Friday, June 26, 2015

Two Retirees

Here are two of my retirees, Maisie and Lily, at their home at Paradigm Farms in Tennessee - photo by Melissa:

They're both in their 20s, and both have Cushings/PPID that's well controlled by medication.  I think they're looking pretty good - you go, girls!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Oh, Mare

Missy is pretty smart.  She stays out of trouble in the herd, and doesn't usually put herself in a position that's likely to cause trouble.  But yesterday, I came to the barn to find this:

Very odd.  Not bites, not kicks, and pretty symmetrical on both hind legs.  The right leg was a bit worse than the left, and also had a wound down near the ankle:

These pictures were taken this morning, and the wounds already looked a bit less raw.  Yesterday they were very red, although not bleeding - just the top layer of hair and skin was scraped off.  They were very fresh at bring in time, which meant they'd just happened.  They were also quite clean - no dirt or debris.

The good news is that the swelling's not too bad - she had some Banamine last night - and the wounds - scrapes is what they are - aren't too serious although they're ugly.  She's sound and there's no sign of any structural damage.  I washed her legs with soap and water, and after she'd air dried, I put Neosporin on the scrapes and then put Swat around each wound so she could go out in a pen today - the pastures are very muddy right now.  She also got a couple of hand walks to help keep the swelling down.  So far so good.  Once things are starting to heal up, she can go back out with the herd and I we can go back to riding.

But how did she manage to do this?  The only thing I could figure is that she got her legs through the fence, and scraped them pulling them back out.  Pie, who can be very crabby with mares, was in a small paddock in the afternoon adjacent to the gate area of the mare pasture.  I suspect that Missy was  at the fence "talking" to Pie - she's in heat - and he didn't care for her offer.  She then kicked at him - he might even have tried to bite her.

There was evidence - a board was knocked loose in the paddock, and lo and behold, on the board below that board, there were white hairs caught in two patches on the top edge of the board.  I'm just glad she managed to extricate herself without doing any worse damage.

From now on, Pie and Red will be in paddocks that don't adjoin the mare pasture, to avoid future incidents like this.

Oh, mare.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Connection Between Walk and Canter

I've always found that there's a strong connection between work at the walk and work at the canter.  I'm not entirely sure why that is, but I suspect that it has something to do with the 4-beat nature of the walk, and the 4-beat (counting the suspension as one beat) of the canter.  There are differences, of course - the most notable of which in canter is the diagonal element, moving from one hind to the opposite front foot.

But a horse and rider with a good quality and feel at walk are likely to have a good quality and feel at the canter, or at least have a good place to start.  A horse and rider with a poor walk - low energy, uneven footfalls or poor engagement - are also likely to have a poor canter.  One of the reasons that I got Red, despite his obvious issues, was that he had an amazing walk, even just when being led in from the pasture.

Pie and I did some canter work today, and my hypothesis about the connection between walk and canter really proved true.

Those of you who have been following along will recall that one of the things we worked on at the clinic was my position at the walk.  Instead of collapsing in my lower back and driving with my seat and secondary aids - therefore blocking the energy flow from hindquarters forward - we worked in the walk at having me sit the same way I did in trot - more on my inner thighs than seat - with a more upright posture and no driving aids - basically getting out of the horse's way so the horse could move more correctly and with full energy.

I did this today with Pie in the canter and it worked like a charm.  We've struggled a lot with canter - or he's struggled and I've interfered, would be one way of saying it.  Today, his canter was round, and soft and engaged, and he was able to do 20-meter circles without loss of the hind end or loss of impulsion, and I was doing a lot less - basically nothing other than being with him - so it felt wonderful.  All I did was concentrate on having my position be the same as my (revised) position in walk.  And he was "through" from back to front, on his own - because I wasn't cutting his energy and movement in half in the middle.  Amazing how effective getting out of the way can be . . .

Walk = canter.

