Nature in Horsemanship, Discovering Harmony Through Principles of Aikido by Mark Rashid.
This book was highly recommended in a Straightness Training webinar so I was eager to read it. I've loved all Mark Rashid's other books and expected to love this one too, and I did - mostly!!
The forward by Mark's wife, Crissi McDonald, made a very promising start. Crissi has studied the latest research in brain anatomy and function and has some interesting things to say about the differences between human and equine brains.
She writes about the three different parts of the brain and each has it's own ways of "seeing and remembering things, and it's own way of processing information." She says that the neocortex or cerebral cortex part of the brain is highly developed in humans and we spend a large amount of time using that part of the brain. She says that one of the functions of the neocortex is to"take in millions of bits of information each day, process it all then put it all together in one big picture" but that animals do the opposite. "Horses are creatures of specificity. They see everything..... The way we see things, and the way our brains process what we see. makes it impossible for us to spot changes in detail that horses can't help but see." She says we should make allowances for this when horses show fear for no reason that we can see and "step out of our own perspective and take what horses do far less personally." She says Mark often tells people "Horses aren't doing anything to us, they are just being horses."
The book then begins with an account of Mark's early Aikido experiences which I found very uncomfortable reading and it certainly put me off the idea Aikido completely - I'm far too pacifist! I cheered up immensely when he started relating horse training experiences and continued with the book, reading the other Aikido stories somewhat reluctantly.
Mark has some interesting things to say about the nature of 'connection' with the horse, saying that "in it's purest sense (connection) is nothing more or less than a form of very subtle communication between two individuals." He says that horses are better at forming connections than we are and will strive to do so, given the chance, with "every rider in nearly every situation" and that instead of always trying to connect with them we should just allow them connect with us.
Mark writes about developing a connection through clarity of intent. He says that if the rider is very clear in their intent and very soft with cues, or even leaves them out completely and just visualises what they want, "the horse seems not only to be able to connect to the rider on an extremely subtle level, but the development of subtle responses appears to be immediate and long lasting."
He also talks about Ma-ai, as it's called in Aikido, 'the joining of shared space' and working with the horse to find "mutual softness within a shared space." He says that the better they both become at this the smaller this shared space can become until it "becomes so small physical aids are no longer needed...."
He does write a little about clicker training. I think what he writes is fair and unbiased but he only seems to have met clicker trainers who refuse to use any pressure at all and so have very limited success with their horses. I REALLY wanted to show him the other, incredibly successful side of clicker training!!!
I really liked this paragraph in the last few pages of the book:
"...the type of horsemanship I'm referring to here doesn't belong to anybody; it isn't trademarked and it doesn't have a name. It is simply the honest communication between horse and rider based on the best understanding we have for one another at any given time. It's taking the good with the bad without placing blame or fault, and doing our best to direct energy instead of stifling or stopping it."
A very interesting, thought provoking read and I learnt a lot although I'm very glad I have clicker training on my side and so don't feel the need for Aikido and I won't be taking it up any time soon!!
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