Editor’s Note: Laurie Grann is a dear friend and a most excellent horse woman.  She recently participated in a week long clinic with Mark Rashid.  She wrote up her thoughts about how she is working his ideas into her every day riding.  The result is what follows.  Perhaps if we are all very nice to her she will contribute again!

Laurie and Dulcie

Today, my sister and I went on a 14 mile ride–2 loops of about 7 miles each.  The first loop was mostly flat and good footing and took us 1 hour and 20 minutes.  The second loop was climbing and lots of rock and ledge.  Quite challenging so there was lots of walking.  That loop took 2 hours. So plenty of saddle time to think about all the concepts and doors Mark Rashid showed me.

I guess I can sum it up to 2 major areas:   Starting with softness and Breathing.

On starting with softness, I need to start with a thought and offer that as my first cue and remain soft inside and outside.   Mark would say, from your inside to the horse’s inside.   I just never thought to start that far down the scale.  I could get work on just a thought before but always with a lot of preparation that involved aiding and sometimes quite strongly.

My mare, Dulcie, had a real strong desire to go forward on this ride so I had to monitor my thoughts carefully!   If I said to myself, “well maybe we should trot now,”  hup, there we were trotting along.   Very neat.   Also getting into the canter  was pretty easy with all the long straight lines on dirt trails, roads and fields.  Just think 1,2,3 & exhale.   We would flow so nicely  into the canter.  And, it was  mostly a smooth canter with good relaxation which was amazing considering the level of tension she used to carry–all balled up and tight.

Several times in the ride as we were  trotting along, I felt Dulcie take a Real Deep Breath.  I could feel it in my seat and leg.  She can be pretty tight so this was a good sign, and not something I usually notice her doing.

And that ties into: The second Big concept.  Breathing differently.  (For me and my horse.)   I tried to concentrate on breathing deep and rhythmically but also to stay soft even if/when she got tight.  I find that if she tightens then I tighten, especially my back and shoulders and then low and behold she tightens  more.  So keeping that soften in me is crucial.

I thought of the image for our energy the Mark gave us.  He says, if the horse’s energy level spiked to 8 I had to breath deep and try to lower my energy to a 2.   It had amazing effect!   After a few moment she would relax.   At first I thought I just got lucky but I had plenty of opportunities to try it over and over and for the most part it was wonderful.   She could not always respond immediately (what with other horses cantering up behind her and such) but within a few minutes if I stayed soft, relaxed and focused she came back to me.

Sometimes her thought s would fly way ahead and I felt like I was being dragged down the trail.  I just kept offering for her to come back to me and tried really hard not to get tight and tense in my back and shoulders, breathing slow and fully.   Even if I had to get a little strong for a stride or two, after maybe 6-8 -10 strides she would come back.

She had some of the nicest relaxed, head low and swinging trot work  that we have managed on the trail.  She is very alert and usually feels she has to look out for the monsters.   Head high, tight in the body and trucking along .   I just kept trying to offer softness and would say to her in my mind,  “stay with me I will take care of you.”   It wasn’t perfect but  we had many moments  where she let it go.  Kind of makes me teary.
A great aspect is that All the work we did at the clinic is easy to layer over what I have already been working on.  I love that.   Dulcie and I have a pretty good relationship.  I am  feeling here that it can continue to grow and become something really special.  Maybe Extra Special.  I am excited to continue this journey and see how far  we can take it.