Powerful Post from Mark Rashid

Here's Mark's latest post - read it, it'll be worth your time.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Practice, with Four Horses

I am so incredibly fortunate to have worked with Mark Rashid for 13 years now, and to have four fine horses who serve as my teachers/shapers as I edge towards the goal of unconscious competence.

Here are the four stages of learning:

1.  Unconscious incompetence - you have no idea what you're doing or if it's correct, and you have no way to tell.

2.  Conscious incompetence - you know that what you're doing isn't correct or isn't working, but you don't necessarily know what to do about it.

3.  Conscious competence - you can do something correctly, but you really have to concentrate to make it work.

4.  Unconscious competence - thing happen correctly, automatically, with softness.

I've got a number of things in my riding/working with horses, that are at stage 4, and some that are at stage 3.

This past two weeks, since the clinic, I've been working on moving some things from stage 3 to stage 4, and my horses are helping - without them I'd be getting nowhere.  My horses are my teachers and I listen to them every step of the way.

Nothing, let me repeat, nothing, that I'm working on with my horses that isn't right is coming from them - that's one reason I didn't take them to the clinic.  It's coming from me, and to the extent that I'm consistent, and clear, and soft and paying attention, they all - all four - can do pretty much anything I ask.

This week, we've all been working together on our transitions, and in particular the trot/walk transition.  I've also been paying attention to how consistent I am about how we lead, how we stand for mounting, how we halt from the walk, how we back and the quality of our walk/trot transition and the quality of the trot itself. Any errors - any glitches - are coming from me - if the horse makes an error it's because I've been inconsistent, unclear or inattentive in how I'm communicating.

So this week, we've been focussed on having exactly the leading I want, exacting the standing at the mounting block I want, exacting the quality of walk I want - from the first step - exactly the halt I want from the walk, etc.  This sounds demanding, but if I'm very clear (while being soft) about what I want, the horses - all four - are delighted to have my direction and guidance and relax into the work.  If I'm distracted or inconsistent, they tell me so.

Changing how I do trot/walk transitions has been hard.  I've had to change my body position (to keep it still, with the horse, and not interfering/blocking, and trust me, if you're in your 60s like me, this can make you sore) in the walk and during the transition to walk, I've had to keep my focus up and out (and not on the horse's head), and I've had to internally carry the energy through and keep breathing, all at the same time.  I'm at stage 3 - I know exactly what to do, but still have to concentrate on it.  The changes I'm making are very small, very subtle, but there are a number of them and they involve changing a number of habits I had - that's why it took three days at the clinic to work through all of them.

But my horses are helping me, as they always do, and we're getting close to stage 4 on this task.  We practice, and practice, and practice some more - I've been riding only two horses a day to be sure I have the energy and physical ability to do what needs to be done.  Every ride, I'm getting closer to having these things be automatic.  Every horse is different, but every horse is telling me exactly what I need to know, and where my practice needs to improve.  If I ride correctly, with feel and intention, they're right there with me, my four fine teachers.

I'm deeply blessed to have four such fine horses - Dawn, Missy, Pie and Red.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Dawn Has a Birthday

Today is Dawn's 18th birthday.  You'd never know it from looking at her - she's glossy and muscled and fit.  Since she had her two rounds of dental surgery last summer, she's been eating up a storm and holding her weight better than she ever has - even so, she gets 4 times the feed my other three horses do.

She's a bright red bay - she gets much darker in the winter - with no white markings at all.  She was a TB race horse, and has old-style breeding.  On the top line, she goes back to War Relic, a son of Man O'War.

Since I ride her in the early morning - she objects to the presence of other horses in the arena, and at her age I'm glad to accommodate her rather than try to change it - she probably gets ridden more regularly than my other horses, except in very cold weather when it's just too darn cold in the a.m. to ride.  Most weeks, we ride 5 times, and almost never less than 4.  This helps keep her fit and healthy.  She's been barefoot since 2012 (she was probably shod since she was a young horse before that), and is doing well with that.

