Equine Affaire

Thursday afternoon I attended another Mark Rashid clinic or should I say, this was more of a seminar. This was held in an indoor area with much smaller seating, roughly about 150-odd people. I didn’t take notes this time, as I would have looked incredibly conspicuous since I planted myself right in the front row, and the session required some audience participation as well. This seminar was called ‘Horse and Rider Body Balance: Understanding the Concept of Being Centered on Your Horse’.

Mark had people partner up with someone, and face each other.  One person would push slightly on their partner’s shoulders, while the person being pushed was to focus on their shoulder. They were pretty easy to knock off balance. Then he had the pushee focus on another area, their stomach and picture their core energy coming from there. They became much harder to push over. This of course related to riding a horse. If you ride from your center, you will be more balanced and so will your horse. You can also handle surprise situations, such as your horse bucking, better if you are balanced (centered). As an example he mentioned that there were ‘people in the other ring, jumping their horses on purpose’ (laugh from audience, he is a cowboy after all) and with relative ease. Yet, when one horse crow hopped suddenly outside of the ring, the rider fell off.

How does this relate to me personally? Well, this is something I discovered on my own, almost by accident. I have been active most of my adult life but only picked up mountain biking when I moved to the Bay Area. Kind of a strange activity for me because I have a slight fear of heights. But I took to it like a fish to water. Tough at first to master. I would have to get off my bike and walk up some hills out of sheer exhaustion. I soon realized that if I put all of my energy into my legs when going up a steep hill, they wore out pretty quickly. Yet if I focused my energy on my center, that being my stomach/abdominals, I could make it up any climb with energy left to spare. This was the start of learning how to be centered. Instead of just using my leg muscles, I focus on my abs, and work from there keeping arms and legs, back as loose as possible. Nowadays, the biggest thrill for me is attacking the hugest hill! The husband is left eating my dust!

The same is true for riding, (although it’s been so long since I have ridden, I am beginning to forget what it felt like!) Oh, how I remember the endless longe lessons while learning dressage! My former trainer was brutal (she is a friend so she would probably laugh at this) but she knew I was fit and could do it, despite my grumbling.  Sue would have me trot and canter with no reins or stirrups. No gripping with my thighs allowed, I had to learn balance from my center, the hard way. Working from your seat is the cornerstone of dressage, it’s what makes the professionals look like they are just sitting up there drinking tea and enjoying the ride! And to my credit, I never once fell off, although it helps having a well trained, balanced horse to practice on. I still am at the bottom of the barrel of dressage, but my seat – isn’t too bad!


A word of advice before attending an event such as Equine Affaire: schedule your time beforehand. There is so much going on at once. I had to sometimes choose which clinician I wanted to see more.
Mark Rashid
(Sorry for the lousy pictures, I only had my camera phone!)
Next on my schedule was Mark Rashid in the outdoor arena. This was my first time actually seeing him in person. I have read almost all of his books and found them insightful and funny. They are not training books but rather a bunch of stories about his life with horses and how he has gotten to this point. (I’m still laughing at the story about how he had to pick a cactus out of his friends behind and …well – read the book 🙂)
This demo was called ‘Troubleshooting: Understanding Reasons for Unwanted Behavior’. The first thing that impressed me was that this lanky cowboy was NOT riding a quarter horse. It was an off the track thoroughbred that he said at first- like most ottb’s –  ‘didn’t stop and couldn’t turn’. The second thing that impressed me was his very dry wit. He said something about the tb he was riding was ‘still a little crazy’ and that he was ‘kind of afraid of her’. He said it with complete deadpan seriousness. I think some people in the audience thought he was actually serious – but boy, was he joking. This horse had to be the most mellow tb I had ever seen and stood stock still the entire time he was talking. At one point when he went to get back on the horse, he nervously said ‘whoaaaaaa’ as he got on. That horse did not move a muscle. The audience broke into laughter.  
The third thing that I noticed was that he possesses an amazing almost zen-like calmness (in his books and at the clinic he mentioned how he got into the martial art of aikido, which translates to ‘way of harmonious spirit’).
He first mentioned that troubleshooting issues fall into 3 categories:

