Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Book Worth Reading

I just finished reading Mark Rashid's latest book - Whole Heart, Whole Horse: Building Trust Between Horse and Rider.

As some of you know, I had the good fortune to encounter Mark at a point in time when I was ready to listen and begin to understand what he was saying.  I have had the chance to ride a number of times in Mark's clinics, including two week-longs in Colorado, and have audited other clinics.  For me, this has been a truly life-changing experience and has completely altered how I think about horses and my interaction with them.  It's also allowed me to do things with my horses that I really wouldn't have believed possible.

Mark's books really aren't mostly about "technique".  In fact, some of the training techniques/hints he gives in his earlier books include things he has since changed his mind about, as he describes in later books - how to catch a horse that runs away, for example.  The books are really about us - about how we interact with our horses and how we approach those interactions and how we feel about the horses and their behavior.  All of this is hard to describe - it's really about our frame of reference - once we start looking at thing differently, and therefore acting differently, a lot falls into place.  It turns out that it's really about training ourselves as much as it's about training horses.

Just a quote or two to give you the flavor of the book:

. . . before we can expect our horse to offer the best of themselves, we must first find a way to be able to give the best of ourselves to them. (p. xiv)
. . . it is not uncommon at clinics to see horse owners being pushed, pulled, knocked into, dragged around, gnawed on, run past or through, and sometimes even knocked over.  Many folks refer to this type of behavior as the horse being disrespectful or having a total lack of regard for the person handling them.  But before labeling a horse as disrespectful, I believe it is important to understand that the vast majority of behavior domestic horses offer - whether good, bad or indifferent - in relation to humans has been taught to them in some way, shape or form by a human.  For many folks, that idea can be a hard pill to swallow. (p. 33)
A horse that offers us "good" behavior is simply telling us he's okay with what's going on at that particular moment in his life.  A horse that's offering up "bad" behavior is telling us there's a problem, sometimes a major one . . . that needs to be addressed.  A horse that is offering up "worrisome" behavior [such as bit chomping, head-shaking, pawing, tail-wringing, etc.] is telling us he doesn't understand something and is struggling with it.  . . . [I]t is my belief horses don't distinguish between how they feel and how they act.  So if they act a certain way, their actions are reflecting the way they feel. . . . If this is the case, then any behavior a horse offers, good, bad, or indifferent, falls under one category: the horse supplying information about how he feels.  (p. 82)
[M]ost of the problems we see boil down to simple miscommunication between the horse and rider.  And the vast majority of those miscommunications often boils down to the rider not giving the horse the direction it needs to perform the task properly, or . . . inadvertently taking a little mental break while the horse is still working.  (p. 104)
One of the reasons some folks aren't sure of the difference between a horse that is willingly available and one that is simply available is that so many horses out there today are light, but not necessarily soft. . . . The difference for me is that lightness is primarily on the outside of the horse and is mostly technique-based, while softness comes from the inside of the horse and is a combination of technique, trust, conviction, and feel that is exchanged between rider and horse and back again.  Softness is a conversation and a way to be, rather than a thing to do.  (p. 194)
I hope this gives you a flavor - the book is full of wonderful stories and examples.  If you're interested, the book is available from Mark's website


  1. I will have to get a copy of that! I have had sydney for almost 7 years now and she still runs from me when I try and catch her. But of course she doesnt run from my husband...sigh... Maybe he has some techniques I can use for that!

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jessi - it's interesting that Sydney will let your husband catch her and not you - my guess is you're projecting more energy at her than your husband does. Try to consciously lower your energy - think relaxed - and don't stare at the horse, just mosey in that direction. If she still heads off, don't follow or chase her - head in the direction that will take you to where she's going to end up - cut off the corner, so to speak. As she moves and turns, keep turning with her and head where she's going to end up. The first couple of times, it may take a while - stay patient and relaxed. Pretty soon, in most cases, the horse will decide that you are persistent and that it's not worth the trouble and will stop and wait. Usually each time you do this it takes less time. If you start to follow the horse or chase them, that raises your energy considerably and may cause the horse to be even harder to catch.

  3. Will definatly try it!!

    I am sure you are right, she must notice the steam coming out of my ears when she trots away from me!!

    Hopefully next time I am home she wont mind me catching her. Will try your suggestions next week when I'm home.


  4. Thanks for the book rec! Sounds really enjoyable... and I found it at Amazon for $16.47 (instead of $24.95) and with free shipping. Thanks for the suggestion - and just wanted to pass along the savings to your readers. :)

  5. LizB - thanks for also suggesting Amazon, in case anyone wants to save. I bought directly from Mark because that way he gets more $ per copy.

  6. Super insight into our horses heads. They are startling honest animals when you think about it. What we fail to do is listen to what they are saying to us.

  7. Mark Rashid is one of my favorite horsemen. I think he has good points to get across to many riders. We need to be consistent and soft and correct and think about what the horse is telling us through their actions.
    I envy you, it must have been a wonderful experience to have been to so many of his clinics.

  8. Kate,

    I have another question for you, do you use fly predators or do you know anyone who does? I am thinking about trying them out.. What do you think??

  9. JW - I use fly predators and feel they make a huge difference. I can always tell when they're due. :) We had a rainy spell and the flies really picked up - my next batch was in the mail - and within 3 days of setting them out, oh, what a difference! I think it might have been my double batch, because the flies have been so light lately. I have 2 geldings that the little cow flies prefer the scent of, and I can tell by the number of flies on their back (and how few they are right now) that the fly predators are working. Definitely worth it!

    FWIW - I don't think much of feed through fly control. Not because of the efficacy (which I have no experience with), but rather, I have heard firsthand from a local breeder that the one year she used the feed through, that she had several abortions and bloodwork that they pulled showed liver/kidney issues... the only change in their routine was the feed through... so, for safety concerns, I have chosen not to use them.

  10. We don't use fly predators - we've looked at them a bit but not sure if they would work for us. We also don't use feed through - concerns about toxicity, but they apparently work well for some folks.

  11. I have heard good things about him...I think Project Jasper has posted about him before. I will have to check out the book, sounds like a good one.

  12. Thanks for the recommendation, sounds like a book I'd like to read!

  13. Aw, crud - another book to add to my to-be-found and read list. Thanks :)


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