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.


  1. Kate, you are an amazing example to all of us. You outdo yourself in the care of your four horses and are constantly learning and sharing in such a realistic and positive way.

    PS I love your header shot.

    1. Lori - thank you for your kind comment - it's my horses that really outdo - they make everything possible for me.

    2. Also, Kayla (Shania is her horse) was the photographer and she does an amazing job.

  2. Kate...if you ever get out this way, I want to meet you!

  3. That sounds so cool. I think I am somewhere between step 2 and 3 with most of my horses, I know enough to get through most stuff (not all I need help with a few things) but I have to pay attention so I do it right. I notice my default is using my reins when in a hurry when I should be using my legs more as I do when things are slow.

  4. I believe that every horse we sit on has something to teach us- we just have to be open to learning.

  5. There is always some way to improve our riding and learn all we can from our horses. They are wonderful teachers if we can listen to what they are telling us.

  6. I've got a lot of stage 2 and 3 going on, and with this new horse one of the things I thought about today was my need for lessons, guidance, clinics- anything that will help me to become better. She is a good horse and deserves the best from me.


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