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.
Under a darkening sky, Mark walks away and up to her again. She needs a little encouragement. Mark keeps her attention on him.
The rope swings over her, she stands, and he walks away. Then he does it again.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
Mark tests her mood but jumping next to her. She immediately jumps to the side, wide eyed and alert.
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.