And here's a paragraph from a post I did after the clinic:
One of my commentators on my posts on the Mark Rashid clinic asked what I was going to apply in my own horse world from my learning at the clinic. For me the biggest take-aways were first, the concept of finding the point of resistance and mentally softening into it, to avoid being part of a brace and to offer the horse a soft place to move into - see my post on horse #1 [see sidebar] for more about this. And second, the idea of leading your horse with your intent and thought (which is also there in the book about Harry Whitney I wrote about in an earlier post), with the objective of reducing aids to almost nothing or even eliminating them altogether so that you blend with the horse, thought and body, so that the horse's body becomes your body and the horse's feet your feet. I already had the second idea in mind in a less well formed way as a result of our earlier work with Mark, but it really snapped into focus for me.
Golden the Pony Girl raises the good point that, if we use pressure, no matter how subtle, and we don't time the release correctly - most of us, I think, err by waiting too long or not rewarding tries to build links in the chain - or punish the horse when it doesn't offer the behavior we want, that we can "poison the cue" - the horse now is anxious or confused (if we're inconsistent with the release either because we're not clear in our own minds exactly what we want or have poor timing) or anticipating punishment, rather than learning what we want the horse to learn. In my experience, to give releases with even a semblance of success requires relearning how to observe and feel, and at least while learning how to do it, really intense effort and concentration. I think a lot of the adverse behaviors horses learn - bucking, rearing, bolting, sometimes come from incorrectly used pressure and release, or plain confusion. Really close attention to the slightest things - a lean, a shift in weight, an ear flicker - is required, in my opinion. Read her post and think about it.
* * * * * *
I was able to remove Miranda's blanket in the stall last night without any problem. This morning when I fed I upped the ante a little. When I gave her her hay, I stayed in the stall and placed my hand on her neck. She pinned and I kept my hand there until her ears relaxed and then stepped away - for her removing yourself from her "bubble" is a release. While I was standing next to her, I kept the side of my body towards her and my eyes down to reduce the pressure. Then, when I was feeding her grain, I went into the stall and waited for the pinning to stop and the ears to flick forward for just a second before I fed her. Outside, when I brought her hay, again I didn't give it to her until she stopped pinning and glaring and the ears relaxed, and then I stood just at the edge of her bubble, again with my side to her, until she relaxed before I walked away. I try to never move away from her - which is what she wants me to do - while she's exhibiting any threatening behavior, which would give her a release for those behaviors. I think she's making excellent progress.
A couple of you asked some questions about Miranda. First, as to ulcer medicines, she did a full 30-day treatment with omeprazole, which inhibits the production of stomach acid and allows the ulcers to heal, and since then she's been on U-Gard pellets two times a day. Despite the residual food-related issues, her behavior is dramatically different - severe ulcers can literally drive a horse crazy, and then her behavior led to punishment, leading her to associate feeding, and people, with pain. She has gone from a horse that could not be touched anywhere on her body or handled, much less ridden, and could only be approached at significant personal risk, to one that is a pleasure under saddle and becoming more alive every day. She still strongly reacts to the vet and to chiropractic work (although she was a bit better at the last appointment), but is not at all cinchy - my daughter worked hard to find her a saddle that fit and her body sensitivity was related to the ulcers. I was asked about clicker training - using positive reinforcement would be a good thing, but I am hesitant to try it with a horse with residual food and physical aggression issues, which including biting in the past. If I were more experienced with clicker I might, and I may well use it later, but not yet.
And I was asked how she is with other horses. This is pretty interesting - when my daughter first got her, before her issues were resolved, she was "pasture dead" - other horses could kick and bite her and she wouldn't really respond or even move away. She didn't interact with the other horses at all. I'd put this down to severe depression and being completely "shut down". Once a horse is this far gone, bringing them back takes extraordinary work (my daughter gets great credit in my mind for having gotten her this far). She now shows some interest in other horses, although not as much as a normal horse - which has the advantage that you can take her anywhere and she isn't herd-bound at all. She's low in the pecking order and fairly submissive with other horses. I think that if she continues to "wake up" and be able to interact with the world without pain or fear, that she may very well become more interactive with and interested in other horses. There was a corollary of this - when she got to the point that my daughter was doing ground work with her and then working under saddle, she was extremely dull and unresponsive to pressure. This has improved, and she is more "horselike" every day. Of course that means that horse behaviors like spooking are now reappearing, too! She's still relearning how to interact with both horses and people.
A side note on Fritz - he's doing much better but is still showing some mild anxiety. I'm doing some looking into the NSC (non-structural carbohydrate - the type that is easily absorbed) content of some feeds and will post about that at some point. NSC is a more important measure than total carbohydrates, and is sometimes a difficult number to find - I suspect some of the manufacturers don't really want you to know. Some of the senior and "safe" feeds are surprisingly high in NSCs. NSC isn't the only measure to be concerned about, particularly if you have a horse with a metabolic issue, but it's important.