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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2 thoughts on “Following John’s Mare as she is started iv: backing

  1. Pingback: Starting John’s Mare: the last day here | Mark Langley's horsemanship blog

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