Naturally Horses

The Mark Rashid Three Day Clinic

7th - 9th July, 2008 at Shuttleworth EC, nr Biggleswade, Beds


Sue Hill

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Monday 7th July 2008
Our first of three days at the Mark Rashid clinic. 

Ohmygodhe'sagenius!!!!!!!!!!  Our session was in the afternoon.  I wanted to work on our "forward" impulsion.  But two of the morning group had the same problem, so I thought it would be a bit boring for the audience.  So I asked Mark for some help with our non existent cantering.  He started by asking me to canter!  As usual, Jake did his fast trot, I lost my balance, and we ended up in our usual heaving heap of disjointed limbs.  Mark reminded me that I need to breathe!!  Sounds simple, but I think I hold my breath when asking for canter, out of anxiety, or concentration, not sure which, but the result is not healthy!

He told me to visualize a nice canter as I entered the corner before the short side in trot, then half way along the short side, to focus on a point around the school, and then to ask for the canter in the corner.  Ohmygod it worked!!  We only got a couple of strides, but that's more than we've managed for ages.  Had another couple of go's, then back to the other end of the school for a rest.  (There were four riders, and we took it in turns to have a one-to-one with Mark while the other three worked with his partner, Chrissie, at the other end of the school).

We went back to Mark for another session - at this point, the rain was hammering down so hard, it was raining through the roof into the indoor school.  One of the ladies in the audience (sitting down) put her coat over her head, and Jake had a mini freak-out!  Silly boy.  Mark asked the lady (also called Sue) to come into the arena, and walk in front of Jake with her coat on her head.  He relaxed after a minute or two, and was following her around.  Silly so & so.

We had a break, and the horses went back to the stables for a chill out and a munch on their haynets.  This was not good for Jake.  When I took him back in to the school, the "toys came out of the pram".  He put his foot down very firmly, and said he'd done enough, and he wasn't going to do any more.  Chrissie was good, and gave me some tips to help me get him moving forward (he was trying to plant his feet, and even reversed to avoid going forward).  We were changing direction frequently, and even at one point asked him deliberately to walk backwards to the point we were aiming for.  All this and trying to remember to breathe (properly!) at the same time.

When it was our turn to go back to Mark, I told him that Jake had had a tantrum, and didn't want to play any more.  Mark told me not to focus on what he won't do, but to concentrate on what I wanted him to do.  We managed to get him going forward, ish, by slapping the whip against my leg (I think I've brought some bruises home with me!), but he was very cheeky, and napped towards the other horses at the other end, when we were going past them.  Mark pointed out that I was dropping the pressure on Jake as we got close to the other horses, (he was heading straight for the nearest one), which was encouraging him to do it even more!  So, the third time past them, I kept the pressure on, and he kept the trot going.  I bet he was rolling his eyes up in his head!  My ankle started wobbling at this point - my foot goes numb after quite a lot of trotting, and my leg goes all wobbly, which is very uncomfortable.  So Mark asked us to show us our reverse.  Now... I thought we were quite good at this, as Jake will reverse at quite a gentle aid with the reins.  But noooo.... Mark showed us a "proper" reverse - I could definitely feel the difference - I could feel the reverberations up Jake's front legs as he took "proper" steps backwards, rather than the equivalent of a backwards amble.  Mark took the reins from the ground, to try and get Jake to soften.  Jake put up an almighty battle.  Poor Mark!  He said he was applying pressure of 0.5 on a scale of 1 to 10, but then Jake was throwing up resistance of about 8 on the scale - and kept on resisting for what seemed like ages.  I think Mark's arms must be aching this evening.  We reversed across the width of the school a few times, and then asked Jake to walk forwards, and he was much more forward going.  Eventually, he softened through the front, at which point we went back to Chrissie.

Mark pointed out that I'd "taught" Jake to lean on the bit.  This is certainly not something I've done knowingly.  He is inclined to snatch the reins from me, and I thought I was doing the right thing by keeping my hands fixed, so that he gets a jerk in the mouth, but one generated by himself.  What I need to do, is react by lifting one hand.  Brain failure at this point...  I know it had a good effect, but can't remember exactly what/why we do that.  Will try and revise that tomorrow. ***

*** Found out why we lift one hand - it's to stop the horse from leaning down onto the bit and creating a "brace" - by tipping the head, the brace is avoided.  Hope this helps! 

I spent just a couple more minutes with Chrissie, on the contact work, and Jake was quite compliant.  Probably because he was knackered!!  Then I jumped off.  Correction: I took my feet out of the stirrups, wiggled my legs for about five minutes to get feeling back in my feet, and then slithered off in a rather ungainly fashion!

So... at the end of day one, we're both exhausted, but I am elated.  Firstly at the canter, and secondly at having my eyes opened to Jake's behaviour in a couple of situations.  I'm looking forward to days two and three!!! 

Tuesday 8th July 2008
Another fantastic day.  My opinion of Mark hasn't changed - I still think he's a genius!!  Jake came into the arena this afternoon with little enthusiasm for moving forward.  He was reversing much better than yesterday, though.  I started, with Chrissie at the "other end" of the arena, and reversed him across the arena and walking back, three times.  On the third time, he actually felt freer, and moved nicely, so I gave him a little break.  Then, when I asked him to move again, he'd gone back to feeling very "sticky" again - like he's trying to walk through treacle.

When it was my turn to go to Mark, Mark explained that he'd been watching Jake reversing, and noticed that he was still very much on his forehand.  So, when reversing, Jake was leaning back, leaving his forelegs in front of him, and then dragging them back, and his reverse was actually four-time (should be two-time).  So we spent most of the first part of the session working on the reverse.  Now this is typical Jake - we'll work through a problem, and he will build himself up to a crescendo of opposition, and then suddenly give in and work really nicely.  He went through the same cycle in this exercise.  Once he'd got through his opposition, I could really feel him lifting his forelegs up underneath his body, and he was walking back properly.  Only when we'd reached this point was Mark happy for us to go forward, and Jake moved much better.  We did some trot work, then took him back to Chrissie for a rest.  I took him out for some grazing in hand in the break.

When we went back after the break, I asked the others in my group if they wouldn't mind me going first, as he's tiring quite easily.  Mark suggested we work on our canter again.  Gulp!.  We started as we did yesterday, from the trot, and it was hard work, and not very successful - I was still forgetting to breathe properly.  So Mark called me over to him.  He told me to look back at the mounting block that was half way down the school, and then to get to it as quickly as we could. Bingo!!!  We turned round, took off, and cantered over to it.  Yippeee!!!  We went back to Mark in a canter, too.  Did a few more quick moves round the school, and back to Mark for a de-brief.  He's given me some homework to do.  I need to visualize Jake and me cantering around the school, and me breathing correctly.  I need to do this at least 50 times this evening.  (Have managed about 20 so far).  Apparently, if we "live" experiences in our imagination, our brain processes them in the same way as if we'd done something for real.  We finished by Jake and I cantering back to the other end of the school as if we'd done it every day for the last five years.  A fantastic feeling.

I feel so positive about cantering now - I think the fear/anxiety that had built up over the last couple of years is definitely crumbling. I can feel a decent canter - I know Jake can do it, as he did it a few times today. I am confident that things will be even better tomorrow. Yippeeee!!!!!

Just a little observation... at the clinic there are quite a few spectators, and the eight riders. You can spot the riders amongst the spectators by their big cheesy grins - we're all feeling the same, and can't hide our elation!!!!

Wednesday 9th July 2008
Our final day with Mark. Can't believe that the three days have gone so quickly. 

In the first session, when it was our turn to go to Mark, we went back to working on our canter.  I don't think the "homework" I'd done last night (and this morning!) had a huge effect.  But we did get some canters across the school.  Still struggling with my breathing, which is affecting Jake.  At one point, to try and get him going forward, Mark starting racing us.  He won.  I think he was quite pleased that Tom had recorded it on video, so he can prove that he can run faster than a horse.  I don't think racing Jakey counts actually, Mark!!!  After a few attempts, Mark sent us back up to Chrissie on a mission to trot for 20 strides, then walk for 4 strides, then trot for 20 strides, then walk for 4 strides, and continue like this for at least 5 minutes.  I think the aim was to get me breathing!!  It worked.  But boy, it was hard work!  Poor Jake - his trot degenerated into an old man shuffle by the end - we were both sweating (and swearing!), and breathing!!  When we'd completed the task, I slithered off, and Jake's head was almost on the ground.  We had our mid-session break, and I put him back in his stable for a chomp of hay and a drink (and some carrots).

In the second part of our session, we spent some time with Chrissie revising our reversing moves, and trying to get Jake moving forward.  With some success.  I added in some lateral work for variety, doing some turns on the forehand (reasonably good), side-pass (acceptable, ish), and some turns on the haunches (poor).  When we went back to Mark for our final session, I asked for some help with the turn on the haunches.  Mark explained that Jake was struggling as he was so heavy on his forehand.  I need to ask him to move back, to take his weight on to his hindquarters, which will release his front end.  Then, when we ask him to move over, he's physically more able to do so.  He did do the movement more effectively when we got our act together.  We went for a walk between movements, and he was moving the best he has over the three days - walking out really nicely, with little input from me and my legs!  It was really nice.  We cantered back up to the other end of the school at the end of the session. 

Rowena has kindly taken some still photos and video (proof that Jake can canter!! See the video of Jake cantering).  I had a quick look at the video on the camera (it's not downloaded yet) and the canter looks much better (and longer) than it felt - and watching it makes me feel really really proud.  I think keeping that image in mind will be more effective than trying to imagine it - I'm not an overly imaginative person at heart!  So I'll be putting that on DVD and playing it often. (Thanks, Row).

So, to sum up - it has been a fantastic experience - I've seen a big change in Jake over the three days, and have felt a big change in myself.  My confidence has been boosted, and I think our canter gremlins may be packing their suitcases as I write.  I have certainly issued them an eviction notice.  It was also fascinating to watch the other seven riders and their horses - all at different levels of training and experience, and with different problems to overcome - there were others that made even more progress than we did over the three days.  To end the day, I asked Mark for some tips on exercises to do to continue our progress, and he had one suggestion - Breath!!! I'll try!!

Thank you so much, Mark and Chrissie, and Amanda for organising it (congratulations on the birth of your baby), to all the helpers, and to my fellow riders, from whom I also learnt a great deal.  And a huge thank you, hugs and kisses, to my gorgeous boy, Jakey - who rounded the day off perfectly by loading back in to the trailer like an absolute gentleman.  I'll be smiling for quite a while!!!!!