Monday, July 26, 2010

2010 Mark Rashid Clinic - Horse #1 - Baby Stuff?

If you haven't already, please read the "Common Themes" post, which also references the post covering common themes from last year - these posts will give you a good idea of the framework and thinking with which Mark Rashid conducts his clinics, and will help you better understand what I'm talking about here.

Horse #1 was a very cute 4 year old Percheron/paint cross gelding. This horse was only recently started under saddle, after foundational groundwork, and had about 15 rides on him, most of which after the first ride were done by the 12 year old riding him in the clinic - she's a pretty experienced rider (she was the rider on Horse #1 at last year's clinic - see the sidebar) and was riding him under the supervision of her mother and older sister (the rider of Horse #4, and the person who is retraining horse #2), who are both very experienced and capable trainers. The title of the post has a question mark - some of his issues were normal young horse stuff, but some weren't, and there was an interesting development on the third day.

This horse is the only horse I got a photo of on day one - it had already started raining and as soon as her ride was over the rain poured down, all day long. Here he is - cute guy! - while his rider answered the question "what do you want to work on today?"

The answer she gave was that he was sluggish, and that he also didn't steer very well, and that he was very fussy with his mouth, doing lots of mouthing and lip-flopping - although this was the best he'd ever been - he used to grab the reins, side of a bit or anything else he could reach. He's been on the trails and has done well there - in fact he was a pretty calm horse all in all, although part of that was due to him being at his home place.

Mark watched them go around and commented that the horse didn't really know very much, which wasn't surprising. He said his caps would still be coming off, which would explain some of the mouthiness. When he turned, particularly to the left, he would tend to bring his head to the inside and pop his shoulder out. He also had a tendency to want to slow down or even stop, particularly in the turns. Since he had already learned to stop very well, any time the rider touched the reins, the first thing he would think about was stopping. Mark suggested that the rider put on a little leg just before asking for the turn and that helped a lot with the slowing down and attempting to stop. Mark said this was pretty common behavior in babies who have learned how to stop well.

Mark said with young horses it's very important to be very specific about speed, direction and destination - often we give them too much leeway and not enough direction - after the first 5 or so rides getting very specific is critical so the horse doesn't learn the wrong things. For the moment, Mark suggested she stay away from stopping and backing - things he does well - and focus on the areas where he's weaker. This will also stop him from offering stop and back even when they're not asked for. Mark made it clear that it was the rider's responsibility to communicate to the horse exactly the pace wanted and not just leave it up to the horse to decide and then correcting the horse when the pace is incorrect. He would often ask: "is that the trot you want?" To sharpen up the trot, he had her do lots of transitions - walk/trot/walk, calling out random numbers of steps to take in each gait - 7, then 3, then 5, etc.

In response to a question about the attention span of young horses, Mark says that it's pretty much a myth that horses, and young horses in particular, have short attention spans. People say "my horse can't pay attention" when the horse is paying attention just fine - but to his buddy in the pasture he's calling to instead of to you. Horses after the age of 6 months to a year old, depending on the horse, can begin to pay attention to the direction of people. Often it's the people who have short attention spans and fail to provide the direction and leadership the horse needs and wants - when our attention to the horse and the work we're doing with the horse is interrupted, that's when the horse appears distracted - he's filling the void left by us. Many of this horse's issues were related to this - as she provided him with more direction, he was much less distracted and was able to focus on the work.

On the second day they were inside and worked on his wiggliness and turns, and also on transitions. With a horse like him, who tends to not follow his nose around the turns, and pop his shoulder out, when he starts to do this on a turn - pick a target where his head is pointed and work to get his body to follow his nose by riding straight for the target, rather than continuing the turn with his nose in and shoulder out. It's very important for any horse, but especially a young horse, to learn to travel straight and also to follow his nose with his body. It's also important for him to learn to balance himself, so don't use your body and legs to help him turn as the quieter you are the easier it'll be for him to balance - let him figure it out but don't let him go along with his head and body crooked - ride him forward and straight towards the target you pick. This exercise helped - his rider was better focussed and gave him better direction - but he still tended to wiggle a bit.

In transitions or while maintaining gait, move instantly to a secondary aid rather than increasing the primary aid if the horse doesn't give you the pace you ask for - Mark suggests using a crop but not hitting the horse with it but smacking your leg or boot to make a sound. If you just use more leg, all you're teaching the horse is to respond only to a stronger leg cue - that's how horses become insensitive. The secondary cue says "no, this is what I want" and reinforces the primary cue, and then you can revert to the softer primary cue once the horse understands what you want. The goal is to teach him to lift himself immediately into the requested gait the instant the soft primary cue is applied.

Mark set up a cloverleaf pattern for them using cones (actually small feed pans that happened to be lying around), with frequent changes of direction and pace, so the rider could work on giving him clear directions for pace, turns and transitions. Then they worked on preparations for cantering him a bit the next day. He had only been cantered under saddle a few times, and only once outside the round pen. So, for safety's sake, although he didn't expect the horse to have any problems, Mark had her do some pace regulation work in the trot - increasing, then decreasing, then increasing their pace to be sure he was listening to her requests and could comply. That way, when they cantered the next day, if things started to go sideways, an under-control trot would provide a safe, comfortable place to go for both of them.

