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 forgot to mention that the woman on the little bay Arabian is Mark's wife Crissi, who worked with the riders as well, if they wanted to, when they were done working with Mark. I'm going to give each horse at the clinic its own post - this is horse #4.
This was a very cute Icelandic mare - imported from Iceland about 10 months ago - with an experienced rider:
As you can see from this picture, the mare was very stiff and braced, and all she wanted to do was go very fast. Her owner said she wanted to work on having the mare be soft/responsive, not light/reactive. Mark worked a lot with this pair on the first day on their softening work. The mare, although very responsive and well-behaved, seemed worried - anything you asked her to do, she would rush to do it, as if something bad was about to happen if she didn't. He worked with the rider on asking the horse to soften without pulling, just by using her hands to softly define the box. The hands create a boundary, but it's a somewhat flexible boundary, not a brick wall. Mark said that he used to describe the hands as remaining stationary, but he thinks some people misunderstood what he was saying - there does have to be some give and take, otherwise it can't be soft. The objective is to put the hands in the position that, if the horse softens, the pressure will be zero. The farther the horse moves outside the box - the greater the pressure - but without pulling.
If you pull, it makes it difficult for the horse to get a release since your hands tend to recoil. The mare keep pushing with her nose every time the rider took up contact - this can come from an abrupt ask for softening - we need to do a soft ask - it's in how we take up the contact. Horses put more pressure on to get the releases they have been taught, and many horses have been taught to lean on their rider's hands for balance. Headset is not as important as softness - a horse can be soft on a loose rein and braced when the face is vertical. The feel in your hands is much more important as you progress than getting a particular headset - softness has to come before headset or else all we're doing is building in a brace. We should try at all times to carry no more than a 1 in our hands - this is the feel we should carry all the time in life - walking, opening and shutting a door, or putting a plate on the table.
Mark talked about the four stages of learning -
1. unconscious incompetence - we don't know we don't know
2. conscious incompentence - we know we don't know and aren't sure what to do
3. conscious competence - we can do it but have to think about it
4. unconscious competence - we can do it without thinking about it - it's part of us
Both horses and people have to go through these 4 stages to really learn something, and every horse and rider will be different in their progress. For example, the bracey chestnut I talked about in my last post went pretty quickly from stage 2 to stage 3 - he was happy to give up his old way of doing things and try out something new. This mare was different.
Mark said that this mare was like someone who had gone through a number of years in school where she was taught, over and over again, that 5 plus 5 equals 11. She was convinced that this was the correct answer, and it was very hard to persuade her otherwise. She knew the answer she was supposed to give (11 - braced, reactive and fast), but didn't know how to figure out the correct answer on her own (10 - soft, with a relaxed topline and using the core muscles to carry her body) - she'd never been allowed to. She was anxious about abandoning her old answer for 5 plus 5 equals 10. So with her, it was important to give her the time she needed to process things and start to figure the answer out on her own, and to keep presenting what we wanted her to do, calmly and without rushing.
It was really fascinating to watch her start to think about things and figure them out. By the second day, she'd really got it in the halt, back and walk, and then had to process some more to get the trot and transitions. Once the mare could consistently soften at the trot - this went pretty fast once she got the idea - they worked on having the mare keep her softness through the transition and not brace by throwing her head up.
On the third day, they worked on doing turns on forehand and haunches. Once again, the mare became somewhat worried and wanted to rush through the maneuvers. With her, it was very important to teach her that rushing wasn't necessary, by taking just one step at a time. She was always asked to start soft and end soft in the halt, stand for a moment and then walk forward for some thinking time and as a reward. It was important to not allow her to fall back into mindless rushing - helping her learn to remain calm was as important as getting the task itself done.
She was a delightful little horse, very intelligent and willing. It was also fun to talk with her owner at the lunch breaks about the work the owner was doing with Icelandics in mounted patrol work and obstacle course competitions - do you think your horse could tackle an obstacle involving an enclosure made up of three flapping plastic garbage bags (with a fan to ensure movement), an umbrella, a smoke machine and a cage with a turkey inside? And this is just one example!
Horse #5 is next - the horse who needed less, and more, from his rider.