Mark Rashid Clinic

~By Jodi Denning

I think intent and purpose are real critical here. The goal is not to "teach the horse some respect". The goal is to help the horse recognize that the behavior that has been perfectly acceptable up to this point is going to need to change. When you look at it that way, the frustration the horse expresses is SO understandable, and we can relate to it and help the horse through it.

Mark Rashid

Mark talked about how horse training has evolved so that we tend to look for all the negative things that are going on so that we can then start "fixing" them. He then talked about his approach, and how he tries to always find the positives and just build on them. Many times, the "negative" things will just go away on their own. He also emphasized that everything he teaches is just his opinion - it doesn't make it right or wrong.

Several of the horses at the clinic had some leading issues, in particular - running people over and being pushy/crowding. Mark stressed that in situations like this the horse doesn't know any different. They are not being "bad", they are simply doing what they have been taught is perfectly acceptable for them to do. Mark commented that he has never seen a "disrespectful" horse. He's seen horses doing what they have been taught, horses that were confused, and horses that were frustrated... but never a disrespectful horse.

When Mark was working in the round pen with one horse that tended to run people over, someone asked why he wasn't backing up when the horse would throw a glance at him. He said he didn't think it would help her, and it may confuse her and continue to send the message to her that running people over is ok. If he backed up to draw her in, she may have come right on in at the trot and crowded right on up to him - maybe even run him over. That would have been setting her up to fail, and then he would have had to make a big correction to keep her from running him over. She was not troubled or worried, but she did have to work at trying to understand the new ground rules that were being taught. She showed a little frustration for a couple minutes, but Mark just continued on and let her make the decisions she needed to make. As the mare began trying to quiet and soften, Mark did shift his weight back occasionally to help her see she was on the right track. At one point she swung her butt in slightly towards him as she was circling. She was exploring her options. He just casually tossed the rope in her direction and said "let's not let that become a habit". Mark stressed that if you have to make corrections like that, to do it without emotion. Make the correction, and get on with business. Don't dwell on it.

If all the mare's attention went away, Mark would ask for it back. She was fairly distracted. Mark said he didn't need or expect ALL of her attention - just some of it. He mentioned he didn't care if he lost her attention - he just needs to be able to get it back. If she's having trouble, he will do enough to help her bring her attention back. Mark commented that he was letting the mare tell him how much he needed to do to help her. It's up to her. He showed her how soft he wants to be, because he started out soft, and he stayed soft every time she gave him the chance.

Once on the lead rope, if the mare came up to quickly to Mark, he came back with the same momentum she was using and asked her to back off. Enough to be effective, and no more - and without emotion. In this case, starting small wouldn't have been much help to her. The only reason she is doing this is because she doesn't know any better. We just have to show her. Mark commented several times "if I'm not consistent, it's going to make it pretty tough for her to learn". We need to be clear with our expectations, so the horse can be clear as to what is expected of them. He also mentioned that it is more important to let her know when she is right than when she is wrong. You don't want to be too critical - if she's trying to get it done for you, just help her (with guidance and small corrections). Even if the horse doesn't get it right every time, as long as they are thinking and trying, that's the main thing. Don't look for perfection - take what they can offer.

Another young mare came in and was pretty scattered at first. They turned her loose and let her go around on her own, but it wasn't helping her. Mark then put her on the lunge. This mare needed more direction and support, and it was going to be too much for her to come down on her own loose in the round pen. Mark mentioned that when a horse is loose, it may take more to get their attention. With her on the lunge, he can offer more support and guidance with less effort. When the mare would get scattered on the lunge, Mark would ask for a change of direction, or a transition. He would change something to get the mare mentally engaged and get her mind back in the round pen instead of back with her buddy. At one point the mare was a bit frustrated, and she kicked out - from 30' away. She was doing it out of frustration, and wasn't trying to hurt anyone. Some folks asked why Mark didn't do anything about it. He mentioned that he just goes about his business in a situation like that. She was just expressing some frustration.

The only time he said he will do something about it is if the horse backs up towards a person to kick.

Mark talked about being careful not to go right over the softness the horse may be offering up with a correction. There is a bit of softness that may be offered up by the horse, even in some fairly "busy" situations. If you can release to that softness they offer up, even if it is just for a split second, they will begin to get the idea that is what you are looking for. It's critical not to get frustrated with the horse, or to take it personally. If you can't be ok within yourself, you can't help your horse.

