One of the things I enjoy about watching Mark Rashid work is that his horsemanship is always developing - he's always trying to find better ways to communicate and demonstrate what he's trying to teach, and he's always finding ways to improve and refine how he works with horses and riders. And, although there are common themes and a way of looking at the horse and the horse/rider interaction, there's no program or system - each horse and rider pair are treated as individuals and what happens in the sessions is based on what that horse and rider pair bring to the clinic in terms of their prior experiences and training and what their specific needs are. That isn't to say that the problems riders present for solution often aren't really something else in disguise - since Mark tries to teach people to not only work on the outside of the horses - technique, cues and getting a task accomplished - but on the inside of the horse - how the horse feels about the work and expresses that - problems of technique or inability to get a task done often are solved by getting underneath to some more basic issue relating to horse or rider or both, and when that issue is improved the horse is more able to do what is being asked.
This year's clinic had many of the same themes as last year's, but there were some refinements. Mark spend a lot of time talking about space, time and energy - how the horse and/or rider use these things and how they relate to the communication back and forth between horse and rider. As I talk about this stuff, some of it may be unclear - as the posts on individual horses come along, it may become clearer in the light of specific examples. Also, although they're set out here separately, these concepts are not really separate in practice - they work together.
Space. There's a lot included in this core physical concept: How the horse's body moves in space - body mechanics. How the rider's body moves in space, and in relationship to the horse's body. Where the horse/rider pair is moving, and who's doing the directing of the motion from moment to moment. How the horse's footfalls relate to its motion in the various gaits and the transitions between them. Balance - the horse's balance, the rider's balance and blending the two. Creating or closing openings, unintentionally or on purpose, for the horse to move into. The space between the horse and handler on the ground and what happens in that space. The space between the rider's hands and the horse's mouth and what happens in that space - Mark spends a good bit of time with many riders having them hold the reins, with him holding the other ends, where he has them be the horse and him the rider, or vice versa, to work on that space and the feel that should exist within it. Paying attention to these spaces, and offering softness so we don't brace either in ourselves or against the horse's own braces.
Time. For the horse - the need in certain cases to process, think and learn. When, in certain cases, it's time for the rider to get something done, now. Getting ahead of the game - leading the horse with your thought before breathing and aids are used to cue. Timing of breathing and cues to help the horse with the work. Timing of giving direction - as Mark says, sometimes we tend to put on a cue and then wait to see what happens and then correct if the horse gives the wrong response - the horse needs us to lead with our thought, breathing and cues but also to catch the horse's thoughts as they are developing and provide direction before the thought turns into an action we don't want - there are innumerable examples to use for this: a horse that tends to not make a smooth upwards or downwards transition, a horse that is distracted and nervous, a horse that is thinking about bolting, and on and on.
Energy. Redirecting the energy of a nervous horse rather than bottling it up. Using your own mental and bodily energy - bringing it up or bringing it down - to influence the horse's energy level. How the energy of movement travels through the horse's body, the rider's body and the two together, and things we do that either permit or block energy flow. The difference between energy and tension or rushing - energy is quiet and soft. Even big moves on our part with a lot of energy can be soft, and offer the horse softness to move into.
There were a couple of other concepts that should be mentioned - adaptability and changing the pattern:
Adaptability. Mark says that the mark of true horsemanship is adaptability - the ability to adapt what you are doing to that horse on that day. This approach was exemplified in the clinic - even when two sets of horse/rider pairs were working on the same exercises, Mark would have them approach the work slightly differently due to what each horse/rider pair needed to focus on, the capabilities of each horse/rider pair - experience level, the degree of training the horse had and the horse's specific reactions to the work. Being willing to learn and think about ways to improve how you interact with and communicate with the horse is a part of this too.
Changing the pattern. Often, when a horse/rider pair had a problem or issue that made it hard for them to do something, there was a pattern - the rider would do this, the horse would respond in this way, the rider would then do this, etc. Sometimes these things related to behaviors the horse and/or rider had learned, and sometimes the rider wasn't even aware of the pattern as it played out, and sometimes the pattern related to a physical issue the horse may have had. In each case, to change the behavior in a positive way it was necessary for the rider to be aware of the pattern and then change it. Sometimes these changes were very small - tiny adjustments of feel and timing - and sometimes they were dramatic - horse #7 will be a good example of this.
And finally, and probably most importantly, Mark's philosophy is that the point of everything you do with the horse is to help the horse feel better about the work you are doing together - that's the route to a horse that is willingly compliant from the inside. There are a lot of smiling people and much happier, softer looking horses by the third day - some of that you'll even be able to see in some of the photos I took. Every horse/rider pair made significant progress and some of the changes were truly dramatic.
I'll be following the same practice in these posts as I did last year - one post per horse, per day, covering all three days of the clinic. Some pretty interesting stuff happened - stay tuned for Horse #1 - Baby Stuff.