Mustering on John’s mare

Words and photos by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley

Mark has been riding John’s mare out every day since our last blog. Each day he has worked on her confidence and ridden her out on our property. Today a chance opportunity to muster some renegade cows into a paddock enabled Mark to test her out on cattle, with our collies working them around her.  This is now her 6th ride out on the property.

“I started riding her out in the bit when she proved to be calmer and a bit more reliable outside. You don’t need to compound nervous tension by introducing a relatively unfamiliar tool whilst she is still having trouble adjusting to her surroundings and rider. Today was probably her 3rd or 4th ride in the bit. If there were no time frames or deadlines there would be no need to integrate the bit so quickly.”

These are beautiful Autumn days. The air is clear, crisp and still and everyone enjoys being outside, especially when there is fun to be had.

010 (640x480) 011 (640x480) 013 (640x480) 016 (640x480)

“It was good to give her something to do because she has a little bit of trouble freely moving forward – only because she still has a bit of nervous concentration on me.  The remedy for this is just good steady miles.”


Ebony wanted  to say hello to her. She lowers her head as Ebony reaches up with her hand.

022 (640x480)

With the cattle in, Mark decides to take her for a ride up the hill, with a trot and a canter.


025 (640x480) 030 (640x480)

Only to find some renegade sheep that need sorting! So, more mustering for her.

037 (640x480) 039 (640x480) 041 (640x480) 046 (640x480)

She’s handled it all beautifully.

047 (640x480)

The first ride out on a young horse (John’s mare)

Words and photos by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley

The first ride out for John’s mare. Mark introduced her to Pauline & her horse, Wills, in the round yard.

004 (640x480)

Mark then took John’s mare out on our 500 acre property. First, he headed for the forest, then out through tea tree, grassy areas, and back through our garden with all its strange and scary objects.


016 (640x480) 025 (640x480) 028 (640x480) 030 (640x480) 034 (640x480) 040 (640x480) 041 (640x480) 044 (640x480) 046 (640x480) 048 (640x480) 053 (640x480) 054 (640x480) 058 (640x480) 060 (640x480) 063 (640x480) 064 (640x480) 065 (640x480) 067 (640x480)

I spent the ride guiding her, taking her away from Wills and towards Wills, keeping fairly busy on her.  She was quite attentive to me, but not too confident with moving forward.  A lot of this is due to the amount of concentration that she keeps on me. 

After trotting her ahead a little bit, I thought I would let her follow Wills. But it wasn’t very good for her – she got more confidence in him and got in a mind frame that made her think she needed to run away from me.  So within about 5 metres of trotting behind Wills, she quickly put her head up and tried to run.  She actually ran into Wills’ rump. I shut her down and relaxed her, then rode off. (I rarely shut horses down, I only do it when it is an absolute necessity for safety. Most times it is better to just guide their energy until they relax and then just stand with them.)  I made sure I kept her in the lead after this and did a reasonable amount of trotting with her.  I think that this will be a one off instance.

Other than that, she did really well, she just needs time to build confidence. I am very happy with her.  Now when she gets pressured or stressed she is happy to take my guidance and relax quickly.  Most of the time, pressure doesn’t make her worry or look for an escape.  These are some of the guiding factors that I use to determine whether a horse is ready to be ridden out.”

I am happy to answer questions on any of the blog I have done on John’s mare today – about my training techniques or something you want to know more about.  Post your questions to my face book page I’ll have a look at them after I come back in from mustering the sheep and do my best to answer them.

072 (640x480)

John’s mare: riding with calmness

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

It’s been over 2 weeks since Mark was able to last work John’s mare, following several horsemanship clinics that he was running in NSW.  Another break in this mare’s unusually drawn out education.  Mark has been working John’s mare since the middle of February and we have been blogging her progress so that people can have an insight into the work Mark does, particularly with her as she is a very sensitive mare and has needed a lot more time to get used to Mark than most horses. Mark has started and finished 2 batches of horses in this time. The drought breaking rain, her stone bruise and our trip away has all effected her training time. But John’s mare has been started in a very careful way and the building blocks which Mark has laid, step by step, have not faltered.  The strong, confident, aggressive mare that was barely handled when she arrived is now able to understand and accept much of what Mark offers. Her mind is now ready to really start learning.

Mark wastes no time today, and after brushing her down, saddles her without any prior preparation. His lead rope hangs down on the ground, unattached to anything – one of his signatures training traits: Mark expects his horses to stand still when they are saddled and mounted.

027 (640x480) 029 (640x480) 030 (640x480)

Mark decides to lunge her in the big yard and give her a bit more space. She comes through the gates like a dog on a lead.  She’s fine with this.

