Finding the Missed Path should be compulsory reading according to Jacqui Broderick

Finding the Missed Path
by Mark Rashid

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"Having spent a huge part of my life either riding the horses no one else could manage, or training unhandled young horses, I am always interested in books that are about the communication between horse and handler and specifically how this relationship can be damaged by bad handling.  I was dealing with problems caused by bad handling long before Monty Roberts came on the scene with his methods (shows how old I am!).

The other evening, there was only rubbish on the TV, or to put it correctly my partner had control of the remote and was snoozing in front of some rubbish sci-fi movie. For the want of something better to do I picked up Finding the Missed Path intending to flick through it before reading it properly to review it. Three hours later my partner had gone to bed, the fire had gone out and I was still reading, utterly engrossed.

This beautifully written book sucks the reader right into the author’s world, working with horses who have developed what their owners perceive as problems. Mark Rashid is an acclaimed horse trainer who is known for his ability to understand the horse’s point of view and solve problems with communication rather than force. He is also studies aikido, something he feels helps him to better feel the change in connection between himself the horse. Clearly not one to sit still Rashid is the author of many bestsellers about his work, has recorded music CD’s and has had a film made of his first novel, ‘Out of the Wild.’

Despite our long shared history horses have a completely different language and culture to ours. No matter how long we spend with them, or how much we study them, we can only presume to know what is going on in their world. It is no wonder, then that problems occur when the lines of communication get mixed up.

There are theories that the horse is meant to respect us, and that what appears to be bad behaviour, in our eyes, is seen as disrespectful. The horse, though does not understand good and bad, he does not actively try to be naughty or to annoy his rider. This concept, as Rashid explains, does not exist for horses. Humans have a neocortex in their brains, the role of which allows for reasoning and conceptual thinking. In the horse’s brain the neocortex is so tiny in comparison that it often is not even labelled. What we term bad behaviour in the horse has been taught by the human in the first place.

Many years ago I taught a pony of ours to do a trick. If he lifted a front leg he got a treat. He learned that in literally moments.  Think how quickly he would learn something that was not good, in our eyes. He learns to get away from his handler, to not be caught or to buck his rider off. We see it as bad;  he has no idea that we see it as wrong. There is a brilliant cartoon of a horse clinging to a tree, with a mouse sitting on the ground. The caption is ‘act first, think later.’ The horse does exactly this – he sees something that to him his dangerous – he does not take the time to figure out that perhaps it is not a tiger crouching in the undergrowth and is actually a plastic bag. In his world that would be the difference between life and death. And of course he is not doing it to scare us, or to annoy us, he does not understand our feelings at all.

As Rashid explains ‘horses are a lot like people, when there are gaps in understanding, confusion and frustration and anger are sure to follow.’

In order to re-start the horse to iron out problems we need to know how to retrace the steps made in the horse’s education and find the path missed the first time around.

He details one rider whose trainer had her moving the horse away from her each time she rode it and had come to Rashid with a problem with her horse who had started misbehaving when she went into the stable, after ten years of owning the horse. After so many years of being moved around unnecessarily is there any wonder the horse had started to say no. Surely if your boss got you to do press-ups on the floor each morning before starting work, you’d get fed up fairly soon, regardless of the fact that the press-ups are good for you. Rather than cure the mare of the unfriendly behaviour she was showing he simply asked her to stop doing it. So many people do not contemplate that their horses are individuals too, because is good at something it does not follow that another would be. Just as some of us are good at maths or French, does not mean that all of us are. The same applies for horses.

He likens the path a horse takes to learn how to ‘work’ with us to us learning to write a letter, this has begun with us learning letters, the sound of them, how to hold a pen, how to form chains of letters and eventually sentences, but right at the beginning a single letter. A horse learns along similar chains and if one of these links is not in place it stands to reason that the end result may not be as we wish it to be. The horse may submit to being ridden, but he is always tense, or may show behaviours we do not like. Working with an older, troubled horse we have to begin from a place or rehabilitation, the old and unwanted information first needs to be identified and then redirected into behaviour we do want the horse to know.

We have learned through the ‘fashionable’ trainers all about herd hierarchy and how horses respect one another, his theories seem to make good sense and he clearly knows what he is s talking about, comparing the lives of wild horses to those who are domesticated and surely it follows that the two lifestyles have to be different.

Rashid explains the four basic concepts that are involved in his work, firstly to help the horse to learn when sometimes he does not know how to because of errors made in his early education. The second concept is to help the horse to understand how to put the pieces of information together to form a chain of knowledge and understand of what is going on. Thirdly is teaching the horse how to understand how to move off the rider, or handler’s energy rather from whips or spurs. Fourthly is for the horse to willingly accept and then perform these tasks through education, trust and understanding. The easiest way to do this is to work backwards to find out where the process went wrong. This sounds simple, but, where Rashid’s mastery comes to the fore is his incredible understanding and patience around the horse and his ability to connect with them almost subconsciously, something he puts down to his martial arts training.

Rather than being a ‘how-to’ guide to working with damaged horses this is a unique book filled with anecdotes of horses Rashid has worked with and helped, one that the astute horseman can delve into over and over again and learn so much about horses and how to improve our relationship with them. This book should be compulsory reading for anyone who works with, or rides horses."

Written by Jacqui Broderick, Horse and Pony magazine, Ireland.