Dawn has taught me many things.  Our family has had her since 2001, when she was 4, but she was my younger daughter's horse until the fall of 2009, when my younger daughter went to college and I "inherited" Dawn.  Before that, I'd only ridden her a few times.  In fact it would be safe to say that I was a little bit scared of her, and not that happy to be stuck with her.  She and my daughter (bareback, from age 12 to age 18) would gallop flat out on the trails.  She couldn't be ridden safely in company - she kicked, even sideways at a horse next to her - was extremely forward and prone to reactive spooking, bolting and bucking.  There were a number of days where Dawn would show up at the barn well ahead of my daughter, who would come limping in after being bucked off on the trail.  Dawn was a fearsome mare, and I wasn't at all sure I was up to dealing with her.  This worry was amplified when she kicked me in the jaw in 2009 when I made a bad decision to pick her feet in the barn aisle, loose, when she was in heat (yes, call me stupid).   I broke three teeth, but luckily not my jaw, and had a bunch of dental work afterwards, including eventually having two teeth removed since they were too damaged to save.

She's taught me so much since then.  I've learned how to ride an extremely forward, reactive horse, by being quiet and non-emotional.  She taught me how to have a soft, following contact rather than bracing against the horse.  She and I are very close, now, and she now bestows on me the "nose rest" that she used to reserve only for my daughter.  We do this almost every morning when I groom her before riding - she puts her nose into my chest, or on my shoulder next to my face, and we breath together for a while, sometimes with my face against her muzzle - this is not something I ever ask her to do, she insists.  She will attack the stall next to her or other horses nearby in the pasture when I am with her - this is the same behavior she shows under saddle in the arena - I think she's claiming/defending me.  Otherwise she's good with the other horses in the pasture.  She will make biting gestures - she knows not to connect - if she's crabby, in heat or objects to what I'm doing.  She makes her opinions known. She's small, only about 15.1, and very feminine, although sturdily built.

She's a remarkable mare, and I care deeply for her.  She's my Dawn mare, and I'm hers.  Here are some pictures:

Happy birthday to a lovely mare!

Clinic Posts on Sidebar

All the posts from this year's Mark Rashid clinic are now on the top of the sidebar to the right.

And I have added some annotation to the photo post.

Photos of My Rides at the Clinic

Here are some great photos of Shania and I at the clinic, working together.  In the first one, you may be able to see some of my pre-fix issues at the walk.

Many thanks to Kayla Goelz for the lovely photography, and for lending me her wonderful mare.

I've got the collapsed lower back I talked about in my earlier post - probably driving with my seat, too:

We've lost the connection briefly here - note that Shania is bracing a bit and I'm looking down instead of where we're going:

Note that I don't grip with my legs:

This is pretty nice:

This is what a truly soft horse looks like - my position is pretty good here, too:

She's slightly behind the bit and I could adjust that, but her energy and my position are pretty nice:

Any time we stopped to talk with Mark, Shania would take a nap:

I'm pushing, rather than directing, here (and looking down to boot):

This is pretty darn nice:

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Some Photos From the Clinic

Here are some photos from the clinic that are on Mark's Facebook page - Shania and I are in there, too.

2015 Mark Rashid Clinic: My Rides - Filling in the Gaps

OK, let's give this a go.  Some of this stuff is hard to describe, so if I'm unclear or you need more explanation, leave a comment and I'll see if I can answer in a way that makes sense to you.

I've been auditing and/or riding with Mark for 14 years now.  I only see him once a year at most. My horsemanship, and therefore my riding, has come a long way in that time.  I'm now at the stage where I know pretty much exactly how I want my horses to go, and I'm getting closer to riding all my horses the same, where I bring the same "me" consistently to the horse and ask the horse to join me there.

What became clear at the clinic was that I'm part way to shifting over from riding with mechanics - cues - to riding pretty much entirely from feel, where the inside of the horse is connected directly to the inside of me and we just do things together based on the internal feel I present to the horse. At the clinic, I made further progress down that road and understand better where to go next.