031 (640x480)

As she lunges, she makes use of the full length of rope and picks up speed – but there is no concern with the saddle on her.

032 (640x480) 035 (640x480)

Mark draws her in and asks for more controlled responsiveness to turning one way and then the other. He is careful to keep working on her left eye – the side she has most trouble with putting on him.  He asks her to bend to him a few times on that side, working on her softness and confidence.  She moves with far more flow and ease than I remember in the previous lessons.

037 (640x480) 039 (640x480) 040 (640x480) 042 (640x480) 043 (640x480) 055 (640x480)

Then it’s time to test her again – time to ride. The last time Mark rode her, over 2 weeks ago, he rode her at a trot and canter in his round yard then at a walk in his big yard. She seemed then that she could still buck if she wanted but chose not to. As always, the first few minutes are tense for us as we watch her settle into being ridden, but she quickly relaxes far beyond her previous lesson. Each time that she has come in after a break though, she has picked up where she left off. “She has a good retention memory”, Marks comments.  Mark asks for a trot within minutes and at first she takes a few strides before stopping. Mark repeatedly asks her to keep going until she trots continuously round and round the yard, both ways. “She is trotting the best yet – her ears are on me and forward.”

061 (640x480) 063 (640x480)

Next step – the canter.

077 (640x480)

It’s all really good. Not a sign of a hump or a jump. Her canter is still jerky and not her natural rhythm though. Mark takes her to the rail and taps various things on it before refreshing her memory to the crack of his stock whip above and around her.

084 (640x480) 086 (640x480)

Look at her – no sweat – she’s switched on with attentiveness and she is much calmer.

Into the big yard next. Mark trots her around.

090 (640x480)

As he stops for a backup with his seat, Mark asks for a lowering of her head, then flexion either side.

100 (640x480) 101 (640x480) 104 (640x480) 106 (640x480)

Mark knows she is calm and ready to learn. He asks her to move her front legs across. This is just her 5th ridden ride.  Mark waits until she is ready to make the move.  Mark works her for a while, getting her to move her feet as he asks. “She’s going to be a very handy mare.”

107 (640x480) 108 (640x480) 111 (640x480) 116 (640x480)

Mark returns to the round yard to put her bridle on and ride her in that before stopping.

117 (640x480)

He asks her to move her head from one side to the other and he is impressed when she moves  through the centre, not up.  She will be very trainable. A mare that has taken some effort to get to where she is now – but no doubt she will be worth every bit of it for her owner.  Tomorrow, Mark is riding her out. Don’t miss it!

120 (640x480) 124 (640x480)



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.

019 (640x480)

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.

045 (640x480)

049 (640x480)









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.

054 (640x480)

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.

061 (640x480)
067 (640x480) 068 (640x480) 070 (640x480)








114 (640x480)

137 (640x480)145 (640x480)148 (640x480)


111 (640x480)155 (640x480)

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


077 (640x480) 078 (640x480) 151 (640x480)

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.

156 (640x480) 157 (640x480) 159 (640x480) 160 (640x480)

“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.”


Working John’s Mare: trotting

John’s mare must be keen to stay here. The day after Mark rode her in the big round yard covered in the last post, she came in with a swelling on her shoulder that has effected her mobility. Not only did she have to have more time off, just at this crucial stage where consistency can be so important, but Mark has also had to treat her with injected antibiotics. On a very sensitive mare this could have sent their trust and relationship backwards. But it seems she has come along way and she is perhaps more accepting of us than we give her credit for.

The course of antibiotics did not make her go sour. She stood there for them, and after 7 days, she was good enough for Mark to continue with her.

These photos show him working her on that ride and the ride he gave her yesterday.

So after a few steps at a walk, then a week off, Mark brings her in and in no time at all is on her. This time he asks for a trot. Mark is not just sitting on her, now he is riding her. Her tail clamps down and she props occasionally, sometimes stopping suddenly or turning back on herself. “She didn’t know whether to go forward or stop and was sometimes looking for ways out. I would just let her go wherever and try to let her get a relaxed forward. I only touch the reins and guide her when she felt ready to be guided.”

Her trot is not her smooth natural rhythm but an unsure, tense one.  “It felt like riding a rabbit. She was concentrating so hard on me that it was hard for her to move forward. This will come with confidence and understanding.” But there is no buck. On either day.  “I did think that if she got a fright or rushed, she may have bucked. She was so sensitive on her back. I was happy that only clamped her tail and hunched up.”

