- Clare Long
Don't want to get hurt? Free School!
(From Clare's article archives, Circa 2010-2015)
Free schooling is fantastic for a horse.
Free schooling relaxes, relieves tension, warms up the body,
and warms up the mind of a horse.
It serves as an outlet for your horse, a way to keep their energy and tension level at a nice, even, soft, relaxed, focused and healthy level.
Free schooling is infinitely better than lunging, as there is no restriction caused by the lunge line, and the horse has much more freedom and ability to stretch out, leap and jump, frolic, run as hard as they need to, buck and rear, twist and play.
The point of the free school is to let/encourage the horse to get out all the energy and tension that he or she needs to, to be safe and fun to ride.
This will set your horse up for a productive and successful riding session.
You want to get all that rowdyness out, before you get on your horse!
That is the point.
It is extremely important for you horse's mental and physical health and well being, that they are not only allowed, but encouraged to work all of their tension and extra energy out, before the rider is on their back.
Free schooling in the round pen is good, much better than the lunge line, but still restrictive.
Teaching your horse to free school properly in the arena is the best.
In the arena, the horse will have the ability to school down the long sides of the arena, which is optimum for their bodies and their minds.
Always, when lunging or schooling: the less circles, and the bigger the circles, the better for the horse's body.
Please do not put a lid on it!
Meaning, allow you horse to play as hard as they need to.
Most horse handlers are always trying to slow their horses down,
always trying to keep them strictly and fully under their control.
Under saddle, yes.
Free schooling, no.
The whole point to to get the energy out!
Encourage your horse to go forward, to work it out as they need to.
This will not make your horse think this exuberance is acceptable under saddle.
I think that this is perhaps the fear of the handler.
Watching their horse playing in tack while free schooling scares the handler.
I think they think, "What if the horse now thinks this behavior is OK under saddle"?
But this is not the case.
The horse can easily differentiate between being sent forward with a lunge whip without a rider on their back, and being in tack with a rider on their back.
Your horse will behave according to the schooling program,
and will completely understand what the point is, and how they are to behave.
What should really be scaring the handler is:
"What if I didn't push this energy out of my horse,
BEFORE I got up on him or her?"
What if all that energy and tension was still in the horse,
when they swing their leg over the horse's back?!?
Sometimes, that is like getting on a volcano, which is ready to explode!
I think a lot of Adult Amateurs are afraid of riding their horses.
What I am saying to you, is if you get your horse's energy and tension out, before you get on, I am certain you will have infinitely better, safer, more relaxing and enjoyable rides, which will lead to confidence when riding your horse, which will lead to alleviating your fears.
Free schooling will simply get the boisterousness, playfulness, and energy out,
so you can have a relaxed, productive, safe and happy ride.
Horses need to be able to move their bodies.
When under saddle, they are fully restricted and controlled.
They have to have an outlet.
If you don't allow them that, nervous habits and unsafe,
negative behavior under saddle will result.
You will need to train your horse how to free school, which is not difficult at all.
Most horses will stay on an enormous circle around you, easily going around playing, trot and canter, before you ask them to change directions to play, trot and canter the other direction.
(See video of Tinsel at the bottom of this article)
You can encourage your horse to go full arena, by pushing them down the long sides.
(Video up soon of Welty, who, unlike Tinsel, prefers to
free school full arena, rather than on a huge circle).
The free schooling gives the horse a chance to really use their bodies as they need or want.
It lets them work the kinks out, and to self adjust, with bucks and
kicks and whirls and bursts of speed.
Free schooling is like the playground for children, or the dog park for your dog.
You don't expect your dog or your child to focus and be fully controlled at all times.
You (hopefully) allow them, in actuality encourage them, to play and romp.
The same goes for a horse.
Turn out is great, but most turn outs are not big enough for horses to really run.
Also, most horses are relaxing and hanging out in their turnouts,
not working out their tension with movement.
Free schooling on your horse's 'down' days is excellent, to keep their energy level at a nice place, and to keep their fitness up.
Before a ride, I highly encouarge you free school your horse first, fully tacked up!
This is because, putting the tack on has its own way of
making the horse feel restricted and 'stuck'.
Especially the girth/cinch.
Sending your horse around free, fully tacked up, before climbing on, will ensure that they have worked out their kinks, and are ready to work and concentrate.
Of course, you do not have to free school before every ride.
If you have been working your horse consistently, they most likely won't need the release.
And some horses are just mellow and relaxed by nature.
But, after a day off.
Or, on a wet, rainy , windy, or inclement weather day.
Especially on a wet day.
Horses hold a lot of tension when they are wet, or when it is raining.
Their backs get very tight.
An explosion under saddle is often quite possible, if you jump right on.
Let the free school do the hard part for you.
Your horse's back will be soft, their minds will be relaxed, their bodies will be warmed up, and they will be fully receptive and ready to 'buckle down' for their under saddle schooling session.
More miscellaneous information:
If your horse is young or green, let them work their energy out
before you mount, so they can properly concentrate.
It is important that your horse is not rigged up for the free school.
This creates resistance for the horse, which is the opposite thing you are trying to achieve.
You are trying to create FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT, NOT RESTRICT IT!
If rigging up is important to you, please let your horse free school free first,
(both ways, trot and canter), before you attach the rigging.
There is no need to walk in your free school.
The idea is not to control your horse, but to send them.
If they want to start in the trot, great.
If they want to start in the canter, wonderful.
I will let the horse play for a bit, and then do about 3 trot to
canter transitions both ways before I quit.
Your horse is going to tell you how long to go.
If they are quiet and relaxed and not expressive, 1 minute or 2 each direction will suffice.
If they are exuberant and playful, they may need to go up to 6 minutes each direction.
More than 6 minutes each direction is a lot, and probably as much as your horse will ever need, even on their 'highest' days.
Please do not push your horse to do more
then they need to get their energy out!
Pushing them too hard, or too long, as with any athlete, can lead to injury!
Your horse will tell you when they are done.
They will want to stop, and that's your cue.
Please do try to do about the same amount of work each direction, to keep your horse's body, suppleness and muscles even and symmetrical.
I find that when my horse stops jumping back into the canter on their own, and want to stay in the trot, than they are ready to stop.
So, best of luck, and happy horse time!
Everything you will ever need to know about:
***Free Schooling/Schooling at Liberty*** *Below are NEW Free School videos* Starring Katrina's beautiful boy, "Tinsel" : 8 year old, 16hh, dapple grey Thoroughbred gelding
Free Schooling: PART 1:
Free Schooling: PART 2:
And here is a video of Clare Schooling Tinsel under saddle: