OK, here's where we start. Think of this circle in the following way: layer one is the technique you use when working with your horse - the rein, seat and leg aids - the how. Layer two is what you're trying to accomplish with your horse - the task, the job - riding a hunter course, doing a pattern, working with a cow, going on a trail ride - the what. Layer three is who you and your horse are, separately but also together.
I think the question for many of us is whether we ever work at level 3, or whether we spend all our time at levels 1 and 2, learning and then fine tuning our aids with a focus on some specific thing we want to accomplish with our horses, working on the outside of the horse. Now, there's nothing wrong with any of that, provided the horse's interests and well-being are taken into account.
But there's more, so, so much more - that's what level 3 is about. Level three is about energy, and feel, and what the horse is thinking and feeling, and ultimately, about trust. It's about who you are with your horse, and who your horse is with you. And it's about what you bring to the horse, and your attitude to the horse.
I've worked for a number of years with Mark Rashid - many of you know this. Every time he's in my area, I try to ride with him, and I've been to Colorado twice to learn from him. The reason I continue to work with Mark is that he's firmly focused on level 3, and this involves getting to this level right away with a horse where you could fuss around forever at levels 1 and 2 and never fix the problem. And he's focussed on getting people to level 3 themselves - softness is something we offer to our horses for them to join with us together in doing. There's plenty of useful technique to learn, but getting to the center, that's the real prize, and it requires dedication and attention and wanting to make things better for the horse. One of the things I prize about Mark is that he often asks: "How is the horse feeling about that?" It's all about having the horse feel better on the inside about what you're doing together - this guides all my work with horses now.
I could go on about how I'm trying to work on this together with my horses, and I probably will, but right now, I'd like to present (with her permission) a series of posts done by Annette at News from Oak Creek Ranch about the experience her husband Brett and his horse Mufasa had at one of Mark's clinics recently - these posts are on my sidebar for a reason. Mufasa was a horse with some serious trust issues. Mark didn't mess around with technique on the outside, he worked to get to the core, the heart - the place where the horse - a good horse who tried so, so hard - was worried, hurting and uncertain. I think you'll find the whole series pretty illuminating. I found it pretty darn inspiring.
Mark Rashid: Day One
Another Amazing Session With Mark Rashid
Mark Rashid Clinic: Day Three
What I Learned From Mark Rashid
Mark is an expert - there are no two ways about it. I might add that with Mark, there's no "moving the feet", round penning for "join up", or talk about "making the wrong thing hard" or "respect". Mark doesn't work with horses in a traditional manner, but he isn't a NH trainer either and refuses to use the term. I'm sure there are also very good traditional and NH horsemen who respect the horse and get to good results using a different approach, but I've found that Mark's approach really resonates with me, both in terms of ethics and effectiveness. He just works with the inside of horses, and the inside of people, so they can feel better about working together, and therefore work together much more effectively.
But each and every one of us can take steps to get on this road together with our horses - you don't have to be an expert - you can start where you and your horse are today. Transformations can occur - primarily in us and in how we build our horsemanship into our lives, and how we interact with our horses - trust me, I know.
And the exciting thing is that, although I've come a long way already, I've got a long way to go and I'm excited to be on the road together with my four fine horses. If you want to know more, there are a whole series of posts on my sidebar about a number of Mark's clinics, both ones where I've been an auditor and ones where I've ridden.