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 #6, who was a lovely, soft chestnut breeding stock paint gelding. His rider was very quiet and experienced. They were a delight to watch. Mark said that this pair were among the softest coming into one of his clinics that he had seen. The rider said the horse was very easy to work with, except for once or twice a year when he would buck, which concerned her a little bit - last time he did this he bucked her off.
Since this pair were pretty advanced, and doing very well, they worked on refining a few things. Most of the work involved making sure the rider wasn't deliberately or unintentionally doing things that might interfere with the ability of the horse to move and respond. For example, in downwards transitions, not only is it important not to look down, staring at the horse's head "as if it might fall off", but it's important not to direct your mental intent downwards - this has the same effect as looking down - it interrupts the flow of the horse's energy and movement.
One other point on downwards transitions - many people tend to lean back when they do them. Mark asked us to think about how we would move our own bodies from a jog to a walk, or halt, and then demonstrated on the ground. He asked if we would lean our bodies backwards to slow down - the answer was clearly no. If we wouldn't do it with our own bodies, why do it on top of the horse? It unbalances the horse, who then has to compensate for our position. The result is to interrupt the flow of the downwards transition. A balanced position is better for almost all work we do on the horse.
The objective is to become one with the horse, where your thought and the horse's thought are one. I asked a follow-on question: "does this mean that the horse becomes your body and the horse's feet are your feet?" Mark answered "yes". To me this is one of the most profound things I got from all three days of the clinic. Just think of it - the horse becomes your body, expressing your thoughts just as your own body would, but with even more power and grace!
The pair worked on the second day on lateral work. Although the horse was compliant, he struggled a bit with the work, particularly the turn on the haunches. Here is a picture of them working on a turn on the forehand - you can see he was a little bit braced to start with in this exercise as well:
In lateral work, he had her think about the idea that the more pressure you put on the horse's barrel, the less the barrel can move - your pressure impedes the motion and the horse can in some cases brace the whole side where you're applying pressure. With this work, it was more important to get it right than move too fast, and end on the feel you want - if you push, prod and hurry, you just build in braces. As they worked, she was able to greatly reduce her cues and get even better results from the horse.
As you work with a horse, you have to get to know the horse, how the horse moves and what that horse needs to get the job done. That takes time. Mark spent some time talking about the buckskin quarter horse gelding he rode in the clinic. It was only 4 years old, but had already been a team roping horse before he bought it. When he got it, it took time to get it healthy again, and he was still working to get to know it. It had an old injury to its right hind - large, long scar on its backside - and because of the way it was trained and had been used in roping, it could not yet take up a right lead canter and in fact would lose its mind and have a complete meltdown if asked to do so. Mark was only now getting it to take single steps at the walk, or from the halt, to the right - it still had some anxiety about even this small action. He wasn't in any hurry, and the horse was slowly making progress.
After the pair was done working with Mark on the second day, they went down to the other end of the arena to continue their work with Crissi, Mark's wife, who was riding her tiny bay Arabian mare. All of a sudden, the chestnut gelding launched itself into a bucking fit, complete with squeals and grunts. The rider kept riding through this, and after a moment, the horse settled down and they went right back to work as though nothing had happened. Mark said nothing at the time, but the horse's bucking episode was the topic that started off their third day.
Mark said that bucking is a huge expenditure of energy for a horse, and horses generally want to minimize their expenditure of energy - if a horse is going along OK and then explodes it's almost always a physical pain issue - unless the horse is bred to buck (some Quarter Horse lines apparently are). Mark had already noticed some issues with this horse's hind end, but he seemed to be compensating very well for it and was able to do most of what was asked, although he had had some difficultly with lateral work which was a sign of the problem.
Mark had the rider dismount and had someone else lead the horse away at the walk. He demonstrated several ways to assess a horse's hind end soundness. First, watch the hips move up and down from behind - they should move up and down an equal amount. If one hip moves up or down less than the other, there's an issue. Second, watch the line from the highest point of the butt (sacrum) to the tailhead - this is easier where the horse has a dorsal stripe - the back should move equally to each side. Third, he demonstrated how to bounce the horse's hips - each one should move like a spring and the feel should be the same on both sides. Fourth, he felt the muscles along the back and under the saddle - this horse had at least one cramped, sore spot, which might have precipitated the bucking fit. Fifth, he showed the rider how to walk next to the horse's hind feet and exactly match the footfalls - you will feel any unsoundness in your own body. The fifth assessment can also be used to match the horse's front feet - this horse also had some issues in the front. Two other things that may be symptoms of front end issues - if you hold each front foot loosely cupped in you hand as if to pick it - do you feel the same weight in your hand on both sides? This horse also had different size front feet, which can be a sign that one foot is consistently being weighted more than the another.
No horse or person is perfectly even. Muscular/joint pain can create muscle spasms - that's where the buck came from - the horse had been working hard at the clinic. Just doing joint injections won't solve the problem - this horse had recently had stifle injections - joint injections may fix stiffness but not soreness. Stiff horses generally do better than sore ones. The way the horse bucked was sudden and looked like he was trying to get away from something - like a horse that got stung - another indication that it was a soreness issue. It's important to get both the muscles and joints moving so arthritis can't set in - Mark recommended that the horse be seen by a good chiropractor. You should see change in movement right away if the person is good - AVCA (American Veterinary Chiropractic Association) is a good place to start although there are other chiropractors who are good too.
If Mark sees a horse that can't work because of pain issues he sends it home to be fixed first - there's no point in addressing training issues until the pain issues are fixed. I had personal experience of this the first time we took Maisie to one of Mark's clinics - she was constantly bucking and we didn't know what to do with her - he took one look at her the first day, did the assessments, and sent us home immediately to have her fixed, and refunded all of our money. We've had excellent results with chiropractic - she had some dental issues, too - it may not work for all horses, but it sure worked for us.
And now on to horse #7 - the rider who needed to step up her game.