand, are they comfortable with the human’s motivation behind the request – here is the rub in so far as we humans can fool one another with our true motives (we delude ourselves) we don’t fool horses. Animals understand “where we are at” immediately even when we don’t, their actions are immediate, they embrace, shut down, evade. It is challenging to think/feel what a horse does with every interaction, our heart grows by doing so. Struggle with this, when I make mistakes the first question I ask is – what is my true intent here? – often times the answer to this question shapes up the interaction in a way that is much more fitting to us both.

    1. Ann, I love the question you posed here – “If I were a horse how would I feel about this?” Also, the point you brought up about having clear intentions is so important!

      – Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  7. Callie, this seems like a huge leap away from clicker training. I am impressed, as I always am, with your curious, inquisitive and openness to new ways of working with or learning different approaches with horses. I viewed Elsa Sinclair’s movie/doc about her experience with a mustang and loved it. Of course, with my situation of leasing, these ways of operating are almost impossible at the barns where I ride. However, I do try to spend time in the pasture without an agenda (I’m the only one who does this at either barn) and I also seek out opportunities to explore liberty work when the arena is available. I know this movie about the trek across Costa Rica will be available soon and I’m very interested in seeing it. Thank you so much for all you do for this community.

  8. Callie,
    I am really enjoying your videos. you are a natural teacher. This video evoked in me the conflicting feelings I often have regarding soft and the firmer methods of educating and interacting with horses. I came to horses late in life and what I am struck by is their pride as well as their power and grace and unbelievably tolerant natures. Sometimes when I watch the slow liberty and clicker training that I most often see – honestly it looks TOO relaxed – almost like it diminishes these inspiring creatures to the level of lap dogs. You don’t go – wow that animal must rule the plains. You go isn’t that nice that he follows his person and goes backwards and forwards and turns with them – but where is the passion – where is the power and joy?? When my horse is moving on a circle with impulsion and power and I say ‘ wow’ – I can see him puff himself up a bit and drive a bit more from behind. He is a proud athletic animal – and yea I get being uncomfortable with putting that sort of creature on a rope and leading him around by his nose. When I watch the cowboys with their ‘get to and got to’ (and let’s face it if your livelihood depends on a horse doing something you are going to expect him to do it) – whether the science supports it or not – I actually do see the horses more relaxed in powerful movement – like the conversation is more like one they would have in the wild – but that process is not always gentle – and I also wonder how much the horse is actually learning, evolving and becoming a ‘nicer’ creature like the one I want to share my life with. Similarly, when I watch the latest dressage with all of the extremely extended movement – I wonder whether the goal is to capture the look my arabian has in the field with his adrenalin and tail up and his feet floating over the ground – it would be amazing to ride that if the horse could do it left brained – but if that is the goal – even those winning the top prizes don’t seem to get close to the mark in my view. The movement looks really artificial to me and maybe even hard on the horses body (no disrespect to those who think otherwise and have dedicated their lives to this practice – it is just my outsider view). I don’t have the answer to this – I love giving my horses treats and teaching them in a gentle manner – and for sure they like it – but as in raising a child – I don’t always think this brings out the best in them. I know the answer almost always lies in the middle – the challenge I am grappling with is that I want my horses to move like the powerful and proud creatures that they are – and that they deserve to be – I don’t want them making themselves anxious figuring out what move will produce a cookie – and I want to be able to give them positive reinforcement and have them relaxed and connected to me.

    1. Hi Sandra, thanks for your comment! I think some of the behavior you see of the horse ‘puffing’ himself out is actually a manifestation of tension. Not all liberty work is kind or gentle, even if there aren’t any ropes or sticks involved. Clicker training is definitely a very useful tool for certain training situations, but it must be used in an educated way as to not create any behaviors we don’t want!

      As far as the horse that the cowboys are riding, I have found in my time riding cutting horses that the horses don’t always have the most pleasant expression but not because they are uncomfortable or unhappy but because they are so focused on their jobs. Most of them LOVE what they do!

      I often go back to what Wendy Murdoch shares often in her teaching – “Where is the middle?” I think that is something we should keep in mind when thinking about our work with horses generally!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. Hey Julia,

        So if you think that cowboys’ horses are happy in their work, it seems you are open to the possibility that pressure free training is not the only way to have a happy horse. I agree that cowboys’ horses do often look relaxed in powerful movement. And that is my point – horses are athletes and I think they enjoy moving with power and balance and that we do them a disservice by having them trot around us at a shuffle. My horse’s ‘puffing’ when I say ‘wow you are so beautiful’ is actually doing more of what made me say it in the first place – more impulsion – rounding himself and getting more rhythmic – it is actually beautiful to see . I don’t get it all the time and how to get that mental and physical engagement in a gentle manner is what I want to explore – because I think that makes him happy – to me it is the essence of the horse. I know you have never seen him and I have had him since birth – but do you think you might remain open to the possibility that he might be enjoying his more engaged movement and my adoring energy? I was hoping to have a conversation about how we can get the best of both worlds – cowboys don’t generally use treats and clickers or walk with their horses across a country, and I am not always comfortable with the amount of pressure they do use – but if you just want me to tell you that what you are doing is wonderful I can do that too. Any attempt to make horses happy and relaxed in the worlds we create for them – is wonderful. You are clearly working really hard to achieve that.

