From Kicks to Tricks—Griffin Finds Happiness at Liberty

May 1, 2024

Alaina A. and her adopted Mustang, Griffin, competed in the 2023 International Liberty Horse Association’s Liberty Festival. It was the pair’s third year competing together, and Griffin earned third place at the prestigious competition. As always, Griffin celebrated by nibbling on his ribbons—winning tastes good!

Liberty is a training discipline where horses and trainers work in tandem; at advanced levels, this happens without a halter or bridle. Horses are loose and have the freedom to move and respond at will, and trainers build connections with them through their body language, hand motions and other movements. Inside the ring, Griffin is a poised and graceful performer, but outside the ring, he has a vibrant, quirky personality that wins everyone’s hearts. 

“I love his personality,” Alaina said. “He likes to lick you! He likes to be scratched and he’d rather stay with a person than hang out with horses. He just loves love, scratches and food.” 

Griffin and Alaina

Three years prior, Alaina set out in search of a Mustang. She grew up with one and was excited to welcome another Mustang who could become her liberty partner. She adopted Griffin from Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue, an ASPCA Right Horse Partner located in West Virginia. It was their Facebook post that first caught her eye. 

“I fell in love with him from a picture,” she said. Upon meeting Griffin, Alaina discovered that he embodied everything she had been looking for. “I wanted a buckskin, and he was. He's a sooty buckskin. We went out and rode him, and there was just something about him—this horse is meant to be mine.”

She was also excited that he would need a lot of training, because she had never owned a horse that she’d trained nearly from scratch. Once a wild horse, Griffin had a lot to learn and adapt to in his new home.

Griffin’s Road to Adoption

Until he was four years old, Griffin was a feral horse with the Little Owyhee herd in Nevada. To manage wild herd populations, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management occasionally captures and removes horses from their herds as part of the larger Wild Horse and Burro Program. Griffin is one of these horses. He was brought to Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue in 2018, but he was nervous, didn’t like to be ridden, and his first instinct was to kick. 

Heart of Phoenix entered him into their Appalachian Trainer Face Off event, which brings together horse trainers from around the country for a competition that showcases adoptable horses and skilled trainers. The training and care he received from that competition transformed him into a safe, adoptable horse.

Griffin and Alaina

From Kicks to Tricks

At the time of adoption, Griffin still needed training, but Alaina read that Mustangs from the Little Owyhee herd are known to be trainable, sensitive, good horses, so she decided to find out for herself! Alaina completed Griffin’s adoption on October 7, 2020.

With Alaina, Griffin’s big personality has shined. “He's hilarious, he’s also calm—perfect. He tries so hard to learn. He’s a very sensitive horse, which has made the liberty journey very challenging, but very rewarding. No matter what he does, he tries.”

She looks forward to working with him every day, and their work has paid off. While Griffin isn’t a huge fan of being ridden, he seems to love trick training. He knows how to lie down and sit on command, how to maneuver cones at different speeds, and how to entertain the judges. Instead of riding and exploring, Alaina has enjoyed immersing herself in liberty. “It’s just the both of us—it fits that what he likes, I prefer as well.”

Griffin and Alaina

They’ve continued to master liberty together and have fun trying new things—like obstacles! They’re taking a Mustang obstacle class this year where he’ll graduate from practicing on a lead line to performing these skills at liberty in the arena. Alaina also hopes to teach him freestyle, with a routine matched to music and costumes! 

For those looking to adopt a horse, Alaina has some advice. “Go meet them, ride them. Don’t judge [a horse] on day one. Get to know the horse, because [Griffin] was not the horse he is today. You have to let them settle into a new home and figure out who they are and who you are with them.”

Feeling inspired and ready to adopt a horse of your own? Visit to browse hundreds of adoptable horses nationwide by breed, gender or discipline.