Sunday, February 19, 2012

Epiphanies. And Why I Hate them Part 1

Have you ever had one of those epiphanies that part of you wishes you hadn't had? One that is so crystal clear it can't be ignored - even though part of you wants you to do just that...

Because epiphanies, especially the important ones, involve letting go of what you thought was true and facing what is actually true. Dropping your illusions. When you have them you can't go back. "Back" disappears and all there is is the next step, waiting, as it has been all along, waiting for you to finally move forward.

A little deep for an opening of a blog post. Let's reel it back a bit.

Let's start with the clinic.

Three of us - Steph, Me, and Donna (the BO and trainer) - took the trip in the Donna's Taj Ma Haul, thrilled to be going on a trip away with our horses. We arranged for stalling at the clinic and were given the go ahead to ride our horses in the huge covered arena when it wasn't being used. Given our modest arena back home, the facility was nearly as much of an attraction as Rashid.

Auditing with benefits. What's not to love?

The stalls, though, were different. Don't get me wrong - they were beautiful. Deep shavings, cedar and pipe. And completely boarded from floor to over horse height. This meant that the horses stalled next to one another couldn't see each other. Not. At. All.

This wasn't a problem for Apollo, the trainer's latest acquisition from the Arabian racing farm. He was quite comfortable there, leading me to believe this was the kind of stalls they had at the track.

Cibolo and Smokey, on the other hand, found them completely disturbing. As far as I know, this is the first time Smokey has been cut off from herd mates visually - other than a few trail rides. He reared over and over, trying to look over the wooden fence at his friends.

"Wow." The trainer and I watched as he stood up on his hind legs like a trick poodle. He learned quickly to stand a bit away from the wall so he wouldn't bump his knees. "He's very athletic."

That's one word for it, I thought.

Cibolo called and called, pacing his stall.

There's nothing much to do. I noted that Smokey stopped rearing when I was close by. But I knew he just had to cope, something he wouldn't do if I baby sat him. We left them to work through this new experience and went to watch the next rider work with Mark.

It was an older gentleman, the only man in the clinic. He was riding a striking buckskin Andalusian gelding, just turning five. The horse was his gift to himself, his "second childhood," he said. His dream horse.

The horse was very willing and he rode very well. The gelding was in a bosal mecate set up with a beautiful head set.

But you got the feeling that the horse was tense. Nervous. Mark watched as they rode, the gentleman noting that he was hoping for a better stop.

The thing about Mark is he can see so well how we get in the way of our horses. How we are reflected in everything the horse does. In the case of this gentleman he was over cueing - leaning back in the saddle and pushing his feet forward as we are so often taught. I've seen that over and over, done it myself on occassion.

With great finesse and sensitivity Mark peeled away the gentleman's cues. In the space of an hour the horse softened, relaxed, and his stop became as simple as a sense that the man himself had stopped.

Mark joked that this probably sounded like a bunch of zen horse stuff, but he's found that horses are reflecting where we are, they are mirrors. We use a ton of cues because we don't let the simple things work first. Whether it's impatience, the tradition of others, or just our nature to be much more physically "loud", we inadvertently make it harder for our horses to respond. And then we up the pressure because they aren't responding. And they end up having to over compensate just to do the first thing they asked us for.

A tiny grain of my epiphany was planted in that moment, but I couldn't see it, not yet.

But in a few days I'd see it.

Anyway, by the end the Andalusian was stopping on a cue so subtle, I couldn't see it. But we could all see the horse relax, the man smile, and the stop become crisp.

I couldn't wait for the next set of riders...


Cheyenne said...

Hurry up with the rest of this! I`m hooked already!
I`ll be waiting, good post!

Kate said...

That indoor looks like an aircraft hanger - it must be 10 times the size of the one at Dawn's new barn (which admittedly is a bit small). The overcuing business is really important, particularly with horses that are sensitive - but then all horses are sensitive if you give them a chance to be . . .

Can't wait for more.

the7msn said...

I love reading notes from Mark's clinics - I always learn something I can use with my own herd. So thanks for this morning's epiphany.

Cara said...


Dan and Betty Cooksey said...

OK, I'm with everyone else. Bring on the rest. I enjoy Mark's clinics, even as an auditor, because you can learn so much.


Mona Sterling said...

That is a HUGE arena! I can't wait to hear more about the clinic. I've been contemplating trying to at least audit a Mark Rashid clinic or find a trainer in my area that studies with him.

John and Regina Zdravich said...

Cliff hanger!!! Can't wait to see how it all works out.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I love Mark Rashid. :)
I'm glad you were able to attend one of his clinics again with Smokey.
The stalls definitely don't sound very horse friendly, though.


Grey Horse Matters said...

Really like the way Mark worked with the man and his Andalusian. Horses are mirrors of their riders and I'm a big fan of keep it simple and don't over cue. That is one very huge arena.