Sunday, May 22, 2011

2011 Mark Rashid Clinic - Day One, Dawn

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 . . .


  1. Thanks for sharing! I can't wait to read more!

  2. Kate - Thanks so much for writing such a wonderful, detailed post about the clinic while you're in the middle of it. I'm eagerly awaiting the report of how you did with Drift and what Mark says. It almost feels like we're there watching you, and what you've said really resonates with me. Softening and still controlling a nervous horse is very challenging. It sounds like you handled it with grace.

  3. What an excellent post. I don't even have to be there and I get lots out of it :) I'm working on similar issues re softness and correct forwardness so this is very interesting to me. I also have to be vigilent with myself as my horse gets more forward not to restrict him. Good stuff. I also really like the advice about moving to another area to work if there's an issue and going bakc to the scary area as confidence builds.
    I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wouldn't have the mental or physical stamina to do another lesson after ridng a nice but challenging horse like Dawn in a lesson. Knowing there was no fence and she was on the verge of taking off, as you worked at managing it without restricting her - that's exhausting! Good for you!!

  4. Sounds like a lot of good softening work with Dawn.I think you've got her number now. Can't wait to see how Drift makes out.

  5. Thanks for the post. It all sounds wonderful. I do like the way many clinicians first ask what you want, and then zero in on something that has been holding you back (perhaps inadvertently) from getting to that goal yourself.
    I also love the idea of increasing the number of steps of softness. If you were to come here over the next few weeks, you would see me counting steps!!
    I can't wait to hear more.

  6. I so appreciate your sharing in such terrific detail the work you're doing at the clinic. Everything I read about Mark Rashid makes me like the way he works with horses and riders!

    It's also nice when something I do on my own turns out to be a method a respected trainer suggests - the thing about not fighting the horse to ride in an area they're having issues with - but moving to a different space where they CAN work well and shifting that slowly back to the difficult area.

    I've always done that, sometimes to the annoyance of a trainer who felt I should take charge and push the horse to do what I had asked, where I had asked. Had you done that with Dawn at the clinic you'd have spent most of your time "winning the battle" but instead you spent your time working on what you need to work on and changing the battle to accommodate that.

    It sounds like you're having a very productive weekend - can't wait to read more!

  7. I've never been to one of Mark's clinics, but he sounds like a very wise man. Such a great experience for you and Dawn.

  8. Sounds like a productive lesson. I really like the idea of "allowing" the horse, even when it feels like you are losing control. That seems like a very important concept, one that reminds me of my farrier saying when a horse pulls back (ie when hes working with their feet), just go with with and not create more tension. The idea of working in a comfortable area is another good concept, and one that reinforces what Sarah has had me do as well. It only makes sense to help your horse focus on what/where they are good at, and gradually increase from there. All great points again. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Two things about your post: 1) Mark's comment about making a horse work through the troubled spot (ME!! ME!!) instead of moving somewhere else, creating a cooperative situation and then returning to the trouble; and 2) sweat patterns. Sounds like Dawn got a lot from working with you this day. Anxious to read about Drift's session.

  10. I can appreciate where you are coming from with Dawn and her energy level. When my horse gets an energy "spike" he can tighten with lightning speed. Over time, such tightenings have become less often and less dramatic, and he now understands how to channel that power into a rounded posture. However, understanding and habit are two separate roads!
    It sounds like you had a great ride!

  11. How I would love to be able to go to one of his clinics! Interesting work with Dawn, I bet the work with Drift was just as good. Two rides like that in one day will have you exhausted.

  12. He sounds like a wonderful teacher taking you where you're at and seeing you as an individual and unique pair. I never thought about analyzing sweat patterns like that.

  13. Sounds like an excellent first ride at the clinic to me. You and Dawn have come such a long way on your journey together and it is impressive!

  14. Wow! Incredible work.

    It's amazing what Mark "sees" when he works with people and their horses.

  15. I love your update-makes me feel like I am there! Looking forward to the update on Drift's session! Loved what Mark said about not keeping the horse in the uncomfortable place but going back to were you can set the horse up for success and then slowly return to the scary place. He's got such wonderful insights.

    Sounds like you are really enjoying yourself!
    Sue and the crew

  16. Sounds like a very productive first day. I liked his approach of taking Dawn to a less disturbing part of the arena and working back to the other end. Looking forward to hearing how Drift was and about the rest of the clinic.

  17. Great post. Love the sweat pattern observation. So true, right? And Dawn not being an easy ride - he is very aware. Great idea to stop forcing an issue at a trouble spot in the ring.

  18. Sounds like a great session,I really like the insights so far

  19. The only thing I've gotten more out of than Mark Rashid's books are our horses themselves; I really like the way he makes you think. I'd much rather puzzle it out myself than have someone tell me a bunch of stuff in lecture format (I'm stubborn that way - sometimes later than sooner, but I get it eventually ;o)
    Since this is as close as I'll get to attending a clinic *laugh* I really appreciate you sharing your experiences virtually - thank you!

  20. Wow..he really sounds amazing. I totally agree with removing the horse from an area they are worried about and then slowly use the approach/retreat. SO many trainers push push push and it's just unsafe.
    He sounds great!

  21. First, I would like to say that I really like Mark Rashid and would be thrilled to attend one of his clinics. But since I cannot (not now anyway) I will live vicariously through your experience! Although, I do have dreams of what I would answer when MR asked me: What do you want to work on today? And I am relieved that MR makes the suggestion to not bother fighting with the horse about working on a paticular spot that makes the horse misbehave. That means I can just avoid the gate area while in the ring!


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