June 28, 2015

Not a Problem

Auditor: "But there's a right way and a wrong way."
Mark: "No, there's a right way and a *long* way."

One of the most refreshing things about Mark Rashid is that he doesn’t see problems. He sees how he would like things to be inside him and inside the horse and between the two of them, and then he does what he needs to do to communicate that to the horse. He doesn’t get lost in what the horse is doing.

Of course he’s aware of what the horse is doing, but that isn’t his focus, and he doesn’t see it—whatever it is—as a problem. Nor does he go to analyzing it or troubleshooting it. He just calmly stays with what he’s asking the horse to do. If the horse needs him to do something different, he will, but it won’t be a big deal.

Lots of people talk about looking for solutions instead of looking at problems, but Mark lives it. His mindset and the very words he chooses just don’t admit problems.

I will always have in my memory an image of Mark at a demo with a fairly substantial person holding onto his wrist and putting their entire effort and strength into holding Mark in one spot. Mark, however, was calmly walking around where he wanted while the person who was holding him strained and twisted and wound up off balance and in a mess.

Mark first explained and demonstrated that, when he thought about the fact that another person had his wrist, he literally couldn’t go anywhere. However, when he remembered that he had control of all the rest of his body and focused on that, he could move easily.

It was more than a mental trick. When our minds identify a problem, two things happen. First, in thinking of something as a problem, we tend to brace, which usually just makes us part of the problem. Second, when we focus on a problem, our minds go to where the problem is. When this happens, we have lost our center and therefore our ability to shape what happens next. We are off balance both emotionally and physically.

When we come back to our center, we are at our ground zero for both making decisions and moving our bodies, and we have, at that point, a lot of options.

Studying with Mark has made me realize how often my mind is out, not just finding problems, but hanging out with them, developing a nice cozy relationship with them, and quickly forgetting that there is any part of the world that is not a problem. If my horse does something—anything—that I didn’t ask for, my mind immediately lights up with, “Ooo, a problem!” And so derailment begins.

Obviously the first key here is that I am finding the behavior problematic. Labeling it a problem means that I am braced against it. I have also lost, not only my center, but my connection with my horse because my mind has disengaged with him in order to engage with the “problem.”

The second part of the deal is that, once my focus goes to the “problem,” that leaves exactly nobody focusing on the original plan. So we started out with my having one idea and the horse maybe having a different one, but now that I’m focusing on what he’s doing, then we're both having the horse's idea instead. And he wasn't necessarily all that married to his idea, but now that I'm over there in it with him, where else are we likely to go?

Here’s an example of what that looks like: I was working with a horse named Sebastian doing transitions from inside of me using just a change of energy. Sebastian would generally shift his energy in response to mine, but not always to the point of changing gait. So I would change my energy from, say, trot to walk, and Sebastian would change his noticeably but still be in the trot. At this point I tended to focus on the fact that he was still in the trot, which meant that my brain was where? On trotting. Which meant that we stayed doing what? Trotting. Mark explained that the key was for me not to get distracted by what Sebastian was doing but keep my idea and energy at the walk until he found it.

Once again, as always, this stuff applies way beyond horsemanship. Show of hands: how many people spend the majority of their time seeing and solving problems? (Those of us who are particularly advanced in this field have even been known to *create* problems from time to time.) What would life be like if, instead of letting our attention get sucked into the problems, we calmly carried on with a positive, happy focus on what we originally intended to do?

June 27, 2015

Feel It, Baby!

As I might have mentioned in my last post, basically what Mark teaches is how to live through feel rather than the mind. We all did this as kids, but then we started analyzing and looking for results instead of experiencing and, well, feeling.

I'm not talking about being in touch with your emotions here, though I'm sure that helps; I'm talking about having awareness and intentionality about what's going on in your body, what it takes to move your body, how you change your energy to do different things, etc., and then having awareness about those same things in the horse.

So much of the horsemanship out there is physical application of an external technique learned through the mind. It is mechanical in nature. And Mark will be the first to say that there's nothing wrong with that: technique, mechanics, and knowledge are important things.

But horses themselves don't operate like that. They are feeling creatures. They don't analyze; they just act and react. You're not going to be truly in harmony with them if you're using your mind instead of your feel. For one thing, you're always going to be at least a second or two late in everything you do. (And if you're an academic by training, you can add several more seconds if not some minutes onto that.)

This weekend I'm learning to let the inside of me talk to the inside of the horse and vice versa. We're having a conversation entirely through what we feel happening inside each other. Which sounds mystical, but it isn't: it's what happens if you pay attention to what's going on in the parts of you that aren't your brain. It's what happens if you stop analyzing and judging what your horse is doing and just feel what he's doing.

As it turns out, it feels pretty darn good to feel. And it feels even better if you have a horse under you to feel with. And at that point you don't have to think about being happy either, because that's just the way you feel when you feel.