I've been thinking about the challenges that Mark Rashid set me at the clinic that Red and Pie and I rode in about two weels ago. He set me a couple of important challenges for the next stage of my horsemanship: ride all my horses the same - he also knows Dawn as she's been to prior clinics - and develop my own style - the two things are related. Neither of these things are about technique - they're about feel, which means there are no longer any specific instructions about how to get there. Here's the post I wrote about that during the clinic. I've been pondering these directions from Mark and what they mean - I expect I'll be doing that for some time as I work to figure it out.
There are a couple of things I know are parts of this. First, I need to always focus on the feel of what I want - the things the horse does that I don't want are irrelevant, and I need to always return my focus to the feel of what I do want so the horse can connect to that. (This also does a nice job of removing emotion and reactivity to what the horse does from the picture.) Second, I need to always do the movement or action on the inside of me so the horse can connect to that and do the movement or action from the inside of the horse. I need to stay at the "point of resistance" with each horse - I need to be there with a live contact and connection (even on a loose rein) so that I can give the horse direction and guidance - I need to be right there - this isn't about holding it's a further stage in allowing but without throwing away the connection. And most importantly, it's about building softness into all of my life - breathing, posture, attention and how I interact with objects, animals and people - if it's not there in my life it certainly won't be there in my work with horses.
I hope this post doesn't sound like mumbo-jumbo - it certainly isn't that to me and there's real substance and content to what Mark had to say. But it's beyond technique - that means I need to find my way, and that my understanding of these challenges will continue to develop and evolve - what I understand and "get" now may well be different from what I understand and get a year from now.
So what do these things mean to me now? Riding all my horses the same - to me, this means I need to bring the same softness and feel to each horse and expect each horse to rise to my leadership and intention and make that connection that horses are so good at - I need to offer them a place to be with me and act with me where we operate as one. Each horse will have things he or she knows or doesn't know and physical movements that are easier or harder, based on conformation or experience, but each horse should be able to find the same softness in me and the same leadership and direction, and each horse should be able to rise to the direction I offer.
Developing my own style - I think this means that I need to explore, and try and not be afraid, and feel free to find my own way of working with horses, building on the good training I've had from Mark and Heather but not slavishly following their examples. I need to decide what things are important and not important, and what my priorities are with my horses. It means I need to present myself to my horses in a consistent manner, and it needs to be me and come from me, and not from anyone else - the authenticity comes from that. This is harder in that it is more nebulous and hard to define - the idea that one shouldn't just be a clone of one's masters is empowering but also scary too.
So, very good stuff to work on - it's all about working on me at this point . . . the horses will show me the way.