Known for his heartfelt, and at times, humbling stories, Colorado-based clinician Mark Rashid has become an expert at breaking down horsemanship the way he learned it from the infamous "old man" of his tales. In his newest book, Whole Heart, Whole Horse, Rashid again draws from real-life experiences to show how perceptions, leadership, and the martial art of Aikido can help humans harmonize with horses.
Interview By Melissa Cassutt
Mark Rashid has been working with horses since his boyhood, when he was caught trespassing in a pasture by Walter, better known as “the old man” in Rashid’s stories. The quiet and sometimes gruff mentor put Rashid to work mucking stalls, repairing broken fences, and eventually riding, teaching Rashid what would become his horsemanship foundation. After several years of cowboying and managing ranches in Estes Park, Colorado, Rashid started writing and teaching clinics, helping handlers build a better relationship with their horse by relaying the old man’s messages. Recently, Western Horseman visited with Rashid about his latest book, Whole Heart, Whole Horse, his clinics, and how he learned to blend the martial art of Aikido with horsemanship.
WH: DO YOU GET FEEDBACK FROM THE PEOPLE YOU WRITE ABOUT IN YOUR STORIES?
MR: No. Pretty early on my editor told me, “If people read this and think it’s flattering, they’re going to want a piece of the book. And if they read this and think it’s unflattering, they’re going to want a piece of your hide.” So, I learned to disguise people as much as possible. There will be times when I may be talking about a guy riding a mare, when it may actually be a woman riding a gelding. Some of the people I talk about are actually two or three people put into one person. I haven’t gotten any feedback from anybody, which means I must have done a good job.
WH: DO YOU JOT DOWN NOTES ABOUT HORSES AND PEOPLE YOU WORK WITH?
MR: No, it all comes from memory. It’s kind of funny—these books kind of write themselves. This new book I wrote in about three or four months. Most of my books have been that way. It’s as if I’m doing something and this book shows up and says, “You need to write me now.” And after I’ve finished each one, I’ve always thought it would be the last one. This one really feels like the last one, though.
WH: SEVERAL POINTS IN THE BOOK ARE HINGED ON AIKIDO, A FORM OF MARTIAL ARTS THAT YOU’VE BEEN STUDYING FOR 12 YEARS. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE ART?
MR: The main idea behind Aikido is harmony. No matter how bad the attack, the idea is to be able to blend with it and direct it to the most peaceful solution possible. Which is basically what we try to do with horses. We try to work with a horse, use their energy instead of fighting it, and direct it in a positive way. One of my instructors says Aikido is a principle, not a technique. Once you understand the principle, the technique is easy. Same with horses.
WH: IN CHAPTER FIVE OF WHOLE HEART, WHOLE HORSE, YOU TALK ABOUT HORSES AND HUMANS SWITCHING LEADERSHIP ROLES. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT HAPPENS SO FREQUENTLY WITH HANDLERS AND THEIR HORSES?
MR: We often don’t know what we’re looking for from horses. We know what we don’t want, but we don’t know what we do want. So, we spend a lot of time telling our horses “no”, but not taking them in the direction that we want to go. Plus, people are used to working with dogs. You see dogs running all over their owners, jumping on them, running them down the street. The dog is leading, not the person. It’s same thing with horses. People will allow their horses to take over and they don’t think anything of it. I also think sometimes it’s looked at as affection, but in general horses aren’t terribly affectionate animals.
WH: IN CHAPTER 11, YOU DESCRIBE A MEMORY FROM YOUR CHILDHOOD, A SUCCESSFUL RIDE ON “THE BLACK,” A HORSE THAT OTHER RIDERS HAD STRUGGLED TO WORK WITH. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT HORSE RESPONDED TO YOU?
MR: Well, I’m not saying I was a better rider, because I wasn’t, or that I was a better horseperson, because I certainly wasn’t that, either. I think a lot of it had to do with just blind luck, and a lot of it had to do with the fact I didn’t have any expectations. Because of my lack of skill at the time, it was easier for me to make a connection with him because I was just riding. I wasn’t training; I was just riding.
WH: WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED HOLDING CLINICS, DID YOU FIND TEACHING WAS A NATURAL SKILL FOR YOU?
MR: Oh, no. I was really bad at it. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why people were having such a hard time leading their horses from one place to another. That’s where working on dude ranches made a big difference. I learned to break things down when I was working with people who had no concept of which end of the horse to feed. But my goal has always been to treat people the way I’d want to be treated. If I was really struggling with my horse and I brought him to somebody because I needed help, the last thing I’d want is to be chastised for and not knowing what I’m doing.
WH: LIKE MANY CLINICIANS, YOU’RE STILL CHALLENGED ON YOUR ADVICE, EVEN WHEN THE CHALLENGER REALLY NEEDS HELP. DOES THAT BOTHER YOU?
MR: No, that doesn’t matter to me. The bottom line is that they’re paying for my advice, I’m giving my advice, and if they don’t want to take it, that’s their privilege, and I don’t have any problem with that. Several years ago we were going through Nashville, Tennessee, and a trucker came on the CB radio and said, “Oh man, I went the wrong way.” And another trucker came on and said, “Driver, there’s no wrong way in a big truck. There’s just the long way.” It’s the same when it comes to working with horses. There’s really no wrong way to do it. There are just some long ways.
Read Chapter four of Whole Heart, Whole Horse, courtesy of Skyhorse Publishing, here: chapter 4
To purchase Whole Heart, Whole Horse, click here: www.markrashid.com
Melissa Cassutt is a Western Horseman associate editor. Send comments on this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.