If you're just checking in to this series of posts, you'll probably want to read my earlier post"Mark Rashid Clinic - Common Themes" and also check out the excellent slide show of pictures taken by jmk at Buckskin and Bay. I'm going to give each horse at the clinic its own post - this is horse #2.
This horse was a very cute Fjord. Both the rider and the horse seemed nervous - the horse was very fidgety. Mark asked what they wanted to work on - she said that he felt wobbly, didn't travel in a straight line, and the head and body felt disconnected. When she walked him out, that's what he was doing.
It was a very windy day, and the speaker for Mark's microphone started crackling - it gave a particularly loud crackle, and the little horse spooked. The rider stayed on for the spook, but then did the "fetal crouch" - head and shoulders down and legs drawn up - the result was that her heels dug in and the horse gave some small bucks. She fell off and he ran away. Some others caught the horse and were bringing him back, and after checking that she was OK, Mark asked her to walk like she was going somewhere to meet the horse coming back. He says that the chemicals our bodies produce when we are scared or experience a traumatic event need to be processed by our bodies, and that one way to help this is to move - he says horses will do this but that we often don't.
When the pair got back to the arena, Mark held the horse for a bit and talked to her. It was interesting to watch him holding the horse - while he was talking he was subtly bringing the horse's attention back to him - it kept shifting its attention away and he would gently use his hands on the reins to bring it back. Finally, the horse's feet stayed put and the horse relaxed a little while he continued to talk to her.
He pointed out that from a physiological point of view, humans mostly exist in a constant low level of panic in the way we do things day to day. We experience a lot of stress in our lives, and that causes us to be constantly on alert and somewhat agitated. Horses are very sensitive and pick this up from us.
In order to help this, breathing correctly is very important - it allows us to relax and engage our core to use our bodies better. We often spend a lot of time essentially holding our breath. After she got back on, she worked on her breathing - the goal being to use the full lung capacity and diaphragm and not just breath from the top of the chest. Mark had her count steps at the walk on the inhale and then on the exhale - the goal is to establish a rhythm. Getting a full exhale is important - it takes more muscles than the inhale and may take more strides. As Mark says (at least for us who are old enough!) most of us still have air in there from 1968 that we've never exhaled!
On the second and third days, he had her work on patterns, using cones, in the round pen to give her some security. As she focussed on the patterns - working on making the turns correctly and riding straight lines to the next turning point - her horse began stepping out, was much more straight and looked much better. She looked a little more confident too. Then she worked on incorporating trotting at points in the pattern. The more focus she had and the more direction she gave her horse, the better he looked.
At the end of her third ride, he said that she had some decisions to make. He said that the horse wasn't a bad horse, and she wasn't a bad rider, but that the horse needed a more confident rider and she might need a more confident horse. She really hadn't been spending much time with her horse, only a couple of times a month, and he said that in order to progress she needed to put more time into it with this horse. It might be that this is not the right horse for her. He suggested that she set a deadline to make a decision - say the end of September, and work on her own riding to improve her confidence between now and then, perhaps by taking more lessons. At the end of September, she should realistically assess her situation and decide what to do. She seemed somewhat relieved that someone said that to her - I hope whatever she decides works out for her.
And now on to horse #3!