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“A common problem with lateral flexion is that even when done correctly…it is simply practiced too much,” writes renowned horseman Mark Rashid in his new book FINDING THE MISSED PATH: THE ART OF RESTARTING HORSES. “Now I realize there are folks that teach who say that lateral flexion can never be done too much. Others will tell us to practice lateral flexion for hours at a time, and still others will tell us that we should never even think about riding our horse without first making sure the horse flexes laterally at least 25 or 30 times in each direction.

“Even though there are some who will tell us that flexion can never be done too much, the truth is, horses often say something different. Over the years, I have run into hundreds, if not thousands of horses that show obvious signs of being overflexed,” says Rashid.

The signs he highlights in FINDING THE MISSED PATH include:

  • the inability of a horse to walk a straight line while being ridden.
  • the inability to follow his own nose in a turn.
  • the inability to stop when asked.
  • and even being unable to stand quietly with a rider on his back without feeling like he needs to mindlessly turn his head from side to side, even though he isn’t being asked to do so.

“Many overflexed horses will simply stand with their head turned and their nose all the way around to the rider’s boot,” Rashid goes on. “When the rider asks the horse to straighten his head, he often just turns and puts his nose on the other boot. In cases like these, lateral flexion has been done to the point where the action itself has become little more than a default movement for the horse. In other words, the horse will laterally flex himself regardless of the situation or circumstances, and whether or not he is even being asked.

“Another thing that happens when the horse is overflexed like this is the joint at C1 actually becomes what we might refer to as ‘hyper-mobile,'” he adds. “When this happens, the horse literally loses the connection between his head and the rest of his body while being ridden. There are a number of serious issues with a horse losing this connection—for both rider and horse—not the least of which is a total loss of overall control. But even more concerning is that losing this control can, and usually is, quite difficult and very time consuming to correct.”

 

 

So should we no longer practice lateral flexion in the way that so many trainers have advocated over the last decade or so? Rashid says not to be hasty—there are still benefits to be had from conscientious use of the exercise.

“Understanding proper lateral flexion is an important part of a horse’s education, whether we’re talking about a young horse that’s just starting out, or an older horse whose education has somehow gotten off track,” Rashid explains. “I prefer to practice things like this with a sort of ‘as we go’ attitude or mentality: Rather than getting on my horse and saying to myself, ‘Okay, now we’re going to do some lateral flexion,’ I’m more likely to spend time on it while I’m going about whatever business I’m doing with my horse on that particular day. If I’m doing clinics, for instance, I might ask him to flex laterally while I’m turning him as we get ready to move from one place to another. If I’m on the ground and we go through a gate, I might send my horse past me through the gate then ask him to flex when I bring him back to me as I close the gate. For me, putting a purpose behind the exercise eliminates the drilling aspect of it, which, in turn, allows the horse to stay mentally and emotionally engaged in the process.

“I understand there are folks that feel differently about this, people who feel that the road to perfection is through lengthy, nearly non-stop repetition of exercises like lateral flexion. And for them, perhaps that is the key to perfect behavior and flawless responses from a horse. After all, there is no question that many horses, when given no other option, will most certainly repeat behavior that has been relentlessly drilled into them. But there is always a cost for a quest of perfection through mechanical repetition. Usually, the cost is that we end up losing the essence and personality of the horse. And, at least for me, that is a cost that seems a bit too high to pay.”

FINDING THE MISSED PATH: THE ART OF RESTARTING HORSES is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to order now.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business located on a farm in rural Vermont.

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OutofWildHere

NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING JOHN DIEHL, JEAN LOUISA KELLEY AND BEN ASHBROOK | DIRECTED BY PAUL KRIZAN

We’ve all fallen hard for Mark Rashid’s powerful storytelling in his numerous bestselling memoirs about horses, horsemanship, and how humans can enter the mix. Now we’re thrilled to announce the release of his novel OUT OF THE WILD in advance of the debut of the new feature film based on the book.

One dark, vacant, Nevada night cattle rancher Henry McBride closes his eyes, only to open them and find his life suddenly in shambles, with everything that means anything lost to him forever. Overwhelmed by grief and haunted by guilt, Henry drives away from his past as far and as fast as he can. Jobs, towns, and whiskey come and go. He always tells himself he’ll stay just long enough to earn the money he needs to buy his next drink, somewhere else on down the road.