Now back up a moment.  Mark makes it clear that there is nothing wrong with using mechanics - physical cues - and that softer cues with better timing will allow your horse to do what you're asking more easily.  I've worked on this stuff for years, and it's made an enormous difference in how I ride.  The other thing that's really made a difference is my treating my riding as a "practice".  I ride as though riding were my vocation - and it is.  One reason I ride so much, on all four of my horses, is that this much riding allows me to really work on myself and my awareness of what I'm doing, and to make adjustments and changes on my own, which I'm learning to do.

A little bit more about how Mark works, and then we can get down to specifics.

With someone at my stage of riding, working with Mark is a collaboration.  He expects his serious students to develop their own riding style, not just imitate him and his style.  Since Mark has no "system", it isn't a matter of him just telling you what to do.  What you do has to come from the inside of you, and your perceptions and intentions and not just from him.  He also says that he's still learning to be a better horseman, and doesn't expect or want that to ever stop.

So my having thoughts and guesses about what was going on, as we went through the three days, was part of the conversation, and at day three I had some ideas about things to try/experiment with that ended up isolating the last element of the puzzle.  It took three days to get through to the last little bit, not because anything enormous was going on, but because what was going on was very small.  But it's exactly the sort of thing that makes a huge difference.  This is what Mark wants - for his serious students to be empowered to figure things out and experiment - not just to do what he says.  And he always thinks about things in terms of looking at what's going well and building on that.  If your focus is on what isn't happening, it's hard to let that go inside of you and your focus tends to go there, hampering progress.

As my borrowed horse and I were working, Mark would ask me for my evaluation of what was happening and what I thought needed changing - it is also part of my learning to do this systematically.

* * * * * *

I knew this year that bringing my own horses wasn't necessary to solve the puzzle I was working on.  All four of my horses go beautifully, and we have no issues that aren't related entirely to me and how I ride.  Riding an unfamiliar horse was the perfect way to highlight and work on what I wanted to address.  And it turned out, just by chance (I didn't tell the clinic hosts or Mark in advance what I wanted to work on), I was riding the perfect horse for what I was dealing with.  Her name is Shania, and she was a 19 year old petite, very pretty paint mare.  She had been bred by the clinic hosts and trained from the beginning by the family, including Heather, who have been working with Mark for much longer than I have.  As a result, this mare was incredibly soft and responsive - but only if you present things to her in a soft way that connects the inside of you to the inside of her.  In fact, she's used as an equitherapy horse and even to give lessons to beginners because she tunes all that external stuff out, and if you just ride her from the outside, you're not going to get much.

What Shania won't do is fill in the gaps - she expects you to ride and give her direction at all times.    She delivers to you exactly what you present to her and what you're asking her to do (not what you think you're asking her to do) - she's the perfect mirror.  And if you're not directing, she doesn't fill in the gaps for you. And what I came to the clinic to work on was just that - gaps.  I've been noticing gaps in my riding - gaps in my attention, direction of the horse, and in my timing.  Nothing we're talking about here is huge - it's a matter of mere seconds - but it's fundamental and interfering with my horses being able to do what I'm asking them to do with softness.  I was getting in their way, and that's what they've all been telling me.

The first issue we worked on on day one was upwards transitions from trot to canter - although all my horses transition from thought, I'd noticed that there was a lag in the timing.  Shania and I had a conversation back and forth about this where I tried out various thought patterns with her and she responded. We went back and forth for a bit until I was able to be clear to her and she said she understood.  What it took in her case was my being bit more mentally decisive - sending her a stronger intent - then the canter came through quickly and precisely.  I just needed to stop sending "maybe/sorta canter" - which worked with my horses but created that lag/gap - and start sending "canter now", with transmission of the corresponding energy.

Mark said the goal for me now was to adjust what I do (thought and energy) with any horse so that we can get in sync and the horses can go how I want them to go.

