I've been to probably a dozen horsemanship clinics over the last ten years, and they've all been pretty similar. A whole bunch of riders from all disciplines and at all levels of ability gather in an arena. There's a lot of nervous energy buzzing around as participants and their horses adjust to the environment. The clinician philosophizes on horsemanship, shares his experiences and knowledge and takes questions, often for extended periods of time, while the riders get anxious and just want to start riding. Then the clinician leads the participants through various maneuvers, all directed toward developing softness in their horses. This goes on for two or three days, and everybody goes home full of knowledge and enlightenment and sometimes with a softer horse. I have benefited immensely from every clinic I've attended as a participant or as an auditor and wouldn't trade those experiences for anything...
...anything except the experience of participating in one of Mark Rashid's clinics. Now that I've been to the other side, there may be no turning back.
Everything about a Rashid clinic is different except the subject matter. There are only eight riders, and each one receives about an hour of one-on-one attention from Mark each day, followed by an hour with Mark's wife, working on the lessons just learned.
Each individual's hour starts the same way. Tell us about your horse and what you'd like to work on.
Mark quietly listens and observes. To evaluate where you are with your horse, he might ask you to do a few gait transitions, then stop and back your horse. He has a remarkable ability to pinpoint the root cause of a problem, which this day included everything from a rider holding her breath, to a horse holding his breath, to a rider unknowingly using a particular bit which was confusing the heck out of her horse and causing all sorts of discomfort.
He works with each rider patiently and respectfully, with a calm and quiet energy that defines him, his horse, and even his dog. He practices his horsemanship through his life – being a better horseman makes him a better person and vice versa.
And you gotta love the guy's dry wit. I think his exact words to this rider were, "You're going to need to breathe at some point...whenever you get a chance." He must have said this at least once to all the riders, and I laughed every time. Had I been riding, I'm sure he would have said it to me, too.
What I think sets Mark apart from all of today's clinicians is his knowledge of how the rider's energy and focus has everything to do with the horse's actions and reactions – good and bad. He can articulate and demonstrate these principles to his students, who are able to apply them and get immediate changes in their horses and themselves.
As much as I wanted to ride in this three-day clinic, auditing it for one day was a perfect introduction to Mark's unique brand of horsemanship. I'll spend the next eight or nine months trying to incorporate his methods in my own riding...and looking for a ranchsitter... with the goal of attending one of his week-long sessions in Colorado next summer.