The Art of Restarting Horses by Mark Rashid

In his new book, The Art of Restarting Horses–internationally acclaimed horseman, Mark Rashid, says that horses who received inadequate training the first time around need to be restarted before they can become “willing partners” for  human beings.

Horses are a lot like people. When there are gaps in understanding particularly when it comes to the most basic of foundational concepts, confusion and thus frustration, worry, and even anger are sure to follow. On the other side of the coin, the stronger the foundation of understanding, the less likelihood there is of overall confusion and worry…

Just like people, horses often grow up with these “gaps” in their training and education. And again, just like people, they sometimes acquire undesirable habits as they mature. When this happens, it can be difficult for the horse to be a willing partner to a human, which can lead to further problems as misunderstandings multiply. In these situations, the horse may need to be “restarted”—that is, given a second chance to learn what is expected of him and how he can find a place where he is confident and comfortable both beside a handler and beneath a rider.

In order to restart a horse successfully, we need to know how to retrace the steps the horse’s education has taken. And we need to know when we’ve found the path missed the first time around.

image_a
These mustangs had been able to create a release by fleeing any time anyone approached them. I began by moving with them and becoming part of the energetic flow of their movement (A).
image_b
Eventually, the horses split up, with the stallion traveling to the left, the gelding to the right (B).
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Within a relatively short period of time, the stallion’s fear began turning into curiosity, while the gelding remained distracted and worried (C).
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By keeping my energy low and not chasing the horses during the process, the stallion was able to continue to relax and think his way through things. The gelding, while feeling a little better, was still just along for the ride (D).
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The stallion thought about approaching, while the gelding got ready to flee (E).
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The gelding left, but the stallion stayed. I pointed out to the owner how the stallion just moved his foot in my direction while still trying to keep his body a safe distance away (F).
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The beginning of what I refer to as “air petting”—that is, offering the moment of petting while still some distance away (G).
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After nearly 45 minutes of subtle give and take between the two of us, the stallion finally allowed me to start approaching him, provided I did so in a polite and thoughtful way (H).
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I was lucky on this day to only cross the subtle line of communication with the stallion on a couple of occasions, and each time, he was pretty willing to forgive me rather quickly. He’d lean away but wouldn’t flee (I).
image_j
I advanced my entire body perhaps 2 or 3 inches, or whatever he would allow. I hesitated in the new position for a couple of seconds, then offered another air pet. As long as he was okay with this, I lowered my hand then advanced another couple of inches (J).
image_k
He thought about running the first time he actually allowed me to touch him, but then he decided to stay instead (K).
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It’s a fine line between doing too much and not doing enough. Here, the two of us walked that line (L).
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Two seconds later, his thought shifted from feeling like he had to run to thinking he might be able to stay (M).
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I always use the back of my hand for this initial work because I feel it offers a little less of an aggressive feeling to the horse. Here, he actually relaxed into the feel between us (N).
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The spot where he had allowed me to originally touch his shoulder expanded from an area of just a few inches on his shoulder to up near the middle of his neck, his chest, over his back and sides, and all the way back to his hindquarters (0).
image_p
Feeling a little better. (P).

Because of the geometry of the situation, with the horses being on the outside of the circle and me in the middle or hub, I didn’t need to move very fast or very far in order to keep a consistent position in relation to theirs. This position was basically right at or just slightly behind the stallion’s inside hip. I was moving with them in this way actually to establish two things. The first was that I wanted to take control of the situation in a relatively benevolent way. You see, up till then, both horses had been in total control of any situation regarding how they were being handled. I don’t really believe either horse actually wanted to be in control of their situation, it’s just that due to the general circumstances, that’s what usually ended up happening.

Anytime someone tried to approach them they would become fearful and flee. Because they were running, people couldn’t get near them, so their running created a release, but that release didn’t necessarily help them feel better. Their fear and running was how they ended up inadvertently controlling the situation. As a result, even if someone was able to get close to them, they still didn’t feel good about it, which is why they would run again the next time anybody tried to approach. Moving with them as they fled basically removed the release they had been receiving in the past by running, which caused them to have to put some thought into their situation rather than just fleeing from it. This, in turn, begins to shift control of the situation out of their hands and into ours.

Excerpt from "Finding The Missed Path: Art of Restarting Horses" 
Reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Rashid

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