Following John’s mare vii: Rain

Text and photos by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley

The joys of working horses: the mare has come in lame; and it’s raining. Taking advantage of the circumstances Mark says it is probably a good time for her to have an easy lesson anyway. He catches her in the big yard. The mare is looking the most soft and attentive I have seen her yet.

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Mark walks away with just a rope draping over her shoulder. She follows.

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As she stands whilst he puts the halter on, there is a tangible calmness with both of them. She even leans towards him he does it.

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Mark wants to check her hoof. He has never touched or tried to touch her legs before now. We’ve all seen this mare kick out, rear, buck and nip. Picking up her legs could have been quite an issue. But waiting until this opportune moment, when she already knows how to stand, when she has had enough time with Mark to trust him, makes this lesson superbly stress free. And this is what I find truly thrilling about horsemanship: if you get things right, they work. Not just for what you are teaching at that moment, but you also set them up to understand more concepts than one.  Watch this.

First she lets him stand right beside her rump, and rub her back legs, right down to her hoof. Brilliant.

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Mark rubs down every foot with her standing. Then he tries her sore hoof. She lets him pick it up straight away.  There is nothing to see and Mark suspects a stone bruise.

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Now for a bit of fun..what will she do when Mark squats down in front of her again?  There is no physical connection at this point between them, and she is in a big yard with other horses around her. She is as curious as him I think.

When Mark stands up, she doesn’t raise her head up in the air in a nervous way but maintains his gaze. You can see Mark is pleased at that.

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The rain was getting stronger, so apologies for the drops on the lens!  A bit of softening and then Mark sees how she reacts to him jumping by her again.  She is alert but doesn’t move much. That’s enough.

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There will be a pause in this blog as Mark is running a couple of 4 day clinics. When we come back next week, it will be interesting to see how she is after the time off. Mark won’t have had a hand on her for 10 days. Just keep an eye on our Face book page ( or sign up to the blog to be notified of the next one. See you then!

Following John’s mare vi: Ponying with a Saddle

Text & photo’s by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley

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She came in soft and calm. Mark put his saddle on.  She took it fine. Progress.  Next Mark took the lunge lead away. She was free to move as she pleased.  After running around for a bit, she changed her mind and went up to Mark. He put on a bridle over the halter.  “The bridle was just for her to get used to, there was no pressure on it because of the halter. Then she followed Mark. “She followed me quite closely, probably because the bridle was something that she wasn’t used to and her uncertainty about it led her to seek me for support.”

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Mark wanted to see how she went with him touching the saddle – so in comes pony horse, Henry. She lets him get in close and she lets him move the saddle on her back. This is her ‘bad’ side.  She’s standing & is nice and calm. Now let’s try the other, ‘good’ eye….All okay.

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The next thing was for Mark to ride beside her. She was now moving with Mark moving beside her, also moving the saddle as they went. Mark kept Henry up to her fast trot, keeping her alongside him in a circle.  She didn’t rush too much.  You can see how she moves away from him as he is doing it. Wonderful horsemanship to watch.

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Whilst the mare is in a frame of mind to accept pressures from everywhere, Mark puts a butt rope on her – for nothing else than for another way of her getting used to a different touch on her whilst she is moving. “It’s important that she gets used to more than one pressure. There will be pressure coming from everywhere when I ride her.  I was also working through some of the tension she has her back end.”

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After a few minutes, she is standing.

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She’s going well, so Mark decides to see how she will go with him jumping up next to her.  In the last lesson, she was very spooked by this. But today she stands still and Mark is able to put one foot in the stirrup and stand up on her.

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As his feet hit the sand, she leap into a couple of humps.  “She stood still for me but she was probably holding her breath, not knowing what to do. As soon as I gave her space she let herself go.”  After that though, she went well, but Mark knew she was still tense. He repeats the stepping up, walking her or moving her around in between mounts to release her tension. Normally when he stands in the stirrup he has the horse’s head bent towards him. With her, he is still a little unsure how nippy she might be so he just wants her to look a little.

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Her escape route is still there. Mark must have got up and down a dozen times on each side, sometimes getting only his foot in before coming back down again without standing. He is looking for her commitment towards him. If she looks out, cocking her head to the side (as in the next shot), he won’t stand up. It’s too dangerous. She could be off and leaving him in the wrong position in a split second.  He tries to waits until her focus is towards him.