Then we started working on downwards trot/walk transitions.  The gaps in this proved to be more of challenge to fix, and it wasn't until day three that all the underbrush got cleared away.  There were a number of adjustments I needed to make, and it took the three days to uncover and work through each of them.

First I worked a bit with Shania to get us in sync in the trot.  I want my horses to have a quite forward, energetic trot, and before long that's what we were doing.  We were nicely locked in together, and upwards transitions to trot and sustained trot were both soft and entirely based on mutual feel.  Mark commented that this mare won't deliver this quality of trot unless you're really engaged with her and directing her with your thought and energy.

The downwards transition to walk was a mess.  Shania's energy and forward would evaporate and I had to go to secondary cues (taps on my boot with a dressage whip) to get any semblance of a forward walk.  My timing was also off - I was behind the curve on the secondary cue so we got what I call the "train car" effect - she and I were out of sync and there was a lot of small repeated mental bumps between us as her energy faded and then I got it going again with the secondary cues.  Even after that, the quality of the walk wasn't what I wanted.  Mark said the gap in my timing was about 1 1/2 seconds - we worked on my cue timing so I caught her before she faded.  Mark also had me work simultaneously on carrying the energy forward and up and out, which helped but didn't completely solve the problem.  But better - a good place to end day one.

Day two was focussed mostly on my carrying the feel and energy I wanted through the transition without interruption.  It turns out that I'd developed the bad habit of stopping riding - both in terms of my carrying energy through and directing the horse concerning the quality of the walk after the transition.  We worked for most of the second session on that.  It was hard, because I was changing a long-standing habit.  Shania wasn't giving anything away for free.  If I wasn't asking for a certain feel through the transition and into and through the walk, she wasn't volunteering.

Red and Dawn are naturally very forward, and Pie is more and more that way, since I expect it.  Missy is also coming along with this.  With Red and Dawn, I'd fallen into the bad habit - you can even call it a lazy habit - of just taking what they offered me through the transition, since it was close to what I wanted, rather than carrying the feel of what I wanted in me and asking them to match it.  (This became clear yesterday when I started to ride all four horses using what I'd learned at the clinic.  Missy and Pie found it easy - I'd been actively riding them all along, and slightly changing what I was doing and how I was presenting things didn't phase them much.  Dawn and Red struggled a bit more because I was actively directing instead of just being a passenger and letting them make the decisions.  I always described Red as my easiest horse to ride, and part of that, it turns out, was because I was just sitting there and not riding.)

At the end of session two, things were improved - the gap was reduced to a half second or less - but there was still a slight hesitation during the transition and the walk still didn't feel right.  Mark and I agreed that I was using too much secondary cuing, which was because I resorted to mechanics instead of feel in the walk, in contrast to the trot, which was much better.  I needed to direct the horse by feel from my core instead of riding mechanically at the walk - this meant I had to keep riding after the transition and let the horse know exactly what walk I wanted.

Finally, on day three, we got to the bottom of things and pretty much completely fixed the whole package.  I came out on day three with a couple of proposed experiments to try to help us identify more clearly where the problems were.  I suspected that I was doing something in the shift down from rising trot to walk that was interfering with Shania's motion, and I knew the walk still wasn't right.

I proposed a couple of exercises that I thought might help us fix the last little piece by isolating some things.  We looked at what I was doing in changing from rising to sitting trot and back again repeatedly. Shania kept moving exactly the same - Mark said my position stayed exactly the same, and that it was upright, relaxed and correct - it felt pretty darn good to me too.

We looked at the walk - I thought what I was doing in the walk might be a clue to what was also happening in the transition and afterwards. It turns out that my riding at the walk was mechanical - very much on the outside rather than connecting to the inside of the horse, unlike the trot we were doing which was feel based.  I was moving my seat too much in an effort to get more walk, and this was essentially driving with my seat, hampering her movement, and leading to my need to go to the secondary cue.  Shania wasn't going to fix this for me. We were able to improve the walk quite a bit by having me sit more quietly and go with her while mentally sending her the energy and quality of walk I wanted.  This meant much less need to go to a secondary cue, as the walk improved dramatically.

