Wednesday, May 25, 2011

2011 Mark Rashid Clinic - Day Three, Dawn

When Dawn and I came out on day three, we first worked on fixing our mounting, using the same techniques as with Drift - it only took a few minutes and she was standing on a loose rein for me to get on, and Mark just watched - this often happens on day three if things are going well and is also the way things often go at the week-longs in Colorado - he leaves you to do your work and only comments as needed or if you ask for help.

Then Dawn and I worked on confirming our softening at walk and trot and worked on transitions.  We just worked, and Mark said it all looked really nice.  She was a little bit less consistent with her head position at the trot at the start - Mark said that, although her energy level was still pretty high (a mental/emotional thing - as I told Mark, Dawn is a horse that always moves at a canter or gallop, even in the pasture - she's a high energy girl),  she was pretty tired physically from having to use herself differently - this is common on the third day of the clinic.  He said that after about 20 minutes of trot work (with some walk breaks), the lactic acid in her muscles should flush out and she would be more comfortable and consistent with her softening, and this was in fact what happened.  We also did some work on her stretching down at the walk and trot, with my gently combing the reins with my fingers to ask her to stretch.

Then we did more lateral work.  I was using just the thought of leg and then, in order to avoid losing the front end when the hind end moved over, Mark had me work on creating an opening for her to move into - not blocking the motion - and on doing the lateral work "with" her instead of it being something I was asking her to do.  First I did this with a bit of opening rein and then I started stepping in my own mind (no physical cue) with my inside leg in that direction I wanted her to move.  This worked really well - her trot slowed down, became more rhythmical and she stepped over evenly in front and back.  Then we did the same thing in the other direction without much difficulty.  Mark said that converting her work at home from leg-yield (bent away from direction of travel) to half-pass (bent in direction of travel) would be easy now that I was creating an opening for her to move into.

Then we tried a bit of canter work - Dawn and I have done very little of this as we've been working on her walk and trot work, softening and helping her to relax.  She tends to get very rushy in the canter, and has a history of bolting and bucking (and I mean rodeo-quality bucks) when she gets excited.  To be fair, Dawn's never, ever done any of these things under saddle since I've been working with her, although she's done them plenty of times in the past with my younger daughter.  (Mark said that at prior clinics Dawn has attended that Dawn's name should have been "Wyoming" since that's where she'd end up if you didn't pay close attention.) I freely confess that cantering her, particularly in a big open space, made me nervous.  We did some canter circles to the left, and Mark had me try to let her go so she could move forward - not holding her with the reins but just maintaining a soft contact - this was the same thing we'd worked on at the trot but it was hard for me.  The footing was pretty deep from the heavy rains the night before, and her canter was a bit "plungey" - lots of up and down.  After a walk break, we tried a canter to the right - this is her harder direction - she was pretty revved up by this point and it felt to me after a few strides like she was seriously considering taking off, and I didn't feel at all comfortable letting her move out so I was holding on to her face, so I pulled her up after a partial circle.  So we could end on a good note, we went back to trot and did some very nice, soft, forward trot work in both directions.

As those of you who've been following this blog for a while know, Dawn and I have had a long journey together - she's not a horse I would have chosen to have (she was my younger daughter's "soul" horse and my daughter now lives out of state), although I now love her dearly and we're building a strong connection, and she is a very challenging horse to work with, both in terms of her mind and emotions and her reactivity coupled with her athleticism - she has taken me to the limits of my confidence and abilities and challenged me to grow and learn.  In fact, if I hadn't done the work with Dawn that we've done over the past two years, I would never have been able to take on Drift - she gave me that confidence. But I was not ready to canter her at length in this setting - Mark said I didn't trust her enough yet to provide her the support and confidence she needed in the canter and was holding on to her, which upset her and made her rush more, and that she therefore didn't trust me in the canter - but that we would get there in time.  He said that she'd made enormous progress in her work since the last time he saw her, and that her athleticism (and fire and brilliance) would allow her to do anything I wanted once we further developed our mutual trust.

He then told a story about the chestnut gelding who was one of the two horses he was riding at the clinic.  He's had the horse now for a number of years. When he first got this horse, all he did with the horse for the first 6 months was walk it - things didn't feel right yet to trot.  Then he gave the horse to his wife Crissi to work with, and all she did was walk the horse for another 3 months.  So for 9 months, all they did was walk work - the horse needed that and only then were the horse and rider both ready to trot and move on.  One of the things I've always liked about Mark is that he believes in taking the time to allow things to be right between horse and rider - there's never any hurry.  I considered for a moment that perhaps he was just being nice to me, but then I realized that Mark's not like that - he just tells it like it is.

What Mark wants us to do next is to work in trot - slow and fast, collected and lengthened, including lateral work - until we're both totally comfortable and I can allow her to move and she can trust me to support and be with her, however long that takes.  Lots and lots and lots of trot - allowing her to move until our connection is soft and well-established.  At that point, when it comes (and I have no doubt it will), cantering will no longer be an issue and we can just slip from the trot into the canter together without any worries - the canter will no longer be a big deal for either one of us.  No rushing, no deadlines.  I must say, after my momentary disappointment that I wasn't able to move up yet to canter with her, that this was a big relief.  I have confidence that we'll get there in time, and it's just a matter of miles and hours together and building our trust.  Mark said that Dawn is not an easy ride at all - she's extremely sensitive and enormously athletic, which is a double-edged sword.  The fact that we were able to do this clinic at all together was a big confidence builder for me (I can't speak for her) even if there are things we're (or at least I'm) not ready to do yet.  It was both a humbling and empowering experience - and I'm very proud of my Dawn mare for going to the clinic with me and working and trying so hard.


