Thursday, April 17, 2014

2014 Mark Rashid Clinic - Day Two Roxie - Leading (aka Directing) Work

I decided to tackle working with Roxie for my first session on Sunday (the second day).

Remember that statement Mark made that I'd had exactly the day I was supposed to have?

Mark said it's not about being wrong or a failure, it's not good or bad, it's just information and an opportunity to learn.  Mark said that's what he'd meant - if I don't find out where the limits of my horsemanship are, how will I ever improve?  That's one of the things I love about working with Mark - he never sugar coats things and is absolutely direct and honest, but he also has no interest in criticizing or running clinic participants down.  There's very little ego there - it's all about getting the best result for you and your horse.

Mark said that we often have a tendency to focus on the negative - my ride on day one was going pretty well for about the first 45 minutes - things only started coming undone at the very end of the ride.  So some things were working pretty well.

Today I needed to start over giving Roxie direction so she could find me to be a trustworthy leader - to help both of us.

We spent an hour doing nothing but leading work - and although I'd have said I have a pretty good handle on defining my personal space and leading, there were lots of subtleties I'd never grasped - this was a whole different level of paying attention to the horse and our interaction.

The leading work was designed to rebuild our mutual trust - the horse cannot trust you as a leader unless you are the one doing the directing.  You have to be at least as important to the horse as any distraction, and the horse always needs to know where you are at a minimum.  (Mark does not believe that it is necessary, or even possible in many cases, to be more important to the horse than a distraction.) If the horse is doing the directing and you are reacting to what the horse is doing, you aren't the leader.  This is not a matter of  dominance or being a horse's "alpha" - Mark doesn't buy any of that and I agree - but it is a matter of trust - the horse can't trust you if the horse doesn't feel safe with you as a leader.

Horses push on things - this has nothing to do with "respect" but is just the way they define their space and their environment - they push on other horses, they push on objects, like fences, and they push on us.  Mark believes the use of the term "respect" is a lazy person's way of making things the horse's fault, and gets us into an adversarial/defensive relationship with our horses.
Horses don't even have the part of the human brain where the human concept of respect resides.

We worked for entire session on refining my leading work with Roxie, to be sure I was clear, consistent, and direct but not abrupt.  The job was to define my space and not have her push me, but rather to direct her - some of this is pretty subtle. This allowed her to relax and have confidence in my leadership.  Mark taught me to pick up very subtle things that she was doing and coached me on what to do.  One example of this is our turns to Roxie's right.  Initially, I would walk from in front of her around to her right and she would start to turn before I asked for the turn - this was a subtle example of where she was pushing me.

By the end of our session, we were doing pretty well.  She was correctly maintaining her position outside my "bubble", and our turns were good, and she would maintain her distance by backing as I walked into her space.  She calmed down quite a bit and was much more attentive, and the feel in the line and between us was really beginning to come through.

It's very hard to describe the specifics of what we were doing, but by the end it was much more about flow and feel than about mechanics.  I hadn't gotten on her again yet, but we both felt much better about things.


  1. Good stuff and thanks for sharing. Dan

  2. "Mark believes the use of the term "respect" is a lazy person's way of making things the horse's fault, and gets us into an adversarial/defensive relationship with our horses."

    YES YES YES!!!

    I get so tired of people talking about how " horses must respect us."

    In my humble opinion, the key to all that we do with horses has nothing to do with respect and everything to do with trust.

  3. I've been contemplating Rio's leading behaviour and what I have been allowing to happen. Definitely need to tune myself up to improve him.


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