015 (640x480)     021 (640x480)  022 (640x480)

024 (640x480) 032 (640x480) 042 (640x480) 

She was quite sweaty on Saturday. “She got sweaty quite quickly, due to tension and exercise.” This sweat is noticeably reduced on Sunday’s ride though they were about the same length, possibly longer on Sunday. 

At the end of the lesson on Saturday, Mark is careful to rub her in different positions whilst on her back.

046 (640x480) 047 (640x480) 048 (640x480)

But on the next day (yesterday), Mark was waving his arms and slapping his legs as she moved.  And at one point she popped into a canter.

077 (640x480)

He then reminds her to give to pressure – on Saturday it was flexion to the sides and a little tiny bit of vertical flexion.

081 (640x480) 083 (640x480) 085 (640x480)

But on Sunday he found she was so in tune with him that she would stop with his seat. This is from a trot. Her second trot with him on her back.

And from that, he thought he would see if she could give him backwards. She did. Not just one hesitant step, but some steady even paces.  “After I let her travel forwards in a calm and relaxed trot, I started to soften her to two hands. She responded very willingly. It was a good opportunity to ask her to gently go back. I was extremely happy with how calmly and softly she backed under saddle, as backing for her did cause quite a lot of tension previously.”

091 (640x480)

Following John’s mare: mouthing & the first rides

Text & photos by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley

I’ve lumped a few days together in this blog. Mark has continued to work John’s mare every day since the last post. He has covered different lessons with her such as mouthing, lunging outside, ponying in the forest, and as you will see, he has ridden her twice now.

Normally Mark mouths them from their backs. But John’s mare needs to keep learning and moving forward even though there is not a lot of riding going on. To catch up, Mark starts to mouth her from the ground. She has had the bit in her mouth a few times before.

006 (2) (640x480)  022 (2) (640x480) 020 (2) (640x480) 050 (2) (640x480)

Following the mouthing, Mark took her out on the property – through the forest and over logs.

072 (640x480)  079 (640x480) 078 (640x480)

Later, Mark is ready to sit on her. A big test. Mark has to make sure he has no pressure on her head. He is prepared to ride whatever comes and to go with whatever she wants to do. She takes a few steps in a circle. She wants to keep her eye on him. Some horses just stand still on for the first time Mark sits on them. He will get on and off on both sides, and that is enough for the first ride. Similarly, this is a short lesson. She copes, and he leaves it on that good note.

006 (640x480) 007 (640x480) 008 (640x480) 011 (640x480) 013 (640x480) 014 (640x480)

A moments reflection and a catch of breath. Should he get on again? She coped so well…Look her standing so calmly.

028 (640x480)

No, he leaves it. The ride is over and the relief for everyone is palpable.

031 (640x480)

Today, Mark wanted to give her the space to move a bit more, if she chose. The deeper sand and the greater width of this round yard also gives Mark a bit of a help if she was to buck.

040 (640x480) 045 (640x480) 050 (640x480) 060 (640x480) 068 (640x480) 070 (640x480)

Nothing. Phew!! She only walked again. Both circles – keeping her eye on Mark. She was yet to properly walk forward.

“She could walk around but she was quite weary. She had a lot of attention on me which was expected. She walked around me on both eyes reasonably well and remained calm.  I felt though that she wasn’t relaxed enough to ask for anything more than a walk. I think that she could have gone either way – she may have panicked and ran a bit but I think that after that she would have stopped and wanted to stand still, shutting down, because moving is too scary. So I was happy to just relax her at a walk and reward her for that. This will develop confidence for the next lesson: a very important thing for horses that have allowed all their barriers to be broken down and accept the more submissive situation of being ridden. Asking extras can sometimes work and won’t matter on certain horses but on some, like this mare, it can take away confidence and make the next ride a little bit more difficult. There is no gain in nervous or hot blooded horses to push a win one day only to create tension for the next. As I left it, we were both winners.”

Following John’s mare being started (blog 8): back in work after 10 days off

(Text & photos by Jenny Barnes with quotes from Mark Langley)

John’s mare is currently being started by Mark. She came to us as a 3 year old without any prior handling a few weeks ago.  Mark is in no rush to get on this mare – he knows her bloodlines & he knows her personality type. She is an independent, confident mare, that is very weary of Mark & not ready to be ridden yet. But she is getting to know him, and hopefully, as Mark teaches her from methods developed from starting hundreds of horses (many of them wild) in his own passionate and caring way, she will start to enjoy her interactions with him.  Mark is highly aware of her sensitive nature & as you will read, his methods that he is using with her are very deliberate.  Incidentally, another horse that was started at the same time as her is almost ready to go back to its owner.

This mare is a special league. And that’s why we’re doing the blog.

