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Often time learning comes in layers. We hear something or see something and think we understand it, but then months or years later we run across the same information and understand it in a different way or on a deeper level.

This is usually the case for me, but I was reminded of how often learning happens this way when attending a clinic last month with Mark Rashid. Mark is trainer, clinician, and lifelong horseman who helps people and horses across riding disciplines. Mark is also the author of many books and is known for his work adapting the principles of aikido to horsemanship, last year I participated in one of his aikido clinics and took the opportunity to interview Mark and his wife Crissi McDonald.

The riding clinic last month was the first time that I had the opportunity to watch Mark with horses and students.

There were three main themes that I took away from this clinic.

#1: The first is that we need to accept the horse for who they are that day and focus on what they can do in the moment not on what they can’t do. This is often the case with sensitive horses, as I mentioned in the blog video, Thoughts on Reactive Horses.

Some horses are tough, they frustrate us because just when we start to make progress it feels as though everything goes sliding backwards. Most of us have ideas of what we want to do with our horses, whether that is competing, trail riding, or we just want a more calm relaxed horse. But sometimes the horse just doesn’t respond or progress in the way we think they should.

These are the cases when we need to just accept the horse on that day and enjoy them for who they are. We are there to ride the horse that day, no other expectations.

One idea from aikido that Mark applies to horsemanship is to “accept, go with, and direct.” This is true when we want to create an emotional change or a change in movement.

#2: A principle in training I have always tried to follow is to focus on the positive and focus on what you want. Even though I have talked about this principle before, the days watching Mark made me realize what a total mindset shift this is and how difficult it is to truly live and interact with others focusing on the positive.

As an example, at one point, one of the participant’s horses was a bit jittery and took a few steps to the side. She corrected it and as most of us would told her horse – “hey now, I didn’t ask for that.” A few moments later Mark asked what it was she did want. I was immediately struck by the meaning behind his comment and so was the rider – even the focus of our thoughts needs to be on what we want in any moment, not thinking only of what the horse is doing that we don’t like.

#3: Finally, the concept of less is more is another I have known and written about before, but in the rides after attending this clinic I began to truly understand it.

When we do less we get out of the horses way allowing them to do so much more. Many times we try to get lightness with more pressure – more leg, more driving seat, or more whip and spur. But for the horse to be light and complaint all we really need to do is become light ourselves, by softening inside then allowing ourselves to open up and pay attention. To be present in the moment and trust our instincts for what the horse needs.

I find that I am always learning and re-learning concepts or ideas that I thought I knew and understood, but I am often able to see them in an entirely new way. What is something that you have learned recently? How are you applying it?

See you in the comments,



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12 Responses

  1. It’s true. With each passing year I find myself revisiting initial impressions and finding the light bulb does turn on.

  2. I love the aikido analogy. I taught some basic aikido for years as part of a martial arts program at our school we used to have. But I have never thought to apply it to horse training. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. I’m very new to working with horses, but now that I realize they have good days and bad days just like people, I find that things have gone so much more smoothly for me. All of your wisdom helps, too, Callie! Thanks!

  4. This is a great post and true about how we learn in “layers”. As you stated, sometimes a comment, suggestion or point we don’t get or understand but then all of a sudden, the switch is flipped and we get it. I think this is part of the learning process and what makes life so interesting. I love the 3 bullet points above and particularly, point #3. In most areas of life, “Less is truly More”.
    Thanks for another great post.

  5. Callie,
    My trainer often says to me, “Ride the horse you have today.” That is just like your #1principle. It is so true. I know if my horse is distracted by the goings on in the ring, or the spring breezes, or because she is in heat, it is time to focus on what we do well together and not try something complex…also, i totally agree with your “less is more” concept. The less fussing i do, the more cooperative she is! Thank you for your insight!

  6. I am learning patience. I have a tendency to read and explore everything I can get my hands on when it comes to riding and training horses/ animals. Hoever, I’ve also learned that much of what I learn I am not yet at a stage to understand or accept completely, even if I think i am. So, as time goes on and I mature both as a human and as a rider, many of the things I thought I knew finally ‘click’ I am finding my place of patient waiting for that knowledge to occur. We so cannot help ourselves as humans and try to rush everything. I am happy that I started this journey now as I don’t think I was nearly patient enough when I was younger. Live and learn…LOL.
    thanks, Callie.

  7. great post Brooks. The older I get the more I am finding to learn and i am just enjoying the journey and not focusing on the goal

  8. Callie,

    I liked the article above… it puts things into perspective, do you have any videos on a hard to bridle horse. My horse is 11 years old and know how to be bridled.. I just bought him about a week ago.. haven’t ridden him just working on round pen and longing.. I bought him just for riding and maybe learning dressage eventually but right now I just want to know how to hook on to him and start riding him. Please assist?

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