But guest ranch owner Jessie King extends an open and forgiving hand to the cowboy, and the arrival of a young mustang stallion— also wounded and alone—ignites a flicker of recognition in Henry. Like him…broken. With Jessie’s powerful ability to connect with horses, and her gentle attempts to connect with Henry, time slows enough on the ranch to heal, just a little. But Jessie, too, has an imperfect past, and when her former ranch manager returns with murder in mind, the fragile world she, Henry, and the stallion are building together threatens to come crashing down.

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An excerpt from OUT OF THE WILD by Mark Rashid:

Dust rose from under the horses’ feet as they moved in a slow circle around her, and the setting sun gave the entire scene a crimson hue Henry had never seen before. He continued to watch for several minutes, almost in awe at the relationship Jessie had with her horses, and it was only after she had made contact with each one that she made her way back through the herd, climbed through the fence and walked slowly back the way she had come.

As soon as Jessie was out of sight, Henry stepped off the porch and nonchalantly made his way over to the pen she had just vacated. He stood outside the corral for several seconds, looked in every direction to make sure nobody was watching, then climbed through the fence and in with the horses. He stood in the same spot Jessie had when the horses first approached and waited for them to respond. The horses barely acknowledged his presence, and then turned their backs to him and walk away as if he wasn’t even there.

“I’ll be damned,” he said to himself. He turned and looked in the direction Jessie went when she left the pen, and wondered what kind of magic she used on the herd. He looked back at the horses and found they had dispersed all over the pen and gone back to eating the piles of hay scattered on the ground. “How the hell’d she do that?”

OUT OF THE WILD, the novel by Mark Rashid, is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to order the book now.

Watch the trailer for OUT OF THE WILD the movie here:

 

“A story of redemption that gives us a glimpse into ways of looking at horses, and perhaps even ourselves, with new eyes.”

—THE HUFFINGTON POST

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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When you are in the book-making business, it is remarkable when one book, in particular and out of the hundreds of others, stays with you. Whatever you are doing, at your desk or in the saddle, making dinner or cleaning up after, the words or ideas or themes just keep surfacing. It’s like gazing out over the side of a boat and watching dolphins gracefully arc up for air and slide back down out of sight…only to arise again a little further on, perhaps this time with a bit more fanfare. Its soothing and invigorating at the same time. Sailors used to say it was good luck. You wanting them to stay with you, guiding you, keeping time and space in its place.

Mark Rashid’s most recent book A JOURNEY TO SOFTNESS is one that stays with you in this way. Rashid shares his lessons as only a master storyteller can: quietly, convincingly, meaningfully. Few words are words alone—they all are weighted with meaning. And there aren’t too many, or too few. I hesitate not for a second in saying that this book is for every horseman and every rider, regardless of discipline or level of ability or competitive aspirations. It will leave you a better, more thoughtful person beside a horse and on his back; it will lead you to greater things in partnership.

And what exactly is “softness”? It is having the sensitivity we need in order to understand when and if the horse tries to “give.” It is about developing the kind of awareness it takes to know when we are working against our horses rather than with them. It is intrinsically linked to the “feel” and connection we all seek—whatever type of horse we ride and whatever kind of saddle we swing up over his back.

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Here are 10 things that I learned from A JOURNEY TO SOFTNESS that keep surfacing, keep my boat on course, and keep me certain I’m this much closer to reaching the destination I desire:

 

1  It’s not what we do that starts us on the path to softness—it’s what we don’t do.

2  Soft hands is a good start, but it doesn’t stop there. Remember your horse feels your entire body.

3  Be a good “dance partner”: be a respectful presence, allow thoughts and movements to blend together, hear the same music.

4  Your “handshake” should be soft, yet very connected—even powerful. Capable of delicate, intricate work, yet strong enough to fix things that need fixing.

5  We think that a touch is a touch and contact is contact…but it isn’t. Each different initial contact invites a different response…the quality of the initial contact creates the magic.

6  If you want to move something without damaging it, don’t back up and hit it as hard as you can—gently nudge it along until the flow of energy helps it gain the desired speed.

Find and stride the “edge of balance”—a point where both you and your horse know what you will do next…even though you haven’t done it yet.

Learn to be okay with “not knowing”—being curious, wondering, having questions helps you be present.

9  Good helicopter pilots spend their flying time secure in the knowledge they can handle whatever is about to go wrong. Be a good “helicopter pilot.”

10  It’s not about working on the horse, it is about being willing to work on the inside of yourself.

 

The best sailors are the ones who do not need or rely on instruments to steer their craft and trim their sails—they need only the feel of the craft and the feel of the sea. And those “good luck dolphins” cresting beside them.

A JOURNEY TO SOFTNESS is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to download a free excerpt.

 

–Senior Editor, Rebecca Didier

 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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