LOS ANGELES, CA
Chris and his mustang came into the round pen...Chris wanted to do ground work. what followed was inspiring, tear-jerking, breath-holding and an perfect use of awesome intuition combined with understanding and compassion.
Just the bare details/facts (as I remember them):
Horse was about 7 yrs old, owned by Chris for quite a while, hadn't been ridden in a year or more. Chris had ridden him in other clinics with 'name' clinicians and in at least one, he fell off. Horse gets real concerned when other horses leave or when there is a lot going on (lots of other horses).
not sure how long Chris has been riding, but I got the impression he was somewhat inexperienced with green horses, though as mentioned, he has ridden in clinics.
He also has a love for his horses and a heart as big as either could possibly be....and a humbleness that we would all do well to emulate.
It was truly an interesting sight to see this gentle man (space intentional) enter into the round pen in his shorts and riding helmet with a cardboard sunshade bill taped on it c:) it was obvious he was very nervous, but aren't we all at that moment??!!
However, the more he talked, one could see the nervousness sprang from being afraid to get on this horse that he had fallen off of at least once.
He kept talking about wanting to do more ground work to help this horse get over his 'bothered' areas.
This went on quite a while ...occasionally Mark would intersperse with comments along the lines of (not direct quotes) 'he looks pretty hooked on to me', 'he's pretty quiet, he looks ok to ride ,etc' and finally, Mark was his gentle self, but more direct...'he doesn't need more ground work' and then referred to Chris' fear of riding him.
We were all holding our breath, the tension emanating from Chris was palpable and yes, I think we were all feeling 'bad' for him....he was being very vulnerable in front of a bunch of women!
Now here is what blew my socks off!!!!
Most instructors/clinicians/trainers/teachers/parents/ friends... IOW just about any other human would have tried to 'convince' Chris it was safe for him to ride. but ya know what....being 'convinced' is what can happen to our 'left brain', the 'logic' part of the brain...., being terrified comes from a totally different part of our brain (bottom and back...limbic or reptilian part of the brain)...and its sole purpose is survival...fight or flight....but no logical discussion involved. so no matter how much 'reasoning' about his safety Chris would have heard, the survival part wouldn't have accepted it....so even if he had been 'bullied', humiliated, talked into, etc. to the point that he got on the horse, the fear would have still been almost paralyzing and probably would have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy (belief of falling off/getting hurt) and at the very least, wouldn't have been able to connect with any 'feel' for himself or his horse.
That's what would have happened in most clinics....this is what happened in Mark's:
Rather than 'telling' him it was safe, Mark 'showed' him (something the survival brain can accept and understand). how did he accomplish this?
By taking the lead rope away from Chris and leading the gray mustang ( I wish I could remember his name) away from Chris. that horse wouldn't take his eyes off Chris and if Mark put him in a position where he couldn't see Chris, the ear was turned toward him....he knew EVERY MOMENT EXACTLY where Chris was and it was obvious he wanted to be over there by him.
Slowly but surely, Chris began to believe this horse looked to him, was attached to him, and wanted to be there for him....and ....Chris began to see that, though he was there for the horse while on the ground, it was 'he' who wasn't there for this wonderful horse when he was on his back.
"Mark, maybe you need to ride him first" "No, he's ready for you to ride"....
By now, most of us were in tears with what we had seen this horse giving to Chris .....and still holding our breath with Chris!!
Well...out comes the mounting block, getting on can be a scary and precarious situation for anyone with fears and even more so for someone large...I say this not to embarrass Chris but to acknowledge what he was able to overcome. Chris' survival voice is yelling...."don't do this, remember what happened last time" and yet he has now been able to see/experience something that will make this time different....up he goes, around the pen he goes, Mark gently pointing out the whole time how 'with him' this horse is, how much this horse wants to be there for him, but needs Chris to be there for him, too.
Whew.....enough for one day!! The 4 days end with Chris trotting him in the big arena, grinning from ear to ear and even when the gelding spooked a bit, Chris just laughed and stayed right with him....BTW....Chris has a very good seat/balance and gentle hands.
I guess I can't emphasize enough how important Mark's approach was to all this....it was truly something to behold and of course, to learn from....how we go about reaching others and our own self-talk....gentleness, compassion, firmness when and where needed, and faith....in our animals and in ourselves.