  1. Actually, I think that Storm is much the same kind of horse as Dawn. He is very sensitive and very athletic. For whatever reason, his trust has been erroded over the two years he was gone and I know better than to trust him when he so obviously has issues. I have no qualms about working totally within his comfort zone while we repair some of that damage.

    I'm loving these clinic posts!

  2. nice to see he takes the same approach to his own horse as he does to students. It takes the time it takes

  3. How funny; I was going to say the same thing MiKael said *grin*. Our Rina and Bella are Arabians and very sensitive and athletic (one of the breed's most awesome traits, if you ask me).
    IMHO: If you and Dawn spend enough time together that you wind up completely in sync, I think you will have yourself one amazing ride (and thanks for the accidental reminder of something about sensitivity that I was going to post and forgot *laugh*).
    I'm loving these clinic posts too! ;o)

  4. It would be intimidating to me to go to a clinic, but this post gave me a different perspective on it. Through the entire clinic, it seems you were able to "fix" small things with each horse (not small, exactly, but things that weren't about your own confidence), but this post addressed a larger issue about confidence for both you and Dawn that I found very encouraging, both for the fact that it could be addressed at the clinic and that it wasn't diminishing to you or Dawn in any way. I really appreciate you writing about it.

  5. This is the sort of clinic I could go to and feel comfortable there. I like that there is no rushing to get the job done. It's the way we work with our horses too. Our policy is it takes as long as it takes. I'm surprised but happy to hear that he and his wife work with their horses the same way as with the student's horses.

    Dusty sounds a lot like Dawn. We took many months of just walking until she was ready to go on to the trot. And many more months of just trotting. We were now ready to start the canter but she injured herself, so we'll be back to square one when she's healed.

    I think you should be proud of Dawn and yourself for going and being able to fix some things. As Mark said when Dawn's confidence and yours are in sync mutual trust will develop and you'll have great rides.
    We should all take a lesson from his outlook and not push things before we're ready.

  6. What an encouraging experience...and validation of all you have been doing. You and Dawn will be so much the better for it as both of you will now be able to take your time getting comfortable with each other.

  7. Bravo my friend - bravo!!! I know exactly how you's a wonderful way to leave a clinic. Feeling both humbled and empowered. Just perfect. I glean confidence just by reading your reassuring words, and will try to keep them within my heart for my work with Ladde. Ride on my friend...sounds like a wonderful experience for you both. I'm a tad jealous of your experience...

  8. Thank you for this post.

    Mark's tactful approach to moving forward also brings up the issue of ego and riding...

    I've been thinking a lot about how the rush to progress can be rooted in / motivated by the ego. Not necessarily that we think we are better than we are, or have prideful attachment to our riding, but that we feel we should be further along, and get wrapped up in why we aren't and what we need to do to get where we think we need to be.

    Staying in the moment and being aware of / motivated by how we can help our horse is so much more productive.

    Happy for you and Dawn!

  9. Very nice approach--the understanding that trust is a two-way street. I agree with only moving forward once the trust is established--it's good advice for all of us.

  10. Good for you and Dawn! I love how Mark emphasizes taking time and patience in training. You know your horse and what is right for them. I think I would enjoy riding in a clinic with Mark! :-)

  11. Absolutely, a validation of your care and work. I understand your sentiments and I like Mark's patience and sincerity.

    I was very discouraged by a judge's remarks one time. I felt that the judge thought that I was holding my horse back and I was the weak link. I cried to my husband and complained that the judge did not know what my horse was like when I got him, that we had come so far only to be told that we should be doing something more. My husband consoled me by saying that I should not be upset, because the only reason my horse was able to enter the ring was because of what I had done for him. He was right, and I learned to take judge's comments with a grain of salt.

    This can be likened to you taking Dawn in the clinic. You should be very proud.

  12. What a wonderful post. I have a Dawn too, and have heard more than a few snarky comments about taking too much time at the walk and trot with him. He's very athletic and can do a wonderful canter, and at times his departs are just awesome. But at other times there is just too much drama and I know he needs more time, and doesn't have the mental confidence (and trust)even though he has the physical ability.

    It's always good to know that a great horseman like Mark also has that view.

  13. Thanks to everyone for their supportive comments - much appreciated!

    Val - I had the advantage at the clinic that Mark had seen the before with Dawn at previous clinics and now could see the after - she's much more relaxed and soft than she's ever been before even though we have more miles to travel - he said she'd already come a long way and that with time we'd go further.

  14. And, Val - letting go of "ego" and the need to achieve and excel is difficult for many of us - facing and moving on with what "is" rather than what we think "should be" can be very powerful - I'm still learning this, and Dawn is a good teacher.

  15. Loved reading this post - what a great "step along your journey" with Dawn. It has been fantastic reading about your work with her over the last two years.


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