Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mark Rashid Clinic - Horse #2 - Nervous Rider, Nervous Horse

If you're just checking in to this series of posts, you'll probably want to read my earlier post"Mark Rashid Clinic - Common Themes" and also check out the excellent slide show of pictures taken by jmk at Buckskin and Bay. I'm going to give each horse at the clinic its own post - this is horse #2.

This horse was a very cute Fjord. Both the rider and the horse seemed nervous - the horse was very fidgety. Mark asked what they wanted to work on - she said that he felt wobbly, didn't travel in a straight line, and the head and body felt disconnected. When she walked him out, that's what he was doing.

It was a very windy day, and the speaker for Mark's microphone started crackling - it gave a particularly loud crackle, and the little horse spooked. The rider stayed on for the spook, but then did the "fetal crouch" - head and shoulders down and legs drawn up - the result was that her heels dug in and the horse gave some small bucks. She fell off and he ran away. Some others caught the horse and were bringing him back, and after checking that she was OK, Mark asked her to walk like she was going somewhere to meet the horse coming back. He says that the chemicals our bodies produce when we are scared or experience a traumatic event need to be processed by our bodies, and that one way to help this is to move - he says horses will do this but that we often don't.

When the pair got back to the arena, Mark held the horse for a bit and talked to her. It was interesting to watch him holding the horse - while he was talking he was subtly bringing the horse's attention back to him - it kept shifting its attention away and he would gently use his hands on the reins to bring it back. Finally, the horse's feet stayed put and the horse relaxed a little while he continued to talk to her.

He pointed out that from a physiological point of view, humans mostly exist in a constant low level of panic in the way we do things day to day. We experience a lot of stress in our lives, and that causes us to be constantly on alert and somewhat agitated. Horses are very sensitive and pick this up from us.

In order to help this, breathing correctly is very important - it allows us to relax and engage our core to use our bodies better. We often spend a lot of time essentially holding our breath. After she got back on, she worked on her breathing - the goal being to use the full lung capacity and diaphragm and not just breath from the top of the chest. Mark had her count steps at the walk on the inhale and then on the exhale - the goal is to establish a rhythm. Getting a full exhale is important - it takes more muscles than the inhale and may take more strides. As Mark says (at least for us who are old enough!) most of us still have air in there from 1968 that we've never exhaled!

On the second and third days, he had her work on patterns, using cones, in the round pen to give her some security. As she focussed on the patterns - working on making the turns correctly and riding straight lines to the next turning point - her horse began stepping out, was much more straight and looked much better. She looked a little more confident too. Then she worked on incorporating trotting at points in the pattern. The more focus she had and the more direction she gave her horse, the better he looked.

At the end of her third ride, he said that she had some decisions to make. He said that the horse wasn't a bad horse, and she wasn't a bad rider, but that the horse needed a more confident rider and she might need a more confident horse. She really hadn't been spending much time with her horse, only a couple of times a month, and he said that in order to progress she needed to put more time into it with this horse. It might be that this is not the right horse for her. He suggested that she set a deadline to make a decision - say the end of September, and work on her own riding to improve her confidence between now and then, perhaps by taking more lessons. At the end of September, she should realistically assess her situation and decide what to do. She seemed somewhat relieved that someone said that to her - I hope whatever she decides works out for her.

And now on to horse #3!


  1. Kudos to that girl for having the courage to continue. I remember when Maddy seemed like the wrong horse for takes a huge commitment and tons of work, but worth it. Good they set a deadline to determine if they indeed are a match.

  2. I think sometimes we feel a lot of pressure to make it work with a horse. Sometimes it can be a huge relief to realize that a horse is wrong for you, or vice versa, and both horse and rider would be happier with different partners.

  3. I like this guy, wish he would come to France! Great posts!!

  4. Thanks for your posts, Kate - I am very grateful that you take the effort and I am amazed that you remember so much. Impressing.

    I like Mark’s conclusion on this equipage.
    Sometimes horse owners tend to hang on too long to a horse that doesn’t really suit them, maybe because they feel it is a defeat to let go?
    Or sometimes because they doubt that a new owner will not provide as well for the horse (which I think is underestimating fellow riders).
    Unfortunately I believe that the horse might be unhappy too in such a situation.
    If the chemistry isn’t there, and time and effort has been spent to try and make things work out without success, then selling is not a bad idea IMO - provided that one gets a good buyer.

  5. I should have read this before I went out to the barn -- once again, I forgot to practice your suggestions about breathing.

    Last night I even dreamed about breathing while working Panama -- I'd forgotten about the dream until I read this. I remember the dream felt so real, and it really worked in the dream. I think my subconscious is trying to tell me something!

    Now if only I can remember to try it when I get out to the barn... Maybe I need to write myself a note!

  6. I almost sold my boy 2 years ago b/c I was overhorsed with a green horse. Things have worked out and I now ride 2-3 x a week taking lessons, doing arena work and going on LOTS of trailrides. My horse is INCREDIBLE!! The breathing IS SO IMPORTANT!!! It changes my rides to no end. I plug into my horses movements better and hold my reins where they need to be more easily. And when I feel the panicky feeling set in it is ALWAYS b/c I'm not deep breathing. I currently wear a string on my wrist to incorporate that type of breathing into my "norm" and do it 24/7 (at least while awake) unconsciously, if I can do that, a huge milestone will be met!!! Love your blog!!!

  7. Another great post. Gilly and I have had some issues that have been hard to work through but I am determined that we will get through this together and be better for it. I got him when he was 11 months old, he's a rescue colt, and have had him now 5 years. I am working with a trainer now who has helped me tremendously and she thinks Gilly and I are a good match. Our journey will just take longer but that's OK. I love this horse, we will make it.
    ~Jane and Gilly~

  8. Good post, correct breathing IS important and so is not being overhorsed. Sometimes, it's wiser to sell your horse to get a new, more compatible buddy. Too many people consider horses to be life-long pets, they're really not, and they get stuck with one when they could be having such a better time with another.


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