John’s mare: gaining evenness on lateral flexion

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

We’ve had constant rain, day and night all week. We’re not complaining – this is drought breaking rain and has been badly needed.

Mark continues to work through it, riding his horses in full length oilskins and persevering as best he can.  The horses must knuckle down and accept lessons through it too.  Work carries on.

John’s mare has missed a couple of lessons though because of the rain. The yard is now too boggy to ride her and thankfully we are about to go leave for 10 days of clinics further south in NSW.  But during the last 2 lessons, Mark got her to a stage where he could ride her out in our big yard; she has now been ridden in a bit; and her education continues as Mark fine tunes her responsiveness to lateral flexion on her bad side.  These photos show Mark working on her, now her 3rd & 4th ridden rides.

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All sorts of things get introduced in these first lessons – here Mark cracks his stock whip over and around her whilst on her back. He has done it on the ground with her but this is the first time on her back. He cracks it whilst she moves until she settles and can stand still. The cracks penetrate the still wet air like rifle shots.

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Then it’s time for the bridle and bit. She takes to that with little problem. Mark has already done a bit of long reining with her, which he doesn’t normally, just to speed up her education process as this mare has been with us a long time.

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Now you can see the problem that Mark is trying to fix – her lateral flexion to the right is stiff and awkward compared to the left. It is as if even when she bends that way, she still tries to put her other eye on Mark.  A huge part of both lessons were just spent on Mark working on this – continually flexing her that way, asking her again and again whether she was walking, running or standing still. Mark is as persistent as I guess he needs to be – which is a lot. I have heard him quote people at clinics that some horses need to be taught things 500 or a thousand times for it to become a habit. There is so much time involved in training horses and I am amazed at just how much sheer dedication you need to get results. I think I would be out there doing it for about 10 mins before I was looking for the next task to move on to. Not Mark. He works and works on it. Moving her this way and that, asking her, reminding her; then she gets it right and he’ll stop everything and just sit on her, swinging his legs and stroking her mane. The message is clear.  Then they go again.

I watch and scrutinize through my camera lens. There are so many subtle things going on; so many perfect timings that have to be made. No one talks in these early rides. Everyone concentrates – John’s mare, Mark, myself. To spend so much time working on such specific things reaches a level of intensity that I find fascinating.

“She is not confident going to the right. If she is offered a loose rein whilst she is going to the right, she will always turn her head left. And when you pick up the right rein to make her look/bend right, she finds it quite difficult.  The bend will fix when she decides to look and commit to her right.  I want her to look and to commit to that direction.  She needs to switch her brain from the left to the right and that is going to take a lot of time and a lot of little repetitions and rewards.”

The turns also get more controlled. Mark is no longer riding her and giving her a free head, he is guiding her. He turns her one way, then the other, then stops her. She listens and follows, obviously understanding and obviously less stressed by it.

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The back up  – two handed rein pressure – is much better. Remember, this is only the 3rd ride.


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Time for a change. Mark rides her out of the round yard & into the next one. Straight away, she reaches for the space and humps up a bit. Mark uses one rein to bring her back to him and then carries on walking her around a bit before taking her into the big yard.  We hold our breath as Mark steadies her. She wants to go – we all sense that.  Mark keeps her turning, keeps her attention on him and doesn’t seem fazed at all. He calmly takes her back through the gates and into the round yard before getting off and on again.

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“Hopefully when we come back in 10 days, the ground will be less slippery and the rest of her education can be spent outside of the yards on our property.”


One thought on “John’s mare: gaining evenness on lateral flexion

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

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