With those things looked at, we went back to the trot/walk transition, and after our close look at the walk, Mark spotted the last thing that was causing a disruption/slight hesitation in the transition.  We took some video on a phone so he could show me exactly what he was seeing.  Just as I came down from rising trot to the walk, I would very slightly collapse my lower back and just for a fraction of a second stop moving - this was blocking Shania's movement, throwing her out of balance and actually directly interrupting the flow of energy from her hindquarters.  Mark had me concentrate on holding my correct, soft, upright posture, together with our energy from the trot, through the transition and into the walk and changing nothing from that trot to walk other than the thought of the rhythm change. This resulted in my posture at the walk being more upright and soft, and meant that I was sitting slightly more on my inner thighs and putting a bit less pressure on my seat - the same posture as I already had in rising or sitting trot.  The energy just flowed right through to the walk without interruption, and I also carried the postural change through into the walk while staying quiet.  Mark made the point that energy isn't necessarily speed, it's life in the motion.

Effectively, I'd been cuing for downwards transitions from trot to walk with my seat - mechanics - rather than thought and direction. You can think of what I was doing with my seat as a half halt - and this, just like half halts with the hands, interrupts the motion and energy.  A side comment - if you use half halts with your hands or seat, that's fine if that's how you want to ride your horse, just realize that you're creating braces (big or small depending how you do it) when you do.  Many physical cues are in fact braces, even if very small ones, and should be as soft as possible to avoid interfering with the horse's motion and flow of energy.  What I was doing in the walk was stopping giving the horse direction and accepting what the horse gave me instead, as well as physically blocking the horse's motion.

We may have only worked on trot/walk transitions, but broke loose a number of things I was doing, some larger and some smaller, and some physical and some mental, that interfered with the horse's ability to give me what I wanted.  Shania and I ended our third session with several absolutely perfect trot/walk transitions and a lively, soft walk afterwards.  All of a sudden, what had become difficult and complicated became clear and simple - funny how that works. Although we worked on this one issue, it contains so much about directing the horse with feel and energy that it will be enormously helpful in the development of my horsemanship.

I accomplished what I came to the clinic to do - and a lot more, thanks to Mark's guidance and a very special mare.

Hoping for some photos tomorrow . . .

Monday, June 8, 2015

2015 Mark Rashid Clinic: If It Looks Silly . . .

Mark told a very illuminating story from his aikido practice.

A Japanese master was visiting and supervising the students at the aikido dojo.  He didn't speak good English.  He would tell the pairs of students to start their work - they did - and then would call "stop".  They would all stop and look at him.  This happened a couple of times. The master shook his head in frustration - "no, stop like frozen water."

So the master then told them to start their work, and then yelled "stop!".  All the students froze in place.

He then said "if looks silly when stop like frozen water, technique probably not correct".

Mark told this story while talking with a woman who was working with her horse on halting from the walk and trot - she said that she'd been taught to lean back, drive with her seat and squeeze with her legs to "drive the horse into the bit" (words of her trainer) so that the horse "could get its hind end under and lift its belly".  She was beginning to question this - she said it made no sense to her.

Mark said that, if you removed the horse from under you at any point in your riding, would you be in balance or would you look silly?  If silly . . . probably bad technique.

Mark said that horses can learn to associate any cue with any desired action - but many of those cues and rider actions just make the horse's job harder than it has to be.  Leaning back puts the horse out of balance, driving with the seat cuts the horse's energy flow in half as well as creating a big block to movement in the hind end, and creating a brace between our hand and leg just makes the horse's job harder.

Our job should be to make it as easy for the horse to do a requested action as the horse could without a rider, and to have what you do together with the horse be as natural and balanced as when you do it on the ground and to have the same feel.  Direct the horse, but stay out of the way.