One rider was asking her horse to back by light bumps on the reins. There is always a release in there between each bump, and it can set up a brace and a fight. When the mare did back, she still wasn't soft. Using soft pressure, and waiting for the horse's try, then giving soft releases will help her soften her backup.

You get what you settle for. You need to always be looking for the softness. It is important to get "closure". Sometimes you have to wait through everything else the horse is willing to offer before you will be offered the softness. That's ok. It's fine for the horse to have those choices. We just have to let them know that isn't what we are looking for. If you apply a little pressure, and the horse then roots their head or pulls on the bit, they are choosing to add to the pressure you offered them. You need to wait on them to offer up some softness. If a horse has found a release in the past for pulling on the bit, they may put up a bit of a fight when they no longer get that release. They have to go through a learning process to understand "the rules have changed". If the horse has benefited from their behavior in the past, they will continue to try and do that behavior - because that was what worked for them in the past. We have to be consistent to help show them we are looking for something different. You want to allow the horse time to search and try to get it done, but don't let them get lost.

One owner asked about stopping, and said she had been taught to ask for more movement before asking for the stop if the horse didn't want to get stopped. There are quite a few variations on this theme - many of you are probably familiar with some of them. Mark's response was that he kind of saw this to be "if you're going to cry, then I'll go ahead and give you something to cry about". It can be frightening, and very confusing. It just doesn't really seem to me to be in the spirit of "teaching".

Mark talked quite a bit with many of the riders about how the horse is constantly asking questions of the rider. "Is it ok if I slow down a little" for example. If that question isn't "answered", the horse has just learned that it is just fine with the rider if he slows down a little. And before you know it, the horse gets himself stopped. Then he gets a correction for stopping when he "wasn't asked to stop". It is real important that we learn to recognize, and answer the horse's questions. It sure makes it a lot easier, and a lot more clear to the horse!

Mark talked a little about physical issues like saddle fit, or other soreness. A physical issue, if not addressed, can become a mental issue for the horse. They begin to associate the physical pain or discomfort with what is being asked of them. Over time, that can become an emotional problem for the horse.

One gal had a few rides on her young horse, but had done quite a bit of lateral flexion work (bringing her horse's head around to her boot). Mark asked "does your horse ever just swing her head around to your boot"? The gal said "yes" - pretty often actually. Things like this can easily become a "default behavior" if they are overdone. It's fine to use a tool like lateral flexion if you need it, but it can be easy to overdo. In first grade, they ask you many times "what is 1 + 1?" while they are teaching basic math. But they don't begin 6th grade math class by asking "what is 1 + 1".

Mark commented a few times that "what" we are doing isn't as important as HOW we go about doing it. Heart and attitude!

One rider was very soft, and was a bit hesitant to ask for "too much". Her horse was learning to try, but kind of staying just short of getting the task done the way the rider would have liked. Mark commented "the way you are riding isn't going to get you where you want to be with this horse. But there is nothing wrong with the way you are riding! You may need to adjust your expectations. If you are looking for something more than what you are getting, you are going to have to make some changes." He went on to say that it may be something as simple as just putting things together a little faster for the mare. Being more decisive. And being willing to follow things through so the mare can understand and get "closure".

Mark had several questions that basically boiled down to "how much xxxxx should I do with my horse". How much lunging. How much ground driving. How much backing. Mark's answer was always to pay attention to your horse. It can sure be easy to overdo things. He said sometimes he things the horse is sitting there saying "when are you EVER going to understand this thing so we can move on!". He also pointed out that if you gain the horse's trust, the horse often times will accept all the things you may not be doing "right". If you have to go back and "re-teach" things ever day, the horse may be overloaded - too much, too fast, without much clarity in the horse's mind. A horse is only going to grow up as fast as that particular horse can - you can't force them to grow up.

The slower you go with things, the more you can feel what is going on, and the more you can learn. Slow yourself down. Allow yourself the opportunity to feel what is going on! Everybody has to learn. None of us were born knowing this stuff. Keep a sincere heart and attitude, and do what you have to do to get through it... but try to learn from it *all along the way*. IMO that is the process to be embraced and enjoyed.

And keep looking for all those opportunities to help your horse!!!

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