        1. Sandra, I think there is a place for both negative and positive reinforcement training with horses! As Wendy Murdoch often says, we are searching for the middle! One thing that works for one horse may not work for another which I think is why it is so important to have a wide variety of tools in our training toolbox!

          I do agree we can be on the path of using the best of both worlds 🙂

          -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  9. Wow, this interview has really made me quite emotional. I often stand out in the field with my boy and actually say out loud to him “have a rest and I’ll look out for the mountain lions” (not sure what the Australian equivalent would be ?). I started doing it because it felt like a good way to be with him without asking anything of him and it also gave me a sense of calm. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than when he shows trust in me by accepting my offer and relaxing, letting his guard down, sometimes for 20-30minutes. The feeling is better than the most collected trot or balanced canter !!! I stay with him until he makes the choice to move off. I am quite new to horsemanship and watching your video has given me confidence to do what feels right for me and my boy. I cannot wait to see the entire film of the experience with the rescue horses.

  10. This was an amazing video! Thank you for always giving your followers great ideas to help us with our journey with our horses! You have great insight in always asking questions we would ask if we were there. Thank you Andrea for sharing some valuable information! I can’t wait to put this in practice with my young horse!

  11. Callie this was so good, I just took liberty clinic with Hannah Catalina and found that my horse works too hard and anticipate and I work too hard and fast…..i did not realize that you had liberty clinics until I came back and started looking for more information……im less apprehensive riding and still working to ride out…do u have liberty in your course work? I’m still planning to do it with couple more bills paid off…..thank you for all you do…i did forward this to friend who took clinic with me….t

  12. Wonderful…… just wonderful!!! Absolutely love the last comment…. “the less we ask of our horses, the more they offer”. The more I learn about horses nowadays and the natural horsemanship techniques I’m learning and using, the more obvious it is that horses (and nature) have so much to TEACH US, NOT US TEACH THEM. Horses in particular seem to hold such SPIRITUAL qualities and what amazing spiritual teachers they are. As Andrea says, they can teach us so much about ourselves. Personally, I think for our own sanity in this modern world where life isn’t easy and we all have many pressures, we need to find some time to just slow down and BE (even just for 15 minutes). We are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS. For me, as soon as I’m at the yard, my mental watch stops completely, everything takes as long as it takes and I will not be rushed…… it is my therapy time, my healer.

  13. Thank you for sharing this interview with us! It really touched my heart! I think people who truly love their horses would greatly desire such a relationship with them based on friendship and respect. That special bond when the horse chooses to be with us would be so exciting and fulfilling. Andrea is a very interesting person and I admire her commitment to understand and connect with horses. I am extremely curious about liberty relationships between person and horse; I would like to see more of her research! Thank you again for sharing this interview with us!

  14. I love this. Looking back at this past first year with my mare, it’s those times in the pasture, or while hand grazing (she had an injury mid-September) that are my favorite and I think our best bonding times. I can’t wait until the snow and ice melts so we can enjoy more pasture time together.

    1. I am right along with you Carolyn – really looking forward to drier, warmer weather!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  15. I loved this! As an animal lover, I have struggled with the line between riding horses because I love too and enjoying them for who they are and respecting them. I am clicking on her link as we speak to learn more!

    1. Awesome! Really glad to hear you enjoyed the interview with Andrea 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  16. Callie – I love this kind of horsemanship and connection. It just feels comfortable. Looking forward to hearing more from You and Andrea!!!!
    I also have 3 rescue horses so I’m super interested. My connection with them is fine, maybe better than fine, but I’d like to make it even better!!!!!
    Callie – thank you for being open and willing to share ideas that are not the traditional way. I think that takes some courage.

    1. Cynthia, we’ll be sharing more with Andrea when the film of her trek is released 🙂 Glad to hear you enjoyed this video!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  17. Novice here, been only riding 7 months and just purchased my very own horse. I want to have a great relationship with her and she is very forward and really likes to go. Is slowing down still the best “reward” for her if I am really trying to make her stand still? Thanks! Appreciate the advice!

    1. Piper, this is a bit more about changing her habit patterns. It sounds like she has a pretty hard wired movement pattern to have this rolling forward feeling! Have you ever done in hand work with her?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

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