April 20 - our annual Summer Horse/Pony Camp issue
Finding the Missed Path: The Art of Restarting Horses, by Mark Rashid
In his latest book, Finding the Missed Path: The Art of Restarting Horses, Mark Rashid tackles the problem of horses who have gaps in their knowledge and/or who have developed undesirable behaviors based on these gaps and their misunderstandings with their human riders and handlers. In this case, the horse may need to be “restarted”— given a second chance to begin anew. In order to do this successfully, his trainer needs to know how to retrace the steps the horse’s education has taken, ready to find the path missed the first time around. Rashid has made it is his life’s work to pinpoint the causes of equine distress. In this book, Rashid guides readers through the practical steps for restarting horses, using his techniques derived from years of study of horses and martial arts. Rashid has plenty of anecdotes to set the stage for revealing important lessons integral to every horse’s and horseperson’s journey.
Rashid is acclaimed for his ability to understand the horse’s point of view and solve difficult problems with proper communication. He works with horses, listening to what the horse has to say to him. He also studies the martial art of Yoshinkan aikido as a way to improve his horsemanship – the “way of harmony.” He uses the core principals of aikido – staying centered, entering in, blending with, and using circular movement – daily in his horsemanship. He looks for quiet but effective ways to blend with a horse’s energy to help the horse understand what is being asked of him.
Rashid writes: “Fear and curiosity are two emotions that control horses from the day they’re born until the day they die.
…If we can turn a horse’s fear into curiosity, he becomes easier to work with and will be able to work out what we are trying to teach him more easily.” (p. 186) “A fearful mind – in any animal including humans – is usually unable to reason and unable to solve problems.” (p. 3)
Rashid begins with explaining the most basic form of introduction between horse and human: “allowing the horse to smell us.” (p. 7) He develops understanding of the horse’s behavior from the horse’s primary attribute: that he is a prey animal with a “flight zone” – a boundary around which an animal can remain emotionally comfortable because perceived danger is outside the boundary. (p. 4) The horse is also a very sensitive animal, and Rashid finds that most of the problems that people have with horses “stem from a lack of understanding on the human’s part of what the horse is actually learning during training. …We think we are teaching one thing, while the horse is actually learning something else entirely.” (p. 15)
When working with a horse, Rashid takes a holistic approach, not only analyzing the behavior problems, but looking for any physiological causes. He looks for any causes of stress in the horse and eliminates them. He and his wife Crissi are both educated in (and practice) the Masterson Method® body work and utilize Natural Balance Dentistry, founded by Spencer LaFlure, to correct any mouth problems. “When our horses feel good physically, it allows them to feel good mentally. It is the mental soundness that creates the springboard from which the relationship and connection between our horses and us is ultimately built.” (p. 31)
In the chapter on “Tunnel Vision,” he discusses the importance of flexibility of thought and action that is the key to success. When we buy into a fixed technique or system or dogma about how things should done, and we follow it blindly, we lose our ability to see the broader picture. “Inflexibility creates tunnel vision, and tunnel vision does not allow for the expansion of awareness.” (p. 40)
His main approach is: “There are four basic concepts to impart with the work we do. First, is helping the horse learn how to learn.” That means learning “the ability to chain information together to form a cohesive line of comprehension that allows [horses] to perform the desired task without effort.” (pp. 158-159)
“Second is to help the horse understand how to put the individual pieces of information together to form a chain of knowledge and an understanding for what is going on.
“Third, is helping the horse understand how to move off the rider’s or handler’s energy instead of from the use of tools (whips, sticks, ropes, flags).
“Fourth is for the horse ultimately to be able to willingly accept, then easily perform, the things that are being asked through education, trust, and understanding.” (p. 160)
“My overall goal in everything I do with my horse is to try to develop a willing effortlessness between the two of us.” (p. 145) Throughout the book Rashid emphasizes softness with the horse.
Chapter 4 is a good primer for colt starting. He describes in great detail his work with two Mustangs of very different personalities and mishandling experiences.
In Chapter 10, Rashid draws an interesting distinction between herd dynamics, and therefore horse behavior, in a feral herd vs. a domestic herd. They have very different dynamics, functions, and leadership patterns.
Chapter 5 debunks the commonly-taught notion of teaching the horse “respect” for the human. First, “the concept was conceived by humans in the part of our brain called the neocortex,” Rashid writes. But a “horse’s brain is unable to conceptualize an idea as complex as the human concept of respect, and it is not something that the horse has the capacity to understand at the level which humans do. The second problem with the concept is that the behavior horses exhibit around humans is always behavior that has been taught to them at one time or another by humans. Whether taught intentionally or unintentionally, the result is the same: a horse believes the behavior he is offering is correct. So by definition, the horse cannot be acting in a disrespectful way toward the human…” (pp. 77-78)
Overall, the book is very informative and readable, although he does give extreme detail about his work solving problems with particular horses. After reading this book, any rider might ask: is there anything about my relationship with my horse and my horse’s performance that is even slightly problematic? That would be a good place to start evaluating the rider’s communication and the horse’s resulting behavior, and how the relationship could be improved so that the aids are soft and the horse is comfortable doing what the rider asks.
Find more information about him, his books, and his clinics at: http://www.markrashid.com
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