“Nature in Horsemanship“, Mark Rashid, author
Quick Author Background:
Mark Rashid, living in the high Colorado mountains just outside Rocky Mountain National Park, is an internationally-renown horseman and trainer, providing clinics throughout the world.
He holds a black belt in Aikido, thus his interest in applying the principles of Aikido to horsemanship. As well, Mark is an accomplished professional singer, songwriter, and musician. Additionally, he has written TV movie screen plays.
Please visit his web site (markrashid.com) to learn more of his background, clinics, seminars and the many books he has written on the subject of horsemanship, all of which are available on his site.
I’m not a horseman
Watching western TV shows and movies, I never gave any thought how a horse and its rider communicate with each other. Rarely did a rider fall off, get forced into a tree, or wasn’t allowed to mount.
Years later I learned such was not the case. Without going into detail, the few opportunities I had to ride or work around horses were enough to learn the horses knew very well that I knew nothing about horsemanship.
Interest in horse behavior
Advance forward a number of years. Although I have no intention of becoming a horseman, the behavior of horses has always been of interest.
A few years ago we took a “tourist visit” of a famed horse training ranch. I was curious to learn their philosophy of horsemanship and training.
From a novice’s point of view (mine), I wasn’t impressed. Nothing I saw – in the short time we had – was transferable to what I considered “horse and rider” connection.
This past year (2018), I was fortunate to spend a few minutes with Mark Rashid, an internationally known horse and rider trainer (as well a great musician, singer, songwriter, and black belt in Aikido). In the few minutes we talked, Mark shared how he was applying his background and training in Aikido to his horsemanship clinics.
Aikido concepts with horses
Learning this, my interest was keenly piqued. Although I’ve never studied Aikido, I have read about its principles as they relate to conflict resolution in Thomas Crum’s book, “The Magic of Conflict”.
With my limited knowledge of the concepts of Aikido, I was curious how this worked with horses. (Please remember, I know absolutely nothing about horses). Fortunately, Mark shares some of this in his book, “Nature in Horsemanship”.
From a habit I picked up in college, to this day, I still read with a highlighter. It’s fair to say, there are numerous pages with yellow highlighted passages.
Dissonance then harmony
Right out of the chute, Mark shares a key concept of conflict resolution – that harmony does not come naturally. There will be some type of conflict. Depending on how we handle it, harmony can flow forth. In between this divergence is the area that creates our future. It is both our choice and our response, which determines the outcome.
Balance is a goal we all seek, both in our relationships with each other, employment, or simply our time out on a hike. When something is amiss with us, our balance is off, or breathing is off, and our attitude is tense.
Seeking natural balance
As Mark explains, when a horse is not in balance, it seeks areas of safety. This safe harbor in the horse’s mind may be something different to the rider. Through extensive examples, both of his personal Aikido training and horsemanship, Mark shares how to move from this non-balance point to one where both the horse and rider are enjoying the ride together.
From my perspective, this is not a “technique” book. Perhaps it is for those who know horses far better than I, though I did not read it that way. Never did I read, “Do it this way, and you’ll get this result”.
Rather, Mark shares his knowledge of horse behavior and horse psychology as he discusses situations that have been presented to him. It is clear in reading this book, the rider cannot get the results they seek without first knowing the horse, its key behavioral instincts, and its fears and concerns.
Horses natural communication
To illustrate, Mark writes, “Horses play under one set of rules, the ones dictated by the laws of nature, and humans play under another set of rules, the ones designed by man.” (page 74)
Have you ever had a conversation with someone when you’re both not “on the same page”?
Would you agree communications is much better for both parties when we are on the same page, talking the same language, effectively singing the same song?
A few weeks after reading this book, I was observing a small herd of horses in a riding stable corral, waiting for their morning feed and eventual saddling. One of the horse behaviors Mark discusses is the use of pressure as a method of communication. With little observation, this communication was quite prevalent among the herd that morning. Just enough, as Mark writes, “to get the job done.” (page 108)
From this discussion, Mark then moves into how he utilizes this same pressure concept when riding his horse to obtain the desired response. I viewed this discussion as the rider communicating with the horse, in the horse’s own language. Again, not being a horse person, I found this quite intriguing.
Making the connection
This book is filled with far more information than I can address in this short review. As an example, Mark finishes with a chapter discussing the physiology of both human and animal brains and thoughts on mirror neurons. The chapter is appropriate titled “Connection”.
Mark closes the book on a philosophical tone. “… the solutions to a lot of our issues are often right there in front of us. The only problem is we are usually looking so hard in some other direction that we never see them.” (page 224) To paraphrase, sometimes, we just have to back up and look around, take in the scenery and the solution comes forth.
Much more awaits the reader
He shares far more about the concept of Aikido and how it relates to horsemanship, though I’ll leave the rest to the reader.
As you read this book from cover to cover, you’ll also enjoy numerous “pencil drawing” sketches that are appropriate peppered throughout the book.
Available in paperback, (Amazon.com and on-line on Mark’s web site), I would imagine any horse-riding person would welcome the insights Mark makes available to the reader. As a non-rider, I know I did.