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“Stepping up on her off side was difficult for her to cope with. Without her confident eye on me, she was uncomfortable. There were moments where she showed quite a bit of aggression. So I finished the lesson not by stepping up, but by finding softness and relieving pressure.  I bobbed up and down next to her and every time she relaxed I stepped away.”

Following John’s mare v: softening

Text and photos by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley

Mark was able to go more or less straight up to the mare today. Catching her easily and without her running around is quite a turning point.

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Under a darkening sky, Mark walks away and up to her again.  She needs a little encouragement.  Mark keeps her attention on him.

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The rope swings over her, she stands, and he walks away.  Then he does it again.

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Mark works quietly with her, in a steady fashion, obviously waiting for the right signals before he is satisfied.  The unrelenting thoroughness to Mark’s approach is mind boggling. There are simply no short cuts. Just time and patience.

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As the halter goes on, you can see her wild eyes and her uncomfortable tilt of her head. She still has her escape route ready.

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Mark senses her tightness, which is why he took her time being gentle catching her, reassuring her in the process that she is not about to be trapped.  “I didn’t need her to come to me, I was happy to meet her where she was. Standing was fine with me.”

She doesn’t relax as he asks her to back.

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She is still retaining a lot of nervousness and Mark decides to try to break through some of her barriers.  Very slowly and carefully, Mark asks her to drop her head.  You can see her eyes soften as she relaxes with Mark.  She is able to hold her head really low for a while before she brings it up again. The whole thing is repeated a few times.

“There was a lot of tension in her head and neck when I applied halter pressure. Especially when she had to accept pressure in the halter and move her feet at the same time. There is a lot of theories on head lowering. My aim with this lesson was just to teach her to go calmly with pressure and to relieve the tension she had to the halter.”

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Back to backing – is she softer? Less resistant? Very much so. This was a big thing for her. Letting Mark do this to her and having him so close when she is so vulnerable has forged a new acceptance of him which she shows as Mark asks her to back once more. Mark works on both sides, walking next to her shoulder easily.

“After I relieved the tension in her head, I asked for softness in her head and neck whilst moving her feet. I kept backing her until she had smoothness and rhythm in her feet whilst maintaining softness and calmness in her head carriage, with her focus calmly in reverse, not elsewhere.”

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Mark tests her mood but jumping next to her. She immediately jumps to the side, wide eyed and alert.

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This is the problem Mark is tackling. It is taking a lot for her to be soft with Mark and one slight change sets her back to tension and flight mode. He can’t ride her like this. She is too unpredictable. Mark probably works about 1/20 like this mare. Although his progress is slow at the start, Mark has learnt over the years that getting her right before he mounts her will be crucial to her continuing relationship with people. To put it in perspective, another gelding that Mark started at the same time as this mare is now being ridden out on the property. But keep reading this blog as Mark progresses – I am often amazed at how quickly these types of horses catch up once Mark is riding them. All of this groundwork is not only trust building, it is preparation for understanding pressure under saddle.

Following John’s Mare as she is started iv: backing

Description & photos by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley.

Currently in one of the worst droughts for this time of year in living memory, Mark watered the round yard before he started work. John’s mare, having never seen water hosed or heard a pump before she arrived with us, coped well and managed to get a shower in the process.  “If the mare hadn’t coped, then I would have stopped hosing.”

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John’s mare has had 2 days off since her last session with Mark, when she was introduced to a saddle. Although her trust with Mark is increasing along with her naturally high boundaries reducing, 2 days can mean a lot.  Once the watering was over and Mark turned towards her to start, she instantly trotted off away from him – looking over the rails and dismissing him. I have noticed before with her that she is most calm when she is slow. Trotting around Mark, sometimes darting behind him, almost toying with him as she got close but refused to acknowledge him, was a sign that she was uncomfortable.  Mark would draw her in, only for her to split away from him again, snorting as she went.  Now she wasn’t afraid to get quite close to Mark. She was making her point quite clearly.

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For a true partnership to work, your horse has to be listening to you & paying you attention.  For the time that they are with you, their thoughts need to be on you. It is no good trying to teach a child who is daydreaming, staring out of the window; or playing on their iPad. And it is the same with horses. But how do we bring those uneducated thoughts to us willingly, without force?  I have watched Mark train horses for over 10 years and I still don’t know the answer to this tentative question. Yet somehow, with every horse that Mark works and especially with horses like this independent mare, I see them switch and become willing partners, eager and focused.  Is it their ultimate respect for Mark? Does work stimulate and interest them? Or do they give up and submit? I am sure that I have watched many of Mark’s horses enjoy learning – walking ears forward and briskly out of the yards. I am also sure that I have seen them try to learn. They really concentrate, really tune in. So is the difference between submission and stimulation just down to the teacher?