2015 Mark Rashid Clinic: a Bunch of Things

Here's a collection of some things that came up at the clinic:

When starting to do flying lead changes under saddle, don't force the timing.  Set the horse up and then allow the horse to figure out how to organize its feet without pressure.  The timing will be able to be refined once the horse has been allowed to develop the skill without pressure.  Many horses are driven into flying lead changes and as a result are very worried about them.  It should be as easy as when the horse does it in the pasture - your job is to set it up and then stay out of the way.

Too much lateral flexion work leads to horses where the head is disconnected from the body - these horses have trouble traveling straight and also doing turns without loosing the bend.

If your horse knows a certain set of cues for an action, and you want to train the horse to do the action using a new set of cues, don't throw away the existing learning but instead introduce the new cue you want and use the old learning as needed for a secondary cue.  As time goes on the old way of cuing can drop away and the new one will be the one the horse knows.

If the horses falls behind the vertical or dives with its head, just gently lift one rein to slightly tip the horse's head.

If the horse's front leg is about the same length as your leg - true for most horses we can easily mount from the ground - then the horse's motion will be easy for you to follow with your body.  A taller rider can easily adjust to a smaller horse, but a smaller rider on a larger horse will have to make more adjustments to follow the larger horse's larger movements without blocking the motion.

Don't start a fight where there isn't one - ignore stuff that isn't important to what you are doing and it will likely fade away.  If you fight about it, it becomes important.  This is part of focussing on what you do want, instead of what you don't want.

If you make a mistake, you can feel bad about it if you want but feeling bad doesn't help you or your horse.

Don't expect the horse to have 100% of its attention on you.  Do you ever have 100% of your attention on your horse?  If the horse can do its job, and you are at least as important to the horse as a distraction, that's enough.

Stay out of the horse's way and make it easy for the horse can be free to move and do what you're asking.

2015 Mark Rashid Clinic: Another Horse That Couldn't Breathe

Some of you may remember the horse that couldn't breathe from one of the past clinics I attended.  This horse was carrying tension in its body from a previous traumatic event, and as a result it wasn't breathing properly at the canter - in fact, it was hardly breathing at all.  Getting the horse to let go of the tension through movement and breathing was a breakthrough.

Heather was riding a lovely little grulla mare at the clinic.  This mare was doing very well in her training, but they were having some issues at the canter.  The mare's canter lacked rhythm, and she often had trouble sustaining it.  Mark asked if the mare was breathing well, and Heather said yes - she'd worked with the mare in the round pen and the breathing seemed OK.

Mark watched them canter for a while, and said that, although the mare was breathing - she wasn't holding her breath - her breathing was shallow, almost like panting.  It was possible to hear this as the mare went around.  He said she was carrying some worry about cantering under saddle, and that this was showing up in her tight breathing.  And this tight breathing - the tension in her diaphragm - was interfering with her motion at the canter, leading to the choppiness.  Which led her to worry about cantering . . . which led to more shallow breathing . . . which led to more worry . . . you get the idea.

The solution was to canter the mare until the breathing came through in a normal one-breath-per-stride manner.  They did that on day one, and when the mare came out on day two, the issue was mostly gone, and on day three, her breathing at the canter was completely normal and her canter was no longer choppy or lacking in rhythm and the mare seemed much happier.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Just Plain Amazing

I just got back from riding my mystery horse at the Mark Rashid clinic.  Three days with almost three hours of solo riding.  It was the best clinic I've ever had, and the progress I made with my riding was dramatic.  We were dealing with very small gaps in my feel, timing and energy, and 90% of the time was spent on disassembling and then putting back together all the different elements of my trot/walk transition.  The object was to allow the horse to do as soft and delightful a transition as the horse would do in the pasture without a rider, and for me to be effective without getting in the way.

I went to the clinic with precisely the issue of dealing with gaps of attention and direction in my riding that I've been noticing lately.  This trot/walk transition was perfect case in point.  I rode a fabulous mare - her name is Shanaya - who was just right for the job of showing up exactly what I was doing or not doing.  Everything we looked at, and the adjustments I made over the three days, will flow through all of my riding, of all of my horses.