1. Physical
2. Feed
and, if you take care of these 2, you can probably take care of number 3 which is:
3. Training

First horse in the demo was a gypsy vanner mare with lots of hair. The owner was riding her and the issue was she could not stand still for very long at all, which was proven almost immediately because she would stand for a few seconds, then had to move off and so the owner kept circling while she was talking. All this time, I noticed that Mark was carefully assessing the situation.
Mark explained that ‘training is like links in a chain’ – you don’t want to stop the energy – you want to redirect it. In this case, the mare had gone someplace else and was probably not breathing.
The first thing he asked the rider was ‘are you breathing?’.
Sounds simple enough but when you really think about it, do you pay attention to your breathing – especially when your horse is doing something you don’t want it to do? Chances are you are holding your breath, anticipating the worst. I know I am guilty of that.

He worked on getting the rider to breathe out before asking to stop.  If you are breathing shallow on your horse, then your horse probably is too. Breathing shallow causes a chemical reaction in our bodies and for horses as well. It makes you go from thinking mode to instinctive mode very quickly and we all know when this happens to a horse. The more you breathe, the easier it is to communicate. It took a couple tries for the rider to get the hang of it, she would breathe out, then ask for a stop…and wouldn’t you know it that mare stopped, with barely any pressure on the reins. Mark instructed her to ‘move off before the mare feels she needs to’. Pretty soon, the standing got longer and the mare became more relaxed. Mark explained that this was a way of calming her down by ‘redirecting her energy – not telling her she was doing something wrong’.

Steve the Haflinger with the owner and Mark watching

Second horse in the demo was a haflinger by the name of Steve who was pushy on the ground. This too, became obvious as Mark was chatting with the owner. That little guy seemed to want to climb onto her lap. This got into the topic of ‘respect’. I believe the owner used the term that Steve was disrespectful. So Mark asked the audience ‘What is respect in a horse?’.

‘If we teach a horse to run us over – is the horse showing respect or disrespect?’

What he meant was this horse had been inadvertently taught to do this behavior.
The first thing he asked this rider was ‘What are your boundaries?’ You need to create a presence with the horse and let them know that you have boundaries. Horses will push on things to see if they give, if you don’t establish boundaries (much like children) then you are in effect teaching them to run over you. It is not a ‘me against him ‘ scenario, it is explaining, in horse terms, what is expected of them.

Mark working with Steve

 At this point, he worked with Steve for a little bit, moving him around, back up – but never once letting him into his arms length boundary. At one point he was leading Steve around, he had his back to the horse. Steve had his ears pinned, he was not happy that he was not in charge. Mark said, ‘I know he has his ears pinned right now’. Pretty funny considering his back was to him! If his ears were pinned, Mark would push him forward..but he was completely consistent in not letting him enter his space. The look on Steve’s face was ‘oh crap, this guy sees everything!’

He then handed Steve back to his owner and had her try – his one rule being – do NOT run me over 🙂 Apparently, that happens a lot in clinic situations, poor guy.

This is another small rant – at the end of the demo, he took questions -with one disclaimer:

Please do not ask me questions about your horse, your friends horse, your uncles horse, your first cousins grandfathers horse.

Unless he can see the horse, he can’t answer you!!

You think people would get it. Nope, there were a number of thinly disguised questions such as ‘what if a horse does this bla bla’. Mark answered politely to all these lame attempts with – sorry, can’t answer your question. I have to hand it to him, the man has incredible patience. It happened at every single one of the 3 clinics of his that I attended. It must happen at EVERY clinic he does!  I would seriously want to throttle these people!

I learned a lot in this clinic. I have become very conscious of my breathing when I work with Jasper and it is working wonders even on the ground. The other day I had him lift all four feet and actually picked them out. This was a first without him trying to snatch his leg back down before I was done. All the while I made sure to keep my breathing steady and long and deep. What a difference! I stayed loose and so did he!
The other thing I learned is being consistent. I sometimes think that I am all done with keeping Jasper out of my space, that he finally gets it. I sometimes forget he is a horse and is still young – lol. He will test me on occasion and I have to anticipate that and be consistent with my boundaries.