John’s mare is obviously currently not wanting to learn. So how does Mark tackle it? He finds a small problem. And fixes it, without chastisement. And before he goes any further.

The girth pressure is reapplied, and she resists it a little, getting close in on Mark.

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What Mark finds is that when he tries to block her out of his space, she rears.

He said it was because she wouldn’t go backwards.  So that is what he worked on.

“The mare was tense and looking for ways out when I applied pressure. When I tried to stop or realign her energy to keep me safe, it was enough to create more tension. So I went back to teaching her to soften more in the halter so that she could understand true backwards.”

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The photo below shows her walking backwards, which the two of them did, all the way round the round yard. Great, right? Nope. Apparently she was walking away from him, not what he was asking. She actually wasn’t letting him get past her shoulder again.

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But she did.

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So the lesson went on. You can see there is resistance and uncertainty. Look how stiff she is.  But there is so much patience. So much commitment and belief in her.

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Perhaps that unwavering teacher who gently corrects and reassures, offers the new thought: from friendship. A friendship built over a lot of time, patience, understanding and respect. On both sides.

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Following John’s mare iii: Introducing the Saddle

Words & photos by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley

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This time not only was John’s mare attentive and trusting towards Mark, she was also learning. As you will see through the photo’s, her ability to respond calmly and correctly to what Mark was asking enabled him to go one step further – to introduce the saddle.  Her response was expected – she did buck – but actually only a little.   The mare that was looking for a way out only 2 days ago, was now looking towards Mark.

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Mark started by going through the steps he had previously worked through – the lunge stick, the flag stick and this time also the whip.

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She is responsive now – and also soft. Mark is so careful to work on that right from the start. And they respond so well.  No-one wants to see a horse nervous, or in a lather of sweat. Look at her here above, she is inquisitive and willing. Ready to start learning.

As Mark introduces the whip to her for the first time, she stands remarkably still. He cracks it beside her, and flicks it over her, around her back and legs. She doesn’t flinch, standing still and calm.

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It is when she is still that she is attentive to Mark. So what will she be like once he starts moving again?

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She does it. She keeps her steed as Mark wants it and stays focused on him, already starting to lunge. Everything takes time. One step, then another. Then a pause.

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Next comes the saddle cloth. She has to accept the feeling of it falling off her and the visual sight of something landing unexpectedly near her. Everything is preparation for when Mark rides her. If he or his saddle was slip off her, he wants her to understand it.

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Each time Mark goes back to rubbing her down, she lets him a little closer in. This is great.

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Now a new pressure – around her girth.

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Next, Mark introduces the saddle blanket and saddle. The saddle Mark uses is an old western saddle that can fall on the ground without offending anyone. It’s light and easy for Mark to place. Just like the cloth, he is careful to let her see it fall a few times and watches her reaction.

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Then it is fastened. “Before sending her out on the lead on her own, I made sure that she can lead and follow me around at a walk comfortably.” She seems fine with it on her ‘good’ eye….

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….then she is asked to go the other way, putting Mark on her ‘bad’ eye.

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She’s not so good this eye…!

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Mark pulls her in, bringing her attention back to him, as he asks her to go back on her good side and get her confidence again.

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When she settles, the ‘bad’ eye is better already. So, a check on the girth, and a repeat, though this time without the bucks.  Her ability to move on from bucking and accept the saddle surprised me – I thought she may have more determination in her. Perhaps though, this is an indication of her intelligence.

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Although having a strong, confident mare is not unusual or difficult; this mare also has a tendency to switch off Mark and want to be somewhere else, clearly ignoring him as she does. This can be quite dangerous, and especially when you are training a young horse. Mark has to make sure that she will understand the signals he will teach her now that he may have use on her mentally back to bring her back to him. When our horses that roam free on our 500 acres come up to the yards, they catch her attention and give Mark the chance to start this right away.  Look at her ignoring him asking her to bend and focus. It takes a several tries before she comes back to Mark, but that is all he needs once she does, and her lesson ends.

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Following John’s mare in work through photo’s: ii

Written by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley

Following the lesson yesterday, we were all hoping she would come in soft and calm; that she had gained more confidence in Mark. Sure enough, as Mark walked into the round yard, she just stood there: still, head lowered, and calm. For all the stress that she must have felt as she had Mark riding Henry above her, she must now be starting to understand that Mark was okay to be around. Inseparable to her obvious stillness was a trust and acceptance in Mark that you can see in her eyes. Just heartening to watch.

