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Filling in the Training Gaps

Mark Rashid has made a name for himself by interweaving principles of the martial arts into his horse training and his teaching. A second-degree black belt in Yoshinkan aikido, he teaches the “way of harmony” in his local dojo, as well as horsemanship clinics around the world.

In his newest book, “Finding the Missed Path: The Art of Restarting Horses“, Rashid explores how to retrace the steps in a horse’s education in order to find the “gaps” in his training or understanding. Then, handler and horse can have a new chance to learn what is expected and make the connection that leads to successful riding partnership. One element of working with horses that Rashid often returns to is the need for self-control and internal balance, as he explains in the following excerpt.

All horses, when they reach a certain level of engagement with us, begin to respond very quickly to the slightest bits and pieces of information we send through our body language and movement. Because of that, we need to be almost hyperaware of every little thing we do because everything, and I mean everything, is going to have an effect on the horse.

Photo by Crissi McDonald

For instance, if we shift our weight ever so slightly in one direction or another, it will have an effect. Moving a finger or hand, shoulder, arm, leg, even putting more weight in one boot than the other or shifting the direction a foot is facing in relation to the horse, can all have an effect, and sometimes that effect can be very big and unwanted. Even changing the pattern of our breathing can, and often does, have a profound effect on how a horse reacts in situations like this.

Of course, on the other side of the coin, any of those same movements can also have a very positive effect on the horse when done at the right time in response to something the horse might be offering. The key here, speaking from experience, is to really pay attention and take note of every movement that we make and every movement the horse makes in response. I guess it all goes back to the old saying that in order to control the horse, we must first control ourselves.

I think it’s important to remember here that sometimes the biggest problem we have in trying to catch a horse that, for whatever reason doesn’t want to be caught, is because we go into the pen focused on trying to catch him. Catching, like pretty much everything else we ever teach a horse, is a process that most horses have to go through to create understanding, not necessarily a goal that needs to be reached. The point that some folks have trouble with is knowing that once the horse has gone through and understands the process itself, the goal of being able to catch them is almost always anticlimactic.

Photo by Crissi McDonald

On many occasions over the years, I have seen people chasing worried horses in round pens as a way to teach the horse that the wrong thing—running—is hard and standing still, the right thing, is easy. Many of these folks often explain that they are trying to make themselves the quiet place or “sweet spot” in the horse’s eyes so that the horse will want to search them out. But I’m not sure making every place a bad place in the horse’s eyes so that we can be a good place is the most sound reasoning.

For my money, I guess I’d rather help horses find a way to be settled, quiet, and confident enough inside themselves so that everything around them is okay, not just us. If we can do that, our horses will learn that they can actually carry that “sweet spot,” which is then inside themselves, into everything they do, everywhere they go, and everybody they come in contact with. In the end, I believe it’s all about achieving internal balance in both ourselves and our horses. And when it comes to working with horses, it is achieving that internal balance that turns worry into confidence, nervousness into trust, and the seemingly impossible into possible.

This excerpt from Finding the Missed Path: “The Art of Restarting Horses” by Mark Rashid is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books.

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