On the third day, they were back outside and went right to work - as Mark said "he showed up ready to work today." They did some more work on speed regulation at the trot in preparation for a bit of canter, to see what they'd got - you can see his tendency to pop his shoulder out on turns in the first photo, although this was better than the first day:

Mark had her start with only 1/4 lap of the arena for the canter, and said if that went well, then they could increase it a bit. They gradually worked up to about 3/4 of a lap in each direction, with no problems.

I got this nice picture of his head when they were stopped for a moment:

Mark thought part of the problem with the turns might be that she wasn't really able to maintain a connection with him through the reins since he wouldn't really accept much contact. His mouth fussiness had also continued despite the good work they were doing - they've tried lots of different bits on him and this is the one he's been most comfortable with (it's very similar to the ported Mylar snaffle I ride Maisie in). Whenever she took up contact, he would hyperflex to avoid the bit. Mark wanted to try out something different to see if it would make any difference - here's they're trying out the Rockin S raised snaffle - you can see he's accepting some contact but looks a little worried and braced:

Then, since he was better but still pretty fussy with his mouth, and often hyperflexing - which is not something any horse, but especially not a young horse, should be learning - Mark brought out a sidepull for them to try - it was a new type for me - a direct action sidepull with the rings attached directly to a wide soft leather noseband - from Buckaroo Leather: here's a link with a fairly small picture - for some reason I didn't get any photos while he was wearing it.

The horse's demeanor changed instantly - his mouth was quiet since there was no bit and he would accept contact from the reins without hyperflexing, although he wasn't very soft and in fact was somewhat bracey. The rider said she felt much more connected to him. Mark recommended that they keep him in some sort of sidepull for a while, perhaps a year or more. Once his mouth settles down and he has his first dental work, he may be fine with the bit. He said that all that apparent softness implied by the horse's head carriage was illusory - the horse was simply carrying his head that way to avoid the bit and the connection with the rider was being lost. But he said there would be new challenges with the sidepull - he was doing some head-tossing and clearly would have to learn to soften for real instead of bracing. So sort of a two (illusory) steps forward and one step back, but much better than having a horse that you can't connect with and that hyperflexes. In response to a question, Mark said that in his opinion a bosal should be reserved for a much more educated horse.

So in the case of this young horse, many of the issues that seemed to be due to his age and stage in training were really issues caused by his rider needing to provide him with more direction - and this can happen with any horse at any stage of training. And then his apparent softness was in fact an illusion due to his avoidance of contact with the bit because of his mouth issues. So his work wasn't as far advanced as it seemed, but his rider can now connect with him and give him more direction, so his work should advance rapidly.


  1. He's a cute horse and seemed to have young horse syndrome. I remember Dusty when she was 5 had the same mouth problems as this guy. She eventually grew out of it. Well, once in a while she does a get a little mouthy but nothing like she was.

    This was an interesting post. I do like how he tried different things to figure out what the rider should do to be more connected to her horse. It just goes to show that if you take the time to work it out slowly and try different things, something will eventually work to better the training situation.

  2. That side pull looks like the one I bought made out of rope. The woman who makes them is spectacular and will custom make them for your horse for super cheap. They atatch to any kind of bridle so I converted my schooling snaffle into a sidepull. I have been meaning to do a post about it.
    I did not bother really working with Bodhi on the bit until his mouth was settled. It is best not to associate a bit with the annoyance and pain of teething.

  3. So much good information here. I watched one of his videos where he talks about the rider's responsibility to communicate to horses and keep them on pace, it's helped quite a bit with my gelding. I started paying attention and noticed that whenever my mind wandered he would quit on me. That was an important lesson for me.

    Thanks for posting the link to that sidepull. I might pick up one of those for Gwen.

  4. Great post, as usual. I really appreciate how Mark adapts his approach to suit the horse's behavior and reactions. The rider's focus and concentration is really important on a young horse especially, and with an older, wiser horse in particular. Half of good riding starts in the rider's mind, that's for sure.

    Looking forward to the coming posts.

  5. Great post Kate! I too have a young HUGE horse that is slowly maturing but you mentioned all the things that I need to remember with her when riding.

    Focus, direction, speed control...

  6. This was very awesome to see, a cute rider and cute young horse too! Good work with Mark!I really like how he did not stop till he felt like a resolve could be found. Great!

  7. What a pretty pair; sounds like they are definitely getting their money's worth :o) I am so glad you are posting the clinic so we can all share in the knowledge.

  8. What an excellent write-up of this horse and rider's session with Mark! Looking forward to reading the rest of your clinic reports.

  9. Interesting stuff - looking forward to the rest of your posts on the clinic...

    Sounds like he is willing to try and bunch of different options to help horse and rider connect to move past some problems.

  10. A nice article about the horses and so nnicely posted the images of the horses very good to see......thanks for sharing the article.......

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  11. Mary said:
    Just discovered your blog -- wonderful! I look forward to digging in.

    I'm interested in the side-pull Mark tried, but not seeing the link.

    Is the item from Buckaroo?

    Thanks much!
    Mary + Zeus, 6 y.o. Dales Pony


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