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.
(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:
and, if you take care of these 2, you can probably take care of number 3 which is:
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.