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As Mark took his time getting her halter on and moving around her, she wandered off, and once more showed her dismissive side. The dogs, thinking there was more action to be had, keenly kept an eye on things from their only vantage point – peering in from under the gates, Mark’s avid spectators.  

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She is more relaxed with Mark, but still weary.

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“I started ponying by just sidling up to her, to rub her with my hand. She stood well and was calm as I rubbed her over her back-line. I was very happy that she accepted this from both sides as she was better than how she finished yesterday.”  Mark took her straight out into the bigger yard. She ended the last lesson leading softly, but would she still brace and pull away today? The dogs were excited, Henry was a bit toey – there was almost an expectation of action.

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It all started off well with Mark reminding her of his flag rope again as he went. “She led well and I managed to travel around quite fast in the big yard.”

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Then, a rush forward and up she went.  It can all change so quickly.  “When I applied more pressure, she still had a tendency to brace or rush away from the rope.  This is just still her trying to escape when frightened.”

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Calming her down again, bringing her to a stop and a moment to know standing is the right option…

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Then Mark takes her back to the round yard. “I let her go to see if we could remain connected without the ropes.”  Before Mark moves on to the next lesson he is careful to remind her that he needs to be able to touch her and that that it is okay.

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She is attentive once more and watches as Mark unsaddles Henry.

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Mark shows her the saddle blanket. A prelude of tomorrows lesson?

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Back to ground work. Mark has to watch she doesn’t nip him and has his hand ready all the time.

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Now Mark wants to get her to move around him slowly, not rush.  She is uncomfortable, so she trots and canters around him. It takes a bit of careful positioning by Mark – watch as he works her on both sides, and look how close she gets to him!

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When she slows, she calms again.  Mark wants her to walk around him, on both sides.  She has come a long way from yesterday.

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Following the progress of John’s mare as she is started: captured by photos (i)

Written by Jenny Barnes with comments from Mark Langley.

John’s mare has been with us since late last week. She was reasonably quick and confident to face Mark. There are only 2 angle’s that she likes – running away from him and facing him. She is very nervous and protective of both of her sides.

Mark had got her to the stage where she could accept rope pressure and come off it; lead; and Mark could rub her on the front of her face; her forehead; and the sides of her face until her shoulder.  But she is still uncomfortable with him there.

So now Mark has decided to use my “pony horse”, Henry, to get up close to her. They had already been yarded together and got on well and Henry is a seasoned pony horse.  Mark wanted to try to get her softer and responding better on the lead. He also wanted to get her to the stage where she would accept him much more – to a point where he could smother her whilst she remained relaxed.

As you will now see, Mark starts leading her and sometimes she would let him in, sometimes she would duck away again, and Henry had to be patient as Mark worked her again.

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Then, all of a sudden, she went again – lunging forward and often up. Mark had to make sure he always had Henry and his rope in the right position.  “During the lessons, she showed an ability that she could be quite soft and supple to my rope but under certain pressure, or changes of pressure, she could be quite reactive and brace. I really have to work on taking that trapped feeling from her mind.”

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Calm again.  She just needs to stand still so Mark can touch her.  Will she let him?

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Mark is careful to work her on both sides, so Henry has to be able to move easily around the rope – and often under the rope to make it easier for Mark to do this.  (How good is Henry?!) “She still had quite a lot of trouble accepting Henry and I beside her.”

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Mark gets a little closer…

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Next, Mark introduces a stick with a bit of material on the end – his flag stick. It’s just enough to be visual with a soft feel and light enough for Mark to place where he wants it. It maintains contact when she moves. She doesn’t like it at first…

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…Then she gets better. “It wasn’t long before I was able to rub her all over with the flag stick.”

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But all of a sudden she was off again, ducking under the rope and spinning back on herself. This mare can move – the round yard Mark is working in has rails that are about 1.4m high – she’s jumping sideways here and clearing the rails! Mark is quick to let the rope go here – it wrapped over her head as she spun and he doesn’t want it to hurt her at all.

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He catches the rope, and settles her down. And now Mark wants her to calm as much as possible again.

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Time to try that physical touch…”By the end of the lesson I could only just rub her with my hand across her back to her hip for a brief moment before she would move. To me though, that was a good change.”

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And to end on a good note. “At the end, she followed softly on a lead out through all the yards, happy to travel at my speed, without looking for a way out. She seemed to have lost the brace that she had at the start of the lesson.”

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