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 #7, who was a lovely, big, Hanoverian/Appaloosa cross gelding that was progressing well in his training. His rider is a woman in her 20s who works training horses - she's been riding with Mark for over 10 years and is very experienced, and she is the older sister of the rider of horse #1 - their parents own the farm which hosted the clinic.
Most of the work this pair did was on increasing her softness in the ask, keeping the flow going, and timing cues more effectively - refinements on what was already a pretty nice picture.
She had been working with the horse for about two years at this point. She commented that he could be slow to warm up since he was so big, and that at times he would get heavy in her hands. Mark pointed out that if the horse is heavy and you pull on him, he'll just get heavier - you're participating in the brace. In addition to having her use the "find the point of resistance and soften into it" technique I described in the post on horse #1, with the goal of having the horse search for you (the release) rather than having you search for him (pulling, which just creates a bigger brace), he had her work to weight her two hands slightly differently to disrupt the brace.
He also had her work on making her release more soft to eliminate any recoil of her hands. Even if you have to use more pressure, make sure it has softness/blending in it. Mark commented that if a horse is "stuck" in some part of its body, it's often due to a corresponding "stuckness" in our own bodies. Mark asked her not to overthink things - just create a place of neutrality where everything is available to the rider and the horse together.
In backing, if the horse starts to get heavy, he told her that she could move her hands to where they'd be if backwards motion had already started (which would carry your body and hands backwards). When the horse starts moving, move your hands back to normal as you move through brace and it dissolves - this conveys the thought that "we're moving", not "he's moving" - you are participating in the movement as you dissolve the brace.
They also worked on refining their lateral movements, including turn on the forehand and haunches, and also leg yields at the trot and canter. Mark made the point that all lateral work has to incorporate the feel of forward, otherwise it loses the flow and becomes stilted. In turn on the haunches they focussed on having the outside front leg cross in front of other front leg - he had her work on not locking her outside arm. In all lateral work, keep your legs as a presence not a push - start with the pressure you want to end up with. If you bring thought and intent to the party, the horse can feel the energy of the aid without the aid itself having to be used.
Their work on leg yields put particular emphasis on timing the cues to allow the horse to move most easily. To leg yield to inside (off the rail) you want to give the aid when the outside hind leg is about to leave the ground - ask as you come out of your rise (if you are posting). This is a specific case of a general principle - time all cues to move a particular hind foot - give the cue just as that hind foot is leaving the ground (or in flying changes when the new outside hind is just getting airborne) - this will make it much easier for the horse to do the movement and the whole thing will flow. In leg yield at the canter to the inside (off the rail), cue when the outside hind leaves ground in canter, which happens as the horse exhales on the effort (which Mark said we should do when we exert effort as well but we often don't); to move to the outside in leg yield your cue should fall between the horse's breaths.
Flow is very important - think of the movement of the horse as a continuous flow even in halt. The engine is still running - feel the flow. If you get it right, the movements will be continuous and lovely, not just one step after another.
There is an exercise Mark likes to use with a horse that is at the stage this horse is at - when going in a one direction, say from north to south in your arena, move from walking forward, into side pass with the head to the left, into backing, into sidepass facing the other way, and back into forward as one continous flowing motion. You don't want the feet to stop or to have any hitches in the motion - if you use too much aid this can stop the flowing feeling and lock up the motion. It is not possible to successfully do this exercise unless you maintain a good open flow - this exercise also helps you get a feel for what you need to do with a particular horse.
One interesting side comment - Mark talked about how to deal with people who do not understand or criticize what you are doing with your horse. He drew a line in the arena sand and asked if we knew how to make a line shorter - e.g. how to counteract what someone is saying about you and your horse. Most of the answers involved erasing part of the line. Mark said there was an even better way - he drew another line next to the first line - the second line was longer than the first line, so the first line had become shorter. Keep making your own line longer - don't worry about making anyone else's line shorter - focus on your own task and don't worry about what other people say.
He said that since she was an experienced rider, with this trained and capable horse, that she shouldn't wait too long for braces to dissolve. Although waiting can be very beneficial with younger horses who don't have a clue - like horse #8 in the next post, that was no longer true with the horse. She needed to be more businesslike but softer as she did it - he said this sounds like a contradiction but it isn't. Be specific - get through it without a lot of waiting or fussing around. Don't allow a disconnection - deal with things immediately - don't overthink it. Ride big horses like regular horses - expect this experienced horse to work from the get-go - we tend to get what we expect from the horse.
In summary, Mark's message to this pair was to step up their game - the rider should expect more of herself in terms of subtlety and refinement of her interaction with the horse, and she should expect more of her horse, since he was at a point in his training to rise to the challenge.
Horse #8 is next - our last horse of the clinic - the horse that couldn't breathe - I think this is the most interesting horse of all!