During the last lesson, it was not only raining, but she was a little lame. Mark kept the lesson very simple with hardly any pressure on her. Following a break of 10 days as Mark ran horsemanship clinics, John’s mare is now back into work. What follows are the photos from the first lesson back.

She came in where she left off, quiet and kind. She is consistently being calm around Mark now and it is only the things that Mark does that seem to make her nervous or not, as oppose to Mark simply being there. “If you trap a horse then when it next comes in it is different.  But if you build up trust it will come in comfortable. Comfortable and curious.”

004 (640x480)  013 (640x480) 016 (640x480) 018 (640x480)

With more confidence around Mark, her curious nature is indeed coming through.

025 (640x480)

As Mark puts the halter on her, he explains why although she is so good with ropes and things he still doesn’t feel she is ready to be ridden. “The difference between a wild horse and a horse that has grown up around people is that wild horses will cope with inert objects, but not people, because they know the object won’t kill them. She can cope with a whip (cracking around her) but a tame horse couldn’t (at her stage).”  Mark has deliberately used a lot of ropes with her training as a step to her getting used to him. “The rope offers a connection between us. I can connect through the rope to her”.

031 (640x480) 032 (640x480)

Mark goes back to desensitizing on her by jumping up and down near her and on both eyes. She has found this hard before and Mark wants her to be able to stand calmly as he does it, in preparation for her being able to cope with him on her back. “She is still very sensitive.  Her self-preservation will lead her to spin and kick very quickly. Some horses will run.  I want than side right because that’s the side she’d going to look at me and panic on.”

034 (640x480) 035 (640x480) 040 (640x480)

She’s a beautiful mare.

048 (640x480)

And you can see that all of this work will be well worth it. Mark concentrates on her, watching her every reaction as he works. Looking for areas to work on and ways to increase her trust in him.  She is calm and allows him to touch her down the sides again but her nervous state rises and falls as he dabbles with different pressures. He knows that she is starting to anticipate the work – if he put on too much pressure, she will anticipate that pressure the next time she comes in. He wants to keep this lesson simple for her again.

065 (640x480) 076 (640x480)   080 (640x480) 082 (640x480)

This is not about just getting on and riding her. Aside from her lightening reactions; tendency to kick and bite; her highly weary nature; this is about a pure horse and her being able to understand and accept Mark when he rides her. A far bigger task than riding the bucks out of her.

019 (640x480)

The pathway to knowledge and understanding about horses never ends…but where there is trust and honesty, the way is easier for all.

135 (640x480)

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.

006 (640x480) 007 (640x480) 008 (640x480) 012 (640x480)017 (640x480) 020 (640x480) 028 (640x480)

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

033 (640x480)

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.

  042 (640x480) 043 (640x480) 047 (640x480)

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.

 061 (640x480) 062 (640x480) 073 (640x480)

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.

075 (640x480) 079 (640x480)

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.

    112 (640x480) 115 (480x640) 121 (480x640)     

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.

122 (640x480) 136 (640x480) 140 (640x480) 141 (640x480) 

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

007 (640x480)

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.”

018 (640x480) 020 (640x480) 024 (640x480)  041 (640x480)

044 (640x480)

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.

049 (640x480) 052 (640x480) 053 (640x480) 063 (640x480)

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.

068 (640x480) 076 (640x480)077 (640x480)082 (640x480)

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.”

097 (640x480) 098 (640x480) 101 (640x480) 105 (640x480)

After a few minutes, she is standing.

107 (640x480) 109 (640x480)

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.

118 (640x480) 120 (640x480) 127 (640x480) 131 (640x480) 134 (640x480) 136 (640x480)

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.

141 (640x480) 143 (640x480) 145 (640x480) 146 (640x480) 149 (640x480) 156 (640x480) 178 (640x480) 183 (640x480) 193 (640x480) 194 (640x480)

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.

197 (640x480) 198 (640x480)

“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.

004 (640x480)  011 (640x480) 007 (640x480) 010 (640x480)

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

022 (640x480) 035 (640x480) 065 (640x480)  039 (640x480)

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

042 (640x480)  064 (640x480) 066 (640x480)  068 (640x480)

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.

070 (640x480) 080 (640x480)

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.

082 (640x480) 087 (640x480)

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.

090 (640x480) 094 (640x480)

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.”

102 (640x480) 110 (640x480) 117 (640x480) 120 (640x480)125 (640x480)  131 (640x480) 136 (640x480) 149 (640x480) 139 (640x480) 144 (640x480) 155 (640x480)

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.”

206 (640x480) 214 (640x480)  258 (640x480) 232 (640x480)

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

266 (640x480) 190 (640x480) 338 (640x480)

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.