Having heard of Mark Rashid from other horse bloggers, 7MSNRanch, Grey Horse Matters and Teachings of the Horse, I was excited to attend one of his workshops during the Equine Affaire last weekend. Mark is a gifted teacher and can identify a problem a horse and rider may be having while holding up the higher lesson for everyone. You don’t need to be a horse owner to leave his clinics a little wiser, with real tools to connect you to what is important in life.
He started off by asking the rider: “Tell me about your horse.”
We learned this lovely gray gelding had been a camp horse. Which translates as: The horse had been ridden by scores of people who didn’t have a clue how to ride and probably had yanked its mouth yanked, sides kicked and who knows what else. (This is not to say all camp horses are abused but when any animal, including humans, are subjected to those who are learning how to behave around something or someone new, there will be mistakes). Behaviors learned to avoid pain become habits, even when the original reason for them are gone. While buying a horse with this kind of history may be economical, you will also be buying the animal’s experience of every rider who has ever thrown a leg over its back).
The rider explained to Mark that her horse flipped its head up and down when she asked him to do anything, making it feel like a disconnected steering wheel. Mark asked her to move the horse and sure enough, the horse bobbed away; up and down, up and down.
“Stand still,” Mark directed. The rider stopped while the horse continued to bob its head. Mark walked over, gathered the shallow loop in the reins and stood still. The horse’s head stopped bobbing.
It looked like Mark was doing nothing, but within minutes, the horse dropped its head into position and was still. We could see the muscles in his great body relax.
After some discussion, Mark asked the rider to walk on and then pick up a trot. The horse bobbed again. Mark zeroed in:
“How many folks here have heard the term, ‘Follow with your hands?’” Which means as the horse moves, your hands on the reins follow what seems to be a forward and back motion so (supposedly) you don’t interfere with the horse’s movement. But imagine you are the horse with a bit in your mouth. It moves forward and back in your mouth, banging it; ouch, how annoying. Don’t you want the bit to be still and steady so you can figure out how to move the rest of your body with it? In effect, in trying to communicate, the rider was actually dropping the horse’s head, which encouraged the habit of avoiding being banged in the mouth that led to the bobbing in the first place.
Under Mark’s tutelage, the rider’s arms relaxed and her hands on the reins became still and steady. As they walked and trotted around the arena, the horse’s neck began to arch as his head dropped to the bit and stayed there. His stride became fluid and relaxed as he engaged his newly balanced body. There were a few head flips here and there, but we could see the rider understood that the horse had been wanting to do the right thing all along. Now she understood how to ask.
“It will take some practice,” Mark advised. “Take the time to do that. You’ll get it.”
I turned and looked outside, letting this sink in while fingering my imaginary reins. There is something here for me too. Perhaps I can learn to ride through the challenges of each day without following my stresses and worries back and forth and banging myself in the mouth with them. Maybe all I need to do is hold my reins still and allow the Universe to relax and unfold as my life surges forward. It doesn’t have to be so hard. It will just take some practice. But now I understand how to ask.