Just plain fabulous . . . more to come when I'm not so tired.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

2015 Mark Rashid Clinic Day Two: More Good Stuff Coming . . .

I was able to spend a lot more time at the clinic today, and saw most of the rides.  Every year, I'm blown away by the new learning/reinforced learning I get, both from watching others ride and from my own rides.  Today was no exception.  I'm still digesting/figuring out how to write about what I observed and experienced, and there will be more posts, probably after the clinic ends tomorrow . . . stay tuned.

Friday, June 5, 2015

2015 Mark Rashid Clinic: Bracing and the Mismatched Horse

I arrived late at the clinic, since my four had hoof trims in the morning, and then I had the drive to Wisconsin.

I arrived at lunchtime, managed to snag some lunch - good thing there was enough - and was able to watch a couple of sessions before I had to get my horse ready - I rode last in the afternoon session.

One lady was working with her Morgan mare on learning how to eliminate the mare's brace - and more importantly the rider's counter brace - in the halt, walk and backing.  I've seen this work at almost every clinic I've been to - and it never ceases to delight me to see the progress horses and riders made together on this very important first step towards softness.  By the end of the hour, the horse and rider weren't fighting anymore, and the mare was beginning to offer up some real softness once she found that the rider had stopped pulling on her face.

And there was a very nice, very large, TB/Westphalian cross gelding, only 5 years old.  The horse had been under saddle for about a year, but was still pretty green.  Heather Burke (Mark's student who has done training with Pie, Red and me) was riding him.  After Mark talked to the owner for a while, he said to her "you know, you're done with this horse, you may not have moved on, but from everything you've said, you're done."  The lady didn't want to ride her horse, although she said she might ride one of the other clinic days, and had been looking for excuses not to ride him.  He was a very nice horse, but very young and green and powerful.

Mark said that people often have horses that aren't really suitable for where they are in their riding, or that they're worried about riding, and that there was no shame in that. One issue for the lady was that the horse was home-bred from a TB mare she owned, and she had had the horse since he was a baby.

Mark said that people sometimes really don't want to ride a horse they own, but try to force themselves to ride the horse - they feel they have to - and that's where accidents often happen.  It isn't good for the rider or the horse to force something that isn't right.  This can lead directly to a rider not being willing to ride at all. He said that, rather than take her money for the clinic, that she should instead, if she wished, have Heather put another 30 days on the horse so he'd be ready for sale, although Mark said the horse would likely be quite salable right now to the right person.  (This horse was beautifully put together, and basically a pretty nice guy, with lovely movement - a great dressage or jumper prospect.)

The lady was taken aback, but acknowledged that Mark was probably right.

This is classic Mark - there were only 8 participants in the clinic and he just gave up 1/8 of the revenue he would have received from the weekend.  He's very honest and straight with people about what he sees between them and their horses, and I've also seen him send people home - and refund their money - if a horse comes to the clinic and isn't sound.  I wish all clinicians were this honest and concerned about the welfare of the horses and riders who attend their clinics.

More to come about my day one ride - the topic is "mind the gaps" . . .

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Mark Rashid Clinic

I'll be riding a mystery horse in the Mark Rashid clinic this Friday, June 5 through Sunday, June 7.  The clinic is being held at Black Star Farm in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

The clinic runs from around 8 a.m. to around 5 p.m. with an hour break for lunch.  Auditors are welcome (the charge for auditing is reasonable), and can ask questions.  On Friday, I'll be riding fairly late in the day, and probably in the afternoons on Saturday and Sunday as well.

The clinic is one-on-one, with each horse and rider pair getting about an hour each day.  This means there are riders of all sorts of experience levels and with all sorts of different things they're working on.  I learn something valuable every time, and I've been attending or riding in these clinics for more than a dozen years now.

Hope to see some of you there!