Drift and I had our first session inside, as it had started pouring down rain. He was very curious about all the people - there were lots of auditors on day one - the noise from the speakers, seeing himself in the mirrors down the side of the indoor and the noise the coffee percolator was making (!). But he was very well-behaved throughout, which I thought was very good for being in a new situation.
After I told Mark some of his history - 10 years old, not ridden much for the past two years, came to me very worried and thinking he had to be in charge of decisions, extremely bracey, not much steering and no stop, couldn't lead well and didn't load well, and that I had had him for only a short while and had fewer than 30 rides on him. Drift was basically a baby horse even though he did have some previous training. I told Mark I wanted to work first on our mounting - he had learned to come up to the mounting block and stand while I got on, on a loose rein, but the moment I sat in the saddle, he would walk off. I had been trying to get him to choose to stand by dismounting and then bringing him back to the block and then repeating, but it wasn't working and we weren't making progress.
I knew that I needed to change something about what I was doing, but I wasn't sure what. Mark then did something I've seen him do on a number of occasions - he had me do what I was doing, the way I'd been doing it, a number of times - we maybe did our mount/walk off routine 7 times. This meant that Mark was looking at what was happening - really looking - to figure out the point at which things were going wrong and where a small change could have a good impact - he looks for that inflection point where things start to go off track and what is needed to change that.
He then came over to the mounting block and took Drift from me and started pulling on the saddle - by the pommel and then the stirrups. Every time he did this, Drift had to move his feet since Mark was pulling him off balance. Mark said the problem started as soon as I put a foot in the stirrup - Drift was having a typical "baby horse" problem - when I put my foot in the stirrup, his head would come to the right, when I put a foot in the stirrup and sat down he had to take a step, or two, to rebalance himself and then, since I wasn't saying anything to him he would just walk off - he didn't really understand that I wanted him to stand still. By just letting him walk off a ways before I stopped him and tried again, all I was doing was to confirm for him that walking off was what I wanted. One auditor asked why Mark didn't just have me hold him at the mounting block, and Mark said that's not what we wanted - we wanted a horse that knew how to and chose to stand still on a loose rein on his own, not a horse that was just constrained to do what we wanted - he said that would just be giving him the answer (1 plus 1 is 2) without teaching him how to add (here's why 1 plus 1 equals two - which is a principle that can be carried into other areas and empowers the horse to think and choose).
Mark worked for a few minutes pulling and pushing on Drift until Drift began to figure out that he didn't really have to move his feet so much but could balance against the pulls and pushes, with maybe a step to the side and then standing still.
Then I worked on mounting - Mark said to not fuss around but just get on - but be sure to immediately stop any forward motion to clearly tell Drift that that's not what I wanted. After a few tries, where I had to jump off and remount, within about 5 minutes, he was standing still, on a loose rein, without walking off, as I mounted and sat there and took up my stirrup - Mark said to be sure to have him just stand there for a few moments before moving off to interrupt the pattern of mount/walk off. The audience clapped - he was startled - ears up - it was very cute: "they're clapping for me?"
Then we did some walk work - his softening was really nice. Then we did some trot work and walk/trot transitions - focussed on making transitions based on breathing out on the transition and feeling the rhythm in your own body first. His transitions down were pretty good, but I had mentioned to Mark that I'd recently had an issue with Drift breaking into the canter whenever I asked for an upwards transition to trot - he'd been trotting pretty well before that and this was a very recent development. And sure enough, this showed up.
Mark said that he wasn't ordinarily a big fan of just letting the horse do whatever he decided to do, but in this case Drift was trying to tell us something - he really needed to move, and his breathing wasn't very good, so as we asked for more in trot, he wasn't really able to do it - he wasn't breathing well. He needed to canter and move his body until he was able to breathe well. Horses who are worried and emotionally tense often express that by not breathing well - a horse that is cantering well should breathe out noticeably, and deeply, at the moment of suspension.
So we cantered and cantered (in small circles in the small indoor) (I'd barely ever ridden Drift at the canter before) - Mark said to keep cantering until the horse had to start breathing and no longer could hold its breath - this begins to release the internal emotional tension. The canter was very rough, in both directions - lots of jolts and leaps - Mark said this happened because he was breathing intermittently and at the wrong point in the canter - finally we began to get some regular breathing, and although it wasn't very deep breathing, it was still a lot better than what we had to start with. And that's where we stopped for the day - to be continued . . .
Oh, and before I forget, it's Drift's 10th birthday today! - this is particularly appropriate as the clinic has really confirmed that he's well on the way to being a grown-up horse. (And we're all safely back home tonight from the clinic - more posts to come to catch up on everything that happened on days two and three.)