This guy knows how to work a crowd, not by in your face antics, but by speaking very eloquently….and with a lot of dry humor.

Saw a number of clinicians in two days and all I can say is I’m glad I took notes because I would have forgotten a lot! Before I begin let me just say that these are my personal opinions, you may agree or disagree.  But it’s my blog 🙂

First, a small rant. And this is addressed to all the chatty women that were there and seemed to happen to be sitting behind me at almost every presentation. (I would say people, but the audience was predominantly women). Some of us are actually there to learn something. Okay? I know this may be the social event of the year for you, but some people actually want to listen to the clinician, not you yapping with your buddies about your horses/kids/problems at home etc. Oh, and when they make an announcement at the beginning at the presentation to turn off your cellphones, this means you! I don’t want to hear your cellphone ringing at maximum level playing Shakira’s latest and neither does the clinician. It’s rude. Period. Oh, wait, it’s an important call? Oh, okay then. It must have been real important because you wanted everyone around you to hear your conversation. (I do hope your friend picks up the beer before the store closes, I really do). Oh, and when you clunk me with your bags/purse/beer a simple excuse me/sorry would be nice too.

Is it just me, or does anyone else get p.o’d with these clinic socialites?

Craig Cameron
First on my clinic schedule was Craig Cameron. I didn’t know much about him but the topic was starting a young horse which is where I’m at with Jasper and the reason I went. Craig Cameron was a wiry man with a big hat and a definite cowboy from Texas.  With a heavy Texas drawl which he played up to the hilt. Personally, I found it a bit too ‘good ol boy’ myself. The audience looked to be mostly western type people. I think he had a pretty good rapport with the audience but he made a few women jokes that were annoying to say the least.  Women in the audience that asked questions  were referred to as ‘l’il darlin’. Bleck.
He used a stick which he jokingly referred to as his ‘zucchini stick’ , (reference to the Parelli ‘carrot stick’) that got a big laugh. The horse was a young appaloosa, that had not yet been backed which he had in a round pen. He began by rope tossing and making the horse move forward and then suddenly roped the horse around the neck. The audience applauded (at his roping abilities, I guess). The horse didn’t seem to mind too much. (I would have liked to have seen him try this on a draft 🙂 )
He then proceeded to longe the horse a bit in both directions then had the horse come in and he began touching her. He said ‘You can’t train ’em if you can’t get your hands on ’em’. (Well…DUH!) He mentioned that he lets the horse run away if she needs to and a horse is ‘never punished here’. You just need to make the ‘wrong thing hard and the right thing easy’. He then proceeded to do a lot of pressure release type work, worked his way around the legs, bent her head. In 30 minutes he was putting his weight a little on her back by climbing up on the fence and leaning over her. He did not get on, but concentrated on doing a lot of rubbing. I watched this mare closey to see how she was reacting and she seemed a little concerned but not freaking out.
In one hour he had a saddle on her and had her move around the round pen with it. She bucked only once and seemed to handle the saddle on her back well. He did mention patience and ‘leaving your ego at the door’ when working with horses. If the horse kicks out, he sends them forward and that ‘forward movement is the key’.

The session ended there. He was continuing on the next day with the same mare which I didn’t see, so I am not sure if he actually rode the horse, but I believe that was the plan.

To be honest, I was expecting a dog and pony show, but he was actually pretty patient with this young horse. But all in all, this demonstration was nothing new to me. It was the same cliches and process as many other clinicians, just packaged a little differently. Not disappointing, just a been there done that feeling.

I personally feel that starting a young horse for the first time in a clinic setting puts a lot of pressure on the horse. I only hope that if the horse was much too nervous the next day to actually be backed that he did, in his words  ‘leave his ego at the door’ and did not try to get on her.