I've never been to a Mark Rashid clinic, either as an auditor or rider, where I haven't learned things that made a substantial difference to my horsemanship. And this clinic will clearly be no exception. One of the things I really enjoy about working with Mark is that he really looks and and "sees" each horse and rider pair, and makes the (often very small) adjustments needed for success. Every rider and horse are taken at whatever level they are at, with whatever issues they may present - there are common principles, but no "program" or one-size-fits-all approach.
Since I am riding both Dawn and Drift at this clinic, I wasn't able to take notes on all the other riders or even see all their rides. I would say that a common theme - this is usually the case at the clinics - is how profoundly the rider's biomechanics - posture, breathing and carrying tension in some part of the body - affect the horse, either by allowing or blocking the desired motion or action.
I rode Dawn first. There are photos in this post. She wasn't very settled when I got on - she would have preferred to head back to the barn to join her new friend, Drift, who was helping us out by doing quite a bit of screaming for her. The outdoor at the clinic is a large open unfenced space, without the visual barrier of a fenced arena.
As usual, Mark started by asking what we wanted to work on. I said improving the consistency of our softening work at the walk and trot, our transitions, canter work (which Dawn and I haven't done that much of) and some leg yield at the trot progressing to half-pass. We started by working on the consistency of our softening work at the walk - Dawn will hold her position for about 5 steps and then her head starts to pop up or move around a little bit, then she's soft again, repeat. Mark asked me to have her soften for 7 steps and then give her a noticeable release. Then 9 steps. He said she wasn't sure if she were doing it right. Within minutes, she was consistently soft at the walk and able to find the soft spot I was providing her - with Dawn the theme of the day for me was "allowing" with my hands and making sure not to hold her in place.
Then we moved up to trot work and did the same thing. When she softens at the trot, her movement gets very big as she uses her hindquarters and she feels if anything more dynamic as we get true forward and not just forward motion. But when she was soft, we were able to get some pretty nice trot/walk transitions. But again, I needed to allow her movement when she was soft, and separate softening work from speed regulation work by never pulling on her or holding her in with my hands when she was soft and being sure to release tension in my arms and shoulders. She was doing pretty well until there were too many cumulative distractions - horses calling, coming and going and her high energy level - then she started to fuss at the end of the ring closest to the barn and expressing her desire to leave - there was some attempts to bulge out and some near balks.
Mark said a natural inclination many people have when a horse is troubled in a particular area of the arena, or by a particular thing, is to keep them near it and make them work through it. He says getting in this sort of fight with the horse is rarely useful - instead, take the horse to an area where they can cooperate and then gradually work back into the troublesome area as the horse is able to cope.
So we moved Dawn down to a different area of the arena and continued to work. Since her energy level was now way up, we worked on speed regulation at the trot. This involved many, many, many small circles at a pretty fast trot, with constant changes of direction in a figure 8 shape. I also had to do some "allowing" here - which can be hard to do mentally when your horse is close to taking off with you - by only putting pressure on the inside rein to get the turn but by keeping the outside rein loose - I just put my outside hand forward next to her neck - so that her body could follow her nose. I didn't get dizzy, which was fortunate. We did this for a while, and when she'd start to slow a bit, Mark would have me continue to circle in one direction and if she was able to offer a trot with proper pace, then allow her to move in a straight line. We were able to get at least 7 nice soft steps without rushing in each direction, and then I'd let her walk for a bit. We repeated this several times, and on our last try, as we came out of our circles, she was able to do 7 soft steps down towards the end of the ring that had been the problem.
Mark pointed out that her sweat patterns - she was very sweaty on her neck and shoulders and not so much elsewhere - indicated that she'd been overusing her front end and not using her hindquarters as much except in the moments when we got softness - and that this would change as she used herself better. Mark seemed to think we'd done pretty well, particularly considering that, as he put it with his characteristic understatement, Dawn was "not an easy ride".
One thing I also like about Mark is that he challenges you to do what you're able to do (even if you're not sure you can), but I've never seen him put a rider in a position where they were unsafe or overfaced, nor does he ever force a rider to do something they just aren't comfortable doing. That was certainly the case with my ride on Dawn - some of the stuff we were doing was pretty mentally challenging (letting a very dynamic horse go forward when soft, riding through an issue with a horse who's starting to mentally check out and leave), but I just kept riding, knowing that Mark wouldn't have asked me to do it if he didn't think I could handle it.
Dawn and I were pretty pooped when we were done - I put her away - would have liked to hose her off but it was too cool - and then I went off to rest and eat something (I packed yoghurts and fruit) and watch the other riders. And then, later in the day, I had my work session with Drift.
To be continued . . .